The best dystopian novels of all time

Our edit of the best dystopian novels ever written, from classic authors like George Orwell, Margaret Atwood and Aldous Huxley.

18/02/2020

Dystopian novels fascinate us because they draw on aspects of our own world. Mirroring elements of society, the environment, religion, politics or technology, dystopian novels present a world that, though eerily familiar, is much more frightening than our own.
From the misogynist dystopia of The Handmaid’s Tale and Margaret Atwood's sequel The Testaments, to a world changed forever by a deadly pandemic in Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven, dystopian novels often carry a warning for the future. George Orwell's 1984 in particular only seems to grow in relevance, and Dorian Lynskey discusses the novel's fascinating history in his book The Ministry of Truth. Here are some of the most sinister, and some might argue prescient, dystopian novels ever written.  

If you find your next read below, why not show your local independent bookshop a little love at this difficult time, by purchasing it from them online? You can find your local indie bookshop, here.  

 

Station Eleven

by Emily St. John Mandel

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Our favourite dystopian novel of recent years, Station Eleven moves backwards and forwards in time, presenting the recognisable years just before a flu epidemic brought about the collapse of civilisation alongside the strange and altered world that exists twenty years after. It’s a novel that asks questions about art and fame and about the relationships that sustain us through anything – even the end of the world.

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The Hunger Games Trilogy

by Suzanne Collins

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This bestselling dystopian young adult trilogy was adapted into the smash hit film series which catapulted Jennifer Lawrence to stardom. Set in a dark vision of the near future, twelve boys and twelve girls are forced to take part in a brutal reality TV show where the only rule is kill or be killed. 

A prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, set sixty-four years before the events of the first book in the trilogy, will be published in May 2020. 

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Brave New World

by Aldous Huxley

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Heavily influenced by the science fiction writers, such as H.G. Wells, who went before him, Aldous Huxley presents a future where the World Controllers have created the ideal society. All its members are happy consumers, kept docile with a sinister mix of genetic engineering, brainwashing and recreational sex and drugs.

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The Handmaid's Tale

by Margaret Atwood

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In this classic of feminist fiction, Margaret Atwood presents a world where women’s bodies are controlled by the state and 'handmaids' are forced to provide the families of the elite with children. The bestselling TV adaptation, starring Elisabeth Moss and Samira Wiley, has been nominated for multiple awards, and the fourth series is highly anticipated.

If you love The Handmaid's Tale, discover what to read next

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The Testaments

by Margaret Atwood

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Shortlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize, The Testaments is the highly anticipated sequel to Margaret Atwood's dystopian classic The Handmaid's Tale. Set fifteen years later, in the crumbling regime of the Republic of Gilead, the novel tells the story of three women – two who have come of age with no memory of life before Gilead and one who is one of the few women still to wield power in society.

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The Road

by Cormac McCarthy

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A post-apocalyptic tale of a man and his son trying to survive by any means possible, Cormac McCarthy’s classic novel The Road is one of the most shocking, harrowing and bleak visions of the future ever created. The book was adapted into a BAFTA-nominated film starring Viggo Mortensen in 2009.

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Fahrenheit 451

by Ray Bradbury

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Possibly the most terrifying dystopian scenario for booklovers, Fahrenheit 451 is set in a not-too-distant future where books are burned and intellectual thought is illegal. Guy Montag’s job as a fireman means he is responsible for burning any books that are found, because they're considered the source of all discord and unhappiness. But everything changes when Guy's doubts start to grow.

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The Time Machine

by H. G. Wells

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One of the first portrayals of time-travel in literature, The Time Machine is the story of a Victorian scientist who travels to the year 802,701 AD to find that humanity has descended into two distinct races, the charming but child-like Eloi and the sinister and dangerous Morlocks. 

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A Clockwork Orange

by Anthony Burgess

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A nightmare vision of a society overrun by nihilistic violence and governed by a menacing totalitarian state, A Clockwork Orange is one of the most inventively written dystopian novels ever published, written in teen slang 'Nadsat', a dialogue Burgess created for the novel. Fifteen-year-old Alex and his gang of friends rob, kill and rape their way through life, until the State puts a stop to his riotous excesses. But what will his re-education mean?

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1984

by George Orwell

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One of the best known dystopian novels of all time, 1984 is George Orwell's terrifying vision of a totalitarian future in which everything and everyone is slave to a tyrannical regime lead by The Party. The novel has a fascinating history, from the phenomenon the book became on publication to the impact it has had on the English language. Dorian Lynskey explores the cultural history of 1984 in his remarkable book The Ministry of Truth.

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The Power

by Naomi Alderman

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One day, young girls across the world wake up to discover they have ‘the power’ – an electrical charge they are able to inflict at their will. Able to ‘wake up’ this power in older women, suddenly the balance of world power has shifted and men are no longer in charge. A new world order quickly falls into place, but will things get any better?

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