Dystopian fiction is my one of my favorite literary genres. I love reading about new worlds that emerge from chaos. I love the resourcefulness and bravery that oppressed characters display. I love reading authors’ visions, their warnings for the future. I love when a writer can create a dystopian future that feels realistic. I love talking about the issues that these kind of books bring up.
Here are some of my favorites dystopian books that will give you a whole new take on the world we live in, and the world we are creating.
1. 1984 by George Orwell
Big Brother is watching you. All of the time. Literally. There are televisions that you must keep on in your home through which the government watches your every move. You can’t even write in a journal without Big Brother reading it. In this chilling novel, the government also controls the media and rewrites history as it sees fit. It’s not hard to imagine a world like the one Orwell created, which is probably the scariest part about this novel. It’s one of my all-time favorite books.
2. Blindness by José Saramago, translated by Giovanni Pontiero
An epidemic of blindness hits a city. No one knows how it is transmitted or how to cure it. The government doesn’t know how to contain it, so it sends everyone affected into quarantine in an old hospital. One woman who is not affected refuses to leave her husband, so she pretends she is blind and goes into quarantine with him. I’m not sure if this technically qualifies as a dystopian novel, but the things that this woman who can see witnesses are horrifying and makes me wonder how people would really behave if they thought no one could ever see them, if there were no rules in place, if there were complete chaos.
3. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
What I love about this novel is that this dystopian society is based on the idea that it is possible for everyone to be happy all of the time, that it is possible to create a world in which everyone is happy with their place in life. In this world, people are genetically engineered. They are engineered to have varying levels of intelligence, so that those with low intelligence will not question their lower place in society and their lower level jobs. Everyone has the same amount of food, the same kind of house, and the same kind of work as the people in their level, so there is no jealousy or competition. The government uses distractions, the promotion of the overconsumption of goods, and drugs to numb feelings. Everyone is conditioned to want to be in groups rather than on their own and to behave a very specific way. A must read for anyone who loves dystopian novels.
4. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
The most recent dystopian novel I’ve read, but also one that shocked me. Books have been completely banned from society! Firemen go around burning every single book that they find in people’s homes. The novel centers around one fireman who starts stealing books. This novel made me think a lot about censorship, individual thinking, and the importance of learning, knowledge, art, history, and the pursuit of the truth.
5. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
After a killer virus takes out the majority of the world’s population, there is no electricity, no infrastructure, no government, no cell phones, no cars, no connections around the world. Although I love a good dystopian, end-of-the-world novel, what I love most about this novel is the poetic language and the interwoven stories that take us between the past and the present. This beautifully written novel follows group of traveling performers as they bring Shakespearean theater throughout a new world. With the motto is “survival is insufficient,” the group brings theater to people who survived a devastating tragedy and are trying to make sense of their new world. I think that Mandel did an excellent job exposing how fragile our world really is and envisioning how people may react to a devastation like this.
6. The Giver by Lois Lowry
In this dystopian society, the government controls all aspects of society, but everyone is seemingly happy. Their spouses are chosen for them, their children are given to them, their jobs as assigned to them, and they take pills to suppress their emotions.
Oh yeah, and it’s a children’s book. Even though it is written for children, I think that I got even more out of it reading it as an adult. It’s a book that obviously makes you appreciate the hard times, a reminder that without all of the pain and the struggles we have gone through, we couldn’t appreciate true joy. But it is also about so much more than this. It is about the loss of innocence, it’s about growing up. And growing up is hard.
7. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
This dystopian society is extremely oppressive of women, making this novel particularly frightening to me. Women aren’t allowed to read, cannot leave the house unless it is to walk to the food market, and are only valued if they can get pregnant. The novel’s protagonist, Offred, has only one job – getting pregnant. But Offred wasn’t born into this oppressive society. She can remember the days when she was free to do whatever she wanted, making her pain even more real to me. Even more frightening, we learn that it was a revolution supported by both men and women to bring society back to “old values” that has stripped her of all of her rights, that forced her to live this way. I’ve read plenty of dystopian fiction, but this novel shook me to my core.
8. The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
This is the novel that made me fall in love with Margaret Atwood and put me on a mission to read the rest of her works. It starts off with weird, dystopian premise that is a bit difficult to swallow. After an economic collapse, Charmaine and her husband, Stan, live out of their car, fighting off attacks and scouring for food. They see an advertisement for a social experiment that promises them food and shelter. Here’s the catch: they must live and work in prison every other month. At first, this seems like heaven compared to living in their car, but, of course, things soon get weird. This novel is cautionary, warning us to “be careful what you wish for.” I love you, Margaret Atwood.
9. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
I think that most of us know the premise of this book, a dystiopican society in which people are segregated into districts. The Capital is the wealthiest of them all, and lives off of the hard work of the poor people in the other districts. The people in the poor districts are working as hard as they can but are still starving and dying. Once per year, each district must send two of its children to fight in the Hunger Games. Only one child will come out alive.
As crazy as the premise to the book is, I love The Hunger Games because it’s not hard to imagine a society in which people are pitted against each other for precious resources and/or are being exploited by a greedy government. I also love that Katniss is a strong, resourceful, and brave female character. We need more of those.
Okay, so I have an ulterior motive in posting this today! It’s because I’m craving another good dystopian book. Now that I’ve shared my favorites, I’d love to know yours. Please share in the comments!