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Best Dystopian Science Fiction Books

The Top 25 Best Novels About Dystopias (aka really fucked up societies)

Science Fiction and Dystopias go together like Lindsay Lohan and court appearances, but the terms don’t necessarily have to co-exist. Both genres exist independently and are popular on their own. 

Dystopias are a fictional world, worse than our current world, where oppressive societal control exists under the illusion of a perfect society created by corporate, technological, religious or other controls. Dystopian fiction criticizes politics, societal values, technology, corporate control, and religion, showing the reader a worst case scenario, and making him or her question social and political systems. 

Science fiction is not necessarily as critical of the future in a negative way. It focuses on futuristic stories with plausible scientific or technological content, and explores the impact of science on society. Dystopias are a genre that many non-science fiction writers, even literary writers, cross into, writing stories that incorporate a science fiction setting or at least touch on the boundaries of it. Some literary authors (that's you, Margret Atwood) like to claim their science fiction dystopias are not in fact science fiction.

What is it that makes a novel dystopian science fiction? The existence of hard science fiction (an emphasis on scientific and/or technical detail and accuracy) or soft science fiction [based on soft, or “social” sciences like anthropology and psychology] in a dystopian setting. Dystopian science fiction also intersects with other subgenres of science fiction, like alternate artificial intelligence, post-apocalyptic worlds, cyberpunk, and dying earth fiction. This list goes through the dark, the depressing, and at times, the humorous worlds that occur when science fiction and dystopian fiction gets into bed together, and brings you the top 25 best novels in the genre.

The words have become so commonplace we hardly realise we are using them: Big Brother is watching you, the Ministry of Truth, Room 101, Newspeak, thoughtcrime. George Orwell gave us a language for describing our fear of any controlling and intrusive government.Winston Smith is a minor clerk in a future where the world's three great power blocs are constantly at war with one another, though alliances shift daily, and his job is to rewrite old newspaper articles so that the historical record always supports whatever is today's party line. It is a world where everyone is under surveillance all the time; the ubiquitous telescreens are always on, always spouting the party line, and always watching you. Winston meets a colleague, Julia, and realises that they both share the same distrust of the regime. They begin an affair that would be forbidden by the state, but the agents of the state are watching them all the time. Eventually they are arrested and Winston is taken to Room 101 to be tortured into betraying Julia and swearing his love for Big Brother. Nineteen Eighty-Four is regularly listed among the best novels in the English language; it is also one of the scariest. No other account of a totalitarian regime has so captured our imaginations. It's a chilling book, but absolutely brilliant and unforgettable.

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Animal Farm is Orwell's other great dystopian novel. Disguised as a rather charming fable about animals taking over the running of their farm, it is really a chilling account of Soviet Russia as the pigs, particularly Napoleon, become all-powerful rulers indistinguishable from the humans they have displaced. And the great rallying cry: all animals are created equal, is subtly changed to read: all animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others.

We by Yevgeny Zamiatin (which appears elsewhere on this list) is the inspiration behind much of Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (which also appears elsewhere on this list) is the other great dystopian novel of the period.

One by David Karp is set in a near-future America that believes itself to be approaching perfection, though it is in fact a dystopia. An incredibly complex bureaucracy is in place to keep control of all citizens by encouraging a vast network of informers, but when one informer falls foul of the system he finds himself rounded up and subjected to torture.

Alternative Choice
The Trial by Franz Kafka gave us the word "Kafkaesque" for any nonsensical bureaucracy which gives no reasonable way forward. Although it is a contemporary mainstream novel, the way that the protagonist, Josef K, finds himself arrested for an unspecified crime by agents of an unspecified force, and brought to trial in the attic of a huge tenement building where the procedures remain ever mysterious to him, all adds up to a powerful and haunting dystopia.

Everyone loves the idea of the thinking man's fireman (particularly middle aged women who read Fifty Shades of Grey), but that's not why Fahrenheit 451 made it to second on this list. Bradbury made his bread and butter with short horror stories, but also wrote one of the most popular dystopian science-fiction novels. Why is it so popular? It's definitely the most accessible dystopian science fiction novel -the science is soft and easy to digest, the word count is short, and the theme of society's dependence on technology is so subtle that it probably goes over the heads of many contemporary readers who are busy plugged into their iPhones, iPads, and whatever else they have in their sockets and ears -they're too busy staring at their screens to realize it's a metaphor. Oh, and lots of action. Who doesn't love fire, chases, and explosions? The novel follows Guy Montag, in a dystopian American society where books and intellectual thought are banned. Guy is a fireman in a society where firemen don't put out fires, they burn contraband books, and the houses the banned books are found in. Montag never questions this destruction, until his wife attempts to kill herself, and he meets a neighborhood girl who believes in freedom of expression, thought, and in the ideas in books. Guy begins to hoard the books he is sent to destroy, and reads them in secret. When he's found out, he goes on the run. In a deliciously ironic move, when the book originally came out, it was banned in various schools for "questionable themes." Looking back, this looks like authoritarian institutions becoming uncomfortable about the parallels between the book and society. Scarily, the novel was banned as recently as 1998 in a Missouri high school for using the words "God damn". In between bannings, the novel retrospectively won a Hugo award.

