Beyond Orwell: 11 Illuminating Quotes From the Canon of Dystopia

Editor's Note:

If you’re stirred by these dystopian quotes, amble down our author quotes archive for more.

George Orwell is suddenly, understandably en vogue — 1984 spiked on Amazon and then sold out, his scathing 1940 review of Mein Kampf has been dredged up, and reading groups are springing up like toadstools, eager to discuss the ways language can be manipulated by would-be tyrants in order to suppress independent thought.

Topical though he may be, Orwell certainly isn’t the only game in town when it comes to predicting increasingly dire futures for mankind. While he’s definitely the forefather of the booming genre of dystopiana, other authors have since picked up that torch and used it to illuminate some very dark corners indeed. At this point it’s no longer a matter of which predictions will come true, but how elegantly they’ll all knit together in unison.

The following quotes are like glimpses into various portholes, each author imparting their own particular view of life in a no-longer-quite-recognizable society. The bad news is, as a civilization we’re probably boned; the good news is we’ve managed to leave behind an elegant, impressively thorough catalog of our collective failures. (We were, after all, only human.)

Samuel R. Delany, Dhalgren, 1975
“It is not that I have no past. Rather, it continually fragments on the terrible and vivid ephemera of now.”

Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood, 2009
“We shouldn’t have been so scornful; we should have had compassion. But compassion takes work, and we were young.”

Philip K. Dick, The Divine Invasion, 1981
“What a tragic realm this is, he reflected. Those down here are prisoners, and the ultimate tragedy is that they don’t know it; they think they are free because they have never been free, and do not understand what it means.”

Steve Erickson, Arc d’X, 1993
“When the thing that emerged from the collision of sex and freedom, called love, collided with the thing that emerged from the collision of time and memory, called history, the dreams began to come.”

Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games, 2008
“They’re already taking my future! They can’t have the things that mattered to me in the past!”

Haruki Murakami, 1Q84, 2009
“Things may look different to you than they did before. But don’t let appearances fool you. There’s always only one reality.”

Octavia Butler, The Parable of the Talents, 1998
“Leave your sinful past behind, and become one of us. Help us to make America great again.”

David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest, 1996
“Yes, I’m paranoid — but am I paranoid enough?”

Cormac McCarthy, The Road, 2006
“Perhaps in the world’s destruction it would be possible at last to see how it was made. Oceans, mountains. The ponderous counterspectacle of things ceasing to be. The sweeping waste, hydroptic and coldly secular. The silence.”

Roger Zelazny, Prince of Chaos, 1991
“Don’t wake me for the end of the world unless it has very good special effects.”

Edna St. Vincent Millay, Epitaph For The Race of Man, 1934
“Before this cooling planet shall be cold,
Long, long before the music of the Lyre,
Like the faint roar of distant breakers rolled
On reefs unseen, when wind and flood conspire
To drive the ships inshore — long, long, I say,
Before this ominous humming hits the ear,
Earth will have come upon a stiller day,
Man and his engines be no longer here.
High on his naked rock the mountain sheep
Will stand alone against the final sky,
Drinking a wind of danger new and deep,
Staring on Vega with a piercing eye,
And gather up his slender hooves and leap
From crag to crag down Chaos, and so go by.”