Dystopian fiction, just like any other fiction, is written mainly for entertainment. But because of the subject we also connect with it on a deeper, often thought inspiring level. We see our fears manifest in the stories, a bleak future unfold; foreign but also familiar. Women are told they have no right over their own bodies, groups of people are being demonized and oppressed for no reason, people living in poverty and desperation: these are not only stuff of fiction, they are very much real. Our natural curiosity drives us to explore these ideas and what happens when things get out of control.
Maybe there’s a way to avoid all this?
After bringing you a collection of classics not so long ago, I picked a few modern adult dystopia for our list today.
The Wool Trilogy by Hugh Howie
When mankind is wiped from the face of the planet almost completely, save for a few thousand people living in an underground silo, the only thing more terrifying than the ‘how’ is the ‘why’.
This is the story of mankind clawing for survival, of mankind on the edge. The world outside has grown unkind, the view of it limited, talk of it forbidden. But there are always those who hope, who dream. These are the dangerous people, the residents who infect others with their optimism. Their punishment is simple. They are given the very thing they profess to want: They are allowed outside.
In 2007, the Center for Automation in Nanobiotech (CAN) outlined the hardware and software platform that would one day allow robots smaller than human cells to make medical diagnoses, conduct repairs, and even self-propagate. In the same year, the CBS network re-aired a program about the effects of propranolol on sufferers of extreme trauma. A simple pill, it had been discovered, could wipe out the memory of any traumatic event. At almost the same moment in humanity’s broad history, mankind had discovered the means for bringing about its utter downfall. And the ability to forget it ever happened.
In the aftermath of the uprising, the people of Silo 18 are coming to terms with a new order. Some embrace the change, others fear the unknown; none have control of their fate. The Silo is still in danger. There are those set on its destruction. Jules knows they must be stopped. The battle has been won. The war is just beginning.
The Passage Trilogy by Justin Cronin
Secret military experiments are great. Said no one ever.
First, the unthinkable: a security breach at a secret U.S. government facility unleashes the monstrous product of a chilling military experiment. Then, the unspeakable: a night of chaos and carnage gives way to sunrise on a nation, and ultimately a world, forever altered. All that remains for the stunned survivors is the long fight ahead and a future ruled by fear—of darkness, of death, of a fate far worse.
As civilization swiftly crumbles into a primal landscape of predators and prey, two people flee in search of sanctuary. FBI agent Brad Wolgast is a good man haunted by what he’s done in the line of duty. Six-year-old orphan Amy Harper Bellafonte is a refugee from the doomed scientific project that has triggered apocalypse. He is determined to protect her from the horror set loose by her captors. But for Amy, escaping the bloody fallout is only the beginning of a much longer odyssey—spanning miles and decades—towards the time and place where she must finish what should never have begun.
In the present day, as the man-made apocalypse unfolds, three strangers navigate the chaos. Lila, a doctor and an expectant mother, is so shattered by the spread of violence and infection that she continues to plan for her child’s arrival even as society dissolves around her. Kittridge, known to the world as “Last Stand in Denver,” has been forced to flee his stronghold and is now on the road, dodging the infected, armed but alone and well aware that a tank of gas will get him only so far. April is a teenager fighting to guide her little brother safely through a landscape of death and ruin. These three will learn that they have not been fully abandoned—and that in connection lies hope, even on the darkest of nights.
One hundred years in the future, Amy and the others fight on for humankind’s salvation…unaware that the rules have changed. The enemy has evolved, and a dark new order has arisen with a vision of the future infinitely more horrifying than man’s extinction. If the Twelve are to fall, one of those united to vanquish them will have to pay the ultimate price.
The City of Mirrors
The world we knew is gone. What world will rise in its place?
The Twelve have been destroyed and the terrifying hundred-year reign of darkness that descended upon the world has ended. The survivors are stepping outside their walls, determined to build society anew—and daring to dream of a hopeful future.
But far from them, in a dead metropolis, he waits: Zero. The First. Father of the Twelve. The anguish that shattered his human life haunts him, and the hatred spawned by his transformation burns bright. His fury will be quenched only when he destroys Amy—humanity’s only hope, the Girl from Nowhere who grew up to rise against him.
