(Updated for 2021)
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).
Taxation has been abolished, the government has been privatized, and employees take the surname of the company they work for. It’s a brave new corporate world, but you don’t want to be caught without a platinum credit card—as lowly Merchandising Officer Hack Nike is about to find out. Trapped into building street cred for a new line of $2500 sneakers by shooting customers, Hack 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.
“Wicked and wonderful… [It] does just about everything right… Fast-moving, funny, involving.”
—The Washington Post Book World
In the near future, America is crushed by a financial crisis and its patient Chinese creditors may just be ready to foreclose on the whole mess. Then Lenny Abramov, son of a 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. It’s also a pointedly old-fashioned May-December love story… a heartbreaker worthy of its title, this is Shteyngart’s best yet.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
The book that defined an entire genre (cyberpunk). And Gibson almost didn’t get it published because he was afraid it was too similar to the movie Blade Runner.
Case was the sharpest data-thief in the matrix—until he crossed the wrong people and they crippled his nervous system, banishing him from cyberspace. Now a mysterious new employer has recruited him for a last-chance run at an unthinkably powerful artificial intelligence. With a dead man riding shotgun and Molly, a mirror-eyed street-samurai, to watch his back, Case is ready for the adventure that upped the ante on an entire genre of fiction.
“A revolutionary novel.”
Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations. He spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children. But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet.
Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class. Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity’s overlord struggles for power. He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society’s ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies…even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.
“[A] spectacular adventure… one heart-pounding ride… dizzyingly good.”
Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen’s Calorie Man in Thailand. Under cover as a factory manager, Anderson combs Bangkok’s street markets in search of foodstuffs thought to be extinct, hoping to reap the bounty of history’s lost calories.
There, he encounters Emiko… Emiko is the Windup Girl, a strange and beautiful creature. One of the New People, Emiko is not human; instead, she is an engineered being, creche-grown and programmed to satisfy the decadent whims of a Kyoto businessman, but now abandoned to the streets of Bangkok. Regarded as soulless beings by some, devils by others, New People are slaves, soldiers, and toys of the rich in a chilling near future in which calorie companies rule the world, the oil age has passed, and the side effects of bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe.
What happens when calories become currency? What happens when bio-terrorism becomes a tool for corporate profits, when said bio-terrorism’s genetic drift forces mankind to the cusp of post-human evolution?
“A captivating look at a dystopic future that seems all too possible. East meets West in a clash of cultures brilliantly portrayed in razor-sharp images, tension-building pacing, and sharply etched characters.”
—Library Journal (starred review)
A bleak moon settled by utopian anarchists, Anarres has long been isolated from other worlds, including its mother planet, Urras—a civilization of warring nations, great poverty, and immense wealth. Now Shevek, a brilliant physicist, is determined to reunite the two planets, which have been divided by centuries of distrust. He will seek answers, question the unquestionable, and attempt to tear down the walls of hatred that have kept them apart.
To visit Urras—to learn, to teach, to share—will require great sacrifice and risks, which Shevek willingly accepts. But the ambitious scientist’s gift is soon seen as a threat, and in the profound conflict that ensues, he must reexamine his beliefs even as he ignites the fires of change.
“One of the greats… Not just a science fiction writer; a literary icon.”
In The Drowned World, the sun’s become too hot (130°F on a good day), and the cities of the world are submerged. Humanity is now collected down in Antartica or above the Arctic circle.
(This was written in 1962, so way before the current climate change troubles.)
During a scientific expedition to a sunken London, Dr. Kerans contends with a Triassic-like environment with giant iguanas and mosquitoes the size of dragonflies. These surroundings trigger psychological changes in him and others, back to when humans were nothing but shrews scampering away from dinosaurs. It’s subtle, though—they don’t start digging holes or anything.
Then, of course, trouble comes.
The Drowned World starts out as hard science, but gets a little mental. At points it’s hard to know whether the main character is seeing things as they really are. But even at the book’s loopiest, author Ballard’s writing stays crisp and understandable.
It’s a fun ride, and I really never knew what was going to happen next.
“A bold, hypnotic novel, by an author with a genius for the perverse.”
In this wildly popular YA story, the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called “The Hunger Games,” a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed.
“A violent, jarring, speed-rap of a novel that generates nearly constant suspense… I couldn’t stop reading.”
The human race has become infertile, and the last generation to be born is now adult. Civilization itself is crumbling as suicide and despair become commonplace. Oxford historian Theodore Faron, apathetic toward a future without a future, spends most of his time reminiscing. Then he is approached by Julian, a bright, attractive woman who wants him to help get her an audience with his cousin, the powerful Warden of England. She and her band of unlikely revolutionaries may just awaken his desire to live… and they may also hold the key to survival for the human race.
