96 Dystopian Science Fiction Books

Dystopian art by Alex Andreev

Dystopian art by Alex Andreev

Dystopian fiction is making us scared. Stop writing it!

Or, we’re writing it because we’re already scared, so we should probably write more.

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.

by George Orwell – 1949
Ideas from science fiction rarely make it into the public consciousness, but 1984 was referenced in Supreme Court cases, and “Big Brother” has a spot in the Oxford English Dictionary.

1984 is the rare book that is both commonly assigned to students and still a pleasure to read.

A Better World
by Marcus Sakey – 2014

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 Be warned: A Better World will leave you waiting for the as-yet unpublished conclusion to the trilogy.

A Canticle for Leibowitz
by Walter Miller – 1959
This is Miller’s first and only novel, but he didn’t hold back: it spans thousands of years, chronicling the rebuilding of civilization after an apocalyptic event.

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.

So there.

A Clockwork Orange
by Anthony Burgess – 1962
Infuriating novelists everywhere, Burgess claims he wrote this book in only three weeks. He also claims to have heard the Cockney phase “queer as a clockwork orange” in a London pub, but research by a number of journalists has uncovered no such term used anywhere else. Being that the phrase was overheard in a pub, it’s possible Burgess was already a few pints in when he misheard a drunken exclamation, misremembered it later when he had a chance to write it down, and now it’s one of the most famous titles in literature.

Across the Universe
by Beth Revis – 2011

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.

After The Event
by T.A Williams – 2014
Indie (i.e., self-published), but has promise. Reviews either love or hate the characters, but everyone agrees After The Event paints a bleak, realistic picture of a dystopian world.

Alongside Night
by J. Neil Schulman – 1979

An unabashedly libertarian and market-anarachist (whatever that means) novel, Alongside Night follows the economic collapse of the United States.

Altered Carbon
by Richard K. Morgan – 2002
Not since Isaac Asimov has anyone combined SF and mystery so well. A very rich man dies unexpectedly, and when his backup copy is animated, he hires Takeshi Kovacs to find out why.

Morgan creates a gritty, noir tale that will please Raymond Chandler fans, an impressive accomplishment in any genre.

by Jeff VanderMeer – 2014
An expedition of four women is sent into an unknown region called Area X, beyond the borders of humanity: a psychologist, a surveyor, an anthropologist, and our narrator, a biologist. The purpose of the mission is to collect data about Area X and report back to the government, the Southern Reach, but circumstances begin to change when the group discovers a tower (or tunnel) that was previously unmarked on the map. Inside the structure, strange writing is scrawled across the walls, and a spiral staircase descends downward, beckoning the members to follow.

Annihilation is the first book of the Southern Reach trilogy, and an unexpected foray into science fiction by “weird fiction” author VanderMeer.

by Ayn Rand – 1938

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).

Ape and Essence
by Aldous Huxley – 1948

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.

Armageddon’s Children
by Terry Brooks – 2006

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
by Kristen Simmons – 2013

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.

Atlas Shrugged
by Ayn Rand – 1957
Atlas Shrugged is Rand’s fourth and final novel, and considered her magnum opus of fiction. Don’t read this because you’re in the mood for a ripping yarn—Atlas Shrugged is the articulation of a philosophy.

“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

Battle Royale
by Koushun Takami – 1999

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.”
-Stephen King

Bend Sinister
by Vladimir Nabokov – 1947

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.”

by José Saramago – 1995

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.

Shadow & Claw
by Gene Wolfe – 1994

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.

Brave New World
by Aldous Huxley – 1932
Both Brave New World and 1984 saw dystopian futures, but Huxley seems to have gotten much of it right (though Orwell did nail the surveillance state). According to social critic Neil Postman:

“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.”

Caesar's Column
by Ignatius L. Donnelly – 1890

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.

Cat's Cradle
by Kurt Vonnegut – 1963

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.”

City of Bohane
by Kevin Barry – 2011

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.

Cloud Atlas
by David Mitchell – 2004
A postmodern visionary who is also a master of styles of genres, David Mitchell combines flat-out adventure, a Nabokovian love of puzzles, a keen eye for character, and a taste for mind-bending philosophical and scientific speculation in the tradition of Umberto Eco and Philip K. Dick.

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.

by Jacqueline Druga – 2014

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.

by Lauren Oliver – 2011

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.

by Veronica Roth – 2011
Similar in structure to both The Maze Runner and The Hunger Games, Divergent also explores the place of authority and identity within a youth’s relationship to parents and other social forces.

Roth wrote the first draft of Divergent while on winter break from Northwestern University.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
by Philip K. Dick – 1968

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.

Ender's Game
by Orson Scott Card – 1985
Criticized for its violence (and possibly popular because of it), Ender’s Game shows children on a military space station, training for the war against the evil alien Buggers.

