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The 13 Best Dystopian Novels

This best dystopian novels list includes some of the best known stories of dystopias in literature and some of the best novels of all time. Dystopias have become a fascinating genre over the last century as disillusioned writers witnessed and reacted against imperialism, two world wars, including the Nazi and Stalin regimes, and the treacherous Holocaust. These writers played with the darkest sides of humanity, unearthed by war and technology and used satiric irony to present a destructive vision of the future of society. The results were these books about dystopian societies and classic dystopian novels.

What are the top dystopian novels? What are the best selling dystopian novels? Dystopian novels are characterized by a lack of individual freedom, heroes that know something is wrong and contain many WTF moments that make you rethink the current status quo and become aware of the constructed nature of our values and standards. The best of this genre of literature gets readers thinking about their own lives, freedoms, and societies.

Cast your votes below for your top dystopian novels, or rerank this list your own way to include all the great dystopian books on your reading list. From famous titles to lesser known works, the works on this list should give you a good place to start when you're looking for your next book about dystopian society. Whether you feel better or worse after read all of them is up to you...

The 13 Best Dystopian Novels Books
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    One of the fathers of science fiction, H.G. Wells, coined the term "time machine," which inspired f*ture science fiction writers to let their imagination run free. Many authors have attempted a sequel to the dystopia.

    An English scientist and inventor living during the Victorian era travels to the year 802,701 A.D. He meets a group of docile humanoids called Eloi, who live comfortably among large technological buildings and seem to have figured out how to live peacefully and without struggling for survival. When he returns to the site where he left his time machine, it’s gone.

    Turns out another group of pale, ape-like creatures called Morlocks who are afraid of light are the ones who operate the technology above ground. At night they come out and hunt Eloi, which means the f*ture is actually a gloomy place where humans have become cannibals. The Time Traveller, Wells’ name for the English gentleman, finds a way to get back to his time machine and return to Victorian England.

    The next day he sets out for another journey in time and is never seen again hence, the sequels attempting to figure out just where the Time Traveller ended up.

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    Although we know 1984 came and went without Orwell’s prediction coming true, 1984 is considered a classic. The novel gave us the term "Big Brother," among others, to symbolize an authoritarian government that infringes on the privacy of its citizens, watching their every move.

    The hero, Winston Smith, whose job it is to rewrite history as the Party wants it to be remembered, begins to rebel against the brotherhood by writing all his negative and illegal thoughts about the state in a journal like a hormonal and oppressed teen and by having a romantic affair with Julia, during which they frolic in the woods.

    Not to give away too much of the ending but the novel portrays the profound psychological power of a totalitarian ideology, which can possibly even defeat human resistance.

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    Atwood criticizes extreme religious views in this dystopia, which motivate the "Sons of Jacob" to overthrow the U.S. government and create a new republic. Women’s bank accounts are emptied and they are taken away from their families to facilities where they are "re-educated."

    The story follows Offred ("Of Fred," named for the Commander because women don’t even deserve their own names in this society) who is taken to the Commander’s house simply for reproductive reasons. She participates in a sickening and awkward ritual in which she has sex with the Commander while lying on top of his wife.

    Feminists, lesbians, widows, nuns and handmaids who are unable to get pregnant after two three-year terms are sent to the colonies, along with anyone else who no longer has a role in society, such as homosexuals, to do agricultural work in a polluted area. Writing in the eighties, Atwood was an active feminist and in the novel, humanizes female characters by giving them agency against their subjugation.

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    Huxley transports us to 2540 AD, where The World State has created a socialist nightmare. Every human is produced in a laboratory and conditioned to have the values of the state from birth through sleep learning. For example, a beta would have these phrases repeated to him all night:

    "Alpha children wear grey. They work much harder than we do, because they're so frightfully clever. I'm awfully glad I'm a Beta, because I don't work so hard. And then we are much better than the Gammas and Deltas. Gammas are stupid. They all wear green, and Delta children wear khaki. Oh no, I don't want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They're too stupid to be able to read or write. Besides they wear black, which is such a beastly color. I'm so glad I'm a Beta."

    The society reduces humanity by erasing serious emotional ties, both romantic and familial and enforcing promiscuity instead. Those higher up in the caste spend time drugged up on soma, which meets their spiritual needs by making them chant in a mock religious ceremony that ends in an orgy. The growth of the lower castes’ intelligence is cut off, making them nonresistant slaves who carry out mass production.

