The 10 Best Dystopian Books You Haven’t Read Yet

    From post-apocalyptic trauma to corporate dictatorships, our future isn’t looking too bright.

    When it comes to dystopian books, there are a lot of fish in the sea. In fact, some novel are, quite literally, about fish coming out of the sea (Undertow, anyone?). But if your doomsday TBR list is just The Hunger Games, Divergent, and 1984, you’re missing out on some dystopian goldmines. Fortunately, the odds are in your favor: we've created a list of killer recommendations so you can broaden your (bleak) horizons.


    The Shore of Women

    By Pamela Sargent

    In this feminist dystopian classic, Sargent unveils a post-war society, where men are exiled and used only for loveless reproduction. When a lone woman finds herself living amongst the men, she must fight for her life just as she fights to fix her flawed, female-dominated world. Check this one out for a refreshing reversal of dystopian and post-apocalyptic tropes.

    The Shore of Women

    By Pamela Sargent

    The Sheep Look Up

    Brunner’s dystopia is a look at a future where environmental destruction has run amok. Disease, birth defects, and air pollution are so rampant that citizens wear gas masks, and the poor are forced to drink fetid, unsafe water. Overpopulation has led to a corrupt government, while violent eco-terrorists wreak havoc across the globe. Both groups are after Austin Train, an environmentalist on the lam whose expertise makes him a valuable ally or a terrible enemy...This one’s written with a shocking degree of prophetic accuracy considering John Brunner wrote it in 1972.

    Parable of the Sower

    By Octavia E. Butler

    Lauren lives in an America lost to drugs, war, and a lack of resources—an especially dangerous situation for a girl whose "hyperempathy" makes her sensitive to the pain of others. When her family and safe neighborhood is lost to fire, Lauren leads a group of refugees north, where she dreams up an idea that might just change the world.

    If you like Parable of the Sower, you’ll love the sequel, where a dangerous political candidate attempts to reunite America through racism, isolationism, and religious intolerance (sound familiar?). The pièce de résistance? The candidate’s slogan is also “Make America Great Again.”

    Parable of the Sower

    By Octavia E. Butler

    Rubicon Beach

    By Steve Erickson

    When prisoner Cale is released into the dystopian Los Angeles, he becomes disturbed by strange visions of his own death. At the same time, a mysterious woman stumbles from job to job, until she finds work with a screenwriter obsessed with numerology. Their paths will eventually intersect—and with trippy consequences—in this dark and ethereal novel.

    Rubicon Beach

    By Steve Erickson

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    The Continent of Lies

    By James Morrow

    In this dark and satiric book, virtual reality is the fad of the era. Players eat a cephapple, or “dreambean,” and enter their desired reality: love stories, war stories, and even horror stories. Similar to our present-day film critics, Quinjin’s job is to write critiques of these adventures for potential consumers. But when a new, illicit “dreambean” takes people to a nightmare hallucination that drives them mad, Quinjin’s new job is to prevent the news from destroying the "dreambean" industry...Prepare for a major mindtrip!

    The Continent of Lies

    By James Morrow

    Love in the Ruins

    By Walker Percy

    Walker Percy’s surprisingly funny dystopian book begins in a “future” U.S. where Americans are violently polarized along racial, political, and social lines. Meanwhile, a seemingly endless war continues abroad. The only thing standing between America and ruin? A device called a Lapsometer, which is capable of diagnosing all of society’s ills. Dr. Thomas More—a psychiatrist, inventor and former mental patient—goes on an odyssey to cure the world, equipped with his own Lapsometer. More satire than dismal prophecy, this is a light-hearted addition to your dystopian list.

    Love in the Ruins

    By Walker Percy

    Oryx and Crake

    By Margaret Atwood

    When you think dystopian books, you probably think of Margaret Atwood's 80s classic The Handmaid's Tale. And yes, you should read that! But you should also chekc out her more recent venture, Oryx and Crake, which portrays a world where corporations control the population with gene manipulation. Eerie and complex, Atwood skillfully examines the inevitable consequences of an increasingly divided America through the story of one man’s lost love.

    Oryx and Crake

    By Margaret Atwood

    On Such a Full Sea

    By Chang-Rae Lee

    Lee's America is in the same doldrums of decay, but it's also a startlingly original take. Here, the descendants of poor provincial Chinese people make up the labor class and are segregated from the rich. When Fan, a female fish-tank diver leaves her settlement to search for the man she loves, her forbidden journey through the lawless open country will become legend—especially to those she’s left behind. More than your average dystopian, On Such a Full Sea explores myth, art, and truth.

    On Such a Full Sea

    By Chang-Rae Lee

    The Running Man

    By Stephen King

    Ben Richards is so desperate for cash that he signs up for The Running Man, a televised game show where runners wander the world while stalked by paid hunters and law enforcement. Their prize? Cash for every hour they stay alive. Set in a dystopian world of collapsing economies and rising violence, the plot of The Running Man may sound a little familiar, but that’s because it’s the granddaddy of the televised kill-fests The Hunger Games takes its cues from.

    The Running Man

    By Stephen King

    The Water Knife

    By Paolo Bacigalupi

    Paolo Bacigalupi is the underappreciated modern master of the dystopian genre. Here, his ingenious world-building is on full display, as he presents a disturbing future where water is the major currency—and one that everyone will kill for.

    The Water Knife

    By Paolo Bacigalupi

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    Featured still from "Children of Men" (2006), via Universal Pictures

    • dystopian
    • fantasy
    • sci fi


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