The future, like the present, can be both wonderful and terrifying.
If you find yourself drawn to dystopian stories, ask yourself, “Why?” Is it because the future looks bleak? Or does a truly fresh start sound pretty good?
It’s okay if the answer is both. Feeling strongly about two or more completely contradictory things is deeply human (annoying, but human).
96 Dystopian Science Fiction Books
These books are classics, bestsellers, famous, unknown, underrated, overrated, perfect for you, or just terrible for you.
They’re mostly in alphabetical order.
The second book in the Brilliance series, A Better World mixes science fiction with slam-bang crime-fiction suspense.
The reviews are glowing, so you might be better off starting with the first book, Brilliance. Be warned: A Better World will leave you waiting for the as-yet unpublished conclusion to the trilogy.
Despite early reviewers that called Miller a “dull, ashy writer guilty of heavy-weight irony,” it’s never been out of print in over 50 years.
Amy is a cryogenically frozen passenger aboard the spaceship Godspeed. She has left her boyfriend, friends—and planet—behind to join her parents as a member of Project Ark Ship. Amy and her parents believe they will wake on a new planet, Centauri-Earth, three hundred years in the future. But fifty years before Godspeed’s scheduled landing, cryo chamber 42 is mysteriously unplugged, and Amy is violently woken from her frozen slumber.
Someone tried to murder her.
Across the Universe is a young adult sci-fi that received a starred Kirkus review and onto The New York Times bestseller list. However, it’s definitely for teens.
An unabashedly libertarian and market-anarachist (whatever that means) novel, Alongside Night follows the economic collapse of the United States.
Morgan creates a gritty, noir tale that will please Raymond Chandler fans, an impressive accomplishment in any genre.
Annihilation is the first book of the Southern Reach trilogy, and an unexpected foray into science fiction by “weird fiction” author VanderMeer.
Rand took a break from research for The Fountainhead and wrote the novella Anthem, whose working title was Ego.
Anthem takes place at some unspecified future date when mankind has entered another dark age characterized by irrationality, collectivism, and socialistic thinking and economics. Technological advancement is now carefully planned (when it is allowed to occur at all) and the concept of individuality has been eliminated (the use of the word “I” or “Ego” is punishable by death).
When Huxley wrote Brave New World, World War II hadn’t happened yet. But after that conflict, with its Holocaust and Hiroshima, Huxley wrote Ape and Essence with “sheer intractable bitterness,” according to Time.
The book makes extensive use of surrealist imagery, depicting humans as apes who, as a whole, will inevitably commit suicide.
With Armageddon’s Children, Brooks connects his Tolkien-esque Shannara fantasy world with his urban, post-apocalyptic Word and the Void books.
It’s a stretch to call this science fiction, but it’s still fun dystopian fare.
Article 5 is young adult fare published by Tor Teen, and while reviewers like its action and adventure, they often wanted to slap protagonist Ember for being so dense and whiny.
“Both conservatives and liberals were unstinting in disparaging the book; the right saw promotion of godlessness, and the left saw a message of greed is good. Rand is said to have cried every day as the reviews came out.”
– Harriet Rubin (2007) in The New York Times
Tell me if this sounds familiar: as part of a ruthless program by the totalitarian government, ninth-grade students are taken to a small isolated island with a map, food, and various weapons. Forced to wear special collars that explode when they break a rule, they must fight each other for three days until only one “winner” remains. The elimination contest becomes the ultimate in must-see reality television.
“…an insanely entertaining pulp riff that combines Survivor with World Wrestling Entertainment. Or maybe Royale is just insane.”
Filled with veiled puns and wordplay, Bend Sinister is a haunting, compelling (and overtly political) narrative about a civilized man caught in the tyranny of a police state.
A “bend sinister” is a heraldic charge: A bar drawn from the upper left to the lower right on a coat of arms (from the point of view of the person wearing the shield).
In a 1963 edition of the book, Nabokov explains that “this choice of a title was an attempt to suggest an outline broken by refraction, a distortion in the mirror of being, a wrong turn taken by life.”
A nice break from Young Adult dystopia, Blindness is written by a Nobel Prize winner for Literature.
A city is hit by an epidemic of “white blindness” which spares no one. Authorities confine the blind to an empty mental hospital, but once there, the criminal element holds everyone captive, stealing food rations and raping women. There is one eyewitness to this nightmare who guides seven strangers—among them a boy with no mother, a girl with dark glasses, a dog of tears—through the barren streets, and the procession becomes as uncanny as the surroundings are harrowing.