    Bernard, who is a shorter-than-usual Alpha Plus and psychologist, feels like an outcast. He takes his date Lenina to a Savage Reservation to see how natives live. They come across a woman from the State, Linda, who had gotten lost on a visit and integrated herself into the savage lifestyle after giving birth to John eighteen years prior. They had been treated like outcasts, especially because Linda slept around with all the men (she had been conditioned to be promiscuous after all).

    Bernard brings John back to the "brave new world" but he is appalled by this manipulative and artificial society. It’s worth reading the whole book to find out how John deals with his mental breakdown.

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    Published at the height of the women’s liberation movement in the seventies, a young British guy named Evelyn comes to America and ends up in the hands of a militant feminist colony in the desert headed by a mother goddess with four nipples who decides to turn him into a woman...yeah. Now our hero becomes the heroine, Eve.

    Be prepared for numerous gender swaps, a one-eyed, one-legged villain called Zero and a cave that literally symbolizes a vagina as Eve, mentally unprepared to be a woman, takes on the roles of virgin, whore and mother. Carter’s business is to demythologize absolutist and traditional stories such as the good old Creation story, which blames the female for humanity’s fall and does so through a technique she called "moral p*********y." And now you want to read it.

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    Written during the Cold War, Bradbury was attempting to criticize the increasing censorship in the U.S. In the novel’s f*ture American society, which is on the brink of war, citizens are motivated solely by pleasure, which leads to chaos and the banning of critical thinking and reading.

    The main character, Guy Montag is a fireman, not a traditional civil servant that arrives in a red truck and fights fires, but one that actually causes them when someone is caught with books. Guy is curious about literature and starts collecting confiscated books in his home. When his Captain finds out, his house is burned and he flees to the wild. There he joins a group of men dedicated to memorizing books and passing them on orally.

    Bradbury’s famous dystopia has been alluded to in practically every medium, from Michael Moore’s documentary title Fahrenheit 9/11 to a Simpsons’ episode to a flame-throwing character in StarCraft named Gui Montag, making it a pop culture phenomenon.

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    A popular young adult trilogy that’s being turned into a movie, The Hunger Games is a genius examination of power and Collins takes risks with graphic content despite her young audience.

    In the novels, Panem has replaced North America, led by a Capitol full of wealthy citizens hiding behind excessive plastic surgery. The twelve districts that surround the Capitol are dirt poor and each has its own industry, whose product supplies the Capitol.

    To discourage rebellion, the Capitol holds an event called The Hunger Games, during which two young tributes from each district are put into an arena and forced to fight to death until one winner remains.

    Katniss Everdeen takes the place of her younger sister and throughout the course of the three books in the series, becomes a symbol of resistance for the people in the districts and a major threat to the Capitol. A love triangle is thrown in, of course, but Gale, her childhood friend and Peeta, her fellow District 12 tribute, who are both men, are a more realistic, human variation of the Twilight triangle.

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    Another young adult novel that has heavy allegorical traits and counteracts, say religious stories teaching kids to obey, is the Giver. The conformist society in which the twelve-year-old protagonist Jonas lives in is disguised as utopian, as dystopias often are. The members of the society live in perfect nuclear families without even giving birth to their own children. Everyone has the same color eyes and are colorblind and deaf. No animals exist within the society and the weather is kept constant.

    Jonas, who has unique light eyes and can see color as well as hear, has a wet dream one night about being in a bathtub with his friend Fiona and his mother makes him take pills to suppress his emotion. At the Ceremony of Twelve, he is given a job called "Receiver of Memory." The Giver becomes his teacher, passing on memories that give Jonas a deep emotional impression of both dark experiences like violence and sadness and happy ones like love and beauty.

    His family takes in a baby named Gabe who cries at night and can’t sleep. Jonas realizes the baby can receive memories and runs away with him when Gabe is sentenced to be released, or killed by lethal injection.

    Critics were unsurprisingly appalled by the mature content of the young adult novel but its defense of freedom won it the 1994 Newbery Medal.

