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...
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  • The Time Machine (1895)
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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.
    • Author: H. G. Wells
    • First Published: 1895
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)
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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.
    • Author: George Orwell
    • First Published: 1949-06-08
  • The Handmaid's Tale (1985)
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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.
    • Author: Margaret Atwood
    • First Published: 1985
  • Brave New World (1931)
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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.
  • The Passion of New Eve (1977)
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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.
    • Author: Angela Carter
    • First Published: 1977
  • Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
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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.