The best science fantasy novels set in a dark, dystopian world or universe

Who am I?

I love dystopian science fantasy for the fact that it defines its own reality. The distant, magical aspects of every dystopian world create separation from the world we live in. The reader must cling to the characters, accept their motives and flaws, and finish the ride no matter where it goes. Not every plot needs to reform the status quo. Star Wars was the white-washed exception, and even that got dark at times. Combining flawed characters with flawed settings makes a novel compelling without the need for overly fantastic powers or world-altering events. Sure, I include those too, but futuristic dystopia offers plenty of challenges for simply surviving each day.

I wrote...


By Rory Surtain,

Book cover of Psyker

What is my book about?

Fast-moving, edgy, and dark but not graphic or gratuitous, Psyker challenges readers to experience a far different reality from their own.

In the dark, distant future, densely populated hive cities rely on ancient technologies and rigid laws in order to endure. Paric Kilhaven, a scion of a noble House, navigates the sinister, alluring world of his city’s underhive, hoping to escape the fate of an outlawed psyker. Rival gangs and chaotic forces align against him in a fight for the planet’s survival.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Eisenhorn: The Omnibus

Rory Surtain Why did I love this book?

A different kind of hero. Cerebral and self-contained. Eisenhorn is an Inquisitor who maneuvers within the system and operates within his own complex reality, fighting a never-ending war against all aspects of Chaos. He finds allies in impossible places and uses them to his advantage. Part mystery, part adventure, and expertly crafted to portray the darkest of futures, it is the quintessential dystopian science fantasy. While some may question the rigid morality of the future day, Eisenhorn chooses results over dogma, choosing the lesser of two evils. I learned that characters must choose their own reality, adapting to the dystopia in which they reside. It’s a compelling human trait that transcends any universe.  

By Dan Abnett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Eisenhorn as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Inquisitor Gregor Eisenhorn is an Imperial inquisitor, one of the tirelss defenders of humanity. With his warband he scourges the galaxy, walking in the shadows of darkness in order to root out heresy. When that heresy is found to infiltrate the hierarchy of the Imperium and the Inquisition itself, Eisnehorn must rely on himself alone to deal with it – even if it means making deals with the enemy and compromising everything he ahs ever believed in.

Read it because
It's the whole classic trilogy that remains top of many Warhammer 40,000 fans' must-read lists, And in Pariah, there's a…

Book cover of Dune

Rory Surtain Why did I love this book?

An Emperor behind the scenes, machinations, Houses instead of families, politics, and war define a reality of conflict, sacrifice, and intrigue. This book is foundational for many of the ideas borrowed by more recent science fantasy writers, me included.

Dune builds slowly both in terms of the universe and the main character, but it taught me that fantasy/sci-fi is far more than elaborate costumes, unexplained superpowers, or the monsters beneath the surface. I learned that human motivations and avarice could be far more compelling than the cover of any book.

By Frank Herbert,

Why should I read it?

51 authors picked Dune as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Before The Matrix, before Star Wars, before Ender's Game and Neuromancer, there was Dune: winner of the prestigious Hugo and Nebula awards, and widely considered one of the greatest science fiction novels ever written.

Melange, or 'spice', is the most valuable - and rarest - element in the universe; a drug that does everything from increasing a person's lifespan to making interstellar travel possible. And it can only be found on a single planet: the inhospitable desert world of Arrakis.

Whoever controls Arrakis controls the spice. And whoever controls the spice controls the universe.

When the Emperor transfers stewardship of…

Book cover of Shadow & Claw

Rory Surtain Why did I love this book?

Crafting a dark, mysterious, and mood-driven enigma, Wolfe paints on a future canvas that is a combination of horror and discovery. Instead of flashing back, the novel seems to flash forward and is impactful for that alone. The main character doesn’t seem particularly special but he inherits a world and grows with the knowledge he attains.

It’s a work that leaves the reader wondering what just happened and why. Who is Severian and why is he special? Is he a man or a god? Does reality shape him or vice versa? Questions draw the reader in. I learned that it’s OK to have an unreliable narrator and not spell out all the answers. Instead, at times, let the reader decide what makes the most sense to them. When done right, it is magical.