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    What happens when you throw a group of preppy British schoolboys onto a desert island? They get really violent. One of the boys, Ralph, gets voted as the leader and has the rest of the group maintain a signal fire in order to get rescued. Soon enough, some of the boys start losing hope and getting lazy,which causes them to lose an opportunity to get off the island when a ship passes by.

    The choirboys, led by Jack, eventually split from Ralph’s tribe and hunt boar, painting their faces and receding to savagery. Hallucinations, a murder and a man hunt occur as Golding weaves themes like individuality vs. groupthink through this societal experiment that goes very wrong.

    Spoiler alert! When the boys are finally rescued by a naval office, he tells them off, saying he would have expected better from British boys.

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    You’re probably most familiar with the movie made by Warner Bros. in 2006, which starred Natalie Portman as Evey Hammond and Hugo Weaving as V, who wears a Guy Fawkes mask to cover the burns he suffered from escaping the Larkhill concentration camp. Despite the badass sacrifice Portman made for the film (she shaved her head), the prison scene in which Portman reads Valerie Page’s inspiring story as a lesbian in an authoritarian society and Weaving’s memorable voice as V, Alan Moore had many complaints about the film, as he usually does when one of his graphic novels is being turned into a movie.

    In the graphic novel, Evey is actually a prostitute and V an anarchist. Aside from a bit of romanticizing, the movie pretty much kept to the graphic novel. The setting is a f*ture U.K. totalitarian regime headed by a fascist party that calls itself "Norsefire." Its leader, Adam Susan, has what is probably one of the first human-technology love affairs in the history of literature. He believes he and the Fate computer from which he speaks to the people are the only "real" beings.

    V saves Evey from being raped by the state’s police officers and after hearing about her father being taken as a political prisoner, dedicates his time to converting Evey to his anarchical state of mind. He sends out Guy Fawkes mask to every citizen, urging them to rise up and goes on a party official killing spree.

    The graphic novel is a powerful medium for dystopias because of the combination of both literary and visual qualities and V for Vendetta does an excellent job of it.

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    Told in a distant third-person perspective, the novel follows a father and his son, who are wandering across the country after a catastrophe hits Earth, wiping the planet of vegetation and animals.

    The setting includes extreme weather conditions and an ash-filled atmosphere that makes the father cough up blood and realize he's dying. The lack of food has turned the remaining human survivors into cannibals capable of roasting a baby for dinner.

    The man and boy are faced with carrying on the legacy of humanity as they struggle for survival and the distinctions between "good guys" and "bad guys" becomes blurred.

    The Road won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and Oprah chose the dystopian novel for her book club so it must be great right?

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    World War II vet Kurt Vonnegut is known for his science-fiction writing and humanist themes. In Cat's Cradle, which gets its title from the string game found in many different tribal societies, protagonist John travels to Ilium, New York to interview the children of a physicist, Felix Hoenikker, who helped develop the Hiroshima atomic bomb. John learns that the deceased Hoenikker had created a substance called ice-nine which turns things into ice and comes into play later in the novel.

    Always the absurdist, Vonnegut takes his readers to the made-up Caribbean island San Lorenzo, whose people are led by a dictator Papa Monzano (perhaps a reference to Haiti's Papa Doc?). John learns about the island's tumultuous past, having passed through the hands of different conquerors. He also learns about a religion called Bokononism, which was part of a utopian project created by a man named Bokonon. Bokonon banished the religion in order to give the poor people of the island a feeling of purpose and excitement in practicing the forbidden religion.

    Vonnegut weaves his dark humor into this novel to challenge the absolutist perspective of Americans on themes like religion and science and further ingrain the certainty that humanity is stupid.

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    The introduction to the dystopia references the rising percentage of young people in American population from beginning in the sixties. Logan's Run is a dystopian vision of a society set a thousand years into the f*ture in which no one is allowed to live past 21 years of age. When they turn 21, a citizen's palm crystal turns black and they are to report to a sleepshop to undergo voluntary euthanasia.

    Those who defy the rules and fail to report to a sleepshop are called runners. The protagonist of the novel, Logan 3, is a sandman who tracks down runners. He sets out on a special mission to destroy the Sanctuary, an underground community of runners. When he meets Jessica and starts falling in love with her, he becomes sympathetic to the runner's cause and becomes one himself.

    Keep an eye out for a remake of the 1976 film.

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