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So You Want to Read Dystopian Fiction: Here’s Where to Start

Broadly speaking, dystopian fiction is a science-fiction sub-genre that uses the problems of fictional societies to explore real contemporary issues like racism, conformity, the loss of privacy, anomie, and consumerism.
  1. 1
    1984 Book Cover Picture
    1984 Book Cover Picture

    1984

    by George Orwell

    Consider this book your introduction to dystopiana. 1984 is the story of a bureaucrat in the Ministry of Truth: a government agency tasked with rewriting history in a futuristic totalitarian regime. 1984 was written as a critique of communism. However, there are aspects of the story that are broadly applicable to any kind of repressive, authoritarian government. Some current readers have seen parallels between the Ministry of Truth’s use of “newspeak” — a language created to advance the goals of the Ministry — and contemporary neologisms like “alternative truth.”
    1984 Book Cover Picture
    1984 Book Cover Picture

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  2. 2
    Brave New World Book Cover Picture
    Brave New World Book Cover Picture

    Brave New World

    by Aldous Huxley

    Another must-read that is hot on the heels of 1984, Brave New World takes place in a society in which people are grown in batches, divided into castes, and heavily conditioned for maximum conformity, minimal free thought, and little emotion. The only escape from this factory-like world is sex and frequent doses of a narcotic known as Soma. The book’s main characters start to question this supposed utopia after a visit to a primitive, but free, society. Warning: This is not a happy story, but that is almost always the case in dystopian fiction.
    Brave New World Book Cover Picture
    Brave New World Book Cover Picture

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  3. 3
    The Children of Men Book Cover Picture
    The Children of Men Book Cover Picture

    The Children of Men

    by P. D. James

    Mystery writer Phyllis Dorothy James wrote only one science-fiction, but wow, is it a doozy. It is the year 2021, and England has become a brutal dictatorship. Humanity is no longer capable of reproducing, and the final generation of babies, the Omegas, have grown into nihilistic adults with little compassion for their fear-stricken elders. Protagonist Theo is a college professor: a useless profession in a world with no more young people to educate. Life seems hopeless until the day he is approached by a group of dissidents who claim to know of a pregnant woman. If they’re telling the truth, it could mean there’s hope yet for humanity. This novel was adapted into the absolutely crushing 2006 film “Children of Men”, directed by Alfonso Cuarón.
    The Children of Men Book Cover Picture
    The Children of Men Book Cover Picture

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  4. 4
    The Handmaid's Tale (Movie Tie-in) Book Cover Picture
    The Handmaid's Tale (Movie Tie-in) Book Cover Picture

    The Handmaid’s Tale (Movie Tie-in)

    by Margaret Atwood

    The Handmaid’s Tale is a modern classic: a feminist science-fiction parable about reproductive liberty and religious oppression. The United States is no more following a coup and nuclear exchange. In its place is Gilead: a theocratic dictatorship. Radiation and pollution following the war has taken a toll on the residents of Gilead, many of whom have become sterile. Offred is a handmaid: one of countless fertile women held in bondage by Gilead’s ruling men. Offred, dehumanized and treated as little more than breeding stock, is expected to clean and bear her master’s children. Unwilling to accept a life of servitude, Offred hatches a plan to escape Gilead.
    The Handmaid's Tale (Movie Tie-in) Book Cover Picture
    The Handmaid's Tale (Movie Tie-in) Book Cover Picture

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  5. 5
    Super Sad True Love Story Book Cover Picture
    Super Sad True Love Story Book Cover Picture

    Super Sad True Love Story

    by Gary Shteyngart

    Lenny Abramov is a middle-aged man stuck in the past century: a time of paper books and face to face communication. Unfortunately for him, he’s madly in love with Eunice Park, a young Korean-American woman who is thoroughly a product of a modern age of hyper-consumerism and constant online connection. As Lenny and Eunice pursue their awkward courtship, a borderline illiterate America collapses into totalitarianism around them. Don’t be fooled by the title: Super Sad True Love Story packs quite a wallop. Rumor has it that Showtime will be adapting this as a series sometime in the future.
    Super Sad True Love Story Book Cover Picture
    Super Sad True Love Story Book Cover Picture

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  6. 6
    The Stand Book Cover Picture
    The Stand Book Cover Picture

    The Stand

    by Stephen King

    A patient escapes from a biological testing facility, unknowingly carrying a deadly weapon: a mutated strain of super-flu that will wipe out 99 percent of the world’s population within a few weeks. Those who remain are scared, bewildered, and in need of a leader. Two emerge—Mother Abagail, the benevolent 108-year-old woman who urges them to build a peaceful community in Boulder, Colorado; and Randall Flagg, the nefarious “Dark Man,” who delights in chaos and violence. As the dark man and the peaceful woman gather power, the survivors will have to choose between them—and ultimately decide the fate of all humanity.
    The Stand Book Cover Picture
    The Stand Book Cover Picture

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  7. 7
    Station Eleven Book Cover Picture
    Station Eleven Book Cover Picture

    Station Eleven

    by Emily St. John Mandel

    Kirsten Raymonde will never forget the night when a devastating flu pandemic arrived in the city. Within weeks, civilization as we know it came to an end. Twenty years later, Kirsten moves between the settlements of the altered world with a small troupe of actors and musicians. They call themselves The Traveling Symphony, and they have dedicated themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive. But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who will threaten the tiny band’s existence. And as the story takes off, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, the strange twist of fate that connects them all will be revealed.
    Station Eleven Book Cover Picture
    Station Eleven Book Cover Picture

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  8. 8
    World War Z Book Cover Picture
    World War Z Book Cover Picture

    World War Z

    by Max Brooks

    The Zombie War came unthinkably close to eradicating humanity. Max Brooks, driven by the urgency of preserving the acid-etched first-hand experiences of the survivors, traveled across the United States of America and throughout the world, from decimated cities that once teemed with upwards of thirty million souls to the most remote and inhospitable areas of the planet. He recorded the testimony of men, women, and sometimes children who came face-to-face with the living, or at least the undead, hell of that dreadful time. World War Z is the result. Never before have we had access to a document that so powerfully conveys the depth of fear and horror, and also the ineradicable spirit of resistance, that gripped human society through the plague years.
    World War Z Book Cover Picture
    World War Z Book Cover Picture

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