I was recently asked, “What do you like to read?” I listed the last five novels I’ve read and–to the shock of no one–3 of 5 were dystopian. Even if you’ve never heard the term “dystopian,” you’ve probably seen/read/heard about it. A “dystopian” society is one characterized by suffering, oppression, or extreme poverty, and it is usually a future that society has brought upon itself. Think of it as what happens after the end of the world.
So if you’re looking for some new reading or looking to explore a new genre, here’s my favorite dystopian novels, ranked in no particular order.
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
Nineteen Eighty-Four is the foremost example of dystopian literature, as far as I’m concerned. This was the book that changed my view of how and what I could write, and even now, the creepiest phrase ever written is, “Big Brother is watching.”
This book is also considered a political novel as well as science-fiction, but it serves as a terrifying reminder of what could happen. It seems that dystopian writers share a similar fear: a government too powerful and too involved.
The film was later adapted into radio programs, and even a few films were adapted. Also, David Bowie wrote a song called “1984.”
The Giver by Lois Lowry
This book was the first one I read after I had completed grad school. Now, if you’ve ever studied literature, you probably understand that “burned out” feeling when you think about reading for fun. Having studied literature for seven years, I was tired of reading. But, I wanted to write dystopic fiction and as any good writer knows, you have to read the genre you want to write in.
I read this book in a matter of hours, and afterward, I’d never been so glad to see the world in color.
A film adaptation is due to be released later this year.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Does this one even need introduction?
The first part of the film adaptation of the series’ third book Mockingjay is due to be released in November of this year.
Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis
Don’t judge me, but this is probably the only book by Lewis that I love. If you’ve noticed the trending connection between dystopian fiction and science-fantasy, you’re right to. Much of dystopian literature has a science-fiction element in it, and the reverse is also true. The premise of the novel is that a wandering philologist, Ransom, (presumably based on Lewis’ good friend Professor Tolkien) is abducted and taken to Mars, where he encounters a seeming paradise.
The dystopian factor in this novel is subtle, because what Ransom encounters on Mars is a utopia, making our world, Earth, the opposite: dystopia.
V for Vendetta by Alan Moore, illustrated by David Lloyd
I love this book because it reminds me of Nineteen Eighty-Four, but the graphic novel paints a more vivid image of a futuristic United Kingdom, one that is ruled by fear. This book has everything: political injustice, dystopia, revolution, and revenge. A film adaptation was released in 2005.
Also, I’ve studied enough of Britain’s history to really, truly appreciate the Guy Fawkes parallels. Stroke of genius.
Remember, remember the fifth of November.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
This book inspires gross, unattractive, snotty sobbing. I can’t even begin to describe the plot without ruining the effect of the book. More than the other books on this list, Never Let Me Go addresses what it means to be a human being (strong focus on human rights in this one). A film was made in 2010 starring Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan, and Andrew Garfield.
Armageddon’s Children by Terry Brooks
Little known fact about The Collectress: I’ve read every book by this author.
Terry Brooks is best known for his “Shannara” fantasy series, but later he wrote the series “The Word and the Void” which is more magical realism than fantasy. With Armageddon’s Children, he combines the two to create one dystopian trilogy, cementing him as a literary bad-ass.
What I love most about this trilogy is how Brooks blends myths and legends from our reality with his own created mythology. It’s an undertaking of Tolkien proportions, and it’s a good read.
So there you have seven dystopian novels (most are parts of a series), and this is a very small sample of books from my favorite genre. If you have a favorite that wasn’t included on the list, mention it in a comment below!