Ah, the dystopian future—where would science fiction be without you? Settings where progress went wrong, where society turned against its own inhabitants, simply provides a more fertile ground for storytelling than futures where everything worked out more or less hunky-dory. Nobody wants to read about a future society with awesome free healthcare and excellent school systems and ecological preservation. We want our totalitarian regimes and bizarre classicism and possibly some mutants. Just look at the proliferation of YA fiction with practically indistinguishable arcs and settings in the last decade—from The Hunger Games to Divergent to The Maze Runner, they’re all milking that sweet dystopian teat to tell teenage romance stories set against ill-explained sci-fi backgrounds.
Pondering all those dystopias, though, got us to thinking—which of these fractured futures is actually the most pleasant or most horrible to live in for a normal person? They’re all challenging and dangerous for the heroes of their stories … fiction, after all, doesn’t work without conflict. But to average, salt-of-the-earth folks, these dystopias vary wildly in how tolerable they actually are. Some are sadistic places where you wouldn’t be able to expect to live for more than a day. Others, though, would practically allow you to go on with your life undisturbed as long as you’re not the protagonist of the story. This list doesn’t include EVERY dystopian setting, but it does include a lot of them.
The most important thing to do, before we begin, is to actually define a dystopian setting.
Dystopias involve the future or alternate history of EARTH
Dystopias envision possible futures of our own earthly society. Not every science fiction setting where there’s an evil empire of government can be considered a dystopia. The Star Wars galaxy isn’t a dystopia, even if it’s being more or less ruled by the Empire. The dystopias in this list are more contained.
Dystopias are not post-apocalyptic
For it to be a dystopia, there needs to be people. If the world has been scourged by say, nuclear war, and we’re left with a wasteland, that’s an entirely separate setting, that of post-apocalyptic fiction. Dystopias are about the degradation of societies, which no longer exist in post-apocalyptic works. So where Judge Dredd features a dystopia with millions and millions of people living in a horrible city and suffering from both crime and government oversight, Mad Max isn’t a dystopia, because there’s no society left. In general, communities in dystopian works tend not to be ruled by “warlord” types, but by extremely impersonal, complicated bureaucracy.
These dystopian settings, when you weigh their advantages and disadvantages and especially when you compare them to the ones further down the list, don’t seem all that bad. In fact, in some of these settings you can live a more or less enjoyable life, depending on your social station (or simply your luck). They represent the cream of the crop, as far as these depressing scenarios are concerned.
I, Robot, 2004
The film version of Asimov’s short story collection imagines a would-be dystopia where a robot singularity has interpreted its directive of serving mankind as removing mankind’s free will and instituting secret robot leaders. To the average person not named Will Smith, though, this future is damn near idyllic, full of technological marvels and pleasant robot assistants. Most people have no idea that the robots are anything other than helpful, and the singularity’s goal is ultimately to create a peaceful world without bloodshed. That’s as tame as a “dystopia” gets.
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 10.0
The Matrix, 1999
People think of The Matrix as a horrific setting to be caught in, but for most people the reality of their entanglement in the program is that they go through normal, everyday life. While your physical body gets to float in a warm, comfortable nutrient bath, every need attended to, the mind takes a lifetime vacation in the (admittedly pedantic at times) Matrix. The film really raises the question of the nature of the reality—if you can’t tell you’re in a simulation, and leading a life of contentment, what’s the difference between that and reality, and does it matter? You can hardly blame Cypher for one of the most understandable film betrayals ever—either he can live in a dank spaceship eating nutrient gruel and fighting a cyclical, hopeless war against superior machine foes, or he can live to a ripe old age, have children and enjoy his steak in The Matrix—all while being completely unaware he ever betrayed anyone. Which of those sounds more enjoyable?
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 9.6
The dystopian 2019 of Blade Runner isn’t a future fraught with danger, where people are being hunted by monsters, and thus it ends up in the more comfortable zone. The L.A. of this film feels very worn, very lived-in and quite cobbled together, with years of cheap building on top of cheap building creating a haphazard and ugly result. Mankind has tarnished everything and ruined its environment, creating perpetual soot and smog that fits the noir scene. Cultures have totally intermingled, which isn’t a bad thing; nor does the government seem particularly oppressive even if it is a corporate-dominated landscape. All in all, the Blade Runner setting is ugly, but provides more freedom to its inhabitants than most, and in many respects still resembles our own society. It’s not too aesthetically pleasing, but it’s not like the average person has to fight androids ‘ala Harrison Ford.
