The best books about dystopian futures so haunting they will outlast your worst nightmares

Jason Falloon Author Of Constellation Planet
By Jason Falloon

The Books I Picked & Why

1984

By George Orwell

1984

Why this book?

George Orwell’s 1984 is the quintessential dystopian fiction novel, which doesn’t really require recommending to any fantasy writer, so I am kind of leaving this one here by default. Unlike its predecessors and many of its highly influenced successors, the novel is able to perfectly combine its own dystopian vision of the human condition with a degree of derivative realism to engineer the mechanics of its story world and twisted, relatably integrated politics. 

The reason I love this fundamental element about Orwell’s craftmanship in 1984 is due to it being defined by growing civilian angst and contemporariness in the midst of the Cold War and the expansion of the Soviet Union. Such a relatable portrayal of real-life politics in fiction, never so vividly portrayed in fiction before, showcases the claustrophobic nightmare of an enemy entrenched within the system itself – as opposed to the typical megalomaniac complex of a human antagonist. This somewhat dehumanised adversary makes Orwell’s story world seem far more intimidating and surrenders its protagonist, Winston Smith, to appear that much more vulnerable at the mercy of it.

Whilst my work contributes a love letter to Orwell’s inspiration and the rest of the genre as a whole, I chose to adopt a more balanced perspective on the sociopolitical topics discussed, since the rightful object to overcome authoritarianism and the freedom such efforts create is subjective to the individual’s experience. In 1984, Orwell emphasises his own socialist attitudes, frightening and forewarning readers with the dangers of extremism for generations since it was published. Alternatively, I wanted to engage readers in a balanced conversation to empathetically recognise the strengths and flaws on both sides of the political spectrum and think for themselves.


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Brave New World

By Aldous Huxley

Brave New World

Why this book?

Setting the precedent for George Orwell’s cult classic genre-definer 1984, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World introduces (and, in ways, foretells) the dystopian perils of a biologically enhanced future. Therefore, Huxley and Orwell’s subjective differences based on contemporariness is a good example for dystopian writers and readers to understand how the War and subsequent “new world order” had an effect on their duelling sociopolitical themes. For example, what fascinates me most about Brave New World is how accurately Huxley showcases the perils of biological engineering and its stronghold on human identity and society before the Second World War and the “world order” of its time had formed in its embers, which is ominously entrenched in its revisionist impact. Sometimes fiction does not only reflect on the implausible horrors of the past – but it also prepares us for the future.


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The Handmaid's Tale

By Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale

Why this book?

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale brought to light a new and original concept to the dystopian genre, shifting the sociopolitical message from an overarching oppression of humanity to the subversion of gender norms and rights, and building a class system around it. This makes The Handmaid’s Tale one of the most unique explorations of the human condition in the dystopian genre.

My favourite aspect of this novel is the unnerving choice of narration, which places the reader in the perspective of Offred, a completely powerless “fertility slave” at the heart of a misogynistic society. 

From Atwood’s speculative introspection on the successes and failings of feminism in the 20th Century, I was inspired to allegorise my own theories on the subjugation and abuse of standard civil rights that many of us take for granted.


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Northern Lights: His Dark Materials 1

By Philip Pullman

Northern Lights: His Dark Materials 1

Why this book?

A somewhat subversion of the fantasy genre thinly veiled in dystopian concepts is Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series. The exciting distinction about Lyra’s World is the balance of realism and hardline epic fantasy used to design its geopolitics. 

My favourite element of Pullman’s world-building is the somewhat real-time context he applies to its geography, such as Oxford, Svalbard, and the Commonwealth to build a dystopian reflection of our own society. The haunting geographical resonance with our own world helps to craft an attractive and relatable story world, in which it is easier to imagine the characters in action, unlike the contortions of realism in something like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. I enjoy structuring my own dystopian worlds in a similar vein, typically through incorporating real-world orientation and historical events, in order to capitalise on the reader’s familiarity and surprise their expectations.


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Dune

By Frank Herbert

Dune

Why this book?

Frank Herbert’s Dune set the tone for many fantasy soap operas that have become iconic in pop culture today, such as Star Wars and Game of Thrones. It set the precedent for contemporary commentary featured in the social structure of fantasy epics. The awareness and escalation of realistic stakes within fantasy is key to establishing a convincing story world, which is what I believe makes Dune an important experiment for the genre. 

Narratively, Dune has influenced and deepened my perspective on how the socio-economic system inside a science fiction universe can help to structure its politics and raise the stakes of its conflict. The weight of having a strong and objective foundation for the characters’ beliefs and the workings of their societal values allows me to evolve the story world over countless pages and sequels.


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