I tried to like this book. I really did. Gazillions of other people do, but it took itself too seriously for me. It’s wonderfully imaginative, nicely bleak (if you’re in the mood for it), but it failed to really engage me.
It’s not you, Shadow & Claw, it’s me. I think it’s time we read other people.
“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism… Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.”
Like other dystopian novels, Caesar’s Column is more of an explanation of a philosophy than a true story. In this case, it’s agrarian Populism, a system of thought that was too boring for me to research any further.
Caesar’s Column is a lesser-known example of the wave of dystopian novels that erupted during the turn of the century, a more famous example being Jack London’s The Iron Heel.
It’s lesser-known for a reason: it’s racist as hell, and the one review of it I could find talked about how great the introduction was.
It’s Vonnegut, so it’s another brilliant and wonderfully readable, satirical commentary on modern man and his madness.
Unexpectedly, Vonnegut worked in the public relations department for the General Electric research company (think about that: Vonnegut writing press releases). His job was to interview research scientists and find good stories, but he discovered many of the older scientists were indifferent about the results of their research. One scientist stood out for Vonnegut:
“[This scientist] was absolutely indifferent to the uses that might be made of the truths he dug out of the rock and handed out to whoever was around, but any truth he found was beautiful in its own right, and he didn’t give a damn who got it next.”
The New York Times nearly trips over itself praising Barry and his debut novel City of Bohane, which contains “marvels of language, invention, surprise. Savage brutality is here, but so is laughter. And humanity. And the abiding ache of tragedy.”
It’s 2053, and the west coast of Ireland is demented and malevolent, a world with minimal laws and technology. Characters dress in flamboyant clothes and talk in an invented dialect while feuding gangs compete for control of the city of Bohane.
The result is brilliantly original fiction that reveals how disparate people connect, how their fates intertwine, and how their souls drift across time like clouds across the sky.
Contagious is an indie dystopia written by a single mother of four, and is garnering some excellent reviews.
What starts as an emergence of a new virus quickly turns into Mother Nature’s ultimate population control. While attending a seminar at the Ambassador Hotel, Ava Mason is unknowingly exposed to a carrier of a highly contagious virus. The next morning, she wakes to a steady pounding on her door. Within minutes, her home is stormed and she and her three children are apprehended, placed in a van and taken away. Quarantined. They are told nothing, and the world outside begins to collapse.
Premises don’t get much more young adult than this: an indecisive young girl falls in love in a society where love is seen as a disease.
Delirium was a bestseller, but some reviewers, while praising Oliver’s beautiful writing, take issue with the slow pace of the novel.
When Ridley Scott made the film Blade Runner, he used a lot of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, but he also threw a lot away. Instead of Harrison Ford’s lonely bounty hunter, Dick’s protagonist is a financially strapped municipal employee with bills to pay and a depressed wife.
There’s also a whole subplot that follows John Isidore, a man of sub-par IQ who aids the fugitive androids.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a much more sober and darker meditation of what it means to be human than the film it inspired.
It won the Hugo and Nebula awards, even though The New York Times felt that the plot resembled a “grade Z, made-for-television, science-fiction rip-off movie.”
The novel depicts a post-apocalyptic society that has sought to banish privilege and envy, to the extent that people will even have their faces surgically altered in order to appear neither too beautiful nor too ugly.
‘You’ll never be happy until you can think and feel and look like other people…’ Jael 97 is an Alpha. Deemed over-privileged for her beauty, she is compelled to report to the Ministry of Facial Justice, where her face will be reconstructed. For Jael lives in the New State, created out of the devastation of the Third World War. Under the rule of the Darling Dictator, citizens must wear sackcloth and ashes, and only a 17.5% quotum of personality is permitted to each. Anything that inspires envy is forbidden. But Jael cannot suppress her rebellious spirit. Secretly, she starts to reassert the rights of the individual, and decides to hunt down the faceless Dictator.
451°F may or may not be the actual flashpoint of book paper, but that hardly matters in this dystopian (rare for Bradbury) tale of censorship run amok.
The story follows a genetically enhanced pop singer and television star who wakes up in a world where he has never existed, a futuristic dystopia, where the United States has become a police state in the aftermath of a Second Civil War.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said grapples with many of the themes Philip K. Dick is best known for—identity, altered reality, drug use, and dystopia—in a rollicking chase story that earned the novel the John W. Campbell Award and nominations for the Hugo and Nebula.