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 9.1
Logan’s Run, 1967
The question of liveability in the Logan’s Run dystopia depends on how much value you place on comfort vs. a long lifespan and individual freedom. Up until the age of 30 it’s pretty much perfectly idyllic, and all the residents’ needs and wants are hedonistically provided for them. After that point they’re painlessly put to death … except, of course, those who choose to “run.” It’s implied that these rules were enacted as a method of population control, as the planet was completely overrun and its resources taxed. The runners, therefore, could be argued to be acting in the disinterest of the species, even as they fight for their right to live a full life. All in all, there’s certainly some big downsides here, but it’s one of the most comfortable dystopias while it lasts.
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 8.8
Brave New World, 1931
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World was a novel far ahead of its time and rather astounding in its imagination, and he lays out a complex, deeply intricate dystopian setting that is difficult to judge. The soul of humanity has been scrubbed away and merged into a single world state, which has separated people into castes and strictly enforces everyone’s role in society. The citizens, though, have accepted these roles and are generally content—even the lower classes, who work relatively simply jobs and receive decent compensation, especially compared to something like Metropolis. In short, the people of this dystopia don’t really seem to realize they’re in one—and even if they did, it’s not particularly arduous compared to many of the others. This place would be hell for a modern human dropped in and forced to live in it, but to its residents, this simply is the structure of modern life, and they really don’t mind.
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 8.6
Minority Report, 2002
The entire point of Minority Report is to reinforce the idea of free will being necessary and malleable, which makes this short story/film’s recent revival on TV as a police procedural all the more ridiculous—but I digress. The injustice of “pre-crime” is of course the fact that the government is targeting and arresting people for crimes they haven’t yet committed, or in some cases haven’t even yet conceived. It’s a question of “fairness,” and of predestination—if you reveal someone’s crimes beforehand, is it also possible to change their outcome and future actions? Regardless, it’s an interesting exercise in the extent of the law meddling with free will, but it lacks the deadly consequences and random violence of some of the more ruthless dystopias. After all, the truly law-abiding don’t really have anything to fear in Minority Report.
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 8.5
Marvel 2099 universe, 1992
Marvel’s 2099 universe seems to have been inspired by cyberpunk fiction and some elements of Blade Runner dystopia, but it’s inherently more dangerous because hey, it’s Marvel. Here, the entire continent of North American is a corporate police state ruled by giant corporations. Superheroes and the superpowered, meanwhile, have been completely eliminated, and have been gone so long that their existence is legendary rather than completely historical. Elements of hero worship even remain, such as the “Church of Thor.” The average person leads a dull, mostly unremarkable life, but is still thrust into harm’s way by dangers that the superheroes would have previously tackled.
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 8.1
We don’t know too much about the wider world setting in Westworld, but their amusement parks are plenty dystopian, and I couldn’t help but include them. It’s like a live-action version of the “Itchy and Scratchy Land” episode of The Simpsons—a futuristic theme park where the android entertainers malfunction and set out on a murderous rampage. You can see where it’s a world of hedonism and instant gratification, judging from the sexual favors that guests solicit from the servicing androids—it’s a world where man has grown fat and stupid and weak, relying too heavily on automation and technology, which has now turned around to bite us on the hand. In that sense, a classic dystopian background, but a fairly survivable one.
Dystopian Comfort Rating: 7.8
Okay, now we’re getting a little worse. Personal freedoms are starting to be highly compromised. Survivability begins to trend noticeably downward. Harsh government or bureaucratic restrictions threaten people’s ways of life. Random violence tears the soul of civilization apart, as common decency becomes an antiquated notion.
