10 Dystopian Novels You Should Read

Why we love dark visions of the future?

It is not a mere coincidence that one of the most read genres happens to be dark sci-fi or dystopian.

A dystopia, or simply anti-utopia, is a repressive society.

Dystopian worlds described in books (or movies for that matter) are often characterized by dehumanization, totalitarian governments or environmental disasters.

It is often used to draw attention to real-world issues regarding ethics, politics, technology…

1984, George Orwell, 1849

In his desire to criticize Stalinism and the dictatorships that were “active” in his time, Orwell gave us an amazing dystopian novel. In his 1946 essay “Why I Write”, Orwell explains that the serious works he wrote since the Spanish Civil War (1936–39) were “written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism”. 1984, George Orwell’s bleakly dystopian novel about the dangers of totalitarianism, warns against a world governed by propaganda, surveillance, and censorship. Today, Orwellian phrases like “Big Brother” and “doublespeak” have become common expressions. Not only we have adopted some of his phrases, sometimes it feels we actually live in “Eighty-Four”: the media is under control, we are monitored by cameras and supercomputers even when we don’t want to, propaganda machine is trying to influence our thoughts…

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley, 1932

Huxley imagines a genetically-engineered future where life is pain-free but meaningless. Widespread use of numbing drugs in his novel seemingly predicted the opioid epidemic. People use drugs to calm themselves, they are brainwashed from birth. Huxley’s dystopia is a totalitarian society, ruled by a supposedly benevolent dictatorship whose subjects have been programmed to enjoy their subjugation through conditioning and the use of a narcotic drug – soma – that is less damaging and more pleasurable than any narcotic known to us.n His brave new world is hedonistic society, a disease-free world created through genetically modified children, it is psychologically manipulated, and the hierarchy is based on intelligence. A philosopher from our time would observe this Brave New World with despair, there are no deep thoughts, there is no morality, no hardship that strengthen character…

The Road, Cormac McCarthy, 2006

This novel is gigantic not in the number of pages but in how it is written and what it is about.  In the post-apocalyptic United States, father and son walk alone through a land that has been burned beyond recognition. It’s icy and gray snow is falling all over the devastated country. A father and son head towards the shore, hoping to meet someone or something good. On the way they encounter lawlessness and cruelty, horrible and less horrible survivors. A book about a father’s love for his son will soften you even though they are in the middle of a cruel and dark world that has barely survived the apocalypse… Its message is that some forces are greater than life.

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury, 1953

Bradbury wrote a great novel about the nightmare of every writer and book lover: about a society that burns books and in which intellectual thoughts are illegal. “Fahrenheit 451” was removed from classroom use in Bay County in 1987 because of vulgarity, according to an article by the New York Times.  This says a lot about its truthfulness. In this world, books are banned and having a book is the greatest sin that is cruelly punished. Main protagonist is firefighter Guy Montag, who is part of a society ruled by television and, of course, strictly controlled. Part of his job is to burn books. He’s a good firefighter, obedient, doesn’t question why he has to burn books, and at the end of the day returns to his wife Mildred who prefers her TV family to her husband. His life is empty. But when he meets Clarisse, a young neighbor who knows more about the past, but also about how to think freely, life will change completely for Guy…

The Time Machine, H. G. Wells, 1895

H. G. Wells takes his protagonist into the future, into a world of dark, dystopian places where he witnesses the end of society. This novel is both Sci-Fi and dystopian, and has popularized the notion of time travel, making the term “time machine” common in today’s vocabulary. As for H.G. Wells, he really is a writer who deserves your attention. His are also “Wars of the Worlds” (1895) and the brilliant and somewhat forgotten “Doctor Moreau Island” (1896). The time machine describes a dark society of the future in which the oppressed class turns into a cannibal race, and the former upper class becomes their food.

Animal Farm, George Orwell, 1945

This novel is a real gem. The animal farm depicts the society of overburdened, abused domestic animals and their rebellion and their attempt to create a utopia of justice, equality and progress. However, their idealistic society slowly becomes totalitaristic as charismatic leaders turn to the most cruel oppressors. An allegory that depicts people through an animal farm is „a must-read“.

The Giver, Lois Lowry, 2001

The Giver (1993), by Lois Lowry, tells the story of a utopian future society where poverty, crime, sickness, and unemployment are a thing of the past. Jonas, a 12-year-old, is chosen to be the next Receiver of Memories; but Jonas soon learns that the price of this knowledge is more than he expected. Emotional depth is gone from humanity as the result of the conversion to “Sameness”- an obvious vision of the effects conformity has on humanity as a whole. As the Receiver of Memories, it is Jonas’ task to store all the memories of life before Sameness. The Giver won the Newbery Medal in 1994 even though there was criticism among many that the book was inappropriate for young children.

Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death, Kurt Vonnegut, 1969

Darkly comic, throughly batshit, semi-autobiographical anti-war novel about a fatalistic young American soldier who survives the firebombing of Dresden and becomes “unstuck in time”.  Between February 13 and February 15, 1945, Allied bombers dropped nearly four thousand tons of high explosives and incendiaries on the historic German city of Dresden. The effect was elemental: Air became fire. Vonnegut, an American prisoner of war, was there—but 60 feet underground. Captured during the Battle of the Bulge, conveyed to Dresden by boxcar, and billeted in a derelict slaughterhouse as the bombs fell, he was sheltering with some fellow POWs and a couple of dazed German guards in a basement meat locker. They emerged to rubble, ash, twisted metal, death. Somewhere between 18,000 and 25,000 people (we still don’t know) had been killed. The innumerability and anonymity of this mass death was in contrast to the one very unique and countable corpse that Vonnegut already had in his life—that of his mother, who had died by suicide less than a year before. How did this bereaved and half-starved young man, stepping out into the necropolis of Dresden, manage not to lose his mind?

Pandemic tales, Jonas Gutierrez, 2020

In a world recovering from an epidemic, a collector is trying to find old books and movies to restore humanity’s knowledge. Inspired by Giovanni Boccaccio’s 1353 masterpiece „The Decameron“, „Pandemic tales“ is a series of stories all of which intermingled and somehow blending together at the end.  It features stories about murders, isolation, exes stuck together in their tiny apartment all merging into a dystopian world where humanity’s dependence on urban technology has been suddenly severed after the Internet breaks.  After a few decades of pure survival, in a world rebuilding itself books became so rare that they are more valuable than gold, giving birth to a new profession – wild west style gunfighters who roam the globe collecting these valuables at all costs.

On the Pacific in 2255., Milan Šufflay, 1923/1924

The novel predicted the outbreak of World War II, rising temperatures on earth, rising feminism, rising drug use and various stimulants, the transition to vegetarianism, bioengineering… Šufflay sees the mismatch between white culture and nature, he predicts the fall of Western civilization sinking into materialism and egoism and the center of civilization is moving to the Pacific zone with its focus in – China. Temporal utopia in which he builds an imaginary society, is a logical new world, new society is founded on Eastern principles, on a spiritual force in which there is no gap between knowledge and religion. The elite society of Budarha practices yoga, hypnosis and autosuggestion, they honor the wisdom of Confucius, Kabbalah and the Upanishads. The diet is plant-based, cities are huge gardens and they are self-sustainable. Western world is in dust and ashes, there are no social ties, and cities have sunk into chaos while individuals have been destroyed by madness, crime and suicide…

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