Gun, with Occasional Music follows the adventures of Conrad Metcalf, a tough guy private detective and wiseass, through a futuristic version of San Francisco and Oakland, California. Metcalf is hired by a man who claims that he’s being framed for the murder of a prominent urologist. Metcalf quickly discovers that nobody wants the case solved: not the victim’s ex-wife, not the police, and certainly not the gun-toting kangaroo who works for the local mafia boss.
Chances are you now really want to read this, or absolutely want nothing to do with it.
(I just put it on my wish list.)
When a class war erupts inside a luxurious apartment block, modern elevators become violent battlegrounds and cocktail parties degenerate into marauding attacks on “enemy” floors. In this visionary tale, human society slips into violent reverse as once-peaceful residents, driven by primal urges, re-create a world ruled by the laws of the jungle.
“The author pulls off quite a feat in never once stooping to the level of his characters, and in doing so leaves one able to sympathize with even the most barbaric of them.”
-Some amazon reviewer
Like all great dystopian stories, The Hunger Games features a society gone bad that attacks the good guy (gal in this instance).
Some critics have railed against the book’s brutality, but teenagers have always loved stories where other teens die violent, blood-soaked deaths (see: every horror movie ever made).
But is it a good book? People disagree wildly:
“The book is full of good ideas, every other one of which is immediately dropped and kicked out of sight.”
– Damon Knight
“[I]t is perhaps the greatest novel written on human loneliness.”
Sinclair Lewis’ darkly humorous tale of a fascist takeover in the US was written to lampoon and drag down the political career of controversial Louisiana politician Huey Long, who was preparing to run for president in 1936.
Despite this specific goal, many readers will find modern parallels to politicians doing the bidding of large corporations.
Dark and satirical without taking itself too seriously, Jennifer Government takes place in world where taxation has been abolished, the government has been privatized, and employees take the surname of the company they work for.
Forced to build street cred for a new line of $2500 sneakers by shooting customers, low-level employee Hack Nike attracts the barcode-tattooed eye of the legendary Jennifer Government. A stressed-out single mom, corporate watchdog, and government agent who has to rustle up funding before she’s allowed to fight crime, Jennifer Government is holding a closing down sale—and everything must go.
“Does just about everything right… wicked and wonderful, fast-moving and funny.”
Fans claim that Kallocain, written eight years before Orwell’s opus, is actually superior to 1984. Its central idea grew from the rumors of truth drugs that ensured the subservience of every citizen to the state.
Leo is a scientist, who is initially very loyal to the government and develops the truth drug Kallocain. It has the effect that anyone who takes it will reveal anything, even things they were not consciously aware of.
In the world of 2116, a person’s maximum age is strictly legislated: twenty-one years, to the day. When people reach this Lastday they report to a Sleepshop in which they are willingly executed via a pleasure-inducing toxic gas.
When the novel was published back in 1967, it was seen by some as a finger in the eye of the emerging youth culture, and in that sense, Logan’s Run is still relevant.
However, it takes place in an unfamiliar landscape (deserted island) with mildly alien creatures (children) who cause all sorts of trouble.
Published in 1954, Lord of the Flies was Golding’s first novel. Although it was not a great success at the time—selling fewer than 3,000 copies in the United States during 1955 before going out of print—it soon went on to become a bestseller.
Set in then-future 1999, in a overcrowded world of seven billion people (a mark we passed in 2012), pandemonium erupts when a Manhattan food shop has a sale on “soylent” (soya and lentil) steaks.
And yes, this book was the inspiration for the film Soylent Green, but the ingredients of soylent were changed drastically for the film.
Written by Nobel Prize-winner Doris Lessing, The Memoirs of a Survivor takes place in a near-future Britain where society has broken down, due to an unspecified disaster. Family units themselves have splintered and survivors band together into loose units for basic survival.
The unnamed narrator ends up with “custody” of a teenage girl named Emily Cartwright. Emily herself has unspecified trauma in her past that the main character does not probe at. Hugo, an odd mix of cat and dog, comes with Emily. Due to the growing scarcity of resources, the animal is in constant danger of being eaten.
Periodically, the narrator is able, through meditating on a certain wall in her flat, to traverse space and time.
It begins with war, and things go downhill for Todd and Viola from there. The consequences of each action, each word, are unspeakably vast: To follow a tyrant or a terrorist? To save the life of the one you love most, or thousands of strangers? To believe in redemption, or assume it is lost? Becoming adults amid the turmoil, Todd and Viola question all they have known, racing through horror and outrage toward a shocking finale.