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This book ranks third on this list, and let's be frank here, because everybody appreciates sex and drugs woven into an intricate story line to pep up an otherwise depressing future. A future with sanctioned drugs and bi-weekly orgies, you say? Why is this future considered to be a dystopia and not a utopia? Probably because you have no choice about dying at the ripe old age of 60. At least you'll die young, beautiful and full of health, not having known pain, ugliness or hardship. Huxley's Brave New World portrays a hedonistic society (sans the hindrance of pesky moral repercussions) called the "World State", controlled by "World controllers" who ensure stability through a five tiered caste system, and ration a drug called Soma to members of every caste, so that no one ever feels pain or remains unhappy. Long term relationships are discouraged, babies are "decanted" (born in test tubes), and the idea of parents and families is disgusting. Humans are conditioned pre and post-natally to believe certain truths a pleasant way of describing society being brainwashed. Brave New World also enjoys the honor of being one of the most banned books for "negative activities", which we can only assume means all of the fun things in the book. And on this note, it leaves us with the moral that if you take away all of the unpleasantness from life, how can you know what is pleasurable and enjoy it? This novel has something to appeal to everyone: science fiction fans, dystopia/utopia fans, car enthusiasts, drug addicts, polygamists, polyamorous people, and Shakespeare snobs.

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Set in a post-Nuclear War society, the future is pretty bleak. People are being encouraged to leave the planet for parts unknown and are being given an incentive, their own personal android, to get out of here. Some of these androids escape, return to earth, and assume the identities of their former owners. Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter who chases down these androids, who are presumed not to be able to feel human emotions. His story is contrasted with that of a human irreparably damaged by the war who cannot leave Earth and decides to help the androids escape. Why It Made the List The book is best known as the film Blade Runner, which was a huge hit that starred Harrison Ford. Yet the film didn’t use much of the material from the book. Ironically Dick never saw the movie. A science-fiction author who has enjoyed a personal renaissance in recent years with other movies made from other novels. Dick is also known for his other works which were made into Total Recall and The Minority Report. He’s definitely an under-appreciated author these days. Read It If You Like post-apocalyptic societies, robots, police procedurals

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Kristine Kathryn Rusch,

During the 1950s and 60s, as the Cold War constantly threatened to heat up into nuclear exchanges, science fiction writers more and more turned to imagining a post-apocalyptic world. This novel, the only one that Miller published in his lifetime, is surely one of the absolute best.It starts some 600 years after the nuclear holocaust that is known as the Flame Deluge. The survivors had set out to destroy all learning, fearing that it would lead to a return of the forbidden nuclear science, but a Jewish electrician, Leibowitz, had founded a religious body dedicated to preserving books from before the war. Now a young monk in the Order discovers an ancient abandoned fallout shelter with writings that may have belonged to Leibowitz himself, including a handwritten shopping list. The survival of these documents is seen as emblematic of the survival of humanity itself.600 years later, and a renaissance is just beginning. But as the monks of Saint Leibowitz share their accumulated knowledge with local leaders, they find themselves being used as pawns in a war of expansion. Another 600 years pass, and scientific knowledge has returned more or less to where it was before the Flame Deluge. But the political differences and petty wars continue, and it soon becomes obvious that nuclear weapons will again be used. So the Order of Saint Leibowitz builds a starship in order to escape the holocaust and continue their mission of preserving knowledge. A Canticle for Leibowitz won the Hugo Award. Miller was one of the few sf writers of the time to use religious themes in his science fiction, and it helps to give this novel an intellectual depth and an emotional richness that are quite exceptional. This is regularly and correctly recognised as a masterpiece.

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Shortly before his death, Miller wrote a sequel, Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman, which was completed by Terry Bisson. Unfortunately, like many belated sequels, it doesn't really have the power or the quality of the original.

Among the post-apocalyptic stories from around the same time, you should also check out Davy by Edgar Pangborn, a beautifully written and quite enchanting account of a young man growing up in a pseudo-medieval society centuries after an atomic war, where the all-powerful Church actively suppresses technology.

