5 Sci-Fi/Dystopian Books I Want to Give a Second Chance

I love reading science-fiction – reading these books is like entering an exciting parallel universe where your imagination fires up (for example, see this list of My 10 Favourite Science-Fiction/Dystopian Books or my reviews of the work of Philip K. Dick –  A Scanner Darkly, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch & A Maze of Death). However, for some reason, when I started reading (read) the sci-fi books below I either did not get far or did not particularly like them after I finished them. I realise that some of the books below are very popular and beloved by many and, therefore, I want to give them a second chance – either to re-read them or pick up where I left off and finish them.

Station Eleven Book Cover

I. Station Eleven [2014] by Emily St. John Mandel 

Station Eleven is a very popular dystopian book, but I did not progress far in it. The book’s beginning did not pull me in (and only made me want to re-watch Soderbergh’s film Contagion [2011]). However, I realise it has much to offer, and I want to start it again. The synopsis to this book reads that it is “set in the days of civilisation’s collapse“…and “tells the story of a Hollywood star, his would-be saviour, and a nomadic group of actors“. The beginning is about the death of a Hollywood actor on stage, after which the story moves “back and forth in time“, becoming “a suspenseful, elegiac and spellbinding novel” (Goodreads).

Emily St. John Mandel has another novel coming in 2020 titled The Glass Hotel, and I am looking forward to reading it. The Glass Hotel is described as “a captivating novel of money, beauty, white-collar crime, ghosts, and moral compromise in which a woman disappears from a container ship off the coast of Mauritania and a massive Ponzi scheme implodes in New York…” (Goodreads). 

The Drowned World Book CoverII. The Drowned World [1962] by J. G. Ballard 

J. G. Ballard’s The Drowned World has been compared to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, but it failed to impress me. Perhaps, I still have to get used to Ballard’s writing style before I can fully appreciate this book. The Drowned World tells the tale of London existing under water – “London is a swamp…and solar radiation have melted the ice caps, sending the planet into a new Triassic Age of unendurable heat”. Among all this chaos is “Dr Robert Kerans, who comes to accept the submarine city and finds himself strangely resistant to the idea of saving it” (Amazon).

Other books by Ballard I want to read are Concrete Island [1974] and High Rise [1975].

Hard to be a God Book CoverIII. Hard to Be a God [1964] by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky 

Hard to Be a God is considered to be the finest literary achievement of the brothers Strugatsky. The story here is thought-provoking with philosophical depth to it, as the main character in the story also undergoes inner psychological change. An undercover cop (Anton) from the future planet Earth is on another alien planet where people still live in the Middle Ages. Anton is forbidden to interfere with the events happening on the alien planet even though he possesses more advanced knowledge of everything than people around him. Part of the reason why I abandoned my reading of this book may be due to the poor translation – I picked up an older version of this book. Now I realise there is a newer translation available, and I may give this novel another try (even though, I suppose, I can also read it in the original language).

There is also a great Russian movie which came out in 2013 based on the novel.

The Kraken Wakes Book CoverIV. The Kraken Wakes [1953] by John Wyndham

John Wyndham is a tricky author for me. I liked his bizarre-premised book The Midwich Cuckoos, but appreciated his The Day of the Triffids more because of its ideas rather than because of its plot or characters. I am not sure I liked The Kraken Wakes all that much, and because I read it some time ago, I want to re-read it. The Kraken Wakes is said to be “a brilliant novel of how humankind responds to the threat of its own extinction…and asks what we are prepared to do in order to survive” (Amazon). In this story, sea levels rise and fireballs rain down from the sky. Moreover, ships mysteriously sink, hinting that there is perhaps another force working, besides mere natural calamity. 

I also want to read Wyndham’s The Chrysalids. This one is about a dystopian world where there are mutations, infertility, deviancies, telepathy, etc. Some say the story is an allegory for social change in the UK in the 1950s. 

The Book of M Book CoverV. The Book of M [2018] by Peng Shepherd

This debut book possibly draws inspiration from Peter Pan and Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea since, in it, people around the world start to lose their shadows permanently, and those who lose their shadows also lose their memory. At the centre is a married couple Maxine and Orlando who find themselves in a remote hotel in Virginia. It is Maxine who starts to lose her shadow and decides to leave. I do not know a lot about this book because I decides to DNF it after just a couple of pages, but I am now considering returning to it. The Books of M is said to be “a breathtakingly imaginative, timeless story that explores fundamental questions about memory and love―the price of forgetting, the power of connection, and what it means to be human when your world is turned upside down” (Amazon).

