The best dystopian novels since “Brave New World” and “1984”

Why am I passionate about this?

When I was twelve years old, my picture appeared in my hometown newspaper. I was holding a huge stack of books from the library, a week’s reading. All science fiction. I’ve read voraciously for the past seventy years—though much more widely as an adult. I’ve also had a life founding several small companies and writing twenty books. But I’ve continued to read science fiction, and, increasingly, dystopian novels. Why? Because, as a history buff, I think about the big trends that shape our lives. I see clearly that climate change, breakthroughs in technology, and unstable politics threaten our children’s future. I want to understand how these trends might play out—for better or for worse.

I wrote...

Hell on Earth: What we can learn from dystopian fiction

By Mal Warwick,

Book cover of Hell on Earth: What we can learn from dystopian fiction

What is my book about?

Novels such as 1984 and Brave New World that depict a grim future for Western civilization have been popular for decades. If anything, they’ve sold even more widely in recent years. And as a lifetime reader of science fiction, I’ve read more of them than I can count. Recently, in Hell on Earth, I analyzed 62 such dystopian novels. They’re categorized by the themes dominant in them: totalitarianism, climate change, nuclear war, overpopulation, genetic engineering, religious extremism, artificial intelligence, runaway consumerism, global financial collapse, pandemic, and terrorism. In 12 chapters, I’ve analyzed each book briefly—and then discussed how likely it is we’ll find ourselves in that future, which none of us would want to live in.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of American War

Mal Warwick Why did I love this book?

The widening partisan divide between Red and Blue in the United States today gives me nightmares.

I read a lot of history, so I know how closely today’s divisions resemble those before the Civil War. Which is why Omar El Akkad’s American War resonates so deeply with me.

In 2074, four Deep South states secede over the passage of new legislation banning fossil fuels—and a Southerner assassinates the President.

The Red and Blue states are now at war again. And that’s my nightmare brought to life. 

By Omar El Akkad,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked American War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Best Book of the Year: The Guardian, The Observer, New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and The Washington Post.

2074. America's future is Civil War. Sarat's reality is survival. They took her father, they took her home, they told her lies . . .

She didn't start this war, but she'll end it.

Omar El Akkad's powerful debut novel imagines a dystopian future: a second American Civil War, a devastating plague and one family caught deep in the middle. In American War, we're asked to consider what might happen if America were to turn its most devastating policies and…

Book cover of Feed

Mal Warwick Why did I love this book?

I’m troubled by the way young people today seem to live their lives glued to smartphone and computer screens.

M. T. Anderson gives us a hint of what this might lead to in Feed. It’s one of the scariest books I've read in many years. The six teenagers partying in this novel live in a world of constant distractions. Fashions may change by the hour.

A powerful future version of Virtual Reality allows them to experience novelty and excitement at any time without special equipment—and without pausing for reflection.

And that’s how they live, closed off from life in the real world. As I said, scary.

By M.T. Anderson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Feed as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

Identity crises, consumerism, and star-crossed teenage love in a futuristic society where people connect to the Internet via feeds implanted in their brains. Winner of the LA Times Book Prize.

For Titus and his friends, it started out like any ordinary trip to the moon - a chance to party during spring break and play around with some stupid low-grav at the Ricochet Lounge. But that was before the crazy hacker caused all their feeds to malfunction, sending them to the hospital to lie around with nothing inside their heads for days. And it was before Titus met Violet, a…

Book cover of Oryx and Crake

Mal Warwick Why did I love this book?

Many dystopian novels portray future events that are unlikely at best.

For example, what are the chances that a super-volcano will erupt out of Yellowstone National Park and destroy much of North America? Not high. But one thing is certain.

Climate change is upon us, and most of us will see unwelcome changes to the world around us in our lifetimes. We already do. Margaret Atwood’s award-winning novel, Oryx and Crake, shows us what may well be some of the consequences.

But it’s not climate change porn. It’s a brilliant novel that weaves together several themes into an engaging picture of our possible future. I’m still hooked, years after reading the book.

By Margaret Atwood,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Oryx and Crake as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?