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.”

Facial Justice
by L. P. Hartley – 1960

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.

Fahrenheit 451
by Ray Bradbury – 1953

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.

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said
by Philip K. Dick – 1974

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
by Jonathan Lethem – 1994

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.)

by J. G. Ballard – 1975

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

Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins – 2008

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).

I Am Legend
by Richard Matheson – 1954
You can make the case that Matheson invented the modern zombie. The creatures in I Am Legend are perhaps 70% vampire and 30% zombie.

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.”
-Dan Schneider

It Can't Happen Here
by Sinclair Lewis – 1935

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.

Jennifer Government
by Max Barry – 2003

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.”
–Washington Post

by Karin Boye – 1940

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.

Logan's Run
by William F. Nolan & George Clayton Johnson – 1967

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.

Lord of the Flies
by William Golding – 1954
This book’s a bit of a cheat: it’s not science fiction and is only dystopian if you stretch the definition.

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.

Make Room! Make Room!
by Harry Harrison – 1966

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.

The Memoirs of a Survivor
by Doris Lessing – 1974

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.

Monsters of Men
by Patrick Ness – 2010

Monsters of Men is the third book of a series, so you may want to read the other two (The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer) first.

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.

by William Gibson – 1984

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.

Never Let Me Go
by Kazuo Ishiguro – 2005

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.

Nova Express
by William S. Burroughs – 1964

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.

by Isobelle Carmody – 1988
Book one of the long-running Obernewtyn Chronicles, Obernewtyn features Elspeth Gordie, a young girl with mental powers condemned by the series’ main antagonists, the governing body known as the Council, and the religious authority, the Herder Faction.

Some reviewers complained that the book began slowly, but glad they stuck with it.

One (aka Escape to Nowhere)
by David Karp – 1953

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.

Oryx and Crake
by Margaret Atwood – 2003

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.

by Dan Wells – 2012

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
by Cory Doctorow – 2012

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.

It’s also available for free from the author’s web site.

Player Piano
by Kurt Vonnegut – 1952

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.

Vonnegut has said that he cheerfully ripped off the plot of Brave New World, whose plot had been cheerfully ripped off from Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We.

Ready Player One
by Ernest Cline – 2011

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.”
–Chris Schluep

Red Rising
by Pierce Brown – 2014

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 Running Man
by Richard Bachman (aka Stephen King). – 1982

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.”

by Hugh Howey – 2014

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
by Tahereh Mafi – 2011

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.”

Stand on Zanzibar
by John Brunner – 1968

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.

Station Eleven
by Emily St. John Mandel – 2014

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.

Super Sad True Love Story
by Gary Shteyngart – 2010

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

The Atlantis Plague
by A.G. Riddle – 2013

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.”

The Bar Code Tattoo
by Suzanne Weyn – 2004

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.

The Children of Men
by P.D. James – 1992

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.

The Chrysalids
by John Wyndham – 1955

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.

The Diamond Age, or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer
by Neal Stephenson – 1995

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.”
–Publishers Weekly

The Dispossessed
by Ursula K. Le Guin – 1974

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.

The Drowned World
by J. G. Ballard – 1962

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.

The Female Man
by Joanna Russ – 1975

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.

The Flood
by Maggie Gee – 2004

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

The Giver
by Lois Lowry – 1993

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.

The Handmaid's Tale
by Margaret Atwood – 1985

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.

Holy Machine
by Chris Beckett – 2009

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.

The Iron Heel
by Jack London – 1908

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
by John Brunner – 1969

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).

This gives:

“Knee”: An abbreviated form of “Kneeblank.”
“Kneeblank”: a person who is not white/Caucasian.
“Blank”: a person who is white/Caucasian.

The Knife of Never Letting Go
by Patrick Ness – 2008

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?

The Lathe of Heaven
by Ursula K. Le Guin – 1971

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
by James Dashner – 2009

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
by Angela Carter – 1977

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.

The Penultimate Truth
by Philip K. Dick – 1964

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.

The Republic of the Future
by Anna Bowman Dodd – 1887

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.

The Road
by Cormac McCarthy – 2006

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
by H. G. Wells – 1899

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.

The Time Machine
by H. G. Wells – 1895

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
by Chris Ward – 2012

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
by John Christopher – 1967

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.

This Perfect Day
by Ira Levin – 1970

Often compared to 1984 and Brave New World, This Perfect Day is by the author of Rosemary’s Baby.

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.

Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat
by Andrez Bergen – 2011

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.

by Scott Westerfield – 2005

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.

by Neal Shusterman – 2009

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.

