Dystopian Novels

These novels are set in dystopian societies where the population’s behavior is controlled in various ways.

They can be contrasted with the societies on the page Utopias

Dystopic Novels

We | Yevgeny Zamyatin

“You’re in a bad way! Apparently, you have developed a soul.”

The dystopia of We is set in the 30thcentury in a technologically driven society where logic rules. Emotion is not considered; mathematical equations are used to solve all problems. In the “One State” the buildings are made of glass and everyone’s daily routine is scheduled. The protagonist, D-503, starts a diary to celebrate the policies of the state, but he is eventually influenced by the beautiful dissident, I-330.

Atlas Shrugged | Ayn Rand

“I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”

Dagny Taggart struggles to maintain control over her railroad despite government interference. Increasing government regulation has society headed for collectivism. The leaders of industry begin to mysteriously disappear one by one. Who is John Galt?

This dystopian novel is an amalgam of science fiction, mystery, romance, and philosophical polemic.

This work celebrates the individual, laissez-faire capitalism, “ethical egoism”, and the power of man’s mind.

Nineteen Eighty-Four | George Orwell

“The best books… are those that tell you what you know already.”

Winston Smith rewrites history for the Party’s Ministry of Truth. The Party demands complete devotion to Big Brother who is, they are assured, watching them at all times. He begins to feel rebellious leanings. The Party doesn’t allow any privacy for the Outer Party of which Winston is a member. So how is he going to fight this oppressive system?

1984 is full of memorable concepts like Big Brother, the Thought Police, Newspeak, “Two Minutes Hate”, Doublethink, Thought-Crime, and Room 101.

It deals with thought provoking themes such as the individual vs. society, the importance of remembering the past, the use (destruction) of language to limit thought, and government’s exploitation of war to control its citizens.

Fahrenheit 451 | Ray Bradbury

“It was a pleasure to burn.”

In a dystopian future, Guy Montag is a fireman who burns books to suppress independent thinking. He’s called to the home of an old woman who has been hoarding books. Montag reads a line from one of her books and then hides it in his jacket. The firemen prepare to set her living room full of books ablaze by pouring kerosene all over it but she won’t leave. She takes out a match and ignites the pile and herself. Montag is deeply affected and begins to question his role in this society.

Anthem | Ayn Rand

“We are one in all and all in one. There are no men but only the great WE, One, indivisible and forever.”

Anthem is set in a world of irrationality and collectivism. Individuality doesn’t exist; people have to refer to themselves as “we” or “our”. The protagonist is Equality 7-2521. Though gifted in math and science, he is assigned to be a street sweeper. He has thoughts of independence and is unhappy with his lot in life.

This novella shares some of the themes of Rand’s other fiction and is an easier introduction to her writing than the immense Atlas Shrugged. Equality 7-2521’s journey is an anthem to the ego.

The Handmaid’s Tale | Margaret Atwood

In this dystopia, set in the Republic of Gilead (formerly the United States) women are oppressed and used only for their reproductive ability and domestic skills. Most of the female population is infertile. The protagonist, Offred, is not one of them so she is a breeder or “handmaid” to one of the high ranking males.

It deals with segregation, class divisions, sex for reproduction only, and freedom of religion.

Parable of the Sower | Octavia Butler

It is July 2024 in a southern California where water is scarce, there is high unemployment, and the weather is extreme – either droughts or massive rains. Lauren Olamina is fifteen-years-old and lives in a walled off community for protection, as crime is rampant. Lauren is highly empathetic toward others. After a frightening experience, she tries to organize an effort to be self-sufficient by living off the land. She also develops a religious belief system called Earthseed, which espouses the thought that God is change, as change is inevitable and constant.

The Giver | Lois Lowry

Jonas lives in a futuristic society that is peaceful and regulated. He is nearing the Ceremony of Twelve, where a child is given their profession. He sees his friends receiving normal assignments, but his abilities cause his selection as the new Receiver of Memory. This will mean leaving his normal life and also undergoing severe pain.

The Road | Cormac McCarthy

Somewhere in the United States after an apocalypse, a father and son are travelling south to avoid the coming winter. They stop at abandoned stations and homes looking for food and supplies. There are few people left; many of those still living are violent and dangerous.

Brave New World | Aldous Huxley

It’s the year 2495 under totalitarian rule without war, poverty, and disease. There is lots of leisure time and pleasure. Humans are created in factories and are standardized and conditioned for the role they will assume in society. There are five social classes, from the gifted to the challenged. There is also a Savage Reservation, a sectioned off natural area without modern conveniences or state control.

Read “Brave New World”

Feed | M.T. Anderson

Titus, a teenager from a wealthy family, lives in a time when everyone is connected to feednet – like the internet but with a chip planted directly in the brain. He and some friends are on a trip to the moon. He meets a girl, violet, who is from a poorer family. On their way to a club, they see a group of protesters. At the club, one of them breaks in and causes a disturbance.

Never Let Me Go | Kazuo Ishiguro

Kathy H, thirty-one, tells the story of her life, particularly her time at Hailsham, a private English school. Now she is a “carer” who works with “donors”, but she doesn’t explain what these terms mean. Her friend Tommy had temper tantrums in school and was teased for it. She had an up and down relationship with her other friend Ruth. Tommy and Ruth become a couple in their teens. The students are occasionally visited by Madame, a woman who reacts to them like she might be afraid. The students aren’t told what their role is.

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