Pigs might not fly but they are strangely altered. So, for that matter, are wolves and racoons. A man, once named Jimmy, lives in a tree, wrapped in old bedsheets, now calls himself Snowman. The voice of Oryx, the woman he loved, teasingly haunts him. And the green-eyed Children of Crake are, for some reason, his responsibility.


Praise for Oryx and Crake:

'In Jimmy, Atwood has created a great character: a tragic-comic artist of the future, part buffoon, part Orpheus. An adman who's a sad man; a jealous…

Book cover of The Windup Girl

Mal Warwick Why did I love this book?

Climate change aside, what scares me the most about technology today is the capacity for bioengineering to run amok.

What happens when scientists monkey around with deadly viruses—and one escapes from the lab? What if some rogue researcher creates an entirely new lifeform that proves toxic to humans? Or some experimental microbe—an effort to save the world’s butterflies, for instance—proves to kill off bees instead?

This novel, which won major awards, depicts a frightening future world wrought by bioengineering. And you wouldn’t want to live there anymore than I do. 

By Paolo Bacigalupi,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Windup Girl as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


The Windup Girl is the ground-breaking and visionary modern classic that swept the board for every major science fiction award it its year of publication.

Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen's calorie representative in Thailand. Under cover as a factory manager, he combs Bangkok's street markets in search of foodstuffs long thought to be extinct. There he meets the windup girl - the beautiful and enigmatic Emiko - now abandoned to the slums. She is one of the New People, bred to suit the whims of…

Book cover of This Perfect Day

Mal Warwick Why did I love this book?

The news is full of stories about chilling developments in artificial intelligence.

And you don’t have to venture into the fantasy world of killer robots to be terrified. Already, “chatbots” are blurring the lines between human and machine intelligence.

It’s gotten to the point that you can’t trust what you see or read online—because it may have been created by some AI designed to cheat or scare you into doing something you really don’t want to do.

Ira Levin’s novel, published in 1970, shows us a world ruled by artificial intelligence. It’s dystopia in the truest sense—and it’s likely to frighten you, as it did me.

By Ira Levin,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked This Perfect Day as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Marvellously entertaining. A cross between Brave New World and Doctor Who' Look Magazine

Considered one of the great dystopian thrillers - alongside A Clockwork Orange and Brave New World- Ira Levin's terrifying glimpse into the future continues to fascinate readers even forty years after publication.

Set in a seemingly perfect global society, where uniformity is the defining feature, one man leads the resistance against UniComp - a central computer that has been programmed to keep every single human on the surface of the earth in check. All ethnic groups have been eugenically merged into a single race called 'The Family',…

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The Strange Case of Guaritori Diolco

By Bill Hiatt,

Book cover of The Strange Case of Guaritori Diolco

Bill Hiatt Author Of Different Lee

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Why am I passionate about this?

Author Insatiable reader English teacher Life-long learner Hiker Webmaster

Bill's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Guaritori awakens from a coma to find that he's lost twenty years--and his entire world.

Fiancée, family, and friends are all missing, perhaps dead. Technology has failed, and magic has risen, leaving society in ruins. Most survivors are at the mercy of anyone who has strong enough magic. Guaritori has none. He finds a protector, but his troubles are far from over.

The new society in which he finds himself is superficially friendly but surrounded by enemies and full of secrets. Guaritori doesn't know it yet, but the biggest secret is his. If his protector knew who he truly was,…

The Strange Case of Guaritori Diolco

By Bill Hiatt,

What is this book about?

Coming out of a coma after twenty years, Guaritori--Garth to his friends--discovers that the world he knew no longer exists.

Advanced technology has failed. Magic, which he didn't know even existed, has become much more powerful. Supernatural groups battle for supremacy, forcing human beings to seek shelter wherever they can find it.
Garth's only hope for survival lies with a varied group including a shape-shifter, an alchemist, a tarot card reader, a blacksmith with a flaming sword, and others. But a prophecy foretells that he will bring about the downfall of their leader, the mysterious Ms. M.

Even worse, Garth…

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