Believe it or not, Stephen King didn't only write hokey horror novels that weren't particularly scary, with completely convoluted "why the fuck did the clown turn into an alien-spider" plots. He also wrote one of the most important and seminal dystopian science fiction novels under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. The Running Man was written in 1985, but makes King look like a clairvoyant when you think about contemporary society. The novel is set in dystopian United States in 2025, the economy is in ruins, and violence is on the rise (sound anything like the current United States? I know I'm scared). Ben Richards is unemployed, and his wife forced into prostitution to keep the family surviving. Ben participates in a game show called the Running Man. Contestants are declared enemies of the state, and to win 100 billion "New Dollars" they must survive being chased by Hunters trying to kill them for 30 days. Ben Richards turns out to do the best job of running from the Hunters in the history of the show. Common to almost all dystopian science fiction, themes of a corrupt government are heavy, with Ben's messages to the public altered by the government in power. The book is set out in a countdown format, starting with the first chapter "Minus 100 and Counting" with the numbers decreasing until the last chapter "Minus 000 and counting." This format and pacing makes you feel like you're running a marathon right along with Ben. The Running Man is the novel that everyone should be reading in place of the Hunger Games. If you ever feel the compulsion to read that trilogy, please get a Bachman fix instead - dirtier, grimier, and scarier in a realistic way. Warning: do not read the introduction by King that comes with some versions of this book, it gives away the ending! Why, oh WHY do authors insist on doing this?
Another childhood favorite; I felt slightly ripped off that I didn't have any telepathic abilities, despite how hard I tried to communicate to my sister solely using our minds. The Chrysalids, also published as "Re-birth" in the United States, is a science fiction dystopia set in a post-apocalyptic world a few thousand years in the future. The inhabitants of Labrador are vaguely aware of a technologically advanced race before them, the "Old People". They practice a form of fundamentalist Christianity and believe that to prevent another Tribulation (which we assume was a nuclear war), they need to preserve normality in life. Humans with minor mutations are considered "Blasphemies"; the devil's work, and are either killed or sterilized and banished to the lawless Fringes. David, the ten year old son of a religious figure, becomes friends with Sophie, a mutant who has concealed her 6 toed feet all of her life. David keeps her secret, harboring his own mutation his telepathic abilities. When Sophie is discovered and her family tries to escape, David wonders at the persecution and cullings. Eventually David and his group of telepaths are exposed and sent to the Fringes, pursued by villagers intent on capturing and interrogating them. David's sister Petra's abilities are extremely advanced, and through her they contact an advanced society. If there was ever a case made for why fundamentalism in any religion is evil, this is it. Something different? Oooh, quick, let's kill it! We can't kill it? Let's ban it! This book is my example of a dystopia - a world so ignorant that it will outlaw and destroy anything that is different to what's considered the norm.
This one is completely different from #1 on the list. It's considered a 'classic' in the time-travel genre. Man builds time machine, has a look around at other time periods, but doesn't really do anything significant, confining himself to observation; though he is, of course, being dragged into events. He manages to get out of trouble with his skin intact, does some more traveling, including to pretty much the end of human history and then to the end of the Earth. Maybe the most famous episode of the story is set in a not-too-distant future, where society is divided into two classes: the hyper-refined but ineffectual Eloi, who have ceased to be creative but live off the achievements of their ancestors; and the Morlocks, who live in darkness, and only come out at night. Masters and slaves or farmers and livestock? Why it's on the list: It's a hugely influential novel, imitated many times and providing the germ for tales in several SF sub-genres. Wells was a socialist, and the Eloi-Morlock part of the tale is an obvious metaphor for the class structure of English society at the time (and arguably still persisting now). Somewhat dated in language and style, it's still a must-read classic. The term 'Morlock' has become synonymous with a degraded form of human being; seriously retarded, though possessed of some elemental cunning nonetheless; living in the dark and being exploited by those who live 'above'. On the downside, time-travel in this novel is a mere plot-device to support social dystopian fiction. There's none of the really cool time-paradox and time-loop stuff you get, for example, from someone like Heinlein.
If you want to know the most influential science fiction novel of the last thirty-odd years, look no further than William Gibson's Neuromancer. The novel didn't invent cyberpunk; two films that came out a couple of years earlier, Tron and Blade Runner, had already introduced some of the themes of cyberpunk. And the term itself was invented by Gardner Dozois talking about a novel by Bruce Bethke. Nevertheless, it's safe to say that without Neuromancer, there would have been no cyberpunk. Neuromancer wasn't the first science fiction novel set among the low life and street people of the near future, but Gibson inhabited the Sprawl with utter conviction, inventing a street slang that caught on in the real world. In this underground, Case is a washed-up hacker whose been treated with drugs to stop him accessing the Matrix ever again, while Molly is a street samurai who offers case a cure in exchange for his services.Through a violent world of double-dealing corporations and government cover-ups, Case and Molly risk their lives in the bright and threatening landscape of cyberspace, following a trail that eventually leads them to Wintermute, a powerful AI at a time when machine intelligence is banned.A heady mixture of computer know-how and grimy film noir action, Neuromanceris like no novel before it, a totally original and absolutely gripping take on the near future. Why It's On the ListNeuromancer was the first novel ever to win the Hugo, Nebula and Philip K. Dick Awards. It also set the tone for cyberpunk and made Gibson one of the most acclaimed of modern writers. Neuromancer didn't just catch the zeitgeist, it created it, giving us terms like "cyberspace" and "ICE", and being instrumental in the way the World Wide Web developed.Alternative ChoiceMake sure you look at our 'Top 25 Best Cyberpunk Books list' and our Guide to the Cyberpunk Genre for MORE cyberpunk book recommendations.And the novel that is our Alternative Choice for the Top 25 is:Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson.  In a balkanised Los Angeles, where everything is privatised and the economy is breaking down, a new computer virus appears that affects the users as much as their computers. A key part of this future is the Metaverse, Stephenson's futuristic version of the Internet where people "log on" via virtual goggles. Everything is conducted through the Metaverse, from business to dating. Stephenson not only presents us with a very realistic look at what could be, but there are some subtle social observations about the way things are different and the same.Stephenson frames the modern social constructs intruding into this cyberworld; ones' social wealth is judged by the look of the avatar they use to interact with the Metaverse, with the wealthy being able to afford custom while the "poor" use off the shelf.This book has it all, from hacker heroes who wield Samurai sword destruction by night in the Metaverse and deliver pizza by day for the Mob, governments and police controlled by private corporations, and a conspiracy that might the world needs some saving from.

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Neuromancer was just the start of the Sprawl trilogy, so you should certainly go on to read Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive, not to mention the stories in Burning Chrome, which tell us yet more about this future of jacked-in cyber jockeys and street samurai, simstim and emerging machine intelligence. You simply can't understand cyberpunk, or anything that happened in science fiction afterwards, without these books. Note that while these books take place in the same 'world' they are unique stories and as such you can read Neuromancer (or the other loosely connected books) as stand alones.