Gibson rewrote the first 2/3 of this book (his first novel) twelve times and was worried people would think he stole the feel from Blade Runner, which had come out two years earlier. He was convinced he would be “permanently shamed” after it was published.
Fortunately for Gibson, Neuromancer won science fiction’s triple crown (the Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick awards) and became the seminal work in the cyberpunk subgenre.
Students in the boarding school are special, but aren’t told why. Their beautiful surroundings are undercut by a dark, ever-present tension.
When the secrets are finally and indirectly revealed years later, readers are left to consider the implications for the characters and themselves.
The Nova Mob—Sammy the Butcher, Izzy the Push, The Subliminal Kid, and others—are viruses, “defined as the three-dimensional coordinate point of a controller… which invade the human body, and in the process, produce language.” These Nova Criminals represent society, culture, and government, and have taken control. Inspector Lee and the rest of the Nova Police are left fighting for the rest of humanity in the power struggle.
Nova Express is the third book in The Nova Trilogy, preceded by The Soft Machine and The Ticket That Exploded. Burroughs considered the trilogy a “sequel” or “mathematical” continuation of Naked Lunch.
Consider yourself warned.
Some reviewers complained that the book began slowly, but glad they stuck with it.
Published only four years after Orwell’s 1984, the dystopia of Karp’s One will seem more familiar to modern readers, and possibly more chilling because of it.
It’s also more of a psychological thriller than 1984.
Author Atwood does not consider Oryx and Crake to be science fiction because it does not deal with “things that have not been invented yet.” Instead, she categorizes it as “adventure romance.” You’ve been warned.
It does, however, feature the effects of genetic engineering, climate change run wild, and primitive semi-humans, so feel free to make up your own mind.
The human race is all but extinct after a war with Partials—engineered organic beings identical to humans—has decimated the population. Reduced to only tens of thousands by RM, a weaponized virus to which only a fraction of humanity is immune, the survivors in North America have huddled together on Long Island while the Partials have mysteriously retreated. The threat of the Partials is still imminent, but, worse, no baby has been born immune to RM in more than a decade. Our time is running out.
Partials is Young Adult, but without much of the teen angst that usually accompanies YA books.
Pirate Cinema is set in a dystopian near-future Britain where the government is effectively controlled by media corporations. The main character, Trent McCauley, has had his internet access cut for reassembling downloaded films on his computer and, living rough on the streets of London, is trying to fight the introduction of a new draconian copyright law.
Vonnegut’s first novel, Player Piano takes place in a near-future society that is almost totally mechanized, eliminating the need for human laborers. This widespread mechanization creates conflict between the wealthy upper class—the engineers and managers who keep society running—and the lower class, whose skills and purpose in society have been replaced by machines.
In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenager Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines—puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them.
Ten months after the first edition release, Cline revealed on his blog that Ready Player One itself contained an elaborately hidden easter egg. This clue would form the first part of a series of staged video gaming tests, similar to the plot of the novel. Cline also revealed that the competition’s grand prize would be a DeLorean.
“Stuffed to the gills with action, puzzles, nerdy romance, and 80s nostalgia, this high energy cyber-quest will make geeks everywhere feel like they were separated at birth from author Ernest Cline.”
It’s The Hunger Games in space, but apparently, still a good read.
On desolate Mars, the protagonist, Darrow, is caught in a class system that thrives on oppression and secrecy. He is a Red, the lowest member of society, born to toil in the bowels of the planet in service to the sovereign Golds. When Darrow suffers a devastating loss and betrayal, he becomes a revolutionary, taking on a dangerous role in an attempt to bring about social justice.
The story follows protagonist Ben Richards as he participates in the game show The Running Man, in which contestants, allowed to go anywhere in the world, are chased by “Hunters,” employed to kill them.
According to King, The Running Man was written within a single week, compared to his normal 2,000 word, or ten page per day output. He also described The Running Man as “…a book written by a young man who was angry, energetic, and infatuated with the art and the craft of writing.”
The old world is buried. A new one has been forged atop the shifting dunes. Here in this land of howling wind and infernal sand, four siblings find themselves scattered and lost. Their father was a sand diver, one of the elite few who could travel deep beneath the desert floor and bring up the relics and scraps that keep their people alive. But their father is gone. And the world he left behind might be next.
Shatter Me is firmly in the Young Adult camp: Booklist describes it as a “rip-roaring adventure [with] steamy romance scenes [and] a relationship teens will root for.”