One last time light and dark will clash, and at last Amy and her friends will know their fate.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Snow, grey, cold, white.
A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what, if anything, awaits them there.
They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food—and each other.
The Children of Men by P.D. James
When being childfree is not a choice, but the only option; when being childless is the only reality.
The human race has become infertile, and the last generation to be born is now adult. Civilization itself is crumbling as suicide and despair become commonplace. Oxford historian Theodore Faron, apathetic toward a future without a future, spends most of his time reminiscing. Then he is approached by Julian, a bright, attractive woman who wants him to help get her an audience with his cousin, the powerful Warden of England. She and her band of unlikely revolutionaries may just awaken his desire to live . . . and they may also hold the key to survival for the human race.
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
What Happens when calories become currency? What happens when bio-terrorism becomes a tool for corporate profits?
Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen’s Calorie Man in Thailand. Under cover as a factory manager, Anderson combs Bangkok’s street markets in search of foodstuffs thought to be extinct, hoping to reap the bounty of history’s lost calories. There, he encounters Emiko…
Emiko is the Windup Girl, a strange and beautiful creature. One of the New People, Emiko is not human; instead, she is an engineered being, creche-grown and programmed to satisfy the decadent whims of a Kyoto businessman, but now abandoned to the streets of Bangkok. Regarded as soulless beings by some, devils by others, New People are slaves, soldiers, and toys of the rich in a chilling near future in which calorie companies rule the world, the oil age has passed, and the side effects of bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe.
The Running Man by Stephen King / Richard Bachman
Can you imagine that in 7 years you’ll be watching people risking their lives on live TV for your entertainment? Set in 2025, the scenario in The Running Man seems far fetched today. But you never know…
A desperate man attempts to win a reality TV game where the only objective is to stay alive in this #1 national bestseller from Stephen King, writing as Richard Bachman.
It was the ultimate death game in a nightmare future America. The year is 2025 and reality TV has grown to the point where people are willing to wager their lives for a chance at a billion-dollar jackpot. Ben Richards is desperate—he needs money to treat his daughter’s illness. His last chance is entering a game show called The Running Man where the goal is to avoid capture by Hunters who are employed to kill him. Surviving this month-long chase is another issue when everyone else on the planet is watching—and willing to turn him in for the reward.
Each night all Americans tune in to watch. So far, the record for survival is only eight days. Can Ben Richards beat the brutal odds, beat the rigged game, beat the entire savage system? He’s betting his life that he can…
Sip by Brian Allen Carr
No laws, only addiction…
It started with a single child, and quickly spread: you could get high by drinking your own shadow. At night, lights were destroyed so that addicts could sip shadow in the pure light of the moon.
Gangs of shadow addicts chased down children on playgrounds, rounded up old ladies from retirement homes. Cities were destroyed and governments fell. And if your shadow was sipped entirely, you became one of them, had to find more shadow, at any cost, or go mad.
150 years later, what’s left of the world is divided between the highly regimented life of those inside dome-cities that are protected from natural light (and natural shadows), and those forced to the dangerous, hardscrabble life in the wilds outside. In rural Texas, Mira, her shadow-addicted friend Murk, and an ex-Domer named Bale, search for a possible mythological cure to the shadow sickness but they must do so, it is said, before the return of Halley’s Comet, which is only days away.
The Long Walk by Richard Bachman / Stephen King
True to himself, Stephen King creates a story that will make you feel pain both physically and emotionally.
Every year, on the first day of May, one hundred teenage boys meet for an event known throughout the country as “The Long Walk.” Among this year’s chosen crop is sixteen-year-old Ray Garraty.
He knows the rules: that warnings are issued if you fall under speed, stumble, sit down. That after three warnings… you get your ticket. And what happens then serves as a chilling reminder that there can be only one winner in the Walk – the one that survives…
Archetype Duology by M.D. Waters
A suspenseful thriller set in a dystopian future with some Margaret Atwood vibes.
In a future where women are a rare commodity, Emma fights for freedom but is held captive by the love of two men—one her husband, the other her worst enemy. If only she could remember which is which . . .
