The best Canadian dystopian novels (that aren’t The Handmaid’s Tale)

Why am I passionate about this?

As both a high school teacher and an activist, I am preoccupied by the world we are leaving to the next generation. And as a long-time Toronto resident, I also just love seeing my city get destroyed in fiction, which is far more cathartic than watching it get bungled up in real life. I am drawn to the type of story that exposes the wounds that run deep in our political, economic, and social structures. The best dystopian fiction shines a mirror on our history and our present, and brings the experiences of marginalized voices—for whom the apocalypse is not merely theoretical—to a broader audience.


I wrote...

Book cover of Cascade

What is my book about?

In the wake of a worsening climate crisis, magic runs rampant, and demons roam across the Canadian prairies. A long-dead god stirs in the Pacific Ocean, while the wilderness is choked by invasive, screaming grass.

The Cascade has shattered political stability, leaving a scandal-plagued government clinging to power in Ottawa. As catastrophe looms ahead, a precognitive rainman, Ian Mallory, stands between run-of-the-mill corruption and a nightmarish, dystopian future. It is up to a diverse and unlikely band of activists, scientists, journalists, and one underpaid, emoji-spell-wielding intern to save their beleaguered country from its own worst impulses.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Brown Girl in the Ring

Rachel A. Rosen Why did I love this book?

Hopkinson’s stunning debut plunges the reader into a wildly inventive future Toronto. She seamlessly weaves together the politics of race, class, and gender, inflected with the rich culture and history of the Caribbean diaspora.

Despite the grim post-apocalyptic setting, the characters are part of a community, surviving through solidarity and mutual aid. There are no easy answers or neat resolutions to be found here—the fraught, tenuous connections between families and lovers are messy and grounded.

Sadly, many of the elements of this 1998 novel have proven prophetic, and this book is still a clarion call 25 years later.

By Nalo Hopkinson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Brown Girl in the Ring as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The rich and the privileged have fled the city, barricaded it behind roadblocks, and left it to crumble. The inner city has had to rediscover old ways -- farming, barter, herb lore. But now the monied need a harvest of bodies, and so they prey upon the helpless of the streets. With nowhere to turn, a young woman must open herself to ancient truths, eternal powers, the tragic mystery surrounding her mother and grandmother. She must bargain with gods, and give birth to new legends.


Book cover of Moon of the Crusted Snow

Rachel A. Rosen Why did I love this book?

As Rebecca Roanhorse put it, Indigenous people on Turtle Island have already survived an apocalypse.

So it’s not surprising that my favourite apocalypse novel centres around a remote Anishinaabe community struggling to survive after a distant and never-fully explained calamity. It’s a prescient story, especially in light of real-life catastrophe that arrived only two years after its publication.

Much apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction focuses on gritty bands of survivors, but Rice provides a scenario that is much more in keeping with how communities actually act during disasters, contrasting the acts of care and mutual aid with the haunting slow decay of the world and the threat posed by violent outsiders.

It’s a multilayered, stunningly crafted realist take on how to keep surviving after the world ends.

By Waubgeshig Rice,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Moon of the Crusted Snow as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

2023 Canada Reads Longlist Selection

National Bestseller

Winner of the 2019 OLA Forest of Reading Evergreen Award

Shortlisted for the 2019 John W. Campbell Memorial Award

Shortlisted for the 2019/20 First Nation Communities READ Indigenous Literature Award

2020 Burlington Library Selection; 2020 Hamilton Reads One Book One Community Selection; 2020 Region of Waterloo One Book One Community Selection; 2019 Ontario Library Association Ontario Together We Read Program Selection; 2019 Women’s National Book Association’s Great Group Reads; 2019 Amnesty International Book Club Pick

January 2020 Reddit r/bookclub pick of the month

“This slow-burning thriller is also a powerful story of survival…


Book cover of Station Eleven

Rachel A. Rosen Why did I love this book?

Everyone likes to see their own city get trashed in apocalyptic fiction, right?

The terrifying Georgia Flu that decimates civilization in Station Eleven first appears in Toronto, where I live, and St. John Mandel’s descriptions of real-life places crumbling is intense and visceral. But beyond the horror, this is a tale about art as a force for survival, rebuilding, and the rekindling of hope.

