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The 60 best dystopian books

The 60 best dystopian books

What is it about dystopian fiction that keeps readers going back for more? Are we suckers for punishment? Maybe we find comfort in the reminder that yes, things could be worse. Dystopian fiction has been around since the 19th century. Mary Shelley, famous for her fictional monster Frankenstein, was one of the first writers to venture into the bleak world of dystopia with her 1826 novel, The Last Man, but the genre didn't explode until after WWII and the introduction of nuclear weapons.

For decades, writers from H.G. Wells to Margaret Atwood have been creating dystopian futures that are both beyond our wildest imaginations and shockingly close to home. In this list of the best dystopian novels, extreme cosmetic surgery is enforced, America breaks into a second Civil War, and animals rebel. Prepare to be disturbed, and utterly enthralled.

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The best dystopian books

By Margaret Atwood
Offred is a Handmaid in The Republic of Gilead, a religious totalitarian state in what was formerly known the United States. She is placed in the household of The Commander where she has only one function - to breed.
By Omar El Akkad
A second American Civil War and a devastating plague - a story that asks what might happen if America were to turn its most devastating policies and deadly weapons upon itself.
By Philip K. Dick
In the inspiration for Blade Runner, World War Terminus has left the Earth devastated and bounty hunter Rick Deckard is tasked with killing six escaped Nexus-6 model androids.
By Philip K. Dick
In this nightmare dystopia the Nazis have taken over New York, the Japanese control California and the African continent is virtually wiped out.
By Aldous Huxley
In a technologically-advanced future humans are genetically bred, socially indoctrinated, and pharmaceutically anesthetized to passively uphold an authoritarian ruling order.
By Leni Zumas
Abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers.
By Naomi Alderman
Teenage girls now have immense physical power - they can cause agonizing pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world drastically resets.
By Louise Erdrich
The world as we know it is ending. Evolution has reversed itself, affecting every living creature on earth. Science cannot stop the world from running backwards, as woman after woman gives birth to infants that appear to be primitive species of humans.
By Jeff VanderMeer
A young woman named Rachel survives as a scavenger in a ruined city half destroyed by drought and conflict. One day, she finds Borne during a scavenging mission and takes him home. Borne as salvage is little more than a green lump - plant or animal? - but exudes a strange charisma...
By Charlie Jane Anders
Patricia is a witch who can communicate with animals. Laurence is a mad scientist and inventor of the two-second time machine. Together, they will attempt to save mankind.
By Laline Paull
The Handmaid's Tale meets The Hunger Games in this brilliantly imagined debut set in an ancient culture where only the queen may breed and deformity means death.
By Kazuo Ishiguro
This dystopian science fiction novel from Nobel Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro begins at an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside.
By George Orwell
Manor Farm is like any other English farm, expect for a drunken owner, Mr. Jones, incompetent workers and oppressed animals. Fed up with the ignorance of their human masters, the animals rise up in rebellion and take over the farm.
By Lois Lowry
Jonas's world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war or fear of pain. There are no choices. When Jonas turns 12 he is singled out to receive special training from The Giver. The Giver alone holds the memories of the true pain and pleasure of life. Now, it is time for Jonas to receive the truth. There is no turning back.
By Cormac McCarthy
A bleak vision of a post-apocalyptic America: a land where no hope remains. A man and his son walk alone towards the coast, and this is the moving story of their journey.
By Emily St. John Mandel
Twenty years after a devastating flu pandemic destroyed civilization as we know it, Kirsten moves between settlements with a small troupe of actors and musicians. They call themselves The Traveling Symphony, and they have dedicated themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive.
By William Gibson
Here is the story of Case, a burnt-out software cowboy forced to do one last job in the infinite bytes of cyberspace.
By Madeleine L'Engle
The story of the adventures in space and time of Meg, Charles, and Calvin. They are in search of Meg's father, a scientist who disappeared while engaged in secret work for the government on the tesseract problem.
By Paolo Bacigalupi