Gibson has recently returned to science fiction with a powerful new novel, The Peripheral, in which people riding shotgun on an immersive game in the run-down near future end up witnessing a murder in the more distant future, and get caught in a time-travelling mystery of escalating violence and ever-increasing mystery. It can be hard going at first, but boy is it worth keeping on with the book.

If Neuromancer got the ball rolling with cyberpunk, there were an awful lot of great writers who quickly joined him. So if this sets you on fire, you absolutely must go on to read Schismatrix Plus by Bruce Sterling, the novel and stories set in his Shaper/Mechanist universe, a future in which humanity is divided between those who go in for genetic modification of the body, the Shapers, and those who prefer mechanical augmentation, the Mechanists. This is the point where cyberpunk started to mutate into stories of post-humanity.

Then there's Pat Cadigan, especially Synners and Fools, both of which won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, making her the first person to win the award twice. These are dramatic stories of human/machine interface, and the way it affects our awareness of reality.

For more specific CYBERPUNK book recommendations, make sure you look at our 'Top 25 Best Cyberpunk Books list' and our Guide to the Cyberpunk Genre

A decadent life, then voluntary euthanasia at 21? Brave New World's offering legal highs and encouraged orgies, I think I'll stay in that dystopia, thanks! Logan's Run is the first in a trilogy, the last two books, Logan's World, and Logan's Search, written by Nolan alone. The first book is set in the 23rd century, where Logan-6 is a trained killer, who tracks down and kills citizens on the run from their impending death. He has one last mission before he turns 21: finding and destroying Sanctuary, a mythical place where the "runners" live in peace. But Logan does what men have a habit of doing that gets in the way of their plans - falls in love with Jessica, and begins to question the system he has been protecting. They go on the run. This novel gets Number 10 on this list because of its popularity, but looking back on it, it's not as scarily reflective of what society becomes as say The Running Man or 1984. The themes of a large controlled society and compulsory death for the sake of keeping the world's population down are still relevant today, though Noland and Johnson's idea that the world was "teetering" at 6 billion and suffering from too many mouths to feed is wryly amusing in our contemporary world.

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Though this novel was written in the time of the women's movement, and influenced by the themes and social mores of this time, there is no need to be afraid of bra burning, hairy arm-pitted, men haters in this book. Instead the themes are highly intelligent, a utopian novel exposing the flaws in its model society, and examining themes of capitalism versus socialism, and the tension between what humans aspire to, and what they can achieve. In The Dispossessed, the physicist Shevek bridges two worlds. He grows up on the anarchist world of Anarres and travels to the Urras, which his ancestors fled two hundred years ago. The novel begins on Anarres with Shevek leaving for Urras, then flashes back to Shevek's childhood. It alternates between his life on Anarres and his life on Urras. We understand his decision to leave Urras and his return home. This novel hasn't been out of print since it was first published in 1974. You'd think with themes influence by this time, this novel would become dated, but thanks to some of the more "fundamentalist" American politicians who don't think women should have control over their own bodies, this novel is still well and truly relevant. Another reason Le Guin made this list with The Dispossessed? She was the first person ever to win both the Hugo and Nebula awards twice for her two novels, The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed.

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It's difficult to summarize what this tale is all 'about.' That's maybe the hardest and most challenging aspect of this novel. It starts after the collapse of civilization and focuses on the relationship between Jimmy, a remembered-self of a hermit calling himself Snowman. There's also a group of creatures called 'Crakers', who are like humans but not human. Jimmy once had a buddy, called Crake. They played computer games, including one called Extinctathon, only one a fairly unsavory list of internet activities. Seriously twisted characters, but maybe not as uncommon as one might want to believe. When Jimmy finds himself a love interest, Oryx, Crake goes nuclear, even though Oryx becomes a part of both their lives. But her heart is for Jimmy and that's not good. Crake reacts with stunning violence. Not only does he kill Oryx, but does some serious pandemic wetwork on the humans and transforms himself into the original Craker. Why it's on this list: It may sound pat and not doing the book full justice, but I think it is 'about' some seriously screwed-up people. Atwood herself insisted that it wasn't SF, and that she just happened to use genre tropes. Despite Atwood's protests though, the novel does a excellent job in the post-apocalypse-as-revelation stakes. It also trumps all the other novels on this list in the 'ratings' extremes. If I had allowed Hope and Fun-factor ratings of '0', I would have done it. Ratings: Grimness: 5, Bizarreness: 5, Hope: 1, Fun-factor: 1.