Norman Niblock House is a rising executive at General Technics, one of a few all-powerful corporations. His work is leading General Technics to the forefront of global domination, both in the marketplace and politically—it’s about to take over a country in Africa. Donald Hogan is his roommate, a seemingly sheepish bookworm. But Hogan is a spy, and he’s about to discover a breakthrough in genetic engineering that will change the world…and kill him.
Stand on Zanzibar is New Wave science fiction, which means that it’s experimental (or was in 1968), and whole chapters are devoted to information overload and world-building. But instead of a smooth narrative, the information is pulled from sources such as slogans, snatches of conversation, advertising text, songs, and extracts from newspapers and books.
As of this writing, Station Eleven, a novel about life before and after a pandemic, is unpublished.
Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.
In the near future, America is crushed by a financial crisis, and our patient Chinese creditors may just be ready to foreclose on the whole mess. Then Lenny Abramov, son of an Russian immigrant janitor and ardent fan of “printed, bound media artifacts” (aka books), meets Eunice Park, an impossibly cute Korean American woman with a major in Images and a minor in Assertiveness. Could falling in love redeem a planet falling apart?
“[A] profane and dizzying satire, a dystopic vision of the future as convincing—and, in its way, as frightening—as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.”-Publishers Weekly
An indie (read: self-published) list entry, The Atlantis Plague is actually book two of a series, but its popularity and reviews are strong enough to warrant inclusion. The goodreads page recommends readers start with the first book, The Atlantis Gene.
An ex-internet entrepreneur, Riddle’s modesty/honesty is refreshing:
“For me, [my success] was pure dumb luck.”
For grades 6 and up, so really, really young adult.
A teenager rebels against an oppressive society and refuses to get a bar code tattooed on her wrist. She runs away and encounters rebel groups, handsome boys, and psychic powers.
The Bar Code Tattoo is more for reluctant teenage readers than hardcore SF fans.
P.D. James, in a surprise to me, is a nice old lady. I expected some grizzled, angry, borderline-alcoholic wild man. But no, she wears bright scarves and powder blue jackets.
Set in England in 2021, The Children of Men centers on the results of mass infertility. The United Kingdom is steadily depopulating and descending into chaos, but a small group of resisters do not share the disillusionment of the masses.
The movie was also excellent.
John Wyndham’s more famous novel is The Day of the Triffids, but this one is better.
The Chrysalids is set in the future after a devastating global nuclear war. David, the young hero of the novel, lives in a tight-knit community of religious and genetic fundamentalists, always on the alert for any deviation from the norm of God’s creation. Abnormal plants are publicly burned, with much singing of hymns. Abnormal humans (who are not really human) are also condemned to destruction—unless they succeed in fleeing to the Fringes, that Wild Country where, as the authorities say, nothing is reliable and the devil does his work. David grows up ringed by admonitions: KEEP PURE THE STOCK OF THE LORD; WATCH THOU FOR THE MUTANT.
At first he does not question. Then, however, he realizes that the he, too, is out of the ordinary, in possession of a power that could doom him to death or introduce him to a new, hitherto unimagined world of freedom.
Set in twenty-first century Shanghai where nanotechnology affects all aspects of life, The Diamond Age is the story of what happens when a state-of-the-art interactive device falls in the hands of a street urchin named Nell. Her life—and the entire future of humanity—is about to be decoded and reprogrammed…
“Building steadily to a wholly earned and intriguing climax, this long novel, which presents its sometimes difficult technical concepts in accessible ways, should appeal to readers other than habitual SF users.”
Clearly influenced by the Cold War, The Dispossessed‘s subtitle is “An Ambiguous Utopia.”
Shevek, a brilliant physicist, decides to take action. He will seek answers, question the unquestionable, and attempt to tear down the walls of hatred that have isolated his planet of anarchists from the rest of the civilized universe. To do this dangerous task will mean giving up his family and possibly his life. Shevek must make the unprecedented journey to the utopian mother planet, Anarres, to challenge the complex structures of life and living, and ignite the fires of change.
In contrast to most dystopian fiction, The Drowned World features a central character who, rather than being disturbed by the end of the old world, is enraptured by the chaotic reality that has come to replace it.
A theme throughout Ballard’s writing is the idea that human beings construct their surroundings to reflect their unconscious drives, and he uses the post-apocalyptic world of the story to mirror the collective unconscious desires of the main characters.
When a book is described as “feminist science fiction,” the first thing to come to mind is rarely, “Hey, that sounds like fun!”