“A book of such accelerating tension that the pages seem to turn faster as one moves along.”
Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, that Louisiana is half underwater, and that unmanned drones fill the sky.
When her father is killed and her family is forced into Camp Patience for displaced persons, she begins to grow up shaped by her particular time and place. But not everyone at Camp Patience is who they claim to be. Eventually Sarat is befriended by a mysterious functionary, under whose influence she is turned into a deadly instrument of war. The decisions that she makes will have tremendous consequences not just for Sarat but for her family and her country, rippling through generations of strangers and kin alike.
“Whether read as a cautionary tale of partisanship run amok, an allegory of past conflicts or a study of the psychology of war, American War is a deeply unsettling novel. The only comfort the story offers is that it’s a work of fiction. For the time being, anyway.”
—The New York Times Book Review
1994 Newbery Medal winner
This haunting story centers on twelve-year-old Jonas, who lives in a seemingly ideal, if colorless, world of conformity and contentment. Not until he is given his life assignment as the Receiver of Memory does he begin to understand the dark, complex secrets behind his fragile community.
“Wrought with admirable skill—the emptiness and menace underlying this Utopia emerge step by inexorable step: a richly provocative novel.”
—Kirkus (starred review)
Cloud Atlas begins in 1850 with Adam Ewing, an American notary voyaging from the Chatham Isles to his home in California. Along the way, Ewing is befriended by a physician, Dr. Goose, who begins to treat him for a rare species of brain parasite… Abruptly, the action jumps to Belgium in 1931, where Robert Frobisher, a disinherited bisexual composer, contrives his way into the household of an infirm maestro who has a beguiling wife and a nubile daughter… From there we jump to the West Coast in the 1970s and a troubled reporter named Luisa Rey, who stumbles upon a web of corporate greed and murder that threatens to claim her life… And onward, with dazzling virtuosity, to an inglorious present-day England; to a Korean superstate of the near future where neocapitalism has run amok; and, finally, to a post-apocalyptic Iron Age Hawaii in the last days of history.
“[David] Mitchell is, clearly, a genius. He writes as though at the helm of some perpetual dream machine, can evidently do anything, and his ambition is written in magma across this novel’s every page.”
—The New York Times Book Review
It’s America in 1962. Slavery is legal once again. The few Jews who still survive hide under assumed names. In San Francisco, the I Ching is as common as the Yellow Pages. All because some twenty years earlier the United States lost a war, and is now occupied by Nazi Germany and Japan.
“The single most resonant and carefully imagined book of Dick’s career.”
— The New York Times
Forty or so years in the future. The once-great city of Bohane on the west coast of Ireland is on its knees, riddled with vice and split along tribal lines. There are the posh parts of town, but it is in the slums and backstreets of Smoketown, the tower blocks of the North Rises, and the eerie bogs of the Big Nothin’ that the city really lives. For years it has all been under the control of Logan Hartnett, the dapper godfather of the Hartnett Fancy gang. But there’s trouble in the air. They say Hartnett’s old nemesis is back in town; his trusted henchmen are getting ambitious; and his missus wants him to give it all up and go straight.
“Extraordinary… Barry takes us on a roaring journey… Powerful, exuberant fiction.”
―The New York Times Book Review
Cat’s Cradle is Kurt Vonnegut’s satirical commentary on modern man and his madness. An apocalyptic tale of this planet’s ultimate fate, it features a midget as the protagonist, a complete, original theology created by a calypso singer, and a vision of the future that is at once blackly fatalistic and hilariously funny.
“A free-wheeling vehicle… an unforgettable ride!”
—The New York Times
In a ruined city littered with discarded experiments from a now-defunct biotech firm, a woman named Rachel finds a strangely charismatic green lump (plant? animal? something else?) and names it Borne. Borne learns to speak and is fun to be with, and in a world so broken, Borne’s innocence is a precious thing.
But as Borne grows, he begins to threaten the balance of power in the city and to put the security of Rachel’s sanctuary at risk. For it seems the biotech firm may not be truly dead, and new enemies are creeping in. What Borne will lay bare to Rachel as he changes is how precarious her existence has been, and how dependent on subterfuge and secrets. In the aftermath, nothing may ever be the same.
“VanderMeer’s talent for immersive world-building and stunning imagery is on display in this weird, challenging, but always heartfelt novel.”
—Booklist (starred review)
It’s easy to be a hero when you’re saving the entire world or galaxy or species. Which is why the hard-boiled detectives are the most heroic characters out there. They’re not out to ram the bad guy’s spaceship. More likely, they’re trying to find justice for a murdered little nobody, or get an intensely offensive (but innocent) man out of jail.
This dogged deathgrip on principle directs the actions of private detective Conrad Metcalfe in a bizarre future world populated by talking animals, drugs for all, and the most authoritative state I’ve ever come across. It’s dark, funny, fast-paced, clever, and chilling.