A Scanner Darkly, 1977
This is another dystopia whose livability is determined by whether you’re one of the unlucky few bearing the brunt of its hardships. The world of the Philip K. Dick novel and 2006 film is a California dystopia where the world has lost the war on drugs, and many are addicted to a powerful hallucinogenic called Substance D. However, it’s stated that only 20 percent of the population is addicted, presumably because if everyone was, society would completely collapse and everyone would die. So, the question is whether the “average person” is a Substance D user, and mathematically it’s most likely that they’re not. However, it’s also mathematically likely that someone in their family is, or their friends. In short, everyone in this world is touched by the ravages of the drug and the ensuing police state, whether they’re a user or not. It’s not as violent as some of the other dystopias, but there’s very little privacy or sense of hope.
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 7.5
Infinite Jest, 1996
David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest universe is so dense and at times opaque that it’s difficult to tell what exactly the experience would be like. It’s a completely corporate-dominated landscape, where years are named after household cleaners or fast food sandwiches and the northeast portion of the U.S. has been turned into a giant garbage dump. The title comes from a fabled piece of “entertainment,” a film titled “Infinite Jest” that is so captivating that those who see it lose interest in doing anything other than watching it until they die. It feels like a particularly obnoxious future, sharing some aspects in common with Idiocracy, but ultimately it doesn’t seem like the mortality rate is that out of control—provided you aren’t exposed to Infinite Jest, that is.
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 7.3
Idiocracy’s dystopian setting is based on the idea of runaway “dysgenics,” or opposite of selective breeding—the inverse of natural selection, once the intelligent segment of the population gets “outbred” by the stupid. It’s an interesting idea to drop on everyman Luke Wilson, who arrives as a time traveler from 500 years earlier, only to have himself proclaimed as the smartest man in creation. The average person in this setting, though, is facing a rather featureless, bland and frankly obnoxious day-to-day life, with a crippled economy, food shortages and poor mental and physical health. The upside? They’re mostly too stupid to notice or care. It’s a life of boring, mushy pablum.
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 7.1
X-Men: Days of Future Past, 1981 (comic)
This is the comic take on the “Days of Future Past” arc, rather than the film, which never quite gives us a full impression of what’s going on in the wider world. In either setting, we know that the Sentinel program has gone completely haywire and murderous—if you’re a mutant, you’re pretty much screwed in this particular dystopia. If you’re an average person, however, it’s implied that you might be okay, albeit living in a robotic police state. In some depictions, it’s implied that after eliminating most of the mutants, the Sentinels turn to hunting human allies and then unrelated human innocents—if that happens, the Comfort Rating of this dystopia unsurprisingly plummets. But assuming the Sentinel programming hasn’t shifted to “eradicate all humans,” this is a world of impending danger for the average person rather than immediate peril.
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 6.8
The Giver, 1993
The world of The Giver is a little bit hard to rate, as people experience it in such a different way from how an average person of our own society would experience it if they were simply dropped in. A world without emotion and memory, it is in some aspects a utopian society, but a rather detached, cold and occasionally merciless one. The elders of the community take care of their subjects, and they lead FULL lives, but one must question what those lives are really worth without concepts such as true happiness or love. At the same time, negative emotions are also eliminated. It truly is a mixed bag. To the average citizen, their awareness of the negatives is minimal or nonexistent, making for a bland if relatively comfortable existence—unless you’re one of the twin births getting euthanized, that is.
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 6.7
The Purge, 2013
Even moreso than other dystopias, livability in the world of The Purge is intrinsically tied to social status and financial well-being. If you’re poor, unable to fortify your home or—god help you—live on the streets, then yes, you’re in deep trouble during the governmentally approved 24-hour period of total lawlessness. If you’re a middle-class family, though, with adequate defenses, there’s really no reason to even expect the night to offer any difficulty or excitement. As long as you hunker down and don’t somehow get drawn into letting strange, armed people into your home, you can pretty much sit back and let all the crazies outside enjoy their annual night of debauchery. So in short, an “average person” of say, median income, should be able to deal with The Purge without too much trouble.
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 6.5
Fahrenheit 451, 1953
Bradbury’s possible future in Fahrenheit 451 highlighted the intellectual wasteland he feared could be coming, and in some ways this particular dystopia feels chillingly possible. As college students willingly embrace censorship of anything they find offensive, we should consider the experience of those living in this particular dystopia. It’s implied that the wholesale burning of books began much in the same way that our own society has somewhat drifted away from serious reading, thanks to the immediate gratification available via digital entertainment. Seemingly as a result, the people living in this civilization have become increasingly shallow and petty, perfectly happy amusing themselves with pedantic programming and unable to hold actual discourse. It’s not quite as grim as some of the other dystopias in the list, but to an intellectual mind it’s a special sort of persecution.
