From The Hunger Games to Divergent, dystopian novels have exploded in popularity over the last decade. The phenomenon makes sense—given the upheaval of the world, we long for someone to rise up, fight the evils plaguing us, and restore society to a place where it can begin again.
We see the evil in our fallen world, yet something within us all yearns for things to be made right and to see good triumph.
When I as a Christian read dystopian books, though, the larger message is clear: these authors’ work, whether they are aware of it or not, points to a greater reality. A hero is coming, one who will destroy and abolish evil forever and wipe every tear from our eyes. His name is Jesus Christ.
Revelation 19 describes the coming of this great hero-king:
“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.” —Revelation 19:11-16
I’m going to make a bold statement: the Bible and dystopian literature have a lot in common. The Bible tells a complete story of how the entrance of sin into the world unleashed untold strife, hatred, jealousy, rivalry, and a desire for power and control and how these attitudes and actions impact everyone. There is murder, the rule of unjust leaders, dictatorships, and more. The book of Revelation, in particular, presents a horrific portrayal of just how much the entire world will plunge into depravity.
But like dystopian novels, the hero of the Bible triumphs. Jesus Christ will come again to judge the world, punish evil, and create a New Heaven and New Earth where there will no longer be any death, crying, pain, or loss. This restoration will be complete and permanent. We cannot ask for a better ending (or beginning) to the story of the Bible.
I think this is why many Christians feel drawn to the dystopian genre. Believers in Jesus Christ have the greatest hope in the world, and a genre where characters face loneliness, darkness, and fear is a perfect vehicle to demonstrate our hope in him.
This by no means makes Christian dystopian fiction didactic. The spiritual themes are often obscured or barely mentioned at all. But the hope the characters cling to or discover as they deal with their challenging circumstances brings light into the story that points to the True Light that is coming into the world.
As we are approaching the celebration of Christ’s coming as an infant to live a life like ours and serve as the only perfect sacrifice for sin, I can think of no better topic to showcase in this week’s post than Christian dystopian fiction. I also know that many of you are trying to figure out what books to purchase as gifts for the readers in your life.
Therefore, let me introduce you to three Christian dystopian novels released this year that would make spectacular stocking stuffers.
Realm by H.L. Gibson
Set in 3039, Realm centers on Rogue, a smuggler who is trying to find a way to survive in a world dying from pollution, government corruption, and a deadly, pervasive crime network. Rogue, who has spent his entire life alone, has but one hope: escaping life on Earth by way of transport to an off-world colony.
When he wins a high-stakes poker game that could open the door for him to achieve this goal, it seems like Rogue’s problems are nearly over—at least until crime boss Frank Blast tries to kill him. Instead of dying, Rogue wakes up in the Realm, a mysterious world whose existence has been discarded as a myth on Earth.
To survive, Rogue must learn the ways of the Realmers, who live a unique lifestyle of sacrifice, service, and compassion. As someone used to being self-sufficient and looking out for his own interests, this is hard for him. But eventually, Rogue is forced to choose between helping the Realmers save one of their own and dealing with a life-and-death situation on Earth, which will put his conflict of values to the test.
There are two reasons I love Realm. First, Gibson doesn’t shy away from the more unsavory aspects of life on futuristic Earth. The opening scene, which takes place at Rogue’s poker game, is not for the faint of heart. You’re plunged feet-first into a world where corruption and depravity rule. If the graphic imagery disturbs you, you aren’t alone.
This portrayal of the darkness, though, does have a purpose. I found that once I’d spent time with Rogue in the Realm, the kindness of the Realmers and the depiction of their culture made me desire to be there more and more. Every time the action shifts to life on Earth, it’s a shock to your system. This is the incredibly detailed world you are privileged to enter as a reader.
The second thing, though, is that the spiritual culture of the Realmers is at the heart of the book. Given that Gibson is a Messianic believer, it is no surprise that the role of worship in their society parallels that of ancient Jewish culture in the Bible. Gibson has gone to great lengths to establish their culture in general, even creating a language for the Realmers.