“Marries Chandler’s style and Philip K. Dick’s vision… An audaciously assured first novel.”
A vicious fifteen-year-old droog is the central character of this 1963 classic. In Anthony Burgess’s nightmare vision of the future, the criminals take over after dark. The story is told by Alex, who talks in a brutal invented slang that brilliantly renders his and his friends’ social pathology.
A Clockwork Orange is about good and evil, and the meaning of human freedom. When the state undertakes to reform Alex to “redeem” him, the novel asks, “At what cost?”
“A brilliant novel… a savage satire on the distortions of the single and collective minds.”
—The New York Times
In the twenty-fifth century, humankind has spread throughout the galaxy, monitored by the watchful eye of the U.N. While divisions in race, religion, and class still exist, advances in technology have redefined life itself. Now, assuming one can afford the expensive procedure, a person’s consciousness can be stored in a cortical stack at the base of the brain and easily downloaded into a new body (or “sleeve”), making death nothing more than a minor blip on a screen.
Ex-U.N. envoy Takeshi Kovacs has been killed before, but his last death was particularly painful. Dispatched one hundred eighty light-years from home, re-sleeved into a body in Bay City (formerly San Francisco, now with a rusted, dilapidated Golden Gate Bridge), Kovacs is thrown into the dark heart of a shady, far-reaching conspiracy that is vicious even by the standards of a society that treats “existence” as something that can be bought and sold.
“A fascinating trip… Pure high-octane science fiction mixes with the classic noir private-eye tale.”
Guy Montag was a fireman whose job it was to start fires…
The system was simple. Everyone understood it. Books were for burning, along with the houses in which they were hidden.
Guy Montag enjoyed his job. He had been a fireman for ten years, and he had never questioned the pleasure of the midnight runs nor the joy of watching pages consumed by flames. He never questioned anything, until he met a seventeen-year-old girl who told him of a past when people were not afraid.
The Book of New Sun is four books, and Shadow & Claw brings together the first two books of the tetralogy in one volume.
The Shadow of the Torturer (the first book) is the tale of young Severian, an apprentice in the Guild of Torturers on the world called Urth, exiled for committing the ultimate sin of his profession: showing mercy toward his victim.
The Claw of the Conciliator continues the saga of Severian, banished from his home, as he undertakes a mythic quest to discover the awesome power of an ancient relic, and learn the truth about his hidden destiny.
“Magic stuff… a masterpiece… the best science fiction I’ve read in years!”
—Ursula K. Le Guin
In Margaret Atwood’s dystopian future, environmental disasters and declining birthrates have led to a Second American Civil War. The result is the rise of the Republic of Gilead, a totalitarian regime that enforces rigid social roles and enslaves the few remaining fertile women. Offred is one of these, a Handmaid bound to produce children for one of Gilead’s commanders. Deprived of her husband, her child, her freedom, and even her own name, Offred clings to her memories and her will to survive.
“Atwood takes many trends which exist today and stretches them to their logical and chilling conclusions… An excellent novel about the directions our lives are taking… Read it while it’s still allowed.”
Children are genetically programmed in the womb and sent through indoctrination programs, preparing them for lives in predetermined castes. It’s a utopian society that maintains its peace by removing the humanity of its members, and only one man is brave enough to vocally challenge the status quo.
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.”
Ideas from science fiction rarely make it into the public consciousness, but 1984 has been 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.
Riddley Walker is a unique, fascinating book. It takes places a few thousand years after a nuclear Armageddon in England when a young boy comes across a plan to recreate a weapon from the ancient world.
Humanity is semi-literate, and the language in the book reflects that. It can be a little off-putting; here’s the first line of the book:
On the naming day when I come 12 I gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly ben the last wyld pig on the Bundel Downs any how there hadnt ben none for along time before him nor I aint looking to see none agen.
When I first started Riddley Walker, I thought, “Oh god, I don’t want to deal with this.” But someone whose opinion I respect (darn those people) recommended it, so I kept going.
It was totally worth it. Yes, you have to read it slowly, and yes, it’s more work than reading a typical book. But it’s also a lot better than a typical book. I think it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.
It’s intense, imaginative, and probably unlike anything you’ve ever come across.
“A hero with Huck Finn’s heart and charm, lighting by El Greco and jokes by Punch and Judy… Riddley Walker is haunting and fiercely imagined and―this matters most―intensely ponderable.”
—The New York Times Book Review
134 thoughts on “Best Dystopian Science Fiction Books”
Great list, but I’m genuinely surprised the “To the Stars trilogy” didn’t make it.
What about time “time out of joint” by PKD?
How did this book drop from the list?
