Fiction featuring repressed and controlled societies — “dystopias” — has been around since the nineteenth century. These imagined worlds (or, somewhat realistic worlds, as some might argue) are the antithesis of perfect societies — “utopias.” Dystopian societies are characterized by governments with strict control over citizens, who live in squalor and misery. Some dystopias involve technology-gone-haywire.
These types of books aren’t exactly uplifting reads. However, dystopian novels are important for a number of reasons. For me, the primary purpose they serve — outside of pure reading entertainment — is to remind us of what could manifest. Additionally, dystopian novels are good to read from a historical perspective — how many societies with police states and lack of individual freedom have actually existed (and still do)?. In effect, these types of novels keep us conscious of where the world’s societies have been, where they are today, and where they may be headed. Dystopian novels sure make me appreciate all the freedoms I have as a U.S. citizen!
Below are ten novels about dystopian societies that I’ve read and recommend. Bonus: all ten books have been made into movies, the trailers of which I’ve included!
Which other books would you add to the dystopia list?
1. 1984 by George Orwell: About a society in which the totalitarian government exerts mind control over its denizens. Big Brother spies on everyone, and anyone displaying signs of individuality is punished.
2. Blindness by Jose Saramago: A city is inexplicably hit with an epidemic of white blindness. Authorities isolate those afflicted in a hospital, where anarchy erupts.
3. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: In this world, books are illegal because they represent individual thought. The government has managed to burn most books, and they continue to unearth any hidden books.
4. Lord of the Flies by William Golding: A group of schoolboys are stranded on an island with no adult leadership. The result is pure savagery.
5. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. The time period for this book feels like present day. People can harvest perfectly matching major and minor organs…by cloning themselves. These cloned individuals grow up at a private school — and through their own experiences, develop as unique humans who must ultimately die via transplantations for their “originals.”
6. The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov: Welcome to a world where humans and robots cohabitate — and tensions between the two “beings” are mounting. This movie is in the works now! Check out this Science Fiction World article for more details.
7. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: In this futuristic world, women are completely controlled by the government. The women are categorized into hierarchies, and those of a reproductive age must breed and give children to “royal” childless couples.
8. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kaftka: This is a tale about a man who suddenly transforms into a giant insect. The man’s family and friends react with disgust, and they shun the man.
9. The Road by Cormac McCarthy. This is a hopeless, post-apocalyptic world, and it’s every man out for himself. A man and his son trudge through the dying ruins, and they confront repeated horrors.
10. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: A punishing government controls twelve districts that must annually send a boy and a girl to a wilderness competition that recognizes only one victor.