V for Vendetta
by Alan Moore and David Lloyd – 1989

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 …”

Walk To the End of the World
by Suzy McKee Charnas – 1974

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…

War with the Newts
by Karel Čapek – 1936

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.

by Yevgeny Zamyatin – 1924

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.

by Lauren DeStefano – 2011

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.

Woman on the Edge of Time
by Marge Piercy – 1976

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.

by Hugh Howey – 2013

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


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131 thoughts on “96 Dystopian Science Fiction Books

  1. Nothing by Octavia Butler, but two by a hack (Ayn Rand) and one by a homophobe (Orson Scott Card)? Also, did someone, you know, actually read The Handmaid’s Tale? There’s nothing funny in it.

    1. You’re right – Octavia Butler should be on this list several times. I’ll make sure she gets considered for future lists.

    2. So, you judge a book by it’s author’s cover, eh?

      Why not just let the work stand on it’s own and leave out the making of judgment on other people’s lives and politics alone.

      Isn’t that, after all, what you’ve been asking US to do?

    3. Hmm… Atwood.. The radical anti-establishment character who ends up working as a hostess in the officer’s club? The one who says the phrase “There is a BOMB in Gilead”? It’s just the seamy underbelly of truth that gives the lie to the upright moral appearances of the ruling male-ocracy. I mean, land o’ Goshen, the main trope of the book, the way babies are maid, is a pretty funny comment on the upright men meeting with the underbellies! Well, maybe not HA-HA funny….

    4. I agree – nothing funny in the handmaid’s tale at all!! It’s rather depressing, actually. Really good though.

    5. Mags,

      Many will not have read Atwood’s “Tale,” to our shared sense of “too bad for you; you’ve missed out on a well-told tale.” But that particular book is very well described by the movie and many articles and is well represented in many libraries, so it has “made it” regardless of any given list.

      The “Hack” Rand has as much or more of a devoted following as Atwood or Butler. Most of us Sci-Fi fans who have piled up a few decades of varied reading have some we would toss into this list who arent there now.

  2. Where is Frank Herberts “Dune”, in this list?
    A dystopian future list can’t be without one of the most defining Sci-fi Novels of all time.

    A story where the rulers of planets are drug addicts, where installer transportation is monopolised by a single corporation and where computers have been outlaw, just to name a FEW of the dystopic themes of this novel.

    1. Bob Wilson Tucker’s Resurrection Days (’81) is Dystopian and appears derived from his short Recon Man. (’62) Been looking for a short story for decades, title/author ?, and found the aforementioned with similar sub-plots. The short predates Bob’s ’81 work and has a little extra, might have been him and in process of contacting Estate. Plot was; man dies; wakes in world dominated by women who make ‘playmen;’ latter are dimwitted, travel to a factory by ‘rolling-road’ (Heinlein ’40) and mentally make food. Woman who makes him can ‘recycle’ him at will and uses pheromones and a’goad’ for enhancement. Would welcome anyone knowing author or title info.

  3. Good list. Keep Rand and Card on there, as both wrote influential seminal works. (their politics and personal views aren’t relevant)

    I also was looking for Dune, and please consider adding it.

    As for adding works by, Octavia Butler, I’m not sure any of her works would classify as “dystopian”? Maybe Bloodchild, but it’s a stretch.

    1. Herbert wrote many wildly imaginative books that seem eclipsed by Dune…

      I particularly like the Jorj X. McKie stories, “Whipping Star” and “The Dosadi Experiment”, tho they may be more like police mysteries.

      The real spookers to me are “Helstrom’s Hive” and “The Santaroga Barrier”. Both are about something that is about to take over, and I can’t do anything about it…

  4. Opps, I’m thinking of another author! haha. Yes, Butler did write dystopian works. (Also, want to add: Don’t let politically correctness influence you, as several commenters seem to have that, as their motivation)

  5. The Prince in Waiting/Beyond the Burning Lands/The Sword of the Spirits by Sam Youd (John Christopher)

    Glad “The Highway” made it on the list

    1. OMG! I have been looking for this book series for YEARS after I read it as a child, but could not remember the titles or author’s name. You, in an innocent comment, have lead me right to it. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU! You have no idea how long I have looked for this series. No one seemed to have ever heard of it.

  6. While it’s short fiction, not a full novel, Pohl’s “The Tunnel Under The World” is dystopian, disturbing, and well written.

    I also agree with others above that just because I disagree with someone’s politics — even find them abhorrent — doesn’t mean I won’t read their books, nor does it mean their books shouldn’t be read. Many times I’ve read books by those I find disagreeable, quite on purpose. I understand what I stand for, and why, more thoroughly as a result.

    I’m pleased to say I’ve read many of the books in this list! And now I have a list of more books to seek out. Seeing some of the entries brings back pleasant memories of my teen years (when I had much more free time).