The beautiful prose and inventive use of structure elevate this tale of a wandering theatre troupe to literary heights.

By Emily St. John Mandel,

Why should I read it?

25 authors picked Station Eleven as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Best novel. The big one . . . stands above all the others' - George R.R. Martin, author of Game of Thrones

Now an HBO Max original TV series

The New York Times Bestseller
Winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award
Longlisted for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction
National Book Awards Finalist
PEN/Faulkner Award Finalist

What was lost in the collapse: almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still such beauty.

One snowy night in Toronto famous actor Arthur Leander dies on stage whilst performing the role of a lifetime. That same evening a deadly virus touches down in…


Book cover of The Marrow Thieves

Rachel A. Rosen Why did I love this book?

Marrow Thieves is a YA novel set in a dystopian future where most people have lost the ability to dream. Only Indigenous people can still do so, and are hunted for their bone marrow that can temporarily cure the condition.

While fast-paced and accessible to young people, this is a complex, provocative story, addressing themes of genocide, colonialism, residential schools, and climate catastrophe that many Canadians would prefer to ignore.

By Cherie Dimaline,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked The Marrow Thieves as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Humanity has nearly destroyed its world through global warming, but now an even greater evil lurks. The indigenous people of North America are being hunted and harvested for their bone marrow, which carries the key to recovering something the rest of the population has lost: the ability to dream. In this dark world, Frenchie and his companions struggle to survive as they make their way up north to the old lands. For now, survival means staying hidden-but what they don't know is that one of them holds the secret to defeating the marrow thieves.

"Miigwans is a true hero; in…


Book cover of Crosshairs

Rachel A. Rosen Why did I love this book?

Another Toronto post-apocalyptic novel (sorry, but we are the centre of the universe, after all).

Hernandez’ dystopia is also caused by climate catastrophe, ushering in a fascist dictatorship that imprisons BIPOC, disabled, and queer people in labour camps. This relentless story exposes the lie of Canadian politeness and civility, the fraught politics of allyship, and the complicity and banality of evil required to maintain authoritarian structures.

It’s a grim read and often its reach exceeds its grasp, but woven through it is queer joy and resilience and I admire that it doesn’t pull its punches.

By Catherine Hernandez,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Crosshairs as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

The author of the acclaimed novel Scarborough weaves an unforgettable and timely dystopian tale about a near-future, where a queer Black performer and his allies join forces to rise up when an oppressive regime gathers those deemed "Other" into concentration camps.

Set in a terrifyingly familiar near-future, with massive floods leading to rampant homelessness and devastation, a government-sanctioned regime called The Boots seizes on the opportunity to round up communities of color, the disabled, and the LGBTQ+ into labour camps.

In the shadows, a new hero emerges. After he loses his livelihood as a drag queen and the love of…


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Tidelands: Ghosts and Monsters

By Gareth J. Southwell,

Book cover of Tidelands: Ghosts and Monsters

Gareth J. Southwell

New book alert!

What is my book about?

In a flooded city on the brink of collapse, the arcology provides a high-tech haven – for those who can afford it. Here, safe in her pampered confinement, Eva longs for escape. But each day she is made to play The Game, a mysterious virtual environment that seems more designed to monitor and test than to entertain.

Outside, life is a different story, where unregulated tech spawns nightmares to rival those of fairtytale and folklore – ghosts and monsters, the no-longer-human and the never-should-have-been. Here, Squirrel is a memory thief, eking out a fraught existence in service to the criminal…

Tidelands: Ghosts and Monsters

By Gareth J. Southwell,

What is this book about?

Tidelands is an ongoing sci-fi and fantasy serial. Set some years in the future, it is a dystopian blend of cyberpunk, first contact, Lovecraftian horror and dark humour.

In a flooded city on the brink of collapse, the arcology provides a high-tech haven – for those who can afford it. Here, safe in her pampered confinement, Eva longs for escape. But each day she is made to play The Game, a mysterious virtual environment that seems more designed to monitor and test than to entertain.

Outside, life is a different story, where unregulated tech spawns nightmares to rival those of…


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