Have you read any of the above books or other books by the authors listed above? What were your thoughts on them?

31 thoughts on “5 Sci-Fi/Dystopian Books I Want to Give a Second Chance

  1. I haven’t read or heard of the middle three, but I have both The Book of M and Station Eleven on the list. Hope you enjoy them more the second time around.

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  2. Ah, I love Station Eleven and The Kraken Wakes! The former isn’t really a pandemic novel – it’s more about how humans rebuild after catastrophe. The latter is my favourite Wyndham, but you’re right, it’s not really a book that makes you think – I just find it so scary!

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    1. It is interesting that The Kraken Wakes is your favourite Wyndham because I think most people would say that they like most The Day of the Triffids. Have you read The Midwich Cuckoos? It really unsettled me and now I want to see the movies (the older and newer versions).

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        1. That is fascinating! Thanks for sharing. I also have a film blog, so the talk sounds very interesting to me and the question, of course – “why were children suddenly being presented as dangerous threats?” Is it to do with the then discoveries in child psychology? or has something to do with youth hooliganism? I have always thought that children and horror go hand-in-hand – any situation is so much frightening when a child is involved, but when that child becomes the source of horror that is something else entirely. I think The Turn of the Screw and its movie made children eerie, I remember, Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen, The Exorcist had children associated with the Devil. These are later productions, though, I realise.

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          1. My work focuses on developmental psychology and how it sets up clear standards of ‘normal development’ which evil children (and real children!) violate, but the films also engage with nuclear anxieties, among other things. I do also look at the late 60s/early 70s US films, but I’m particularly interested in the early 60s British SF films because of the nuclear link!

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    1. That is great that you read The Memory Police already and liked it. I am dying to read it and I see it everywhere in bookshop window displays.

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  3. I didn’t think Station Eleven had much new to say – I wasn’t very impressed by it. The Kraken Wakes I enjoyed but don’t think it’s his best. It’s years since I read The Chrysalids but from memory I think it works much better. I love his Chocky too, if you haven’t read it. And I should be reading The Drowned World soon, as part of my Classics Club list.

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    1. I will be looking forward to your review of The Drowned World, then! Perhaps it was the London-setting there which slightly bored me, but I think I did not particularly enjoy Ballard’s language or his style of writing.

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  4. I’m happy to hear you’re giving The Book of M a second chance! It’s not your typical dystopian story, and there are a lot of fantasy elements as you get deeper into the book, which might be a turn off for people, but I really loved it and it was actually one of my favourite reads of 2018. 🙂

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  5. I love Station Eleven. This is how I articulated why, in my review on Dec. 9, 2014: “the biggest reason [that I love the novel] is the way the stories of the separate characters begin at what seem to be opposite ends of a pattern and are gradually woven closer together until a recognizable picture is revealed. The individual lives have meaning, but it’s impossible for those individuals to see it. Finally the reader is left; Oberon or Ariel has untied the spell and we can see only what is before us.”

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    1. That is a beautiful and insightful observation – many thanks for sharing! What you describe is what I love to see in books sometimes – some broader design, which we can only see after we read to the middle at least and can see different things falling into place. I now realise that I probably formed my opinion on Station Eleven too early and have to give this book more time.

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  6. Depending on how far you got before giving up on Station Eleven, I would give it another go. However, it doesn’t suddenly ‘pick up’, it continues in the same muted tones all the way through. It is the total picture, how all the small bits and pieces come together, which made it special to me.

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  7. I really liked Station Eleven after I finished it, though I did find parts of it a bit slow while reading. I hope you enjoy it more on the second try! I also have The Book of M on my TBR and will be interested to see your thoughts on it.

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  8. I read Station Eleven as part of a challenge to get beyond my normal reading borders (dystopia is not normally my thing) and I liked it more than I’d expected. I probably wouldn’t reread it though…it was the kind of book that was enjoyable at the time but didn’t leave me wanting more. I do think it becomes more absorbing after the opening sections. I remember finding that a bit hard going as well.

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    1. Thanks very much for your opinion – I now know what to expect. At times you know more or less what to expect from a book, but sometimes you can only discover as you read to the middle or near the end. It is hard to judge.

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