  7. Great list! I have reached it looking for a certain book I read somewhat 25 years ago when I was a boy, but eventually read the whole thing.
    But maybe you could help me find the book in question. The heroine of the book is a young girl, growing in a collapsing democracy (can’t remember which one, but I think it was set in USA). The government is replaced every couple of weeks and the streets become more and more chaotic and violent with every passing page, until the peak point, at the end of the book, when the girl herself join the chaos. Actually, I think the word “violence” was in the title, but who knows, it was so long ago.
    Does it ring a bell?

    1. Found it! “Random Acts of Senseless Violence” by Jack Womack
      Could easily enter this list. If you haven’t read this disturbing novel, do it. I don’t really know how will I react to it now, as a grownup, but as a kid, this book left me with goosebumps.

  8. Looking for a book I read in high-school, and I thought the title was “I”. It’s about a world where there is no concept for individualism and no word for “I”. Does that sound familiar to anyone?

    1. I found you looking for the same thing. I was thinking of Babel – 17 by Samuel Delany. Awesome book!

  9. No Asimov, Herbert, Wells, Bester, Clarke, Heinlien, Laumer, or Bradbury?!

    You’re talking about sf foundation right there, and there’s not a single one of them on the list?

    A bad joke.

  10. Looking for a book about a future world where the children stand in front of a uv light because they stay indoors. Also, they travel by transporters. I read this during my childhood and it may have been a short story. I believe the narrator of the story is a young boy who decides to venture outdoors. Would like to revisit this story. This may have been written during the 1960’s. Thanks!!

    1. I think the story you are referring to is “All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury. I was caught up by the story too in my childhood. Not sure about the transporters, but it does have the UV light because it rains all the time.
      Here is a link to the story:
      And here is a link to the short film made based on this story in 1982:

      1. Loved it. My daughter moved to Juneau, Alaska and it reminded her of the story since it is raining there alot.

  11. I’ve tried to like Howey… I just find his writing dull and weirdly 60s in a way I can’t put my finger on.

  12. I have to say, this notion of whether to read the works of an ‘abhorrent’ author is a question that already belongs in an dystopian society.

    1. Oy, Louise!

      You hit it; that point of divergence from us having at least a more open public discourse since the chaotic “free speech movement” at Berkeley in the ’60’s. Here we are shortly after recent past case of that very Univeristy administrations’ supporting thuggish masked rioters aimed at targeted speakers of disapproved ideas.

      Yes, it is accurate to see attacks on Card as a Homophobe as some kind of ideological “club” wielded at an otherwise successful author who is not of one mind with current ideology – even if this authoritarian effort is made as a typed variant of that physical expression of authority over unapproved expression.

      Thanks for waking me up this mid-morning.

  13. Great list. I got here looking for a book I read some years ago about a dystopian world were people were obligated to live under a dome because everyone thought outside the air was toxic and radioactive. Actually I’m not even sure how it was, it could have been a children’s book, but anyways the title was something like “year *insert 4 digit number with a 6 somewhere*”, but again I’m not sure. If it sounds familiar tell me please!

    1. We by Yevgeny Zamyatin? The world outside is considered toxic and dangeours. And they were living under something like a glass dome.

  14. Walter Miller did publish a sequel to A Canticle For Leibowitz entitled St. Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman… FYI

  15. The best for me is The Lord of the World, by Robert Hugh Benson (1907). The best in literature and in prophecies.

  16. Great list, thank you! I’ve read several of these – the Unwind series has really stuck with me. Too much more to read, just need to find the time!

  17. Looking for a book about a group of teens that have superhuman abilities, it’s mainly focused on a boy that has yellow eyes that can see into the future for like a few seconds, it’s in a dystopian future but I completely forgot everything else about the book

  18. Great list and worthwhile comments and suggestions. Why not 196 Dystopian Science Fiction Books/Short Stories. I feel privileged to have read perhaps 25% of these in my lifetime. And I’m really excited about exploring the rest as our ‘real’ world makes ‘dystopia’ ever more present.

    Can anyone help me find a short section of a Vonnegut story that describes 3 boys/soldiers, in the future, being disruptive in a park and being ‘watched’ by people wearing video glasses that record and report their behavior? Thanks all around for any help…

  19. Looking for a short story from the late 60s or early 70s. May have been published in Playboy. Was thinking Vonnegut but can’t find anything by him that matches. Body modification has become wildly popular and stylish…the more extreme the better. A plastic surgeon falls in love with one of his patients-an actress?-who demands increasingly disfiguring work. She had been one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen. He reminds her there is no going back once she reaches a certain point but her fame grows with each surgery. The style suddenly changes and conventional beauty again reins. Any thoughts on the author or story?