There’s so much more to Realm than I can summarize here, but I promise it’s a holiday read that will transport you to worlds you can’t imagine.
Awake in Olaiya by M.E. Duffield
Olaiya is a distinctive community established in the futuristic world of Territorial California, and on the surface, things seem to be pretty great. Everyone works together toward the same goal by holding specific jobs within the community.
It grows and produces all its food, and all citizens enjoy delicious meals. They live in comfortable facilities in family-like units of citizens and enjoy perks like beautiful gardens and a fitness center.
But one of these community members, Nat, knows there is more to Olaiya than meets the eye. Plagued by terrifying nightmares that seem at odds with the peace and order in which the community seems to exist, she wakes up each day with little to no memory of the previous day’s activities. Despite the haziness of her life, though, she knows that her name isn’t Nat and that she isn’t supposed to be in Olaiya.
As time passes, Nat begins to recover her memory. But the more she becomes aware of her surroundings, the more horrifying the realities of Olaiya become, and she’s forced to take drastic action to save herself and others.
I’m being deliberately vague here because Awake in Olaiya is best experienced with as little knowledge of what you are going into as possible. The story is told in present tense narration from Nat’s perspective, which means that you become aware of the realities of her environment at the same time she does.
And the more you know, the more terrible the knowledge becomes.
But wait. Isn’t Christian dystopian fiction supposed to contain hope? Oh, it does. The story’s emotional core is the relationships Nat develops with the people in her community, especially as they realize the depth of the evil they are dealing with and join forces to defeat it. Nat is also keenly aware of the beauty that exists even within Olaiya’s corruption—the way she engages with nature, especially the stars, becomes a metaphor for hope as the story progresses.
I’ll also add that Olaiya has one of the most brutal cliffhangers of all time. But don’t worry—it’s part of a series, so you’ll see Nat and her friends again!
Samuri and Jewel: The Forbidden Friendship by Kimily Kay
Just released this past Friday, Samuri and Jewel is coming in hot and makes an ideal gift for readers both young and young-at-heart.
Samuri and Jewel are two children who live in The Township, a strict community where contact between people outside of Bungalows, or family units, is forbidden. Citizens of The Township function like cogs in a wheel—advancing through life stages means greater responsibility to the community.
But a chance meeting between the brave Samuri and the starry-eyed, spritely Jewel sets into motion a chain of events that wind their two lives together and send them on an adventure where the harsh realities of life in The Township will blend with a source of hope and guidance they can’t imagine.
In defiance of The Township, their friendship is kept hidden from view but remains an integral part of each other’s lives.
The dystopian elements of The Township are obvious. Anyone who dares to step out of line is marginalized at best and straight-up killed at worst. The rule about no close relationships causes a distressing distance between community members. Any connoisseur of young adult literature will immediately draw parallels between The Township and the setting of The Giver.
But the darkness of the setting is neatly balanced with the joy, humor, and compassion of Samuri and Jewel. Together, they’ll make you think of Jess and Leslie in Bridge to Terebithia, the children in A Wrinkle in Time, and the Pevensies of The Chronicles of Narnia.
Also—about halfway through the book comes a twist that thrusts the story directly into the Christian dystopian fiction genre. And it’s wonderful.
On Another Note…
These three books are all Christian dystopian novels, but they have something else in common, too.
Their authors are all Inkling Creative Strategies clients, and it was my absolute honor to work on various aspects of all three titles, from editing to proofreading to typesetting.
Do you have a book project that you want to release in the new year? If so, I’d love to talk and see if my mission of helping writers reach their full creative potential so they can impact and inspire readers is a fit for your work.
Schedule a complimentary 30-minute Virtual Meetup on Zoom to learn more, ask burning questions about writing, and discuss how Inkling’s services can help you.
And, of course, don’t forget to support these three independent authors by giving their amazing stories as gifts this year.