12 Great Classics For Fans of Dystopia

I was at the ripe age of 15 when I read my first dystopian story, Animal Farm by George Orwell. I doubt I fully grasped all the hidden meanings at the time, but I thoroughly enjoyed the book nevertheless. Since then I’ve gone through many of the great classics, and dystopian fiction is one of my all time favourite genres. There’s just something about the way these stories draw me in with their familiarity but the same time terrify me with the unknown, the possible, the could be that I find absolutely fascinating.

But what exactly is dystopian fiction? Part of speculative fiction, dystopia plays on the “what if” of things we know now as normal. It takes place in an undesirable future society, controlled by strict rules based on a new world order, plagued with violence, chaos, brainwashing, and other unpleasant elements. It plays on our fears of what our society might become. Totalitarianism and the fight against the oppressive government is an often used theme.

If you are a fan of classics, or just love a good old fashioned dystopian story, you might want to give these babies a try… or a re-read.

1984 by George Orwell

Because no dystopian reading list could ever be complete without this book. Thought Police, Newspeak, and Doublethink are only a small fraction of all the horrors going on in this masterfully written, frightening story.

Winston Smith wrestles with oppression in Oceania, a place where the Party scrutinizes human actions with ever-watchful Big Brother. Defying a ban on individuality, Winston dares to express his thoughts in a diary — an act punishable by death – and pursues a relationship with Julia.

 

“War is Peace
Freedom is Slavery
Ignorance is Strength”


 

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

I’d love to say that the way women are treated in this story is entirely made up and unimaginable, but even now, in the 21st century we can’t just sit back and declare that double standards and gender discrimination doesn’t exist anymore. Written in 1985, this book is still important today.

In the Republic of Gilead, we see a world devastated by toxic chemicals and nuclear fallout and dominated by a repressive Christian fundamentalism. The birthrate has plunged, and most women can no longer bear children. Offred is one of Gilead’s Handmaids, who as official breeders are among the chosen few who can still become pregnant.

 

“Blessed be the fruit.”


Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

More things, less feels!

Written in the shadow of the rise of fascism during the 1930s, Brave New World likewise speaks to a 21st-century world dominated by mass-entertainment, technology, medicine and pharmaceuticals, the arts of persuasion, and the hidden influence of elites.

Brave New World is a searching vision of an unequal, technologically-advanced future where humans are genetically bred, socially indoctrinated, and pharmaceutically anesthetized to passively uphold an authoritarian ruling order–all at the cost of our freedom, full humanity, and perhaps also our souls.

 

“…most men and women will grow up to love their servitude and will never dream of revolution.”


High-Rise by G.J. Ballard

Basically Lord of the Flies with grown-ups.

In his novel, published in 1975, G.J. Ballard explores the ways in which modern social and technological landscapes could alter the human psyche.

Within the walls of a high-tech forty-storey high-rise, the residents are hell-bent on an orgy of sex and destruction, answering to primal urges that their utopian surroundings can’t satisfy. The high-rise is a would-be paradise turned dystopia, ruled by intimidation and violence, and, as the residents organize themselves for war, floor against floor, no one wants it to stop …

 

“They thrived on the rapid turnover of acquaintances, the lack of involvement with others, and the total self-sufficiency of lives which, needing nothing, were never dissapointed.”


Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Can you imagine a future where books are banned? This blog, and other bookish blogs would be non-existent.

Guy Montag is a fireman. In his world, where television rules and literature is on the brink of extinction, firemen start fires rather than put them out. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden.
Montag never questions the destruction and ruin his actions produce, returning each day to his bland life and wife, Mildred, who spends all day with her television ‘family’. But then he meets an eccentric young neighbor, Clarisse, who introduces him to a past where people did not live in fear and to a present where one sees the world through the ideas in books instead of the mindless chatter of television.

 

“When they give you lined paper, write the other way.”


The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

Can we say, with absolute certainty, that fascists are a thing of the past and what’s depicted in Philip K. Dick’s classic can never happen to us?

Set in 1962, fifteen years after an alternative ending to World War II, the novel concerns intrigues between the victorious Axis Powers — primarily, Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany — as they rule over the former United States, as well as daily life under the resulting totalitarian rule.
It’s America in 1962. Slavery is legal once again. The few Jews who still survive hide under assumed names. In San Francisco, the I Ching is as common as the Yellow Pages. All because some twenty years earlier the United States lost a war—and is now occupied by Nazi Germany and Japan.

 

“But reality cannot be ignored; we must grow up.”


Animal Farm by George Orwell

Given enough power, even the best of us could turn into assholes.

Mr. Jones of Manor Farm is so lazy and drunken that one day he forgets to feed his livestock. The ensuing rebellion under the leadership of the pigs Napoleon and Snowball leads to the animals taking over the farm. Vowing to eliminate the terrible inequities of the farmyard, the renamed Animal Farm is organized to benefit all who walk on four legs. But as time passes, the ideals of the rebellion are corrupted, then forgotten. And something new and unexpected emerges…

 

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”


On the Beach by Nevil Shute

Technology is good! Or is it?

After a nuclear World War III has destroyed most of the globe, the few remaining survivors in southern Australia await the radioactive cloud that is heading their way and bringing certain death to everyone in its path. Among them is an American submarine captain struggling to resist the knowledge that his wife and children in the United States must be dead. Then a faint Morse code signal is picked up, transmitting from somewhere near Seattle, and Captain Towers must lead his submarine crew on a bleak tour of the ruined world in a desperate search for signs of life. On the Beach is a remarkably convincing portrait of how ordinary people might face the most unimaginable nightmare.

 

“I’m glad we haven’t got newspapers now. It’s been much nicer without them.”