  20. I’m looking for a book I read in the 80’s and could have been part of a 3 book SciFi set. The storyline included a man and his friend that awoke the morning after hearing disturbing and thunderous sounds which continued throughout the night before, only to find that much of the population from some unknown worldly attack had turned people in the lower levels of buildings and in the streets to solid metals such as bronze and iron. They soon discovered those people remained frozen as statues, whereas the more affluent people whom afforded high-rise living or were in the upper floors during the attack, were not turned to bronze or iron, such as the so called street people beneath them, and instead had been transformed into a silicone or crystal like being with rubber like joints and pads on their hands and feet and with cravings for oils and smaller metal bits. They traveled about and eventually discovered a cure or reversal of the effects which had converted them to their current state. They then attempted to utilize their gained knowledge to reverse the effects of the crystalline transformations and if I’m correct, they decided instead to remain as they were, especially with no known means of continued sustenance for their previously human counterparts

    1. Sounds like Invaders From Rigel by Fletcher Pratt, where many people have been either turned into either metal statues or (if they were higher up) robots with rubber fingertips that drink oil and absorb electricity. War ensues.

  21. Looking for a book I read in high school but lacking on details. Futuristic(for the time it was written), gangs, rather short paperback novel. Must have been pretty popular since I read it in English class.

  22. HI, I am trying to remember a book I think that was written in the 80’s (70 or 80’s) where I believe some type of epidemic or virus (air carrying I belive) broke out. The main character ends up driving north to Canada to see if he could get away from it. In time, he decided to go back to the states (to check up on family etc.) In the meantime, there was a coup in the USSR because of this. At the end of the book, the Soviet Union collapsed. The reason I know the book was written before 1991, was because I remember who great it would be if the USSR DID dissolve, thinking at the time, it never would.

  23. On top of my head some very important works missed in this list: Greybeard by Aldiss. The triology Wayward, Pines and The Last Town by Blake Crouch (classified by the author of his vision of Twin Peaks). Looking backward by Bellami (who forecasted the internet, amazon, credit cards in this book). The Long Walk by Stephen King. Anything by Clifford Simak – All flesh is grass, City, Way station. Walden Two by Skinner. Ecotopia by Callenbach.

  24. I’ve read about 25% of the books, but many of them frankly don’t sound interesting. A dystopian sci-fi book I read recently that I think should be considered is Ward Kendall’s “Hold Back This Day”, which has been mentioned in the UK Guardian and other newspapers. It’s on amazon, and worth a look.

  25. I would beg you to consider Mockingbird (Walter Trevis 1980). I was totally enthralled with not only the society created for the story but the secret reasons behind it. Nearly 40 years later it’s still a relevant tale, and still too eerily possible.

  26. Hi I’m looking for a short novel called something along the lines of Paris is burning! Or burning in Paris! It’s a dystopian novel written in a very unusual style. The only thing I can remember is that the ending implies the main character was in a dream. Please help it seems to have been gone from the Internet and there’s a popular film been made with a similar name.

  27. Love this list. Given me many more books to seek out.
    I am plagued by memories of reading a book and cannot remember the title.
    Seem to recall a peaceful family travelling to an alien world on a spaceship. The family had been misread and the aliens saw them as peaceful, intelligent etc. However, a lot of bad, bad prisoners had also been put aboard and they start to murder the hosts. I seem to recall the hosts took two forms, one of which was a big white bird?

  28. “The Parable of the Sower” and “The Parable of the Talents” by the late Octavia Butler should have found their way on this list.

    1. You’re absolutely right. When I made this list, I hadn’t discovered Octavia Butler yet. She’s in many of the other lists.

  29. Looking for a book,
    post-apocalyptic? Wild fire around the world?
    The story follows a girl who has always been curious about what it’s like outside of the dome the government forces “the rest of humanity” in. The government tells everyone if anyone steps outside of the dome they’ll die instantly by the immense temperature outside of the dome. Until one day, one of the girl’s friends makes a break for it and he makes it outside to be burned by something. He barely makes it back inside to tell her that the sky was blue. She got thinking why would the sky be blue if the world is constantly at such a high temperature. Than she tries to figure out if the world outside the dome is really as bad as their government says it is or if it was the government burning people the moment they left.

  30. Looking for a book. I can’t really remember much about it. But I just remember a group of kids maybe 3 or 4 somehow being ripped from their everyday lives and into this other universe where it is a completely white room, there are some stairs. And I think at one end there is a toilet. But all I remember is them suddenly being ripped out of this white filled universe and a scientist telling them it was all an experiment that used them. And the cover of the book was all white and there may have been a rabbit on it. I read this book when I was in middle school. It was such a shocking book to me at the time and I really would like to read it again. Thanks!

