There are some who avoid dystopian fiction like the…well, like the plague. If you fall into this category then this list probably won’t be for you. Then there are some who find a strange sort of comfort in reading dystopian fiction during tough times – this list is probably more your cup of tea…
Lanark by Alasdair Gray
Set in the disintegrating cities of Unthank and Glasgow, this modern vision of hell tells the interwoven stories of two men: Lanark and Duncan Thaw. As the Life in Four Books unfolds, the strange, buried relationship between Lanark and Thaw slowly starts to emerge. Lanark is a towering work of the imagination and is the culmination of twenty-five years of work by Gray, who also illustrated and designed the novel. On its first publication it was immediately recognised as a major work of literature, and drew comparisons with Dante, Blake, Joyce, Orwell, Kafka, Huxley and Lewis Carroll. Thirty years on, its power, majesty, anger and relevance has only intensified.
Scot Lit says: Don’t be daunted – Lanark might take a little effort to read but it’s 100% worth it. A truly spectacular book and well-deserving of its status as a classic, everyone should read it.
The Plague Trilogy by Louise Welsh
While the trilogy started with A Lovely Way to Burn which was set in London, the second book Death is a Welcome Guest sees the action move north of the border. Magnus McFall was a comic on the brink of his big break when the world came to an end. Now, he is a man on the run and there is nothing to laugh about. Thrown into unwilling partnership with an escaped convict, Magnus flees the desolation of London to make the long journey north, clinging to his hope that the sickness has not reached his family on their remote Scottish island. He finds himself in a landscape fraught with danger, fighting for his place in a world ruled by men, like his fellow traveller Jeb – practical men who do not let pain or emotions interfere with getting the job done. This is a world with its own justice, and new rules. Where people, guns and food are currency. Where survival is everything.
The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan
November 2020 and the world is freezing over. As ice water melts into the Atlantic, and vast swathes of people make for the warmer south, Dylan is heading to Scotland, once the home of his late mother and grandmother. Twelve-year-old Stella and her survivalist mother, Constance, scrape by in the snowy Highlands, preparing for a record-breaking winter. Living out of a caravan, they spend their days digging through landfills, searching for anything of value. When Dylan arrives in the middle of the night, their lives change course. Though the weather worsens, his presence brings a new light to daily life, and when the ultimate disaster finally strikes, they’ll all be ready.
Scot Lit says: I’m reading this one on audiobook (excellent narration from Steven Cree btw) just now and it’s incredible. So much of it is eerily familiar in the current global situation – the first chapter in particular sounded just like any news report on any day right now. Poignant, prescient and important. This is rapidly becoming a favourite – Sarah.
Read our review of Luckenbooth by Jenni Fagan here.
Skeleton Blues by Paul Johnston
Scot Lit Says: There are a whole bunch of Quint Dalrymple dystopian novels – but here’s the synopsis of the one I like the sound of the most…
Ex-cop Quint Dalrymple discovers there is something very rotten in the independent city-state of Edinburgh in this near-future dystopian thriller. Edinburgh, spring 2034. The weather’s balmy, there’s a referendum on whether to join a reconstituted Scotland coming up – and a tourist is found strangled. As usual, maverick detective Quint Dalrymple is called in to do the Council of City Guardians’ dirty work. For the first time in his career, Quint is stumped by the complexity of the case. An explosion at the City Zoo is followed by the discovery of another body – and the prime suspect is nowhere to be found. Can Quint and his sidekick, Guard commander Davie, put a stop to the killings before the city erupts into open violence? Are the leaders of other Scottish states planning to take over Edinburgh, or is the source of unrest much closer to home? Quint must race to pull the threads together before he becomes one of the numerous skeletons on display…
The Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod
A priest is dead. Picking through the rubble of the demolished Edinburgh tenement, Detective Inspector Adam Ferguson discovers that the explosion wasn’t an accident. When a bishop is assassinated soon afterwards, it becomes clear that a targeted campaign of killings is underway. No one has seen anything like this since the Faith Wars. In this enlightened age there’s no religious persecution, but believers are a marginal and mistrusted minority. And now someone is killing them. But who? And – perhaps more importantly – why? The more his team learns, the more the suspicion grows that they may have stumbled upon a conspiracy way outside their remit. Nobody believes them, but if Ferguson and his people fail, there will be many more killings – and disaster on a literally biblical scale . . .
But n Ben A-Go-Go by Matthew Fitt
The year is 2090. Global flooding has left most of Scotland under water. The descendants of those who survived God’s Flood live in a community of floating island parishes, known collectively as Port. Port’s citizens live in mortal fear of Senga, a supervirus whose victims are kept in a giant hospital warehouse in sealed capsules called Kists. Paolo Broon is a low-ranking cyberjanny. His life-partner, Nadia, lies forgotten and alone in Omega Kist 624 in the Rigo Imbeki Medical Center. When he receives an unexpected message from his radge criminal father to meet him at But n Ben A-Go-Go, Paolo’s life is changed forever. He must traverse VINE, Port and the Drylands and deal with rebel American tourists and crabbit Dundonian microchips to discover the truth about his family’s past in order to free Nadia from the sair grip of the merciless Senga. Set in a distinctly unbonnie future-Scotland, the novel’s dangerous atmosphere and psychologically-malkied characters weave a tale that both chills and intrigues.
Good to know: The book is entirely in Lallans with some Aberdonian and Dundonian dialect
IDP: 2043 by various
Graphic novel, IDP: 2043 imagines a Scotland around 30 years in the future. Six teams of major names in European comics and graphics novels collaborated to create the single narrative story including Barroux, Mary Talbot, Kate Charlesworth, Pat Mills, Hannah Berry, Irvine Welsh, Dan McDaid, Adam Murphy and Will Morris. The book is edited by story editor, crime writer and graphic novelist, Denise Mina. The story follows the catastrophic effects of a small rise in sea levels on the county’s heavily populated low lying areas and how society reimagines itself in the face of a huge population shift in a world of scarce resources.
Fact: This book was created in conjunction with the Edinburgh International Book Festival as a 30th anniversary celebration.
Resistance by Val McDermid and Kathryn Briggs (June 2021)
Zoe Meadows has taken a break from hard-hitting investigative reporting to spend more time with her family, which is how she finds herself doing celebrity Q&As at an outdoor music festival near the Scottish border. She and her friends, who run a food truck, head north, along with 150,000 festival-goers for a weekend of music and camping. Then, some of the food truck’s customers begin to fall ill, and many point to food poisoning. But when the festival ends and the attendees scatter across England, more people begin to get sick and die. What’s worse, it is spreading fast and baffles doctors, resisting all efforts to contain or cure it. With time running out, Zoe is compelled to fight for the truth, even as she loses that which she holds most dear.
Have you read any of these books? Or have any of them on your TBR? Talk to us in the comments or follow us on Instagram for a blether.
You can find most of these books in our own Bookshop at bookshop.org – if you choose to buy from our shop we will receive a small commission which will be equally split between a donation to the Scottish Book Trust at the end of the year and keeping this blog running.