Caught in a Venus flytrap: Red Pyramid, by Vladimir Sorokin, reviewed

Interest in Vladimir Sorokin’s works in translation tends to focus on their extremism and dystopia – trademarks of his fantastically-rendered observations of the Soviet Union and contemporary Russia under an infinite bureaucracy. Less emphasis is placed on the empathy that elevates the stories from violence and a pre-occupation with bodily fluids to a discomforting sense of familiarity. In his introduction to Red Pyramid, Will Self writesthat Sorokin’s detractors accuse him of peddling pornography. But its relevance is without question. If reality is said to be stranger than fiction, Sorokin’s fiction goes further, to make the point that the pornographic, as he writes it, is a way of bearing witness to

Back to the world of Big Brother: Julia, by Sandra Newman, reviewed

Sandra Newman’s Juliahas a connoisseur’s nose for body odour. When she gets close to another person or animal, she almost always notices their smell – manly, dusty, dungy, a hint of talcum powder. When she suppresses emotion, she sweats. She sprains her wrist and tears rise ‘of themselves like sweat’. In a pivotal scene, she unblocks a gruesomely overflowing toilet. This abundance of bodily functions feels like a reminder of George Orwell’s original Julia in Nineteen Eighty-Four, whose physical abandon makes her an object of desire and symbol of rebellion. This fantasy is punctured in Julia. Bodies are sensuous but they are also skin-crawlingly horrible. Mutilated wrecks, with teeth and

Spooky, classy dystopian sci-fi: Apple TV+’s Silo reviewed

Back once more to our favourite unhappy place: the dystopian future. And yet again it seems that the authorities have been lying to us about the true nature of reality. This time – in Silo – the lie concerns the nature of the world outside the enormous silo in which our heroes and about 10,000 other survivors have been hiding for the past 100-odd years since some nameless apocalypse. Is it really as dangerous as the Powers That Be say? Or is this an illusion, maintained over a century of relentless official propaganda, designed to keep the enclosed populace frightened and in check? Silo began life in 2011 as a

Dystopian horror: They, by Kay Dick, reviewed

Her name has faded, but the British author and editor Kay Dick once cut a striking figure. She lived in Hampstead with the novelist Kathleen Farrell for more than 20 years, among a mid-20th-century literary set that included Stevie Smith and Ivy Compton-Burnett. Her most acclaimed novel was The Shelf, the story of a lesbian affair which drew heavily on her own life and circle. In 1977, she published They, a dystopian horror quite unlike her other work. It won the South-East Arts Literature Prize but soon went out of print, where it remained until a literary agent chanced on it in a charity shop. Reissued with an introduction by

All change: The Arrest, by Jonathan Lethem, reviewed

This is an Exquisite Corpse of a novel — or if you prefer another name for that particular game, Heads, Bodies and Legs, or Combination Man, or perhaps most appositely Consequences. The parlour game involves creating something and then passing along the hidden creation to which another then adds, and The Arrest reads like Jonathan Lethem playing the game against himself. He is a novelist whose work has always experimented with, and evaded, genres. In this one, he is juggling dystopia, Thoreau-like idealism, science fiction, folk horror, sentimentality, revenge plot and quite a lot more. It is also very funny. I did want to say that it is like Cormac

Primal longing: Blue Ticket, by Sophie Macintosh, reviewed

Sophie Macintosh’s Blue Ticket is not classic feminist dystopia. Yes, it is concerned with legislated fertility, a world where women’s bodies are monitored like science projects by condescending medics.But the horror here is not impregnation but unwanted childlessness. Blue tickets, dispensed (randomly? It’s not clear) by a machine on a girl’s first bleed, decree a childless future; white tickets the opposite. Victims are not raped handmaids but sexually liberated working women, desperate to conceive and forbidden from doing so. Our narrator is Calla, a blue ticket, who grows increasingly dissatisfied with her lot, nurturing a ‘new and dark feeling’ inside herself. ‘I had never felt a baby’s leg in my

A tide of paranoid distrust: The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again, by M. John Harrison, reviewed

Over the past 50 years, M. John Harrison has produced a remarkably varied body of work: a dozen atmospheric novels and five volumes of finely controlled short stories that have ranged from austere realism to operatic fantasy. He is not easily pigeon-holed — an intentional state of affairs, but one that has denied him a large readership. The worlds of his science fiction are truly strange, yet he conjures them with piercing lucidity. For instance, Light (2002) is largely set 400 years in the future. The cosmos Harrison visualises is a place of splintery disruptions, but it is peopled with cruel and slovenly characters whose minds churn in entirely familiar