Thanks for the list, anyway you can make a pdf list only for downloading and printing w/o the graphics?
With FF with pdf text addon
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.
You’re right – Octavia Butler should be on this list several times. I’ll make sure she gets considered for future lists.
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?
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….
I agree – nothing funny in the handmaid’s tale at all!! It’s rather depressing, actually. Really good though.
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.
What Maggie Duncan said.
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.
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.
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.
henk is beast.
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…
Parable of the Sower & Parable of the Talents
Parable of the Sower is definitely dystopian, and a great read!
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)
Very shocked that the “Legend Series by Marie Lu” was left off this list.
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
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.
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).
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?
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.
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?
Sounds like Ayn Rand’s Anthem. It was on the list!
Anthem, by Ayn Rand, I believe.
I found you looking for the same thing. I was thinking of Babel – 17 by Samuel Delany. Awesome book!
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.
Suggest reading Singer of the Sea and The Gate to Women’s Country” by Sheri S Tepper.
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!!
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:
Loved it. My daughter moved to Juneau, Alaska and it reminded her of the story since it is raining there alot.
It’s Such a Beautiful Day by Isaac Asimov
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.
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.
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.
Jo Grieve, are you thinking of this story by Asimov https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It%27s_Such_a_Beautiful_Day
Yes, I think that’s it! Thank you.
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!
Could it possible be the following:
2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson
I have found the following webistes may help you:
We by Yevgeny Zamyatin? The world outside is considered toxic and dangeours. And they were living under something like a glass dome.
Stephanie – – Perhaps Azimov’s “Caves of Steel?” – – Stew
Childhoods End??? Otherwise great list
I would offer up Alas Babylon by Pat Frank.
Walter Miller did publish a sequel to A Canticle For Leibowitz entitled St. Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman… FYI
The best for me is The Lord of the World, by Robert Hugh Benson (1907). The best in literature and in prophecies.
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!
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
“The Eye, The Ear, and The Arm”
How did “Riddley Walker” not make a list of dystopian stories?
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…
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
2 words: Octavia Butler
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.
Ditto – must add!
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.
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?
It wouldn’t be A Fire Upon The Deep or A Deepness In The Sky, would it?
“The Parable of the Sower” and “The Parable of the Talents” by the late Octavia Butler should have found their way on this list.
You’re absolutely right. When I made this list, I hadn’t discovered Octavia Butler yet. She’s in many of the other lists.
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.
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!
Sounds like House of Stairs by William Sleator. Is that right?
Loved House of Stairs. Really got to me when I first read it.
Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany. and A Boy And His Dog, by Harlan Ellison.
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?
Children of the Dust – Louise Lawrence
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.
Excellent point. Thanks!
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?
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.
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!
Prophetic or life imitating art! Whichever….it’s not science fiction anymore!
Great list just missing one crucial cyber pun k piece…black glass by John Shirley.
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?
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!
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!
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 🙂
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.
Earth Abides by George Stewart. Written in the 1940s. Post Apocolyptic, though not ultimately dystopian if you favor starting over as a culture.
thank you! this is the book I have been looking for
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
I’m looking for a 6th grade book that has a black book in that says the day you are gonna die.
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.
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 email@example.com
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!!!
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.
Correction. The knives were actually called orchids.
Sounds like the Canadian TV show “Strange Days at Blake Holsey High”
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?
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
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?
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…
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
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.
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.
Thank you William for suggesting Dhalgren, But that is not the right book.
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?
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.
@laura I am looking for the same book i think! but i cannot remember it please if anyone remembers this please email me @ firstname.lastname@example.org
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.)
And another one: The Martian Chronicles. The Earth gets blowed up and life on Mars is kind of sad.
Love this list. Comments helped with a book I have been looking for. Thank you.
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.
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.
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.
The World Inside by Robert Silverberg.
Nice list of books.
Some of these books are really strong and gave me a deep impression. Have you read them all?
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.
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
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.
Thanks for introducing me to some novels I didn’t know.
Without Hunger games would be a much better list 🙂
You could put in “The Circle” or the even scarier “The every” both by Dave Eggers.
What about ‘The End of the World Running Club’, or ‘Last Dog on Earth’, or ‘End of the World Survivors Club and ‘A Boy & his Dog at the End of the World’, or the ‘Wool’/Shift/Dust’ series?
Looking for a book that I read years ago about a young man who was living off the grid in his society, relying on food from friends, and has lost a lot of weight. He helps a policeman to find people. He has a special ability to find people in trouble, which by the end of the book has become a strong psychic ability. He “meets” with a coven of people in California who are looking to use his talent, but rejects them. He saves his policeman friend from capture by one of the neighborhoods in his city. He remembers calling a plane down out of the sky as a baby and causing it to crash, which is such a traumatic event that he avoids his ability for many years.