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 6.2
The Hunger Games
Quality of life tends to vary in The Hunger Games universe depending on which district you belong to, but seeing as this is “average” people we’re talking about, we’re not including any chance that you’d be a citizen of the Capitol. Aside from the obvious pitfall that one kid from each community is sacrificed to The Hunger Games each year, daily life in the Districts is hardly any better, and you’re just as likely to suffer from malnourishment or exposure as you are be violently repressed by the soldiers of The Capitol. Still, life and families are possible here, and the Capitol’s entire existence depends upon having the Districts to serve and power it, meaning that they have a vested interest in keeping the Districts operational. Life in the Districts is harsh, but ultimately not that much harsher than living a rural existence on Earth several centuries ago.
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 5.9
A Clockwork Orange, 1962
The world of A Clockwork Orange is striking in the way the violence has completely permeated every aspect of daily life. Unlike some of these dystopias, which seem to have been created by attempts to forge nonviolent societies, the residents of this one just seem permanently pissed off and homicidal, with the government responding in kind. You can be enjoying a quiet dinner at home and BOOM, in barge a quartet of ultraviolent teens to mess up your shit for no reason at all. Moreoever, even after these psychos get arrested and thrown in jail, the prisoners are subjected to bizarre, equally cruel experimentation by the government. Your life here is really a roll of the dice. You would think that people would learn pretty quickly not to go on nighttime strolls past the PCP-laced milk bar, though.
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 5.8
Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1949
Orwell’s 1984 dystopia is a classic that, along with Brave New World, really established a lot of the dystopian tropes in this genre. Of the two, though, the 1984 setting is significantly more unpleasant to actually live in. The power structure keeps a very small segment of the population in total power, and rampant government abuse strips people of their personal freedoms and even of their lives, should they be found enemies of the state in any way. There’s a reason why anyone displeased with the U.S. government at any time is likely to draw parallels to 1984—it’s a dystopia not based so much on radical technology but on the inherent callousness in the hearts of men. An average person’s life in this world involves constant surveillance, rationing, war and an obvious lack of fulfillment. Still, you might manage to live your life out to a natural end.
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 5.7
The Running Man, 1982
The novel by Richard Bachman/Stephen King envisions a totalitarian American dystopia where pollution, violence and rampant classicism is disguised via government-operated television station the Games Network, which shows hyper-violent reality programming. In some senses there are vibes of The Hunger Games here, but the number of people killed by the government is ultimately even higher, and the underclass possibly lower. Regardless, it faces many of the same issues of personal security, as even the people who are not forced onto deadly game shows may die from a tainted air supply.
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 5.6
V For Vendetta, 2006
The dystopian setting of the V For Vendetta graphic novel and film is that of a pretty grim totalitarian government, where “undesirables” have been harshly dealt with following worldwide economic collapse. The experience of an “average person” in this particular dystopia depends on many factors, including gender, race and sexual orientation, but we do know that some limitations affect everyone. Personal freedoms are severely restricted, supplies such as food are scarce and morale, suffice it to say, is quite low indeed. If we choose one of the many Londonders who apply their own Guy Fawkes’ masks at the end of the film as “average,” then we can say that their daily life is very restrictive … but ultimately liveable.
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 5.4
The bureaucratic dystopia of Brazil reminds one of the central bureaucracy of Futurama in the sense that it’s onerous, blunt and very bad at actually dealing with real human beings. Society here is shallow and vain, obsessed with outward appearances and crumbling from the inside out. It’s inefficient and ineffectual in a way that would be whimsical if it wasn’t so depressing. When the bureaucracy would rather kill its citizens than admit to the possibility of a clerical error, that’s when you know you’re living in a pretty messed-up society.
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 5.2
“Harrison Bergeron,” 1961
Vonnegut’s short story envisions a particularly twisted dystopia where the notion of “equality” has been taken totally literally, and measures have been implemented by the government to impede anyone of exceptional strength, beauty or intellect down to the acceptable “average.” The title character is an exceptional man destroyed when he tries to escape that system, but the “average” people mostly lead a dull, completely controlled existence. Personal freedoms are severely restricted in this setting, and most of the people seem to live in a foggy haze of semi-comprehension. There’s no wholesale murder or homicidal robots, but this is a particularly depressing and hopeless future.