In the stunning first volume of a two-book series, Emma wakes with her memory wiped clean. Her husband, Declan—a powerful and seductive man—narrates the story of her past, but Emma’s dreams contradict him. They show her war, a camp where girls are trained to be wives, and love for another man. Something inside warns her not to speak of these things, but the line between her dreams and reality is about to shatter forever.
Emma looks forward to the day when she can let go of her past–both of them. After more than a year on the run, with clues to her parents’ whereabouts within her grasp, she may finally find a place to settle down. Start a new life. Maybe even create new memories with a new family.
But the past rises to haunt her and to make sure there’s nowhere on the planet she can hide. Declan Burke wants his wife back, and with a little manipulation and a lot of reward money, he’s got the entire world on his side. Except for the one man she dreads confronting the most: Noah Tucker.
Emma returns to face what she’s done but finds that the past isn’t the problem. It’s the present–and the future it represents. Noah has moved on and another woman is raising their daughter.
In the shocking conclusion to M.D. Waters’s spectacular debut, Emma battles for her life and her freedom, tearing down walls and ripping off masks to reveal the truth. She’s decided to play their game and prove she isn’t the woman they thought she was. Even if it means she winds up dead. Or worse, reborn.
The Last Policeman Trilogy by Ben H. Winters
What’s the point in solving murders if we’re all going to die soon, anyway?
The Last Policeman
Detective Hank Palace has faced this question ever since asteroid 2011GV1 hovered into view. There’s no chance left. No hope. Just six precious months until impact.
The Last Policeman presents a fascinating portrait of a pre-apocalyptic United States. The economy spirals downward while crops rot in the fields. Churches and synagogues are packed. People all over the world are walking off the job—but not Hank Palace. He’s investigating a death by hanging in a city that sees a dozen suicides every week—except this one feels suspicious, and Palace is the only cop who cares.
There are just 77 days to go before a deadly asteroid collides with Earth, and Detective Hank Palace is out of a job. With the Concord police force operating under the auspices of the U.S. Justice Department, Hank’s days of solving crimes are over…until a woman from his past begs for help finding her missing husband.
Brett Cavatone disappeared without a trace – an easy feat in a world with no phones, no cars, and no way to tell whether someone’s gone “bucket list” or just gone. With society falling to shambles, Hank pieces together what few clues he can, on a search that leads him from a college-campus-turned-anarchist-encampment to a crumbling coastal landscape where anti-immigrant militia fend off “impact zone” refugees.
World of Trouble
There are just 14 days until a deadly asteroid hits the planet, and America has fallen into chaos. Citizens have barricaded themselves inside basements, emergency shelters, and big-box retail stores. Cash is worthless; bottled water is valuable beyond measure. All over the world, everyone is bracing for the end.
But Detective Hank Palace still has one last case to solve. His beloved sister Nico was last seen in the company of suspicious radicals, armed with heavy artillery and a plan to save humanity. Hank’s search for Nico takes him from Massachusetts to Ohio, from abandoned zoos and fast food restaurants to a deserted police station where he uncovers evidence of a brutal crime. With time running out, Hank follows the clues to a series of earth-shattering revelations.
The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carrey
A dystopian horror with zombies that explores what it means to be human.
Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.
Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children’s cells. She tells her favorite teacher all the things she’ll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn’t know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.
Children of the New World by Alexander Winestein
Do we rely too much on technology?
Children of the New World introduces readers to a near-future world of social media implants, memory manufacturers, dangerously immersive virtual reality games, and alarmingly intuitive robots.
Many of these characters live in a utopian future of instant connection and technological gratification that belies an unbridgeable human distance, while others inhabit a post-collapse landscape made primitive by disaster, which they must work to rebuild as we once did millennia ago.
The Feed by Nick Clark Windo
Do you need to be plugged in all the time? #fomo much?
The Feed is everywhere. It can be accessed by anyone, at any time. Every interaction, every emotion, every image can be shared through it.
Tom and Kate use The Feed, but they have resisted addiction to it. And this will serve them well when The Feed collapses.
Until their six-year-old daughter, Bea, goes missing.
Because how do you find someone in a world devoid of technology? And what happens when you can no longer trust that your loved ones are really who they claim to be?
Have you read any of these? Do you have any other recommendations for adult dystopian fiction?