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 familar, is much more frightening than our own.
From the misogynist dystopia of The Handmaid’s Tale to the totalitarian regime of Brave New World, 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.
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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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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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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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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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 third series is highly anticipated.
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If you love The Handmaid's Tale, discover what to read next
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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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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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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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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When an extreme government is voted into power, things change dramatically for women in America: they are no longer able to work, have access to independent bank accounts or their own passports. Women are also now restricted to speaking just one hundred words a day, with young girls no longer taught to read or write. Now she has been silenced, Jean truly realises the power of her voice and she is determined to take it back.
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