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 5.1
Battle Royale, 1996
The livability of the dystopia in Battle Royale, both the novel and the film adaptation, depends almost entirely on whether you’re one of the unlucky few forced to participate in the deathgames that make up its central plot device. On the positive side, if you’re out of school and don’t have any kids, it’s essentially implied that you don’t have anything in particular to worry about—besides hearing about the yearly atrocity of middle-school classes being forced to murder each other on an island for sport. If you’re in one of those classes, though, or are a parent of one of those kids, then this is a very grim and deadly future indeed. As such, it’s difficult to rank—if you’re forced to fight, this dystopia closes in on a 0.0 on my Dystopia Comfort Scale. If you’re already past school age, then it’s not so bad. It seems the only fair thing to do is average the final rating out.
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 4.7
Kingdom Come, 1996
The DC Comics dystopian future presented in Kingdom Come is a world where the abundance of superpowers has finally devolved into total anarchy. Too many random yahoos have super strength in this universe, and the world’s greatest heroes such as Superman and Batman have largely retired or stepped out of the limelight, allowing a more violent generation of heroes to do as they please. Civilian casualties, unsurprisingly, are pretty high, as people fall victim to the random and roving bands of superpowered goons or get caught in the middle of godlike battles that pretty much incinerate the majority of Kansas as the story kicks off. It’s a world of totally random violence, and there’s nothing that can protect you. Average families sit in their homes and hope a passing superpowered person won’t choose to hurl the corpse of an elderly Blue Beetle or Animal Man through their roof, knowing there’s nothing they could possibly do to defend themselves. Still, the violence mostly comes as collateral rather than people actively being hunted for sport, at the very least.
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 4.4
Truly Nightmarish Dystopias
Alright, now we’re really getting nasty. Disastrous events begin to threaten the very future of the human race. Personal liberties and freedoms are completely removed. Institutional violence wipes out entire nations or groups of people, and survivability plummets accordingly. In these dystopias, just staying alive is a hell of an accomplishment.
Children of Men, 2006
Talk about your hopeless settings. You might still be able to live a fairly long life in the world of Children of Men, but the constant question is “Should we even bother?” In a world of complete infertility, as mankind watches its elders pass away and youngest citizens approach their own mortality every day, every day is worse than the one that came before. Sure, Clive Owen’s character in the film adaptation of the novel spends his time safeguarding a pregnant woman, which suggests there might be a way of saving the world, but this is never even close to confirmed. For all we know, this woman is just giving birth to the first of the super mutants who will destroy what’s left of mankind. In short, you might be able to scrape together an acceptable existence, but your greatest enemy in this world is crippling ennui.
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 4.3
Escape From New York, 1981
It’s safe to say that life anywhere in John Carpenter’s dystopian Escape From New York future isn’t too pleasant if the entire landmass of Manhattan had to be turned into an anything-goes concrete prison Thunderdome, but for our purposes we should probably evaluate life within Manhattan, given that the majority of the film happens there. And suffice to say, it’s pretty rough in there. Gangs rove the streets, and the island is ruled by a homicidal dictator who calls himself the Duke of New York. Look at somebody the wrong way and you could be thrown into a fight to the death in a derelict warehouse—or worse, be forced to listen to Ernest Borgnine’s war stories in his cab. Regardless, your life expectancy as a resident of Manhattan isn’t very long unless your name is Kurt Russell.
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 4.1
The manga and 1988 anime of Akira create a dystopian, cyberpunk-tinged future that feels a bit like a more violent Blade Runner universe. Festooned motorcycle gangs in the style of The Warriors prowl through the streets and the average person stands an excellent chance of being caught in the line of fire—likewise via the violence of anti-government terrorism. You can also get blown up by a powerful psychic or wiped off the face of the Earth if the city you’re in happens to fall prey to powerful psychic backlash. Daily life seems to involve running around, trying not to get shot or exploded for no particular reason as those with real power carry out their own turf wars.