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Cat's Cradle is written in a style that makes me feel like Vonnegut's sitting back with a joint, having a laugh, in on the joke that is life. It reminds me of the style that Douglas Adams' hitchhiker novels are written in - we're all fucked, but isn't it kind of funny style. Except Vonnegut's themes are more sinister, and pointing at a future that we're working towards, if we're not careful. It's amazing that Vonnegut can manage to have a sense of humor after growing up in the depression and his mother committing suicide when he was21. A writer is obsessed with Hoenikker, the scientific "father" of the atomic bomb, and attempts to write a thesis on the day the bomb went off. Through his research, the writer realizes Hoenikker, though scientifically brilliant, was sociopathic in his application of science, lacking an understanding of consequences. He realizes that Hoenikker's last project, Ice 9, has the ability to turn every water particle into ice. At this point, our writer/researcher heads to San Lorenzo. Explaining what happens on San Lorezon would ruin the delightfully acid trippy plot, so please read the novel instead. But I will say, if you think Scientology is nuts (doesn't anyone think there is something slightly odd about a religion created by a science-fiction writer?), then Bokonism will blow your mind. The Cat's Cradle explores issues with religion, science, technology, and the concept of truth. It satirizes many modern flaws, including the arms race. It shows us how all it takes is a crazy idea by one influential person to affect life in a negative way, and makes very apt observations about the ridiculous things society uses science for.
We never know exactly what has happened, an apocalypse of some kind that has covered the landscape with ash and destroyed all animal life, but which has left most houses intact. There are human survivors, grubby, ragged, scrounging for what they can get from the houses they come across, or reverting to cannibalism.Two such survivors are a father and his son, heading south to avoid the coming winter with all their meagre possessions bundled into a shopping trolley. They survive attacks, avoid cannibals, lose most of what they have, then discover a secret cache of food that keeps them going. The father is dying, he thinks about nothing now but keeping his son alive. We are the good guys, he tells him, we keep the flame.The prose is spare, the story bleak and harrowing, but with the slightest hint of salvation at the end. It is a haunting, terrifying, magnificent book that will keep you up nights. The Road won a host of mainstream literary prizes, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, yet it also received near universal praise within the science fiction community.

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The picture that The Road paints is harsh and unsparing, and there are some few other accounts of our doom that have the same effect.

Golden Days by Carolyn See is a novel about the lives of a group of comfortably off women on the fringes of medialand in contemporary Los Angeles. But off stage, crises lead to World War Three, and the glamorous life is suddenly torn apart by nuclear devastation. What follows is a bleak, uncompromising account of the aches and sickness and hunger and horror of the few people struggling to survive, with prospects every bit as dismal as those in The Road.

This is the Way the World Ends by James Morrow imagines that the few survivors fleeing from World War Three are put on trial by those souls who would never be born because of the nuclear devastation. It proves to be a hauntingly effective way of conveying the anger and the horror of nuclear war.

There have been a host of novels about the last man on Earth, but usually they are isolated, exploring a world denuded of people. But what if the last man wasn't alone? What if the others had risen as if from the dead and were all around him?When a pandemic strikes, Robert Neville is immune, but everyone else falls victim. But the disease doesn't kill, rather it turns people into something resembling vampires. By night, Neville barricades himself in his home, using garlic, mirrors and crucifixes to keep away his vampiric neighbours. But since exposure to sunlight kills those infected, he can spend the days out and about, scavenging for food and researching the causes of the disease. He becomes a successful vampire killer, until a new strain of vampire emerges, ones that can bear short periods in the sunlight and who are attempting to build a new society.In a sense this is just an updating of Bram Stoker's Dracula, or a very early precursor of the zombie apocalypse novels ushered in by Max Brooks'sWorld War Z; but it is also a variant on the last man novels that go back to The Last Man by Mary Shelley or After London by Richard Jeffries. Whichever way you read it, I Am Legend is itself a legend, a story that has entered our consciousness, a story that will keep you reading. In 2012, the Horror Writers Association declared I Am Legend the vampire novel of the century. Though really, there's no contest. It's a startling, visceral, thrilling read that stands head and shoulders above any other vampire novel.

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Alternative Choice
Richard Matheson wrote not one but two indisputable classics of the genre. Alongside I Am Legend you also have to read The Shrinking Man. After accidentally being exposed to a radioactive spray, Scott Carey begins to shrink at a rate of approximately 1/7th of an inch every day. At first the loss is so gradual that he hardly notices, but in time, because he is shorter, he starts to lose the respect of his family and is subject to taunts by local youths. But the shrinkage continues, until he is chased by the family cat, attacked by a spider, and engages in a vicious battle with a towering black widow spider. And still the shrinking continues.

The ultimate nightmare of the world's males came true in 1994. (In the novel anyway, though there are some suggestions that things are trending that way.) The sperm count of all males has dropped to a bit fat ZERO. 1995 C.E. was dubbed "Year Omega": the year when the last human children were born. The novel explores what may happen as the human race faces certain ultimate extinction, but over a period of a number of decades. In that way, it resembles other post-apocalyptic stories in which humans may survive, but inexorably slide back toward barbarism as they scavenge on existing technological and other resources, which will eventually run out. Some of the consequences, especially those associated with social, political and national structures and behaviors, look dreadfully familiar. They are just logical extensions of practices already in existence in various regions of the world, including Europe. This makes this into a very-close-to-the-bone, with little cause to cheer. Despite this, there is a spark of hope; which ultimately is what the novel's all about. Why it's on the list: There is a minor inconsistency here: like there such things as sperm banks, so why not stretch out the supply? Nevertheless this is a tale which grabs you because of its plausibility. They also made it into a movie, which deviates from the novel in significant aspects and distorts its message. Ratings: Grimness: 4, Bizarreness: 2, Hope: 4, Fun-factor: 2.
It is the 1970s. Joanna lives in a world much like our own, where the feminist movement is just beginning. In Jeannine's world, however, there was no Second World War because Hitler had been assassinated, but the Great Depression is still going on. Janet lives in a peaceful, utopian world known as Whileaway, where the mendied of a plague 800 years ago and women give birth by parthenogenesis. Jael is in a world where there is a literal battle of the sexes, a war that has been going on for 40 years already.The four are versions of the same woman, and when they are brought together it gives Russ the opportunity to dramatically examine the different relationships with men and with other women experienced in the various worlds. The novel displays both the anger and the irony that are characteristic of her work at its best. James Tiptree once wrote to her: "Do you imagine that anyone with half a functional neuron can read your work and not have his fingers smoked by the bitter, multi-layered anger in it?" The result, often violent and always challenging, is the most powerful work of feminist science fiction ever written.Why It's on the ListAlways controversial, The Female Man is credited with starting feminist science fiction. It is one of only three novels to have been awarded a Retrospective Tiptree Award.Alternative Choice Kindred by Octavia Butler is another work that poses complicated questions about gender, but with the added puzzle of race. It is a time travel story of a young black woman who moves between contemporary California, and pre-Civil War Maryland, where she meets her ancestors, a black slave woman and a while slave owner. Ever since it was first published, Kindred has been a mainstay on both women's studies and black literature courses.