    1. Olivia,

      Yes to Harlan’s “Boy and his Dog” short, which you may know made to film. Even though I was a fan of his for years before this movie, this was before the net, and I had no such easy as now access to booklists of authors at a moment’s effort. So that film was my first notice of his story.

      I’ve been looking off and on for years for a book I read in the seventies. It was dystopian as the whole world was suffering from pervasive wide unemployment and slow crumbling of economic status. Numbers of cops increasing both as a Gov Job program and to control social mayhem is part of it, and a weird aspect from then was the presence of a generation of big headed super-smart young adults in authority all over the world.

      It’s set in Chicago and its suburbs in a vague “near future” to account for the kids and kinda world state evolving with the help of the organisational skill of those kids.

      A weird scene is set in a large police/residential/recreation complex in Chicago, kind of like walled police/residential compounds in Mexico set up to protect them and their families. The Cheif of Police meets a couple of “new kids” and escorts them and their guards.

      They ask to see an example of human mating, and the Chief takes them to view some recreational sex between the cops in the recreational area, thinking as he does how weird that the kids don’t “get” how inappropriate it is.

      They observe with no greedy porn desires, instead acting like visitors at a zoo.

      An unemployed drifter in the area is the hero; he gets involved in a revolutionary movement that spends lots of time camping and practising martial arts.

      Bits and pieces only, but the way “whoever” wrote this really stayed with me. This ring any bells for anybody?

  31. Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring , Tanith Lee’s Silver Metal Lover,The World Inside by Robert Silverberg could be considered dystopian fiction. A society doesn’t have to be explicitly repressive and cruel to its members to be dystopian.

  32. Husband is looking for a book. He thinks it was published in the 70s. About a boy who can “astral project” himself to other planets to visit but can only go once because he leaves a clone there. He comes back one time to find that another clone has space traveled to earth to kill him for something he made the clone do. Ideas?

  33. THE SHEEP LOOK UP by John Brunner…. Nebula Award Finalist: A prophetic look at the potential consequences of the escalating destruction of the Earth. In a near future, the air pollution is so bad that everyone wears gas masks. The infant mortality rate is soaring, and birth defects, new diseases, and physical ailments of all kinds abound. The water is undrinkable-unless you’re poor and have no choice. Large corporations fighting over profits from gas masks, drinking water, and clean food tower over an ineffectual, corrupt government.

  34. I’m here looking for an older dystopian short story about a society where people are deliberately made ill so drug companies& doctors can make more money and control population. Very prophetic. Read it when I was a teen back in the early 60s. It was in an “anthology” of short SF.
    I’ve read maybe 25% of what’s on this list. Brings back a lot of good memories!

  35. I am at my wits end searching for a series of books that I can’t remember the title or author. It’s a series, set in probably the 25th century, multiple M class planets have been found and there’s one that has only native Americans, one that is like a military planet where you can pay to either hunt or be hunted and on the Native American planet is found a certain rock or gem that everyone wants and it’s history repeating itself with some of the movie Avatar thrown in where the natives are offered a new better planet but they won’t move. They are living like their ancestors did with no way to defend themselves against modern technology but a neighboring planet full of some kind of radicalized Christians who are technologically advanced come to help them. Does anyone recognize this series of books?

  36. Hija, memories of a novel, early 80s, about US city that is protected by a wall, to keep the unwanted out. A bit like Europe today, millions trying to get in. Or did I dream it? Be grateful for any leads!

  37. I read a book a couple of years ago where all the kids in the community, including unborn infants started acting weird and then they all died….then came back to life and I think they needed brains to stay alive and the parents were so desperate to keep their kids alive that they started finding ways to feed them. I remember the main characters being the husband who was a garbage man and drank lots of beers, the kids being a boy around 7 and a girl around 4. The mom was a house wife and I think they had a dog too. I really can’t remember the name of that book. Please help!

  38. great list thank you for the new reading material! I am desperately trying to find a book from the 80s or 90s i think. There is a female society where men are used just for reproduction and then they acquire a prize alpha male type specimen which i think they call ‘the pig’ if anyone can help ill be your best friend 🙂

  39. I was surprised to see there was very few Japanese works on this list. For example Abe Kobo’s “The Wall” is a great classic.

    Another that was released recently was “Eighteen O’Clock Music Bath” by Juza Unno.

  40. Earth Abides by George Stewart. Written in the 1940s. Post Apocolyptic, though not ultimately dystopian if you favor starting over as a culture.

  41. Im looking for a book about a group of 3 friends who hack code and try to bring down a corporation. In the end it turns out that one of the kids cant remeber his past or anything, because he is a program. Its a relativily new book, I read it 4-5 years ago.

  42. Im looking for a book about a school that trains kids to learn talents such as pick pocketing and credit card fruad. Its a cutthroat school where the alphas tend to kill thier rivals.

