The last time I checked, the bleak dystopian future was still firmly entrenched as the film fad genre over yesterday’s vampires and zombies. I’m looking at you, Divergent and Hunger Games.

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest none of these trilogies would be possible without the granddaddy of them all, George Orwell’s 1984. Written in 1948, this piece is required reading for high school seniors for the pop culture references alone, a la Big Brother and thought crime. You won’t be able to find your way out of an Orwellian abyss without it.

Pepper in references to this work and your modern-day conspiracy theory is half-written! Technological and poltical relevance almost 70 years later is some staying power, if not clairvoyance on the part of Orwell, who passed away in 1950.

1984 was banned in the former U.S.S.R., and challenged in 1981 in Florida on the grounds of being “pro-communist”, no doubt by the irony-impaired.

station elevenAn audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear . Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur’s chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.

Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten’s arm is a line from Star Trek: “Because survival is insufficient.” But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.

Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it. (description from publisher)

The real challenge for this blog post is how to go about describing the plot of Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro without spoiling the plot twist.  Because really, I can’t even say what the book is about without spoiling a surprising fact that you’ll discover about a quarter of the way into it.  So  I’ll do this as cryptically as possible.

The story is being told by Kathy, who is now in her 30s and is reflecting on her childhood at an English boarding school called Hailsham.  The students, completely isolated from the outside world, are all….special.  All I will say is that they have a unique origin and purpose, and they are constantly told that their well-being is very important.  After reconnecting with her two best friends  from Hailsham, Ruth and Tommy, Kathy looks back on her time at the school and how it prepared her (and didn’t prepare her) for what was to come in her future.

I know, that’s very cryptic.  I will say that it’s a dystopian novel with some sci-fi elements, but don’t let that turn you off if you’re not a sci-fi fan.  It’s really an interesting and thought-provoking story about friendship and what it means to grow up knowing your future is set in a certain way.  Kazuo Ishiguro writes in a very conversational tone, which I enjoyed because I felt as though I was having a conversation with Kathy, personally hearing all her old tales from Hailsham.  It is particularly a good book for a book club, because it opens up a lot of discussion possibilities on a controversial subject matter.

I love sci-fi and fantasy novels, and I have been meaning to read this classic sci-fi work for ages.  The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the story of Arthur Dent, an Englishman rescued moments before the destruction of Earth with the help of Ford Prefect, his best friend who turns out to be from another planet.  As the title suggests, the two hitchhike through the galaxy in search of a mythical planet called Magrathea and meet new friends, including the President of the Galaxy, his girlfriend, and a depressed robot.  The book is absolutely hilarious.  The galaxy Adams has created is interesting and well-developed, and we get to learn a lot about it through random and laugh-out-loud details.  One of my favorite things about it is the encyclopedia that Ford is writing, which guides newbies like Arthur through the galaxy and defines all the different creatures, technological advances, and concepts.  If only our encyclopedias on Earth had Ford Prefect’s sense of humor!

The movie version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy stars Martin Freeman, Mos Def, Sam Rockwell, and Zooey Deschanel.  It follows pretty closely to the book and has great performances by Freeman as Arthur and the always amazing Alan Rickman as the voice of Martin.  However, I feel compelled to be honest and say that I didn’t really care for this movie.  I don’t know what it was about it, but something was just lost in the translation from book to movie.  For example, they did include narration of the encyclopedia entries, which I loved in the book.  But by the fifth or sixth little aside in the movie, I was pretty tired of the constant interruptions.  The book packed in all that detail without making it a laborious effort to get through, which is a feat that the movie didn’t accomplish in my opinion.  But then again, that’s just my opinion.  So if you liked the book as much as I did, I encourage you to check out the movie and see what you think!

May 11

Daybreakers – Willem Defoe, Ethan Hawke, Sam Neill

In the year 2019, an unknown plague has transformed the world’s population into vampires. As the human population nears extinction, so does the blood supply. Now the vampires must find a blood substitute before time runs out. Researcher Edward Dalton and a clandestine group of vampires have made a remarkable discovery, one which has the power to save the human race.

May 18

Extraordinary Measures – Harrison Ford, Brendan Fraser

On the fast track and ready to taste the success of corporate America, John Crowley walks away from it all in hopes of finding a cure for two of his fatally ill children. With his wife Aileen by his side, he teams up with brilliant but unconventional scientist Dr. Robert Stonehill, and together they form a company to develop a life-saving drug. But just when it appears that a solution may be found, the relationship between the men is tested and the fate of John’s children is at stake.

Invictus – Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon

Nominated for two Oscars

Newly elected President Mandela knows his nation remains racially and economically divided in the wake of apartheid. Believing he can bring his people together through the universal language of sport, Mandela rallies South Africa’s underdog rugby team as they make an unlikely run to the 1995 World Cup Championship match.