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Joanna Russ's work is never easy, she deliberately undermines our expectations, shifts perspective, and challenges our prejudices. But the result can be refreshing and invigorating. 

The way she subverts the comforting myths of science fiction is vividly displayed in We Who Are About To which tells the familiar story of a small group of people stranded on an uninhabited planet. The men, as always in such stories, dream of colonising and repopulating the planet, but the woman doesn't believe that survival is possible. In a famously bleak ending she has to kill the men in order to defend herself against rape.

The concept for the book is rather involved. Peopleâs souls and memories can now be digitized and stored. Once stored, if something happens to you, the soul and memories can be put into a different body, which is now called a sleeve (and explains the title). Not everyone is in favor of eternal life in different bodies. The problem is that much like a computer back-up, the last few hours of data is lost since it has not been backed up as of yet. Thatâs the situation for Laurens Bancroft, whose death is labeled a suicide, but he thinks that someone deliberately killed him. He hires Kovacs who has been trained as a member of an elite military group and now works as a detective. The book is violent, since Kovacs was trained to take a beating, but the bookâs hook is worth the violence. Why It Made the List For starters Netflix announced that this will be a 10 episode series in 2016. It also won the Philip K. Dick Best Novel award when it was released. Read It If You Likecyberpunk, dystopian societies.

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I would suggest the works of Philip K. Dick, since this book won the award named after him. Dick had numerous dystopian societies.

The first volume in this quartet starts amid dark, forbidding towers, where young Severian is apprenticed to a Guild of Torturers. Sound like fantasy? Wrong! Because those towers are actually long-abandoned rocket ships. The picture of a man in armour that we see inside one of the towers is actually a famous photograph of Buzz Aldrin taken on the moon. This, we realise, is the far future, a future where the world is starting to run down and the people await a saviour who will renew the sun. When Severian is expelled from the guild for putting one prisoner out of her misery, we follow him into a society that is crowded and colourful and mysterious. Here there are aliens, though for a while we don't realise they are aliens because everyone is so used to them that they don't pay them any special attention. Here there are augmented people, and strange technological advances, but knowledge of these has long been lost. As we pick our way through the story we realise that there is a huge amount of stuff going on that we only glimpse out of the corner of the eye, and each time you re-read the work you notice something else so that the story becomes ever richer and more rewarding. Our narrator, Severian, has a perfect memory, but don't let that fool you into thinking he's a reliable narrator; he leaves things out so that there are always surprises awaiting the reader. But there is so much going on in the story that you sometimes don't notice when he's left things out, because there are wars and betrayals and miracles and mysteries and people raised from the dead, and Severian's journey includes companions who may or may not be reliable, assassins attempting to kill him for reasons he doesn't understand, attacks by terrifying creatures, and the staggering revelation that he is actually the next autarch.Why It's on the list Gene Wolfe is the finest stylist writing in science fiction, it is always a pleasure to read his books. But The Book of the New Sun marks the high point of his career, a subtle and brilliantly readable blending of science fiction and fantasy, which is reflected in the fact that all four volumes won at least one major award. The Shadow of the Torturer received the BSFA Award and the World Fantasy Award; The Claw of the Conciliator won the Nebula and Locus Awards; The Sword of the Lictor won the Locus and British Fantasy Awards; and The Citadel of the Autarch won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.

Books in The Book Of The New Sun Series (7)

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The Book of the New Sun was only the start of the story, Gene Wolfe went on to write a further volume about Severian and then two further series set in the same universe.

The Urth of the New Sun is set several years after the events recounted in the quartet. Severian is now travelling in a massive spaceship to meet the all-powerful alien who can rejuvenate Urth's dying sun. Along the way he has to encounter all the dead people he has known, and, upon his return to Urth, he finds himself once again facing the enemies he had to battle in the first quartet.

The Book of the Long Sun is another four-book series, Nightside the Long Sun, The Lake of the Long Sun, Call of the Long Sun and Exodus from the Long Sun, which follows the adventures of Patera Silk. As the series opens he is a lowly priest in a small neighbourhood 'manteion', but in his efforts to save the manteion he discovers that he is actually aborad a generation starship now nearing its destination.

