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Top 12 Dystopian Novels

Shane Dayton

Literature has been a defining part of culture since the beginning of language. The dangers of modern times have led to the writing of dystopian novels, novels which warn of an unhappy future. Many people think of Dystopian novels as purely science fiction—while science fiction is a natural fit for a dystopian story, not all dystopian books are considered science fiction. Without further delay, here are the 12 best dystopian novels.

12

Lord of the Flies
William Golding (1954)

Lordoftheflies
?This novel isn’t the 12th best on the list (it would be rated much higher in my opinion) but it’s at number twelve because of the on going argument whether this is truly a dystopian novel or not. The definition of dystopia isn’t necessarily clear, though the general definition is that it is a society in which misery and negative conditions prevail (or a seeming utopia gained at horrifying costs.)

As far as a dysfunctional society, the island with its stranded little boys is it, and once the conch shell is no longer seen as authority, everything breaks apart. If anyone wants to argue that an anarchy could work, this book would be an immediate argument against it. This is an incredible psychological work, and I’d say their society is definitely dysfunctional enough to count as a dystopia.

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11

Handmaid’s Tale
Margaret Atwood (1985)

Handmaid
?This story comes from the first person Offred. Offred is a maid in a time when fertile women are forced to be breeding machines to keep the human population going. This takes place because the world is a post-nuclear world where many women can’t have children. This is a very theocratic society, and this book tends to be very pro-feminist and anti-religious, which causes it to often be protested. This is a great dystopian tale that is frightening because the logic of how the society became the way it is happens to be very believable.

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10

Neuromancer
William Gibson (1984)

Neuromancer

Most of William Gibson’s novels revolve around a dystopian future society, but Neuromancer may be the best of them all. This novel won the sci-fi “triple crown” for writers by winning the Nebula, Hugo, and Philip K. Dick awards. In the seedy underground of a Japanese city, a computer hacker is hired to work on the ultimate hack. In a world flushed with AI, virtual reality, genetic engineering, and corporations overpowering nations, the adventure follows. Gibson beat many modern sci-fi writers to the punch, and this dystopian novel is one of the most influential in modern times.

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9

Iron Heel
Jack London (1908)

Ironheel

Iron Heel is an excellent dystopian novel about the rise of a tyrannical corporate oligarchy in the United States. This book doesn’t pay attention to technology the way most future dystopian science fiction novels do now. This work stressed changes in society and politics, with the oligarchy formed by robber barons whom bankrupt all the middle class and seize power before enforcing a “caste system” of workers. This was a fantastic dystopian novel that was far ahead of its time.

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8

The Running Man
Richard Bachman (1982)

Runningman

Written by Stephen King under the penname of Richard Bachman, “The Running Man” is a fantastic dystopian novel about a frightening future where ratings and entertainment takes form in a man hunt, and where even the “winners” are losers. This novel is far superior to the movie, and in my opinion is one of the best novels written by Stephen King. “The Long Walk” is also an honorable mention.

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7

Armageddon’s Children
Terry Brooks (2006)

Armageddonschildren

I’ve probably read over 200 books the last two years, and among many good novels, “Armageddon’s Children” has been one of my favorites. This is one of the best novels written by Terry Brooks, and takes place in a post apocalyptic world around 2100, following (among others) a lone remaining knight trying desperately to fight off the demon onslaught and a group of street gang kids who roam the remains of Seattle trying to survive. The fantasy world of Shannara was supposedly spawned from the post apocalyptic wastes of Earth, and this series bridges the gap between the two.

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6

The Chrysalids
John Wyndham (1955)

Thechrysalids
?This dystopian novel is another example of a post-nuclear world. This time the dystopia comes from a “need” for purity. As humans are being born with increasing levels of mutations and deformities, the state decides to execute anyone who isn’t “perfect,” meaning even one extra toe can be a death sentence. This attempt at forcing perfection in a post apocalyptic world is disturbing and effective, and has spawned many imitators.

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5

The Children of Men
PD James (1992)

Childrenofmen
?Most people will know about the film with Clive Owen and Julianne Moore. The movie was very good, but is far different from the book. In this world, for reasons unknown, all men’s sperm count plummeted to zero, and without reason or explanation, mankind now faces its own extinction. The fear mongering during this time has allowed governments extraordinary powers to keep the peace, and when a woman becomes pregnant, the implications are enormous.

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4

The Time Machine
H.G. Wells (1895)

Time-Machine-Dvdcover

“The Time Machine” is one of the best science fiction novels to ever be written. This novel is the story of “The Time Traveler” who builds a machine that allows him to travel to the far distant future. While this might not seem dystopian at first glance, but a seemingly gentle and happy society is plagued by predators who harvest people for food…if that doesn’t qualify as a crappy dystopian society, I don’t know what does. The hero tells his story to a man of his time, grabs weapons, and goes back into the future never to return. This novel is where the term “time machine” even came from.

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3

1984
George Orwell (1949)

1984

This isn’t the best written novel, but it is one of the big three of the dystopian science fiction novels. This could very well be the most recognizable of the big three, as “1984″ is synonymous with tyrannical governments, fascism, and dystopian science fiction. Even the phrases “1984″ and “Big Brother” are now part of the common culture. Orwell’s detailed novel shows how a government can manipulate the people by manipulating the truth and manipulating the news. This book is the source for arguing against a far right government getting unfettered power.

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2

Fahrenheit 451
Ray Bradbury (1953)

Fahrenheit451

Guy Montag begins this classic novel as a fireman: meaning he is a man society calls on to burn all books, which are outlawed. Unlike “1984″ or “Brave New World,” “451″ doesn’t speak politically against the left or the right politically, but speaks against the dumbing down of society, specifically on how Hollywood pop culture slush and TV entertainment can create an entire nation of people who are not only incapable of fighting for their rights, but who don’t even realize the importance of doing so. This is a brilliant novel that shows Guy going from soldier of the state to an independent free thinker who must go on the run to survive.

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1

Brave New World
Aldous Huxley (1932)

Bravenewworld

While this dystopian masterpiece and “Fahrenheit 451″ could be interchangeable as the top two, “Brave New World” gets the nod because the writing itself is the best. This novel is incredible, showing a society where left leaning thinking and self hedonism is taken so far to the extreme that one person’s utopia turns out to be an appalling place where the irony of a peaceful existence has caused society to lose all concept of art, honor, religious beliefs, or anything that often defines culture. The “utopia” has people who have no sympathy, no empathy, and this vision of a future is as chilling as any other on this list.

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Contributor: Shane Dayton

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