• The cover of the book The Handmaid's Tale

    The Handmaid's Tale

    Set in what was once the U.S., the Republic of Gilead is a military dictatorship that seems to have snuck up rather quickly and become the new norm far too easily. Offred (as in Of Fred, belonging to Fred) is a handmaid: a woman who is still fertile in a world where pollution and STDs has made fertility increasingly rare. In this society, which reverted to strict biblical ideals following a terrorist attack, women are allowed almost no autonomy. The novel follows Offred’s life as well as her memories of the time before.

     
  • The cover of the book On Such a Full Sea

    On Such a Full Sea

    This strange and gorgeous novel is narrated from the first-person plural perspective and told like a folktale shared among the people of B-Mor, implied to be Baltimore of yore. In this dystopian world, refugees from New China have come to the U.S. in droves, and cities are basically organized labor camps with multiple generations of families living in cramped spaces, with everyone employed by the city. First one member of B-Mor disappears, possibly to be experimented on, and then his lover follows him, wishing to track him down, and it’s through her story—not told by her, but by others—that we learn of the outside world and what it has come to.

     
  • The cover of the book Cloud Atlas

    Cloud Atlas

    While about half of Cloud Atlas takes place in the past, present, or in the fictional world of a series of novels, the middle portion of the novel is dystopian in two very different, fascinating ways. The bookends to the book’s middle look at a dystopic Korea where a “fabricant,” a being made to live in servitude and be happy about it, is helped to become self-aware. The exact center of the novel is set in a post-apocalyptic Hawaii, where it seems society has reverted to customs we associate with times long past, inviting us to look at the idea of humanity as cyclical in nature.

     
  • The cover of the book World War Z

    World War Z

    An incredibly intelligent take on the zombie apocalypse, World War Z is written as a series of oral histories from all over the world, each part of which was affected in one way or another by the zombies. The zombies are never “on screen,” as it were, as the interviews with various folks all take place after the world has settled somewhat, though zombies still exist in pockets. What Brooks focuses on is how various cultures and countries dealt with the epidemic: some areas of the world react with a coming together, others start to bomb one another. Brooks looks at the aftermath of the zombies themselves, but mostly at the dystopian future in which so many have torn one another apart, using the zombies as an excuse or a catalyst.

     
  • The cover of the book Never Let Me Go

    Never Let Me Go

    Kathy is a carer—she takes care of donors, who are clones bred to donate their organs to other humans until their systems fail from lack of vital organs. But Kathy wasn’t always a carer. Once, she was a student at Hailsham, a boarding school where guardians (teachers) put an emphasis on health as well as learning. One of the guardians reveals the school’s and its students’ true purpose: organ harvesting. The students begin to have contact with the outside world only after leaving the school, and it’s there they also learn that they can defer their donations for three years if they can prove, through artwork, that they’re in love.

     
  • The cover of the book The Heart Goes Last

    The Heart Goes Last

    Atwood is featured twice on this list because she’s worth it. In The Heart Goes Last, a couple enters a kind of social experiment in order to escape the world that’s basically ours but just a little worse: there are no jobs to be had, cities are becoming chaotic, and everyone’s terrified of what comes next. The city and life the couple enter into has them living in a lovely house for one month and in prison the next. Both inside and outside prison they have jobs and a routine, and there’s nothing truly terrible going on, it seems, except that under the surface of the city and the prison, there’s a whole other ballgame happening, to which both couples living in this house are, wittingly or not, contributing to.

     
  • The cover of the book 1984

    1984

    A classic dystopian novel that takes place in our current past, this is where the term “Big Brother” came from. Big Brother is always watching in Oceania, one of the world powers that exists in the world Orwell builds. People are constantly watched and must practice doublethink in order to keep opposing concepts about reality in their minds at the same time. There’s a perpetual war at place between the three world powers (Oceania, where the novel takes place, Eurasia, and Eastasia), which change alliances constantly. Winston Smith is the novel’s main character, a man who works at the Ministry of Truth, correcting and editing history. He secretly loathes the Party and begins a love affair with a woman who shares this loathing. But when your very thoughts are policed, you’re not allowed to hate your leaders.

     
  • The cover of the book The Children of Men

    The Children of Men

    In this novel, James—who was typically a crime writer—establishes a world where men’s sperm count plummets and humanity is on the verge of extinction due to the inability to reproduce. There is despotic rule; the last generation to be born (dubbed Omegas) are unstable and violent; mass suicides (killings by the government, really) occur when people reach the age of 60, in order to not be a burden on the constantly aging society. But there are dissidents, as there always will be, and it is among them that a woman is found to be pregnant, for the first time in years.

     
  • The cover of the book We

    We

    An early 20th-century dystopian novel written originally in Russian, We takes place far in the future, in One State, thought to be Earth’s single government, which is building a spaceship to begin invading and taking over other parts of the galaxy. Society is meant to be extremely and perfectly logical, so when the protagonist, D-503, meets a woman, I-330, who flirts and exhibits spontaneous emotion, he’s overcome by his fascination. Buildings are all made entirely from glass and privacy is impossible—but there is one place, a single opaque building, where D-503 can meet I-330 privately. Here begins D-503’s reverse indoctrination and a discovery of a world outside One State.