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 4.0
The comic dystopia of Transmetropolitan is complex and multi-faceted, but deeply horrifying. It seems to depict a society that continues to limp forward but has gone completely insane in its excesses. In the depths of The City, the average person can openly solicit child prostitution or engage in cannibalism, and no one even cares. Sure, rogue, truth-telling journalists like Spider Jerusalem still have some supporters, but society is more or less in the middle of devouring itself, voting for Presidents who actively wish to further their subjugation and suffering. Homicidal presidents who allow killer death storms to ravage the country’s biggest city in order to kill one pesky journalist make for some pretty tough living conditions.
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 3.8
Ah, more YA goodness. Obvious similarities in theme and dreamy teens to The Hunger Games aside, the dystopian future of Divergent is a rigidly controlled and postured place, with more structure than Katniss’ world and an even more controlling government structure. Everyone is divided up into different personality sects, which are meant to be one-size-fits-all. If you don’t fit? Then you’re “divergent” and hunted down for extermination—i.e. the way every teen has imagined themselves during their goth period. Likewise, if you do fit into a particular sect but aren’t capable enough to complete your initiation, you end up “factionless” and wandering the streets of Neo-Chicago as a hobo. And even if you DO fit into one of the factions, you could very well end up killed when one of the other scheming factions tricks the soldier camp into executing everyone. So in short: It’s pretty rough.
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 3.6
THX 1138, 1971
There’s a bit of Equilibrium in the THX 1138 setting and some of The Giver, but it ultimately falls in between. Average citizens toil in dangerous factories and are ministered a bevy of drugs that steal their individuality and regulate their moods. It’s a highly industrialized, boring society where individual thought is largely eliminated and people toil by routine, overseen by android enforcers of the peace. It’s quite the dreary life.
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 3.3
The Live, 1988
The dystopia of They Live is a secret one, and at first it seems pretty high on the livability scale. Aliens have secretly infiltrated society and taken over positions of power and wealth, but their operations don’t involve say, eating people but instead making them complacent, sluggish and blind to the takeover. However, we eventually learn that the alien endgame is to strip Earth of its natural resources and eventually leave it a used-up husk, which presumably would result in the death of the entire species. In light of this, and the realization that the direction of this dystopia is eventually the extinction of the human race, you have to give it a pretty damn low rating. The only thing that stops it from being lower is that at the time of the film, mankind isn’t facing that extinction event—yet.
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 3.0
Hey, it’s Pixar! Cute and fun, right? Nothing horrible, right? Well, not so fast. The dystopian society of humankind in Wall-E is a mirage, a flying space ark that doesn’t look so awful from the surface but ultimately contains a doomed species. Generations of inactivity and incredible sloth have drained away mankind’s vitality, leaving the average people as corpulent monstrosities who can’t even rise out of their hoverchairs to grab their liquified lunch slurry. One scene shows the degradation in humanity’s bone structure, which is particularly shocking. It’s implied by the end of the film that humans will be “coming back” to Earth and recolonizing it, but one can’t really see this as anything more than a pipe dream. There’s no way that these people are going to be able to stand up to the strain of Earth’s gravity, much less construct any buildings. Unless they can regrow a functional femur, this society is headed for its final generations. And so, it may be “comfortable,” but it hides a deadly truth.
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 2.9
Judge Dredd’s Mega-City One, via 2000 AD, 1977
Mega-City One, for the average person walking down the street, is a pretty nightmarish place where death can spring on you from any angle. It’s a setting of constant victimization that is only barely staunched by ultraviolent dispensing of justice from the judges, such as Dredd. But suffice to say, there’s just so many ways things can go wrong for you, living in one of the 50,000 resident City Block buildings. Your building could be ruled by a sadistic puppetmaster. It can literally go to war with the building next door, killing almost all the inhabitants. In one notable Dredd story the population of Mega-City One was reduced from 400 million to 50 million in the space of days by a terrible plague. Those are biblical challenges to overcome, if you want to stay alive.
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 2.6
Pro: The setting of Equilibrium looks really cool if you’re a teenage boy who loved The Matrix. Con: You’re probably going to die if you live there. The totalitarian dystopia of this film has outlawed any kind of emotions, requiring daily injections to remove them. Failure to obey in any way means death. Therefore, it’s sort of like The Giver, except with more deadly samurai policemen who will shoot you for slight infractions. Life is a drab, featureless crawl without any particular point. The only rewarding experiences are the ones that are likely to get you killed. This is a pretty hopeless place.