  43. I’m looking for a book I read in the seventies, it was a children’s book about kids that lived in a high rise and never went on the streets, there was pollution that was so bad you couldn’t see the ground, I think the girl got a kitten and it got out and the girl and her friend go down in the street looking for the cat?? It was such a cool story and nobody has ever read a story like that.

  44. Found this list because I’m looking for a dystopian book that I read about 40 years ago whose title I can’t remember. It was about school age kids, I believe high school but it could have been college, who had to maintain a grade level of above a C or their name would be entered into a lottery. I can’t remember how many names were picked in the lottery, it could have been only one, but whoever was named was killed in front of an assembly of the students. It was meant as a motivator to do your schoolwork but also as a means of population control of the less motivated in society. Ring any bells, anyone?

    1. Don’t know the book, but it sounds somewhat like the plot of the movie “The Thinning” from 2016, where population control is dealt with via an aptitude test given to high schoolers – if you don’t get a passing grade, you are euthanized.
      The tagline for the film was “Only the smartest will survive.”
      If your story was written over 40 years ago, it wouldn’t surprise me that someone cribbed it for a movie plot, lol.

  45. I am looking for a novel, I don’t know if it would be considered a sci-fi book but it is a book set in a dystopian future where the main character a child lives in a world without books or written words. I forgot the name and it’s been so long since I’ve read it, has anyone read anything similar?

    1. Are you talking about Frances Hardinge’s novel “Fly By Night?” It deals with a tweener girl who lives in a world where books are frowned upon. Her goose was a hoot too.

      1. Fly By Night, while an AWESOME book (by my favorite author) is not what I’d consider “a dystopian future”, and they do have plenty of books, just most common people are not encouraged to learn to read. Having stories and poems read TO THEM seems to be fine, since one of the main characters is actually a writer. So I don’t think that’s what the person was looking for.

        1. Morro Schreiber – OMG haven’t read it, but it sounds like where we are headed, what with the current government being so anti-intellectual and the prevailing winds seem to be coming from a direction of “not everybody needs to be educated.”

          Here’s the synopsis, from my local library’s website: “Mosca Mye and her homicidal goose, Saracen, travel to the city of Mandelion on the heels of smooth-talking con-man, Eponymous Clent.” I just put a reserve in.

  46. Hello PLEASE HELP.. i am looking for a novel set in the future about this guy who was poor and grew up in certain bad circumstances that made him hate police men . Then he rose to be the richest man on earth and even ownes his own planet and fell in love with a police woman..despite hating police men. Plus there was also something there about advanced virtual reality. PLEASE HELP

  47. I am also looking for a book from the 80s late 70s. Characters are teens living in London during the Blitz. In the end, they discover everything is fake and that they are clones being raised by robots and everyone else is dead. I think it was called the Unicorn in the Sky but that title does not come up with anything.

  48. I’m looking for a book too! It is about A dystopian world where there are different planets where people inhabit and this girl has there power to inflict pain on others when she touches them but she too feels the pain and then she meets a kid who was born in the other side of this planet or on the rival planet and he is taken away from his family with one of his siblings but he can speak and understand the rival’s language and his power is to be able to silence other’s powers. So if you could please help me find this book that would be great

  49. Daybreak 2250 AD by Andre Norton and a rather existential novel Radix by A.A. Attanasio. I related a lot to the main character Sumner Kagen in Radix.

    Have also been looking for a book which I forget the name and author, about a dystopian near future where the US government is, unbeknownst to the public(if I remember correctly), actually taken over by the mafia.

    The current political climate has caused me to remember that familiar sounding plot.

  50. Shot in the dark… YA dystopian novel w some kind of white flower in the title… ppl can’t go outside… kids have a secret meeting spot… Early 2000’s I think… if some wizard deciphers this nickstrupp@yshh.com

  51. Looking for a book…probably young adult. Teens live in a city in the Pacific Northwest that has been quarantined or shut off from the world. Really strange stuff is happening like people are stuck half in and half out of the walls. The kids escape but the military takes them back in. A lot of strange stuff…lights and sounds are coming from the downtown hospital. There is a strange hole in the sky that is getting bigger and in the end you realize it will suck the whole world in. Some allusions to time warps, black holes and alternate universes. Can’t find the title again and I am a retired librarian!!!

    1. That sounds a lot like a book called “Dhalgren” by Samuel R. Delany. I remember some people wore knives on their hands like Freddy Kruger called lotuses. They would just find them laying around. The main character is Kidd who has partial amnesia.

  52. I read this book a while ago, it was great, and I can’t remember the name. I think it would belong in the Dystopian Future genre. There are these little creatures (robots? Bacteria?) that people could let live in their heads and it helps them with their creativity? They’re their own sentient beings that advise the host. Anybody know what I’m talking about?