The Book of the Short Sun concludes what has been known as the 'Solar Cycle' with three novels, On Blue's Waters, In Green's Jungles and Return to the Whorl. A direct sequel to The Book of the Long Sun, the plot concerns the search for Patera Silk across the two habitable worlds, Blue and Green, that the generation starship Whorl has reached. By the end of the sequence we realise that these events immediately precede 

If you love Gene Wolfe's allusive writing and subtle world building, then don't miss The Fifth Head of Cerberus. These three linked novellas concern two planets once colonised by the French, where the population has a rich if rather decadent lifestyle. But there's a mystery concerning the aboriginal inhabitants of the planets who seem to have disappeared, but who are rumoured to have been shapeshifters. Could the humans actually be the natives in disguise?

As The Fifth Head of Cerberus indicates, before he embarked on The Book of the New Sun Gene Wolfe was best known for his multiple award-winning stories, many of which are gathered in The Best of Gene Wolfe; look out in particular for "The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories", "The Death of Doctor Island", "Seven American Nights", and "The Hero as Werwolf".

The dying earth that we encounter in The Book of the New Sun has a long tradition in science fiction. Don't miss the book that gave its name to the subgenre, The Dying Earth by Jack Vance, set in a distant future when the Moon has disappeared, the sun is burning out, and predatory monsters from another age now infest the cold and barren landscapes of Earth.

There were the golosses of millicents telling them to shut it and you could sloshy the zvook of like somebody being tolchocked real horrorshow. Alex and his droogs are out for a good time, which in their case means an evening of ultra-violence and rape. Which is great until the droogs turn on Alex and leave him out cold at the scene of a murder. So he ends up in prison, where they offer him a way out: the Ludovico Technique. This is supposed to turn him into a good, clean, model citizen; it's a sort of aversion therapy which makes him sick at the thought of violence. Unfortunately, it also makes him sick at the music of Beethoven, which used to be the one good thing in his life before. And when they let him out of prison he doesn't have any defences when he meets up again with his old gang, or with his former victims. Short, to the point and unrelenting; this is a book that's as hard hitting as its antihero. Told in a made-up language called Nadsat that combines bits of Russian criminal argot and rhyming slang, it takes you into a dystopian world that will leave you shocked and chilled. Yet at the end of it, as much as we hate Alex's casual attitude to violence, we end up asking ourselves whether it is morally right to deprive someone of their capacity for evil.   A Clockwork Orange has won prizes and been banned in almost equal measure. The bravura use of language means it never grows stale, and it provides a direct link into the mind of an extraordinary character.

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If there is one novel that matches the awesome inventive language of A Clockwork Orange it has to be Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban. Set far in the future after society has collapsed, it is told in a broken and deformed language that suits the setting:  On my naming day when I come 12 I to gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly ben the laswyld pig on the Bundel Downs any how there hadnt ben none for a long time befor him nor I aint looking to see none agen. Read it aloud, and you really get the sense of it, and the authentic voice of young Riddley, the tribal priest who interprets the messages of the "Gummint" communicated through Punch and Judy puppet shows. The novel won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, is perhaps the most original post-apocalyptic tale ever written, full of riddles and mysteries and echoes of things long past that pull you in and hold you enthralled.

Also, you shouldn't miss FeersumEndjinn by Iain M. Banks, a sharp and witty tale of the end of the Earth. The dead are digitally stored in the crypt, but as the Earth approaches "the Encroachment" that could end life on Earth, four characters within the vast edifice that is the crypt attempt to activate the fearsome engine of the title that could solve the problem. Part of the story is narrated by Bascule in a broken language that resembles text messaging: "Spoke wifErgatesthi ant who seditzjuss been wurkwurkwurk 4 u lately master Bascule, Y dont u ½ a holiday? & I agreed & that woz how we decided we otter go 2 c Mr Zoliparia in thi I-ball ovthi gargoyle Rosbrith."

