Michael Greyeyes loves dystopian fiction — here are 6 of his all-time favourites
The actor, director, choreographer and Canada Reads 2023 panellist shares his favourite dystopian novels
Actor, dancer, director and choreographer Michael Greyeyes says choosing a book to defend on Canada Reads 2023 was a "daunting task." Then, he realized, when given the choice, he always gravitates towards dystopian novels.
"Novels are totally unique. They're not novellas. They're not short stories or screenplays. They're the densest construction of literary writing we have and beautiful novels can never be fully mined," Greyeyes said in an interview with CBC Books.
And yet, the multi-hyphenate artist will try his best to strike gold when he defends Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel on Canada Reads from March 27-30.
In the lead-up to the great book debate, Greyeyes sat down with CBC Books to discuss which other science fiction novels he considers essential reading.
Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
"Parable of the Sower was set in America, published in the 1990s and it imagined a world affected by climate change so completely that huge portions of America were essentially homeless and impoverished people. People were living in walled communities and there was a lunatic that talked about American strength.
Parable of the Sower is a journal about now, and she wrote that 30 years ago.
"Parable of the Sower is a journal about now, and she wrote that 30 years ago. It just resonated with me on so many levels."
1984 by George Orwell
"Thinking about formative novels for me, many of them are dystopian. The essential book — probably my favourite novel — is 1984.
"It defined for me so much of what science fiction could be about. My interest in history, politics, people in love and the terror of totalitarianism coalesced in this novel. I've read it maybe 20 times.
It defined for me so much of what science fiction could be about.
"I keep going back to it because it keeps giving more."
Dune by Frank Herbert
"Dune by Frank Herbert - the original trilogy. I do like the other books — God Emperor and Heretics of Dune - but I've read the first trilogy probably seven times.
I've read the first trilogy probably seven times.
"Imagine the imaginative scope of a universe where computers were banned and drugs were the essential currency of the galaxy. This idea of an aesthetic, secretive community of people on this planet. It captured me in every way. It talked about religion, talked about the Bene Gesserit as this incredible group of women moving things in the galaxy with their power.
"It just thrilled me."
The Chrysalids by John Wyndham
"The Chrysalids is a post-apocalyptic novel where the world was destroyed by nuclear war. Small communities of people were the only survivors, but because of the radiation, there were often birth defects. When a woman was pregnant in this community, they were religious about the purity of the human form. They wouldn't even talk to a pregnant woman about her pregnancy and when the baby was born it would be inspected. If the baby had any physical deformities, they would abandon it and then no one would speak about it.
This post-apocalyptic novel really talked about our desire for conformity and anti-diversity and how religion is tied into that.
"The novel revolves around a group of children who all had psychic ability. They were living in constant fear of being found out because then they would be exiled. Difference was evil and conformity was everything.
"This post-apocalyptic novel really talked about our desire for conformity and anti-diversity and how religion is tied into that. It spoke to me about us right in this moment. It makes you think about the next generation and about progress."
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
"The Grapes of Wrath is a desert island book for me. If I had five books, The Grapes of Wrath would be one of them. I'd have to take it with me. I feel it's just such an important document about America.
It's a document that, for me, encapsulates what I think about capitalism and politics. It's almost biblical in its scope.
"It's a document that, for me, encapsulates what I think about capitalism and politics. It's almost biblical in its scope. That's Steinbeck. It's a big one."
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
"Siddartha is again one of those desert island books. Everyone has to read it. It's so profound.
"Sometimes you start reading something, like a script, and you're just crying on the plane. That's what Siddartha is like. You cannot read it and not be emotionally and spiritually transported. How is this not taught to us? How do we not know this? I've read it twice, but a friend of mine recommends reading it every 10 years of your life. It's a completely different novel.
Novels are unique documents. They're so deeply threaded that you could pull apart the fabric and just never stop discovering.
"Novels are unique documents. They're so deeply threaded that you could pull apart the fabric and just never stop discovering. It's like, wait a second, there's this whole sublayer of silk here and I thought it was leather."
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Michael Greyeyes's comments have been edited for length and clarity.