The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

When being different has dire consequences…

David Storm’s father doesn’t approve of Angus Morton’s unusually large horses, calling them blasphemies against nature. Little does he realise that his own son, and his son’s cousin Rosalind and their friends, have their own secret aberration which would label them as mutants. But as David and Rosalind grow older it becomes more difficult to conceal their differences from the village elders. Soon they face a choice: wait for eventual discovery, or flee to the terrifying and mutable Badlands…..
This is a post-nuclear apocalypse story of genetic mutation in a devastated world and explores the lengths the intolerant will go to to keep themselves pure.

 

“The essential quality of life is living’ the essential quality of living is change; change is evolution; and we are part of it.”


 

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

 

Ultra-violence and objectionable language. Need I say more?

In Anthony Burgess’s nightmare vision of the future, where criminals take over after dark, the story is told by the central character, Alex, who talks in a brutal invented slang that brilliantly renders his and his friends’ social pathology.

A Clockwork Orange is a frightening fable about good and evil, and the meaning of human freedom. When the state undertakes to reform Alex—to “redeem” him—the novel asks, “At what cost?”

 

“To devastate is easier and more spectacular than to create.”


We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

Can you say, we are free? Or are we slaves without even realizing? Pretend lives on social media, consumerism, constant need for validation… Sounds familiar?

WE tells the story of the minutely organized United State, where all citizens are not individuals but only he-Numbers and she-Numbers existing in identical glass apartments with every action regulated by the “Table of Hours.” It is a community dedicated to the proposition that freedom and happiness are incompatible; that most men believe their freedom to be more than a fair exchange for a high level of materialistic happiness.

 

“The only means of ridding man of crime is ridding him of freedom.”


Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison

Overpopulation: stuff of nightmare fiction, or impending reality?

A gangster is murdered during a blistering Manhattan heat wave. City cop Andy Rusch is under pressure solve the crime and captivated by the victim’s beautiful girlfriend. But it is difficult to catch a killer, let alone get the girl, in crazy streets crammed full of people. The planet’s population has exploded. The 35 million inhabitants of New York City run their TVs off pedal power, riot for water, loot and trample for lentil ‘steaks’ and are controlled by sinister barbed wire dropped from the sky.
Written in 1966 and set in 1999, Make Room! Make Room! is a witty and unnerving story about stretching the earth’s resources, and the human spirit, to breaking point.

 

“One time we had the whole world in our hands, but we ate it and burned it and it’s gone now.”


Have you read any of these? Which one is your favourite?

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43 comments

  1. George Orwell is one of my favourite writers. Both of those books of his gave me the creeps. 😊
    I enjoyed The Man in the High Castle as well. I have heard of most of the other books but haven’t read them.
    I have a feeling by TBR list is to be expanded again! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, TBRs have the tendency to expand and explode, don’t they 😀
      i think i will re-read brave new world soon… i read it 13 years ago, and not in english, and i kinda want to read my all time faves in their original language now that i can 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • I took a plunge and deleted my TBR list completely on GoodReads early this year as it started stressing me out. 😊 It completely outgrew my reading pace and my reading preferences have changed over the years.. so off it went. Worth to say though that it has grown again since then but is a bit more manageable. 😊

        I love the idea of re-reading books in their native language! I read a lot of classics in Czech and re-reading someone like Dickens in English will be a must for me at some point. 😊 13 years ago does sound great!

        Liked by 1 person

    • Agree!
      Not so long ago a politician in my home country gave a speech that would have been a great fit into handmaid’s tale. He basically said that females exist to give birth and those who refuse are damaging the country. And it was in 2017… unbelievable.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Cait @ Paper Fury

    So I confess I really don’t read many classics…shame on me. But I would like to try Farenheit 451 someday! And Brave New World and The Handmaiden’s Tale. I kind of feel like I need to read them too?! 😂Somedayyyy. I loved reading your list!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Ova

    I like this post a lot Norrie!
    I am proud that I have read nearly all of these, and We and Chrysalids are at home waiting on the shelf to be picked up. (Why is John Wydham so underrated? He is a great writer!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh nice! 🙂
      I read midwich cuckoos by wyndham, because it was mentioned in a stephen king book, and even though it’s old stuff, i still found it super terrifying. but that’s about it, haven’t read much of his other stuff, i must admit…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ova

        I’ve read Chocky and it was super creepy. I have 2 more books from him which I’ll read. the best thing is they’re really bite-size novels compared to giant and loooong trilogies of today!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh this is a lovely post, thank you for the recommendations 🙂 I used to read a lot of YA dystopian stories, since then I kind of got sick of it and read less and less of the genre. I’m definitely planning on starting again, slowly and so many of these make me curious, especially The Handmaid’s Tale 🙂 x

    Liked by 1 person

    • i hope you’ll like it 🙂
      in a way the adult dystopian fiction is a bit more depressing for me. in the YA series there was usually some nice conclusion, or resolution or at least hope. but at the same time, i love it because of it. not everything has to finish neatly 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I read Animal Farm early too, but I almost don’t remember it 😀 unfortunately, I also read 1984 at that time. Put me off dystopian for a loooong time 😀 much too scary.

    Brave New World though! Wish I’d read that instead xD loved that one. I also loved Handmaid’s Tale, but thank god I didn’t read that when I was a teen, would have been traumatized as well 😀 haven’t read some of these others! Happy to see We on this list – it’s not a very well known one. I also liked it, and it seemed a lot like Brave New World – I was surprised to hear it was written so much earlier. And even earlier than Soviet Union even really became what it is, if I remember it right.

    I’ll have to check out the others on your list 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • i think handmaid’s tale for me was scarier as an adult. I read it when i was around 31-32, which is a popular age to be pestered about the lack of children i have, and being questioned about my “purpose” as a non-mother. Made me wonder, really…

      Like

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