We was written in the immediate aftermath of the Russian Revolution, and though Zamyatin was himself a Bolshevik, the novel expressed his disquiet at the structuring of society that the Soviet Union was planning; it was, therefore, the first novel banned by the Soviet censorship board. As a result, Zamyatin had the manuscript smuggled out of the country, so it was published in an English translation long before it ever saw print in Russia.Set in a police state where everyone is under constant surveillance by the secret police, We tells of an engineer who meets and falls in love with a free spirit whose independence leads him to question everything he has always assumed about the state. But in the end the state proves all powerful and this suggestion of independence is crushed.Why it's on the listAldous Huxley confirmed that We was part of the inspiration that led him to write Brave New World; and George Orwell, who reviewed We on its original publication in the UK, modelled 1984 very closely on Zamyatin's book. But if it had not had such a major influence on subsequent dystopias, We is a powerful work that deserves to be recognised as one of the great novels of the 20th century.
London succeeds in doing what many men have tried to do over the course of history, and almost every man has failed in doing: understanding how women think. Unlike most of London's fiction, this first person narrative is written from the perspective of a woman, and unlike many male authors, his narrative is provoking and believable. Set mostly in the San Francisco Bay Area, The Iron Heel tells the story of an oligarchic, tyrannical America. The scholar Anthony Meredith speaks on the fictional "Everhard Manuscript", written and hidden by Avis Everhard, in 2600 AD or 419 BOM (Brotherhood of Man).  Meredith's introduction eases the reader into the knowledge that the lovers Avis and Ernest are eventually summarily executed, giving the novel a Shakespearian tragedy feel. The Oligarchy is the largest monopoly trusts, bankrupting small to medium business, and reducing farmers to serfs, whilst maintaining power through a labor caste system and mercenaries. The novel should appeal to anyone enjoying alternative futures and intelligent social commentary. It stresses future changes in society and politics. It's on the soft science-fiction side, but given it's considered to be one of the earliest of the modern dystopias, it's made this top 25 list.  If that's not enough to convince you, even George Orwell admits that he was inspired by The Iron Heel, writing an retrospective essay on London's novel in his collected essays, Volume 4.
Personally, I think Ayn Rand's novels always deserve a top 25 listing because of their progressive thinking and liberally sexual attitudes. Don't agree with me? Have fun with your Sunday church, no coffee or booze, and get married at 18. I know which life Rand and I prefer! There isn't much that scares me more than current American laws, judicial bodies, and politics, but  Ayn Rand's dystopian alternate history America is up there. Sometimes when I hear about certain states locking up pregnant women in jail cells so they can't have abortions, I think the world is screwed, but then I think of the amorphous "Head of State" in Rand's Atlas Shrugged, where the judiciary, legislative and executive branches have come together, and I know it could be much worse. Given Rand's deliberate omission of a historical context, you may be wondering how this dystopian novel makes itself on to an alternate history novel list. Objectivist commentator,  Richard Lawrence, suggested that the alternate history interpretation of the novel was more plausible than the near history interpretation, due to a historical timeline where certain pieces of technology did not exist, like computers and airplane travel. As mentioned in our Top 25 Dystopian Science Fiction Novel List [link URL],Atlas Shrugged details a dystopian America in an alternate history, where society's most productive citizens refuse to be exploited by taxation and regulations, and go on strike. It shows that a world where people are not free to create is doomed, and that society will collapse when its citizens are slaves to the government. 
Inevitably, there is a continuity between past and future. The present is not a cut-off point between one and the other, but simply a sliding scale in the process of moving along the line. Of course, science fiction novels set exclusively in the future, and historical novels set exclusively in the past, do nothing to display this continuity. Which is what makes David Mitchell's novel so intriguing and so successful. It starts in the mid-19th century with the journal of an American on a sailing ship in the Pacific who slowly comes to realise that the doctor treating him is actually poisoning him. Then there are the letters of a young chancer in the 1930s who becomes the amanuensis to an old composer and starts an affair with the composer's wife. Next is a thriller set in California in the 1970s as a journalist begins investigating events at a nuclear power plant. In the present day there's the comic story of a publisher on the run from gangsters who finds himself trapped in an old people's home. A clone in a dystopian future Korea confesses to her part in plotting a rebellion by the fabricants. And on a post-apocalyptic Hawaiian island an old man relates, in a broken language, his meeting with a woman from a more sophisticated society. With the exception of the last, each of these stories breaks off at the mid-point, only to be picked up again in backwards order in the second half of the novel. The central character in each story reads the earlier text, but some of the early texts contain echoes of the later stories. Past, present and future, in other words, interconnect and feed off each other in a story of human predation that gains much of its power from the resonances across time.   There is no other work that is structured like this, there is no other work that so deftly combines elements of historical fiction and science fiction. Cloud Atlas is beautiful, absorbing and totally unique.

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Like a greatly extended Cloud Atlas, all of Mitchell's novels feel very different, for instance there's a crime story set in contemporary Japan, the story of a boy growing up in 1970s England, a historical novel about European traders in 18th century Japan. Yet in all of these novels, characters recur, images are repeated, there are distinct and deliberate links. All of this interconnection becomes explicit in The Bone Clocks. What we learn in this novel is that there are two warring clans of immortals, one survives by killing ordinary people, one survives by their consciousness passing into another body when they die. Their war ends up revolving around a young woman whose brother disappeared mysteriously when she was a child, who goes on to become a well-known author, and who ends her days in post-apocalypse rural Ireland. It's not the best thing Mitchell has written (that remains Cloud Atlas) but it is fun and fascinating, and in the way it ties all his other books together it becomes like a big intriguing puzzle.

Stand up; hold one hand to your chest and the other raised. Repeat after me: "I acknowledge it is not a crime to categorize young adult fiction as dystopian science-fiction, and furthermore, it is not a crime to enjoy said category of fiction." I promise, no one will rescind your nerd status for enjoying a young adult novel (unless it's Twilight, but we're not even going to go there.) 250 years into the future, the spaceship Godspeed travels towards a new earth, housing 100 cryogenically frozen people intended as the new earth's settlers. The other passengers are slaves to the Eldest, their tyrannical leader. Someone on board is trying to murder the frozen settlers, and Amy, a 17 year old girl travelling with her parents, survives being thawed in a murder attempt.  She becomes friends with Elder, the teenage future leader, and inspires him to defy the Eldest. Together they realize the ship is deteriorating and not on the course they thought it was. Young adult fiction has exploded with dystopian science fiction. Why does this piece make the cut at Number 25 on the list, and not one of The Hunger Games trilogy? Because it's so much more realistic about 17 year old girls than other young adult fiction - Amy has actually been in love and had sex, of all the outrageous things for a 17 year old girl to do! This book is part of a trilogy, the second novel A Million Suns was released in 2012, and the final installment, Shades of Earth was released January 15 2013.

Books in Across The Universe Series (2)