However The Female Man has earned its place as a classic not just for its subject matter but for being an excellent book. And yes, guys will probably like it, too.
Living in an altered past that never saw the end of the Great Depression, Jeannine, a librarian, is waiting to be married. Joanna lives in a different version of reality: she’s a 1970s feminist trying to succeed in a man’s world. Janet is from Whileaway, a utopian earth where only women exist. And Jael is a warrior with steel teeth and catlike retractable claws, from an earth with separate-and warring-female and male societies. When these four women meet, the results are startling, outrageous, and subversive.
President Bliss is handling a tricky situation with customary brio, but after months of ceaseless rain, the city is sinking under the floods. The rich are safe on high ground, but the poor are getting damper in their packed tower blocks, and the fanatical “Last Days” sect is recruiting thousands.
“A playful apocalypse.”–The Bookseller
A 1993 American children’s novel, The Giver is set in a society which is at first presented as utopian, but gradually appears more and more dystopian. The novel follows a boy named Jonas through the twelfth year of his life. The society has eliminated pain and strife by converting to “Sameness,” a plan that has also eradicated emotional depth from their lives. Jonas is selected to inherit the position of Receiver of Memory, the person who stores all the past memories of the time before Sameness, in case they are ever needed to aid in decisions that others lack the experience to make. Jonas learns the truth about his dystopian society and struggles with its weight.
The Giver is a part of many middle school reading lists, but it is also on many challenged book lists and appeared on the American Library Association’s list of most challenged books of the 1990s.
Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are only valued if their ovaries are viable.
Funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing, The Handmaid’s Tale is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and tour de force.
Illyria is a scientific utopia, an enclave of logic and reason founded off the Greek coast in the mid-twenty-first century as a refuge from the Reaction, a wave of religious fundamentalism sweeping the planet. Yet to George Simling, first generation son of a former geneticist who was left emotionally and psychically crippled by the persecution she encountered in her native Chicago, science-dominated Illyria is becoming as closed-minded and stifling as the religion-dominated world outside …
Holy Machine is Beckett’s debut novel, and it’s part science fiction, part spiritual quest, while still being a page-turner.
Generally considered to be “the earliest of the modern Dystopian novels,” it chronicles the rise of an oligarchic tyranny in the United States. It is arguably the novel in which Jack London’s socialist views are most explicitly on display.
The Iron Heel is unusual among London’s writings (and in the literature of the time in general) in being a first-person narrative of a woman protagonist written by a man.
Unfortunately, it appears to be partly plagiarized: chapter 7 of The Iron Heel is an almost verbatim copy of an ironic essay by Frank Harris published in 1901.
The Jagged Orbit is set in the United States of America in 2014, when interracial tensions have passed the breaking point. A Mafia-like cartel, the Gottschalks, are exploiting this situation to sell weapons to anyone able to buy them. A split develops within the cartel, between the conservative old men and ambitious underlings prepared to use new computer technology to pull off some spectacular coups.
For those reading the book, it helps to know (in advance of the book disclosing it some 300 pages in) the meaning of “Blank,” “Kneeblank,” and “Knee”, as used when referring to individuals within the text.
They are derived (By the author?) from the Afrikaans word “nieblanke”=”not white” derived thus:
“Nie” meaning not, pronounced as “knee”, as in Dutch or Afrikaans.
“Blanke” meaning white, pronounced “blank” (as in a blank space).
“Knee”: An abbreviated form of “Kneeblank.”
“Kneeblank”: a person who is not white/Caucasian.
“Blank”: a person who is white/Caucasian.
The first book of the young adult series Chaos Walking, The Knife of Never Letting Go is about Todd Hewitt, the only boy in a town of men.
Ever since the settlers were infected with the Noise germ, Todd can hear everything the men think, and they hear everything he thinks. Todd is just a month away from becoming a man, but in the midst of the cacophony, he knows that the town is hiding something from him — something so awful Todd is forced to flee with only his dog, whose simple, loyal voice he hears as well. With hostile men from the town in pursuit, the two stumble upon a strange and eerily silent creature: a girl. Who is she? Why wasn’t she killed by the germ like all the females on New World?
In a future world racked by violence and environmental catastrophes, George Orr wakes up one day to discover that his dreams have the ability to alter reality. He seeks help from Dr. William Haber, a psychiatrist who immediately grasps the power George wields. Soon George must preserve reality itself as Dr. Haber becomes adept at manipulating George’s dreams for his own purposes.
