The best books about dystopias: putting the fun in dysfunctional society

Jay Phillips Author Of Kingdom of Heroes
By Jay Phillips

Who am I?

I have long been a fan of dystopian worlds, and most of my reading, watching, and writing habits seem to reflect that fact. People say that I like depressing works, but I believe that in the midst of the sadness is where you find hope. And with enough hope, we can all find the power to save ourselves. These are some of my favorite works on the subject, and I hope that you enjoy reading these as much as I enjoyed creating this list.      


I wrote...

Kingdom of Heroes

By Jay Phillips,

Book cover of Kingdom of Heroes

What is my book about?

Years ago, a gene virus ran rampant across the planet, leaving a small percentage of people gifted/cursed with extraordinary abilities, and humanity itself forever changed. Several of these people joined together to form The Seven, the most powerful group of supers the world had ever known. The Seven have placed themselves as the nation's rulers, controlling the country through fear and intimidation. But now, someone or something is murdering The Seven one-by-one, single handedly attempting to make them pay for all of the sins they have committed.

To stop a killer, The Seven turn to a man who hates them as much as anyone. An imprisoned man known only as The Detective finds himself in the unenviable position of helping the people he despises in exchange for his freedom.

The books I picked & why

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Brave New World

By Aldous Huxley,

Book cover of Brave New World

Why this book?

The grandfather of the dystopian novel, Brave New World presented us with a homogenized, mass-produced, sterile world where everyone speaks the same language, has the same beliefs, and are all born from the same artificial wombs. Whereas most dystopian fiction seemed centered around fears of knowledge being banned and removed, Huxley showed us a world filled with people with no desire to attain this knowledge in the first place, people content to fill their time self-soothing themselves with the happiness-inducing drug Soma. Well, Huxley showed us that and orgies, lots of orgies.  


1984

By George Orwell,

Book cover of 1984

Why this book?

1984, the rare book that both the left and the right side of politics routinely reference, is the top tier of dystopian worlds, a world somehow both completely foreign yet utterly recognizable, like looking into a funhouse mirror that accurately reflects the worst parts of our society back at us. It is a book that is simultaneously claustrophobic and depressing, yet reading it becomes an almost cathartic experience, even as we see so many of its themes becoming more and more present in our everyday life. Never forget that Big Brother is watching, and he has a whole collection of rats that he’s not afraid to use. 


I Am Legend

By Richard Matheson,

Book cover of I Am Legend

Why this book?

I Am Legend, Matheson’s dystopian horror/sci-fi novel from 1954, imagines a world where a pandemic has decimated society, killing the majority of the population and turning the rest into flesh-eating creatures who just happen to have an unhealthy relationship with the sun, but at its heart, I Am Legend is one of the most impactful stories of human loneliness ever told. We watch our protagonist, Robert Neville, slowly lose hope of ever curing the disease that has ravaged the world while also feeling his pain as every chance of meaningful contact is ripped away from him. Scary, exciting, and utterly hopeless, it somehow leaves you with a slight smile as you read Neville’s ultimate fate. It’s a good thing that a pandemic like that could never happen in the real world. Wait...well no, I haven’t read the news in a while. What’s been going on? 


The Hunger Games

By Suzanne Collins,

Book cover of The Hunger Games

Why this book?

The most recently published book on my list, 2008’s The Hunger Games, like all good dystopian fiction, presents us with a world that is both insanely different from our own yet entirely recognizable. North America has been split into twelve districts, each with its own specific natural resource, and is ruled over by the Capitol, whose wealthy citizens maintain their privileged lifestyles by exploiting the labor from the districts. In grand Roman gladiator tradition, two children are annually chosen from each district to participate in a widely televised battle royale to the death, serving as both punishment for a past rebellion and as entertainment to pacify the masses. Despite being written for a younger audience, this fact mostly evident in the tacked-on love triangle, it maintains an exciting yet unsettling atmosphere throughout. But for the record, I’m Team Peeta.


Watchmen

By Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons (illustrator),

Book cover of Watchmen

Why this book?

A slight cheat on my part, as Watchmen is a graphic novel instead of a prose novel, the almost nihilistic deconstruction of the superhero myth remains a modern classic. Set in an alternate 1980s, an alternate reality whose doomsday clock is bordering on midnight, it’s a broken mirror reflection of a world that is both frighteningly foreign yet uncannily similar to the era of my childhood, an era where nuclear war seemed like an imminent event. The superheroes of Watchmen were no longer super; the villains weren’t that easy to identify, and good and evil became truly subjective ideas, forcing you to ask the novel’s unanswerable question: Who watches the watchmen? 


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