Under cover as a factory manager, Anderson combs Bangkok's street markets in search of foodstuffs long thought to be extinct. There he meets Emiko. She is one of the New People, bred to suit the whims of the rich. Engineered as slaves, soldiers and toys, they are the new underclass in a chilling near future where oil has run out, calorie companies dominate nations and plagues run rampant.
By John Wyndham
In the rural settlement of Waknuk, David and his cousin Rosalind have a secret aberration which would label them as mutants. But as they grow older it becomes more difficult to conceal their differences from the village elders. Soon they face a choice: wait for eventual discovery, or flee to the terrifying and mutable Badlands.
By Suzanne Collins
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.
By Veronica Roth
Beatrice Prior's society is divided into five factions - Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). Beatrice must choose between staying with her Abnegation family and transferring factions. Her choice will shock her community and herself.
By Anthony Burgess
In Burgess's nightmare vision of the future, where the criminals take over after dark, the story is told by the central character, Alex, who talks in a brutal invented slang that brilliantly renders his and his friends' social pathology.
By George Orwell
At the Ministry of Truth, Winston Smith skillfully rewrites the past to suit the needs of the Party. Yet he inwardly rebels against the totalitarian world he lives in, which demands absolute obedience and controls him through the all-seeing telescreens and the watchful eye of Big Brother, symbolic head of the Party.
By Ray Bradbury
Guy Montag is a fireman. In his world, where television rules and literature is on the brink of extinction, firemen start fires rather than put them out. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden.
By Walter J. Williams
8.9 on the Richter scale in the world's biggest earthquake since 1755. It hits New Madrid, Missouri, a sleepy town on the Mississippi. Seismologists had predicted the disaster...but no one listened.
By Stephen King as Richard Bachman
Ben is a desperate man. With no job, no money, no way out, and a young daughter in need of proper medical attention, he must turn to the only possibility of striking it rich: participating in a reality TV game where the only objective is to stay alive.
By H.G. Wells
A brilliant scientist constructs a machine which propels him to the year AD 802,701 where he finds himself on an idyllic Earth inhabited by the small, incredibly beautiful Eloi. Yet all is not as it seems, and beneath the earth a terrifying, cannibal race are lying in wait.
By J.G. Ballard
Global warming has melted the ice caps and primordial jungles have overrun a tropical London. Biologist Dr. Robert Kearns and his team of scientists confront a cityscape in which nature is on the rampage and giant lizards, dragonflies, and insects compete for domination.
We
By Yevgeny Zamyatin
In a glass-enclosed city of absolute straight lines the citizens of the totalitarian society of OneState live out lives devoid of passion and creativity - until D-503, a mathematician who dreams in numbers, makes a discovery: he has an individual soul.
By Scott Westerfeld
Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can't wait. In just a few weeks she'll have the operation that will turn her from a repellent ugly into a stunningly attractive pretty. And as a pretty, she'll be catapulted into a high-tech paradise where her only job is to have fun.
By H.G. Wells
The night after a shooting star is seen streaking through the sky from Mars, a cylinder is discovered on Horsell Common in London. At first, locals approach the cylinder armed just with a white flag - only to be quickly killed by heat-ray, as terrifying tentacled invaders emerge.
By Jose Saramago
A city is hit by an epidemic of sudden blindness. The authorities segregate the newly-blind and all who have come into contact with them; they are herded into camps by armed guards under instruction to shoot anyone trying to escape.
By P.D. James
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, but a band of unlikely revolutionaries may hold the key to survival for the human race.
By William Golding
Very ordinary small boys are marooned on a coral island. At first it seems as though it is all going to be great fun; but the fun before long becomes furious and life on the island turns into a nightmare of panic and death as ordinary standards of behaviour collapse.
By Orson Scott Card
In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race's next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers.
By James Dashner
When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He's surrounded by strangers whose memories are also gone.
By Ernest Cline
Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia. And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world...
By William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson
It's the 23rd Century and at age 21, your life is over. Logan-6 has been trained to kill, but his time is short and before his life ends he's got one final mission: Find and destroy Sanctuary, a fabled haven for those that chose to defy the system.