The Lathe of Heaven is an eerily prescient novel from award-winning author Ursula K. Le Guin that masterfully addresses the dangers of power and humanity’s self-destructiveness, questioning the nature of reality itself. It is a classic of the science fiction genre.
The Maze Runner is the first book in a young-adult (i.e., grade 6 – 10) series. If you’re looking for something heavy, this isn’t it.
When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He’s surrounded by strangers—boys whose memories are also gone. Outside the towering stone walls that surround the Glade is a limitless, ever-changing maze. It’s the only way out—and no one’s ever made it through alive. Then a girl arrives. The first girl ever. And the message she delivers is terrifying: Remember. Survive. Run.
The Passion of New Eve is set in a dystopian United States where civil war has broken out between different political, racial, and gendered groups. A dark satire, the book parodies primitive notions of gender, sexual difference, and identity from a post-feminist perspective. Other major themes include sadomasochism and the politics of power.
In the future, most of humanity lives in massive underground bunkers, producing weapons for the nuclear war they’ve fled. Constantly bombarded by patriotic propaganda, the citizens of these industrial anthills believe they are waiting for the day when the war will be over and they can return aboveground. But when Nick St. James, president of one anthill, makes an unauthorized trip to the surface, what he finds is more shocking than anything he could imagine.
It shares some features with Howey’s Wool, of course, but there are so many underground dystopian books that Hugh Howey can’t be accused of copying.
Written in response to the flood of utopian literature in the late 19th century, The Republic of the Future takes satirical aim at various liberal developments of her era, including the first stirrings of the animal rights movement. Its primary targets, however, are the innovations that utopians of her age most strongly advocated, socialism, feminism, and technological progress.
Dodd paints a picture of a future New York as a dreary conformist society, in which the inhabitants live in identical homes and men and women dress alike. Though people work only two hours per day, they live tedious, vacuous lives.
A nameless son and father wander a landscape blasted by an unspecified cataclysm that has destroyed most of civilization and, in the intervening years, almost all life on Earth.
The Road is another list entry where the term “science fiction” may or may not apply, but it’s so freakishly good that this list would feel thin without it.
The novel was awarded the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and critics have called it “heartbreaking,” “haunting,” and “emotionally shattering.”
The Sleeper Awakes is about a man who sleeps for 203 years, waking up in a completely transformed London, where, because of compound interest on his bank accounts, he has become the richest man in the world.
The capitalists who run this world hope he’ll play along with them, and continue to let them run the world using his money. But Sleeper Graham has other ideas and becomes a Socialist messiah to the oppressed.
A great old classic that invented the phrase “time machine.”
Just don’t watch the modern movie, because that ends in a fistfight for some reason.
The Tube Riders is an indie (self-published) young-adult page-turner that reviews applaud for being imaginative and exciting.
Mega Britain in 2075 is a dangerous place. A man known as the Governor rules the country with an iron hand, but within the towering perimeter walls of London Greater Urban Area, anarchy spreads unchecked through the streets. In the abandoned London Underground station of St. Cannerwells, a group of misfits calling themselves the Tube Riders seek to forget the chaos by playing a dangerous game with trains.
The White Mountains is the first book in the young-adult Tripods trilogy, and the Amazon reviews are full of people who read the book when younger and loved it.
Long ago, the Tripods—huge, three-legged machines—descended upon Earth and took control. Now people unquestioningly accept the Tripods’ power. The people have no control over their thoughts or their lives. But for a brief time in each person’s life—in childhood—he is not a slave. For Will, his time of freedom is about to end, unless he can escape to the White Mountains, where the possibility of freedom still exists.
The story is set in a seemingly perfect global society. Uniformity is the defining feature; there is only one language and all ethnic groups have been eugenically merged into one race called “The Family.” The world is ruled by a central computer called UniComp that has been programmed to keep every single human on the surface of the earth in check. People are continually drugged by means of regular injections so that they can never realize their potential as human beings, but will remain satisfied and cooperative. They are told where to live, when to eat, whom to marry, when to reproduce. Even the basic facts of nature are subject to the UniComp’s will—men do not grow facial hair, women do not develop breasts, and it only rains at night.
Borrowing from Philip K. Dick and Raymond Chandler, Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat is a noir-ish detective story set in the last city on Earth—Melbourne.
The narrator, Floyd Maquina, is a Seeker. Employed by the government to hunt down so-called Deviants for what is euphemistically called “hospitalization,” Floyd has the authority to terminate those who won’t come along peacefully. It’s something he’s only had to do once, but that encounter weighs heavily on his mind, driving him to seek comfort in drugs, alcohol, and classic Hollywood films.