By Gene Wolfe,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Shadow & Claw as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“A major work of twentieth-century American literature...Wolfe creates a truly alien social order that the reader comes to experience from within...once into it, there is no stopping.” ­―The New York Times on The Book of the New Sun

Gene Wolfe has been called "the finest writer the science fiction world has yet produced" by the Washington Post.

THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN is unanimously acclaimed as Wolfe’s most remarkable work, hailed as “a masterpiece of science fantasy comparable in importance to the major works of Tolkien and Lewis” by Publishers Weekly and “one of the most ambitious works of…

Book cover of The Space Wolf Omnibus

Rory Surtain Why did I love this book?

A man is chosen. A hero emerges. Deep, dark future action and adventure at its story-telling best. As a beast created to kill other beasts, what keeps Ragnar in check? What controls his path? Great questions, but who cares? These are adventures of the purest, most entertaining form. King offers the perfect balance of action and coming-of-age in a dystopian future. As the main character, Ragnar Blackmane can best be described as a noble savage, ascending within the pantheon of heroes that leave their mark on the galaxy. It’s this combination that makes it all work, and I wish King would have written more. 

By William King,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Space Wolf Omnibus as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

These three classic SF stories follow the adventures of Ragnar the Space Wolf, from his recruitment by the Space Marines on the savage world of Fenris to his adventures amongst the stars. Whether Ragnar and his friends are fighting orks, mutants, or the foul forces of Chaos, adventure is never far behind!

Book cover of Jade City

Rory Surtain Why did I love this book?

Switching to a more recent science fantasy novel, I loved Fonda Lee’s take on The Godfather meets Dune in a science fantasy setting. Sure, it’s not those same stories, but I love her inclusion of the gray side of society as having power and a semi-sanctioned place all their own. Lee leverages the concept of clans, honor, and neutral factions, weaving a prodigal child plot that is certain to grow thicker with the sequel. In a world where society is dominated by unseen levels of politics and mafia-like entities, the magical power of jade makes all the difference when conflict and violence are the measures of the day. Beyond all the maneuvering and doubt, a violent reckoning can be thoroughly satisfying and shouldn’t be overlooked.

By Fonda Lee,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Jade City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


'An epic drama reminiscent of the best classic Hong Kong gangster films but set in a fantasy metropolis so gritty and well-imagined that you'll forget you're reading a book' KEN LIU

'Gripping!' ANN LECKIE, author of Ancillary Justice and The Raven Tower

'Lee's astute worldbuilding raises the stakes for her vivid and tautly-described action scenes' SCOTT LYNCH, author of The Lies of Locke Lamora

*****Shortlisted for the Nebula Awards, the Locus Awards, the Aurora Awards, the Sunburst Awards and an Best Book of the Month*****


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Deep Roots

By Sung J. Woo,

Book cover of Deep Roots

Sung J. Woo Author Of Deep Roots

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Novelist Tennis fan Cinephile Gamer

Sung's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

After solving her first case, private eye Siobhan O’Brien is hired by Phillip Ahn, an octogenarian billionaire with his own personal island in the Pacific Northwest. Ahn, a genius in artificial intelligence, swears that Duke, his youngest child and only son, is an impostor. Is Ahn crazy, or is Duke really someone else? As Siobhan attempts to arrive at the truth, her biggest challenge will be dealing with Ahn’s family, who all live under the same gilded roof: his current wife, his two ex-wives, and their awful, privileged children.

What is the real reason that Siobhan was brought to this isolated estate? If she can keep her head – literally and figuratively – she’ll learn that family secrets have some very deep roots.

Deep Roots

By Sung J. Woo,

What is this book about?

After solving her first case, Siobhan O’Brien faces her biggest challenge yet – Thanksgiving!  With her lawyer boyfriend Craig in tow, Siobhan travels to Minneapolis to endure small talk with the extended O’Brien clan and chow down on some seriously delicious turkey and dressing.  Everything’s swell until her sister-in-law Gwen tells her about her brother Sven's frequent late-night meetings with his co-workers.  Since Siobhan’s next case is just a ferry ride from their house in Washington state, she asks for Siobhan’s help.
Big sister is happy to oblige, though she’s got her hands full.  Hired by Phillip Ahn, a Korean…

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