Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

“Genetically modifying babies seems like the inevitable direction we’re going”

Largely set in a futuristic World State of genetically modified citizens and an intelligence-based social hierarchy, the novel anticipates huge scientific developments in reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation, and classical conditioning that are combined to make a utopian society that goes challenged only by a single outsider.

Again, this is such a classic that it feels like I have no right to give my opinion about it. I liked the idea behind the novel, that a society could be so utopian that it’s actually dystopian, but in general, I wasn’t really interested in a bunch of teenagers having sex. The second half of the book was great, and I liked the ending, despite it not being “happy.”

Midnight in Peking - Paul French

Midnight in Peking - Paul French

“A girl’s death, a city in turmoil - it’s true crime!”

This is the true story of the murder of a young British woman in Peking in January 1937.

This was my first True Crime book I’ve read, and quite possibly my last. I liked it, especially since I live in Beijing and have been to many places in the book, but overall I’d rather just see the movie. This book was interesting because of the historical facts, like how the Japanese controlled Peking at that time, but I think I’d have preferred a documentary or a movie rather than a novel chronicling the details of the girl’s death.

The Trial - Franz Kafka

The Trial - Franz Kafka

“You think the DMV is bad? Bureaucracy at its finest”

The novel tells the story of Josef K., a man arrested and prosecuted by a remote, inaccessible authority, with the nature of his crime revealed neither to him nor to the reader.

I needed a break from Kafka after reading this. I had planned to read a bunch of his stuff, one after another, but decided that would be a bit much. “The Trial” reminded me a lot of how things get done in China. “Go here, then do this, get this signature, talk to this person, ah but you needed this form, sorry you need 4 copies of this and not 3, we’re not open now…” Just an endless runaround that ultimately ends with the main character calling himself a dog. Weird ending, but somewhat fitting.

The Elementary Particles - Michel Houellebecq

The Elementary Particles - Michel Houellebecq

“A unique blend of life, love, and destroying human reproduction”

This novel tells the story of two half-brothers, Michel and Bruno, and their mental struggles against their situations in modern society in France.

This book had possibly one of the craziest endings I’ve ever read. The book centers on two French brothers and their relationships with women over the years. So I’m reading this book thinking “this is some sappy, sad book about these two guys that frankly I don’t care about” and then the last few pages completely changes everything. If you start this and don’t like it, I highly recommend sticking it out until the end. Well done, Houellebecq, well done.

We - Yevgeny Zamyatin

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“There’s a good reason why mathematicians don’t often keep journals”

We is set in the future. D-503, a spacecraft engineer, lives in the One State, an urban nation constructed almost entirely of glass, which assists mass surveillance.

I read “We” after 1984 and afterwards I thought, “Did Orwell just steal the entire plot from this Russian dude?” The book itself was challenging to read because it’s in the form of a journal kept by a mathematician. His thoughts are scattered and he’s very logical about the way he presents things, which is interesting, but also a bit convoluted in parts of the story. It was an enjoyable book, and I really liked that Zamyatin incorporated the design ideas of Frederick Winslow Taylor, a mechanical engineer who sought to improve industrial efficiency.

A Scanner Darkly - Philip K. Dick

A Scanner Darkly - Philip K. Dick

“Drugs plus California in the 90s never seemed more appealing”

The semi-autobiographical story is set in a dystopian Orange County, California, in the then-future of June 1994, and includes an extensive portrayal of drug culture and drug use (both recreational and abusive). 

The movie was weird, so I was expecting the same from the book, and it delivered. Because many of the main characters are drug addicts, the writing also follows their drug-induced thoughts, which at times was confusing. In addition, it switches between third and first person which can be difficult to follow. Overall, I liked this book and looking forward to reading more of Dick’s harder sci-fi.

1984 - George Orwell

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“Living in China doesn’t seem so bad after reading this”

What can be said about 1984 that hasn’t already been said since this book first came out? It was sad, intriguing, insightful, and unpredictable. I think so many people like this book because at some point or another, we can relate to either the plot, the theme, or the symbolism that Orwell manages to weave throughout 1984.

Animal Farm - George Orwell

Animal Farm - George Orwell

“If dystopian novels are too complicated, just use animal metaphors”

I actually read this after I published my own dystopian novel, “Contraception” and my first thought was: “Orwell wins the dystopian genre.” Simple, clear, and effective, this book is a classic for a reason.

Sapiens - Yuval Noah Harari

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“If you love getting lost in Wikipedia, you’ll love this”

The book surveys the history of humankind from the evolution of archaic human species in the Stone Age up to the twenty-first century, focusing on Homo sapiens.

This was given to me by a girl I was seeing the summer of 2018 and I thought it would be a nice break from the fiction I usually read. Sapiens was really enjoyable, and I respect Harari’s attempt to condense the history of humankind into one book. It was really interesting to dive more in-depth into things that we already know, like how money or religion helped form communities.