  53. I need HELP. Read a book 20+ yrs ago about an old man, a pharmacist, that has a small stand and is approached by a small woman who lost a hand and needs to regrow it. The old pharmacist is moved by the woman bcuz he lost his family to something horrible. Adventures ensue containing age reversing hypersleep, chimera creatures with no rights, and the like. I can’t remember title or author, don’t think I ever bothered looking. I really want to read this as an adult. Turns out the woman has mind powers and planted the old man’s family tragedy to coerce him to help her escape her persuers. He actually left his wife & children without a word cuz of the woman and now she is so damaged getting caught that she can only returns the original contents of his brain in fragments. Great book

  54. I’ll toss “The Word Exchange” by Alena Graedon, 2014, into the mix. It’s a near-future dystopian vision of an America so dependent on smart-tech gadgetry to function intellectually that people begin to lose the ability to use language as words, and then vast swaths of information, begin disappearing from all accessible reference sources. Or did they ever exist in the first place?

  55. ISO novel/sci-fi about a psychiatrist in NY who is coerced into helping a female government employee. She convinces him he’s the only person who can help move the people from N.Dakota to Florida. He walks this group, barefoot, to DC. The he walks to an old fort on the coast and hangs himself. Believing he was Jesus…

  56. Read a few books 7+ years ago but can’t remember any title from the series, it was about a young detective in a future partly flooded london, he had a floating pda that he used to investigate, I remember one of the plots involved investigating a death at a Olympic track, can’t remember much else. If any one has an idea of what book(s) these were please let me know

  57. The cover on “Shadow & Claw” looks suspiciously like that of Wolfe’s “Shadow of the Torturer”, which is the first book of a tetralogy, plus sequel.

    If this is is indeed a re-release of that book, I’m not surprised you didn’t like it, since it’s only the first part of a 4/5 part epic, and you missed most of the story.

    The full story includes:

    Shadow of the Torturer
    The Claw of the Conciliator
    The Sword of the Lictor
    The Citadel of the Autarch

    and the follow-up sequel: The Urth of the New Sun.

    And I’m not sure if fits the category of “dystopian” — it’s a lot more than that.

    But like Peak’s Gormenghast books, it may be something of an acquired taste.

  58. I am surprised that “Lucifer’s Hammer” didn’t make the list. It is one of the most engrossing Sci-fi novels I have every read. Bought the book three times and have loaned it out just as many.

  59. I read a book in the early 1970’s about a scientist whose wife dies. He gets mad at the world and decides to destroy humanity. He infects the money supply and people know it is dangerous but are so greedy that they end up exterminating themselves. Does anyone remember the name of this book?

  60. I am looking for a book with the description of a girl that lives with her uncle or a family friend and her parents are “accidentally” killed in a car accident right when she was turning 18 because she was genetically modified and on her 18th birthday she was going to be turned over to the people who genetically modified her so her she went on the run.

  61. It was not stated that this is a definitive list. Just a list. If something is missing, don’t complain, just say Here’s another good one. With that I add Colossus:The Forbin Project (which is actually a trilogy with two forgotten denouments.)

  62. A book I can only vaguely remember, can anyone help with this?
    A man living in the wrong end of a feudal society, rebels against his status, and on the run he escapes into a forbidden zone where he comes across a room filled with a giants furniture.
    Any ideas?

  63. How is The Earth Abides not on this list, my husband introduced me and it was love, I’m going to read it again soon!! The Chrysalids is my favourite sci fi book to date, I was first introduced in high school and it was the only assigned reading I read start to finish, I’ve read it two more times since. I’ve read almost everything by John Wyndham.

  64. I have been looking for a book I read in late 90’s about a utopian turned dystopian society where people can change their gender and physical appearance at whim. Reproduction is controlled by technology and the one rule is that you cannot procreate with yourself, which the main character attempts and gets kicked out. She then discovers a whole society living outside of the city in the “wilderness” who live naturally and are more happy. Any clue what book this is. I remember the book cover, and for some reason I think it has sun or golden as the title but google has not been successful in helping me find it. Any help is appreciated.

    1. Thanks! And no, I have unfortunately not read them all. Maybe one day. Or not—every time I do one of these lists, I find more books to put in my To Be Read list.

  65. Looking for book. The earth has been invaded by a race of giants, so big that humans live in the walls of their houses. The ones living inside the walls are called front burrow tribes by those living deeper in the house. In the end get to roof, escape

  66. Does anyone know, I read a book in like 9th grade(2003) about a dystopian future where ads are presented in your head and products are marketed towards you. Also most people get all their news this way too, etc and I wrote a speech about seeking information for oneself anf not just taking everything at face value. I don’t think we read a whole book but a portion of it in our textbook.

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