Uglies is a young-adult book set in a future post-scarcity dystopian world in which everyone is turned “Pretty” by extreme cosmetic surgery upon reaching age 16.
Under the surface, Uglies speaks of high-profile government conspiracies and the danger of trusting the omnipresent Big Brother. While the underlying story condemns war and all the side effects thereof, the true thrust of the story is that individual freedoms are far more important than the need for uniformity and the elimination of personal will.
In America after the Second Civil War, the Pro-Choice and Pro-Life armies came to an agreement: The Bill of Life states that human life may not be touched from the moment of conception until a child reaches the age of thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, a parent may choose to retroactively get rid of a child through a process called “unwinding.” Unwinding ensures that the child’s life doesn’t “technically” end by transplanting all the organs in the child’s body to various recipients. Now a common and accepted practice in society, troublesome or unwanted teens are able to easily be unwound.
Called “gripping” and “disturbing,” this young-adult novel is the first of a series.
In a totalitarian England, V, an anarchist revolutionary dressed in a Guy Fawkes mask, begins an elaborate, violent, and intentionally theatrical campaign to murder his former captors, bring down the government, and convince the people to rule themselves, while inspiring a young woman to be his protégé.
In an interview, Moore states, “The central question is, is this guy right? Or is he mad? What do you, the reader, think about this? Which struck me as a properly anarchist solution. I didn’t want to tell people what to think, I just wanted to tell people to think …”
Slightly dated feminist sci-fi, Walk To the End of the World is the first book of the Holdfast Chronicles, a four-book series that took over twenty years to write.
The men of the Holdfast had long treated with contempt the degenerated creatures known as “fems.” To give themselves the drive to survive and reconquer the world, the men needed a common enemy. Superstitious belief had ascribed to the fems the guilt for the terrible Wasting that had destroyed the world. They were the ideal scapegoat. The truth was lost in death and decay and buried in history. It was going to be a long journey back…
Čapek is the guy who invented the term “robot” in his play R.U.R. (It’s from the Czech word robota, meaning “forced labor”).
War with the Newts is a satirical story and concerns the discovery in the Pacific of a sea-dwelling race, an intelligent breed of newts, who are initially enslaved and exploited. They acquire human knowledge and rebel, leading to a global war for supremacy.
Along with Jack London’s The Iron Heel, We is generally considered to be the grandfather of the satirical futuristic dystopia genre.
In the One State of the great Benefactor, there are no individuals, only numbers. Life is an ongoing process of mathematical precision, a perfectly balanced equation. Primitive passions and instincts have been subdued. Even nature has been defeated, banished behind the Green Wall. But one frontier remains: outer space. Now, with the creation of the spaceship Integral, that frontier — and whatever alien species are to be found there — will be subjugated to the beneficent yoke of reason.
One number, D-503, chief architect of the Integral, decides to record his thoughts in the final days before the launch for the benefit of less advanced societies. But a chance meeting with the beautiful I-330 results in an unexpected discovery that threatens everything D-503 believes about himself and the One State. The discovery — or rediscovery — of inner space…and that disease the ancients called the soul.
Wither is a young-adult novel set in a future where scientists succeeded in engineering a perfect generation of humans, free of illness and disorders, but as a consequence, also created a virus that plagues that generation’s children and their children’s children, killing females at age 20 and males at age 25.
Wither falls short on world-building, but its intense character drama will likely please its targeted audience.
A classic feminist novel and well-imagined sci-fi story, Woman on the Edge of Time features a narrator who may or may not be insane.
Thirty-seven-year-old Hispanic woman Consuelo (Connie) Ramos, recently released from forced detention in a mental institution, begins to communicate with a figure that may or may not be imaginary: an androgynous young woman named Luciente. She realizes that Luciente is from a future, utopian world in which a number of goals of the political and social agenda of the late sixties and early seventies radical movements have been fulfilled.
Hugh Howey is the current bestselling King of the Post-apocalypse and resulting dystopia.
In a ruined and toxic future, a community exists in a giant silo underground, hundreds of stories deep. There, men and women live in a society full of regulations they believe are meant to protect them. Sheriff Holston, who has unwaveringly upheld the silo’s rules for years, unexpectedly breaks the greatest taboo of all: He asks to go outside.
“The biggest influence on me was probably Fraggle Rock. As a kid, I couldn’t get enough of the intro to that show, which revealed an entire world underground.”
– Hugh Howey