By Jeanne DuPrau
The city of Ember was built as a last refuge for the human race. Two hundred years later, the great lamps that light the city are beginning to flicker. When Lina finds part of an ancient message, she's sure it holds a secret that will save the city.
By Pierce Brown
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. But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed...
By Kurt Vonnegut
Billy Pilgrim survives capture by the Gemans in World War II, the Dresden bombings, and the struggle for financial success only to be kidnapped in a flying saucer and taken to the planet Tralfamadore.
By Ayn Rand
Equality 7-2521 is a man apart. Since The Great Rebirth it has been a crime in his world to think or act as an individual. Even love is forbidden. When he is sent to work as a road sweeper, he stumbles upon a link to the old world that gives him the spur to break free.
By Margaret Atwood
Mankind was overwhelmed by a plague and Snowman is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the last human. In search of answers, Snowman embarks on a journey through the lush wilderness that was so recently a great city.
By Ayn Rand
Set in a future U.S.A. whose economy is collapsing as a result of the mysterious disappearance of leading innovators and industrialists, this novel presents an astounding panorama of human life.
By Walter M. Miller Jr.
In the depths of the Utah desert, long after the Flame Deluge has scoured the earth clean, a monk of the Order of Saint Leibowitz has made a miraculous discovery: holy relics from the life of the great saint himself, including the blessed blueprint, the sacred shopping list, and the hallowed shrine of the Fallout Shelter.
By John Wyndham
Bill Masen wakes up blindfolded in hospital. Carefully removing his bandages, he realizes that he is the only person who can see: everyone else, doctors and patients alike, have been blinded by a meteor shower.
By Ursula K. Le Guin
The Principle of Simultaneity is a scientific breakthrough which will revolutionize interstellar civilization by making possible instantaneous communication. It is the life work of brilliant physicist Shevek. But Shevek's work is being stifled, and he soon finds himself being used as a pawn in a deadly political game.
By Mary Shelley
An apocalyptic tale of a world devastated by plague. In the late 21st century, England's last king abdicates and a charmed circle of idealistic political reformers plunge into a maelstrom of war, pestilence, and anarchy.
By Octavia E. Butler
The time is 2025. The place is California, where small walled communities must protect themselves from hordes of desperate scavengers and roaming bands of people addicted to a drug that activates an orgasmic desire to burn, rape, and murder.
By Ray Bradbury
The strange and wonderful tale of man's experiences on Mars, filled with intense images and astonishing visions.
By Nevil Shute
They are the last generation, the innocent victims of an accidental war, living out their last days, making do with what they have, hoping for a miracle. As the deadly rain moves ever closer, the world as we know it winds toward an inevitable end...
By Richard Matheson
Robert Neville is the last living man on Earth...but he is not alone. Every other man, woman and child on the planet has become a vampire, and they are hungry for Neville's blood.
By Pat Frank
When the unthinkable nightmare of nuclear holocaust ravaged the United States, it was instant death for tens of millions of people; for survivors, it was a nightmare of hunger, sickness, and brutality. Overnight, a thousand years of civilization were stripped away.
By Stephen King
First come the days of the plague. Then come the dreams. Dark dreams that warn of the coming of the dark man.
By Tatyana Tolstaya
In what remains of Moscow some two hundred years after the Blast, a community persists in primitive, ridiculous, and often brutal circumstances. Mice are the current source of food, clothes, and commerce.
By Justin Cronin
Abandoned by her mother at the age of six, Amy is imprisoned by the shadowy figures behind a government experiment of apocalyptic proportions. But Special Agent Brad Wolgast, the lawman sent to track her down, is disarmed by the curiously quiet girl and risks everything to save her.
By Anna North
Hundreds of miles off the frozen coast of what was once California is America Pacifica, where those who fled the dawn of the new ice age have tried to recreate their former home.
By Peter Heller
Hig survived the flu that killed everyone he knows. He lives in the hangar of a small abandoned airport with his dog. But when a random transmission somehow beams through his radio, the voice ignites a hope deep inside him that a better life exists beyond the airport.
By George R. Stewart
In this profound ecological fable, a mysterious plague has destroyed the vast majority of the human race. Isherwood Williams, one of the few survivors, returns from a wilderness field trip to discover that civilization has vanished during his absence.

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