First Dystopian Novel Ever Written


Science fiction fantasy
Mar 14, 2014
I've heard Yevgeny Zamyatin's We is the ifrst dystopian novel ever written, published in 1924. If anyone knows of one written before We, let me know.

Or, just let me know what you think of We.
I don't know We, but I know that it was an important influence on 1984. How about The Iron Heel by Jack London, which I think is from about 1910? I'm not sure that I'd include The Island of Doctor Moreau as it's a bit too science-fiction-ish, but it does include an oppressive regime, I suppose.

Actually, now that I think about it, George Orwell mentioned certain bits of Gulliver's Travels as being very dystopian, but I'm not sure if that counts.
I think Gulliver's Travels has traces of dystopian oppression, as well as The Island of Doctor Moreau. But I think The Iron Heel takes the cake.

But check out We; it's said to be the first book where lobotomies were introduced as a way to control people that questioned authority.
Is definitely dystopian. I read that so long ago I don't even remember when it was and probably did not know how old it was at the time.

But now people talk as though dystopian has to be science fiction but I do not think that is the case.

I would also have to include Mary Shelley's The Last Man. Though more in the line of an apocalyptic novel, there are more than a few points in which it is dystopian as well....
For me it would be We since I found the world described in it relentlessly depressing. I know that is not necessarily a defining feature, but the level of grimness wasn't seen in any of Swift's worlds in Gulliver's Travels.
Yeah, We seems to be the first sci-fi dystopian novel, one where the dystopian theme was seen throughout the entire book.
In Purpurner Finsternis ["In Purple Darkness"] (1895)
by Michael Georg Conrad (1846-1927)
After some catastrophes the only remaining city is beneath the earth and totally automated.
Well, the Divine Comedy (particularly the first part, Inferno) is rather dystopian considering that it has a large cast of people, some of them named, who are going to continue to be tortured until literally the end of time...

Similar remarks probably apply to Paradise Lost. Of course, neither of these are exactly SF by modern definitions. And, technically, both being poems neither of them is a novel either - although they are of novel length.

Plato's Republic and More's Utopia are rather dystopian to modern eyes, too; both of them could be called early SF if one is prepared to stretch the definition somewhat.
Ah, beaten to Iron Heel (available for free, I think, as an e-book now). The Machine Stops sounds really interesting from the Wikipedia entry.
There is also a German movie adaption from "We" (for television)
Wir (1981), Director: Vojtech Jasný
There is no dvd release.
I remember the introduction to Utopia said More thought of the place as somewhere he'd never like to be. So what's "dystopia" then?
Well, Utopia has come to mean an imaginary place ("topos" in Greek) that's good, if not perfect. Dystopia means one that is very bad. My immediate thought about a dystopia is that it is some sort of repressive dictatorship, but I can't see why a falling-apart of the world wouldn't count, too, such as in The Road or Day of the Triffids.

I have a very vague feeling that when More was writing, Utopia didn't have the good connotation, and was simply an imaginary society, although I might be wrong about that.
Well, my understanding of uptopia is that it is a perfect society, so one can conclude that a uptopia is an imaginery society, because life will never be perfect. I also feel dystopia is the same as a uptopia. Like they say, if something seems too good to be true, it is. And that's the basic theme behind most dystopian stories. A man enters or is raised in a society that he's been led to believe is perfect, only to learn it's deep, dark secret.
Thomas More's Utopia would get my vote. Life is so perfect you'd commit suicide if you lived there. It doesn't get any more dystopic than that :)
I just wanted to say that I have read We and it quite obviously was an influence on George Orwell. Yevgeny Zamyatin was obviously influenced, in turn, by his own life experiences - leaving his native Russia to supervise the building of ships in Tyneside shipyards.

I remember I thought the story rather light, but the descriptions and his ideas well worth the read.

As with all these discussions, the problem of the definition of the term itself - in this case Dystopian - determines what you include. It means different things to different people.
It's hard to believe the "Machine Stops" is so old (1909). I think Asimov cogged bits for Caves of Steel and also Aurora (Where no-one meets). But maybe not and sure that's OK anyway. The BBC or someone re-did it well as an SF Drama on TV.

With some people interacting more online than in their own house aspects are now more eerie than 40 years ago.

The Time Machine (1895) has some dystopian futures.
I agree that War of the Worlds and Day of the Triffids are not Dystopian but apocalyptic.

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