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 2.3
Repo! The Genetic Opera, 2008
An epidemic of worldwide organ failures is the interesting driving point behind the dystopia in Repo!, and it inadvertently turns a megacorporation called GeneCo into the domineering force of authority usually filled by the government in these stories. They’ll sell you the new organs you need to survive—on extremely costly installment plans. However, few of the average Joes who require a new heart or liver can keep up with the payment schedule for long, leading to those parts then being “repossessed” in deadly fashion. The setting combines economic turbulence, disease and corporate-mandated violence into a rather deadly cauldron where life expectancy is anything but robust.
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 1.9
Living on the tail end of the Snowpiercer train is a pretty damn awful existence with next to no redeeming qualities. When it began running, after the Earth froze into perpetual winter, the poor souls of the back were left to fend completely for themselves, away from any of the front’s plentiful resources. They were right down to eating each other until the front-enders began sending them terrible, processed protein bars that we later learn are made from ground-up cockroaches. The authoritarian government from the front end of the train views the back-enders as nothing more than cattle, completely disposable, and rules over them with an iron fist and harsh justice. Daily survival is difficult even without the active antagonism of those in charge, and there’s literally nowhere to escape to. With their backs to the wall, deadly revolution is practically a necessity.
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 1.5
A Modest Proposal, 1729
A Modest Proposal is less fictional and more theoretical dystopia, one that was proposed in a 1729 essay by Gulliver’s Travels author Jonathan Swift as a form of satire against the British government. He begins by describing the plight of the poor in Ireland, but then zags hard into grim satire when he proposes a solution to this problem: We should just be eating the poor children, and the mothers should be raising them as livestock. To quote: “A young healthy child well-nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious, nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked or broiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout.” Damn, Mr. Swift. In going all-out to chastise his government’s ignorance and callous attitudes toward the disenfranchised masses, Swift imagines one of the worst dystopias anyone has EVER imagined, where Irish babies are Britain’s primary foodstuff.
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 1.3 (because presumably you’re either eating babies or having your baby eaten)
The surface of Earth in Elysium is an overpopulated, polluted, rather smelly-looking pile of junk where the average citizens toil in poverty and starvation. The rich, meanwhile, live on the floating space metropolis in orbit, Elysium. Pretty raw deal, right? Elysium residents have access to all sorts of physical pleasures, including machines that cure all disease, while the people on Earth are essentially doomed if they merely pick up a case of the sniffles. The prevailing government really doesn’t seem to mind, and is leaving the masses on the planet’s surface to slowly rot away. This is, therefore, one of the worse settings to try and make a living; a life of backbreaking labor for essentially no reward, with a high risk of death. But at least Matt Damon is there.
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 1.0
This dystopia seriously sucks for the working man. Essentially a slave state where the majority of people making up the lower class toil day and night in the massive factories and machines that keep the city moving, it’s like Snowpiercer on a much grander and more horribly mechanized scale. Go back and watch the factory scenes of Metropolis again and think about how things would work for members of this society—can you even imagine how many limbs have been scissored off in all of the giant clockwork gears? Indeed, we see workers fainting on the job from exhaustion and explosions claiming the lives of numerous toiling serfs. It’s no wonder their response is to later start burning people at the stake! There’s pretty much no positive to this existence. You wake up, go to work, maybe get your arm scissored off, go home, and repeat. These people have never even seen real sunlight before.
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 0.8
Soylent Green, 1973
Geez, what isn’t wrong with the Soylent Green setting? The word is polluted, crawling with overpopulation, in huge economic depression and the natural resources/wildlife is nearly destroyed. Most people are unemployed, roaming the streets and being scooped up by big trucks like they’re rodents. And that’s without even bringing up Soylent Green itself, the food ration product made from “plankton” that is later revealed to come from much higher-level hominids. This life is bad enough before you realize that you’ve been eating your neighbors every night.
Dystopia Comfort Rating: 0.5
Jim Vorel is Paste’s news editor. There’s really no arguing the fact that he spent way too much time and thought on this concept. You can follow him on Twitter.