Teen dystopian books and series such as The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Maze Runner, with their attendant popularity and movie deals, have become all the rage among readers and viewers who favor tales that are “relating to or denoting an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one,” as defined by Oxford Dictionaries. But what about adults–can’t we have our anti-utopian stories too? Indeed we can, and have, some for many years prior to the books for younger readers were even a dream, or nightmare, in their creators’ minds.
Below is a suggested list of dystopian novels for adults, most with links to the Clermont County Public Library’s catalog. Unless otherwise noted, links are to regular print fiction books, though in nearly all cases there are other formats available, such as large print, audiobook, and eBook. If you have any questions, including how to use SearchOhio, please call or visit your local branch. Far from complete, this list presents a selection to acclimate or reacquaint you to the genre. Enjoy?
Three Classic Dystopian Books
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Set in society that tightly controls the flow of information between its citizens, the main protagonist is a fireman (or “bookburner”) whose task is to destroy all books banned by the government.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. A prophetic novel describing the socialized horrors of a quasi-utopia devoid of individual freedom–cloning, feel-good drugs, anti-aging programs, and total social control through politics, programming and media–with a storyteller’s genius, he weaves these ethical controversies into a compelling narrative.
Nineteen Eighty-Fourby George Orwell tells the story of a society in a state of permanent war. Ruled by an oligarchical dictatorship, citizens are kept under surveillance and mind control. The main protagonist is a member of the ruling party who slowly realizes he must rebel against his masters.
Two Lesser-Known Classics
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick. Set in a totalitarian version of the future United States, this award-winning tale follows the life of a popular pop singer who loses his identity overnight.
Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut. His first novel, set in a futuristic world that is almost completely mechanized, describes the influence of automation and capitalism on the people in it.
Four Made Into Films:
The Running Man by Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman. This gripping story set in a violent world tells the tale of a contestant on a popular TV program. Participants are released in the destroyed outskirts of walled cities, where they must fight to the death for a chance to win the prize. Spoiler alert: do not read the Introduction before reading the book!
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro follows the life of female protagonist and narrator Kathy, who remembers her youth growing up in a dystopian English boarding school.
The Children of Men by P.D. James tells the tale of a near-future England, where a sudden illness causes the creation of a nearly absolute infertility. In that environment, main protagonist Theo Faron embarks on a mission to transport the only pregnant woman to a scientific facility that could provide the cure and salvation to humankind.
The Lathe of Heaven (e-Book) by Ursula K. Le Guin follows the life of a man who can make his dreams come true. Helped by a psychologist, they begin the formidable task of creating a better society for humankind.
MaddAddam trilogy: Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, and MaddAddambyMargaret Atwood. Blending satiric futurism and magic realism, this apocalyptic trilogy is a soulful peek at what happens to the world after a mad scientist decimates humanity with a designer disease.
Sprawl trilogy:Neuromancer, Count Zero, andMona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson. Celebrated as the starting point of the Cyberpunk subgenre of science fiction, this revolutionary trilogy explores the concepts of artificial intelligence, the connection between humans and machines, information control, shared consciousness, and cyberspace. Neuromancer won the Nebula, Philip K. Dick and Hugo Awards, not an easy task.
And Four More:
Wither by Lauren DeStefano is the first book of a planned trilogy, “The Chemical Garden.” It describes life in a dystopian society that has created the perfect generation of humans. This same discovery unfortunately also gives birth to a deadly virus that kills the children born to these people.
The Book of Dave by Will Self (available through SearchOhio) tells the story of a mentally ill London taxi driver, whose diary containing various frustrations towards women, family, and society becomes the foundation of a cruelly dogmatic and misogynistic religion two centuries after a catastrophic flood almost destroys modern England.
Super Sad True Love Storyby Gary Shteyngart is an award-winning novel describing a near-future life wherein society is ruled by the influences of media, retail and mass-market economy.
Borne by Jeff VanderMeer. In a ruined, nameless city the scavenger Rachel finds a creature named Borne, left over from a biotech firm called The Company. Rachel takes it back to her underground lair where she must shield it from her drug-dealer boyfriend, Wick.