Science fiction is a genre that is often not taken seriously – people have a tendency to view it as silly or for children, with the word ‘sci-fi’ being most commonly associated with shiny robots and aliens. However, science fiction can be used as a powerful tool for social commentary, especially when authors choose to use their stories as societies of the future – these are novels about dystopias.
Dystopian literature has become increasingly popular in recent times: there’s The Hunger Games (which you’ll notice didn’t make this list), Divergent, and Uglies. There really seems to be no end in sight; more and more best dystopian novels are coming out each year.
The List of 30 Best Dystopian Novels you Should Read
1. Borne by Jeff VanderMeer:
This novel is utterly stunning to read. It’s frighteningly believable, which makes it all the more disturbing to consider that this would be how our world would end up. Borne follows Rachel, who has fled her city after a chemical attack destroyed much of civilization; she now lives in an abandoned tower block with her companion Wick and their unnamed cat (who might actually be an ex-tiger). Then they find a mysterious bear-like creature called Borne growing at the base of the tower.
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2. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood:
Dystopian literature may not be taken seriously but The Handmaid’s Tale was Booker Prize-winning political fiction, showing readers something deeply unnerving about what could happen if religious extremists took control of the US. Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead, controlled by an oppressive regime that treats women as property and only allows them to read and write if they were born into a high-class family.
3. We by Yevgeny Zamyatin:
We is one of the most influential dystopian novels ever written – George Orwell’s 1984 borrowed many elements from this Russian novel about a society where everything is planned for you and any kind of display of emotions (other than hate) results in physical mutilation. Dmitri, who works as an engineer keeps discovering changes to his city that he disagrees with but doesn’t know how to change things; then one day he meets a woman named I-330 and a new life of adventure opens up before him…
4. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell:
This dystopian classic was published in 1949 to instant acclaim. It tells the story of Winston Smith, an ordinary man living under an oppressive government that controls its citizens’ every move; soon Winston begins to challenge this regime, which is when his troubles really begin.
5. The Road by Cormac McCarthy:
Arguably one of the most harrowing novels ever written, The Road tells the tale of a father and son journeying through post-apocalyptic America in search of somewhere safe to live. Told entirely from the point of view of the father, it shows how he tries to stay strong for his son, even though there’s no guarantee of food or safety waiting at the end of each day.
6. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley:
William Forster is a rebel in a society that has given up on free will; if you don’t fit in with what your community expects from you then you are labeled abnormal and sent away. But when he commits an act of violence against the public, he is forced to run.
7. The Giver by Lois Lowry
Onas lives in a seemingly utopian world where everyone has everything they could possibly need and no one feels pain or anger or fear. When Jonas turns 12, he is given the opportunity to become the Receiver of Memory; his life changes forever as he discovers how different life used to be..
8. The Dispossessed by Ursula K Le Guin:
This classic science-fiction novel was first published back in 1974 but remains just as relevant today. It tells of physicist Shevek who is exiled from his home on Anarres to live with the people of A-Io, where he begins to see that both societies might have more in common than they would like to admit..
9. Tales of the Dying Earth by Jack Vance:
Here’s another story set in a world so far into the future that there are very few humans left. Vance has imagined an Earth that is littered with the remnants of ancient civilizations; it’s a time when sorcerers are still revered, but very few can perform magic…
10. The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester:
A classic novel about revenge and redemption, The Stars My Destination tells the story of Gully Foyle, who is left to die after his spaceship crashes into a meteorite storm; he survives for 200 years before re-emerging as the individual known only as ‘Jaunte’. Jaunte now feels compelled to seek out those responsible for leaving him stranded…
11. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin:
Le Guin has long been known as one of the great writers of science-fiction; this book tells of Shevek, who is exiled from his home on Anarres to live with the people of A-Io, where he begins to see that both societies might have more in common than they would like to admit….
12. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury:
Bradbury has long been known as one of the great writers of science-fiction; this book tells the story of Guy Montag, a fireman in charge of burning books that are banned in his society. But when he meets a young girl who asks for his help to save her library, he finds himself questioning everything..
13. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley:
William Forster is a rebel in a society that has given up on free will; if you don’t fit in with what your community expects from you then you are labeled abnormal and sent away. But when he commits an act of violence against the public, he is forced to run..
14. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess:
A classic novel about revenge and redemption, The Stars My Destination tells the story of Gully Foyle, who is left to die after his spaceship crashes into a meteorite storm; he survives for 200 years before re-emerging as the individual known only as ‘Jaunte’. Jaunte now feels compelled to seek out those responsible for leaving him stranded….
15. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick:
This is the novel that inspired Blade Runner and many other films; it’s a classic science-fiction story in which we meet Rick Deckard, who has been tasked with tracking down 6 escaped Nexus 6 replicants. It takes place in 2019 on a dying Earth where owning an animal is seen as eccentric…
16. The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard:
Set in the year 2145, The Drowned World describes a planet that is burning up under the scorching sun. As its temperature continues to rise, grotesque mutations start to appear; in this future world, it’s not just animals that are changing…
When you’re done with this list, be sure to check out our other lists about books that inspire films. You can find them all in one place here. And before you go, why don’t you share your favorite sci-fi novel? Let us know what it is in the comments below.