The best uniquely British dystopian novels

Louise Carey Author Of Inscape
By Louise Carey

Who am I?

I’m a former English student who has always been fascinated by what stories can tell us about society—and vice versa. Dystopian fiction is one of my favourite genres for this: I love how it makes the familiar strange and holds a dark mirror up to our cultural attitudes and conventions. Now, I’m a sci-fi author who creates twisted fiction of her own. Inscape, my own British dystopia, is a ‘razor-sharp’ spy thriller set in a UK that has fallen under corporate control. It was included in The Guardian’s round-up of the best new science fiction and has been nominated for a Subjective Chaos Kind of Award.


I wrote...

Inscape

By Louise Carey,

Book cover of Inscape

What is my book about?

Warning: use of this gate will take you outside of the InTech corporate zone. You may be asked to sign a separate end-user license agreement. Do you wish to continue?

Tanta has trained all her young life for this. Her first mission is a code red: to take her team into the unaffiliated zone beyond InTech’s borders and retrieve a stolen hard drive. It should have been quick and simple, but a surprise attack kills two of her colleagues and Tanta barely makes it home alive. Determined to prove herself and partnered with a colleague whose past is a mystery even to himself, Tanta’s investigation uncovers a sinister conspiracy that makes her question her own loyalties and the motives of everyone she used to trust.

The books I picked & why

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Witch Week

By Diana Wynne Jones,

Book cover of Witch Week

Why this book?

Diana Wynne Jones was the author who made me want to be a writer, and I can't recommend her highly enough. Witch Week might seem an unconventional choice for a list about dystopian fiction—it’s a children’s fantasy novel set in a boarding school—but if you’re expecting early Harry Potter, you’ll be chillingly surprised. Set in an alternate 80s Britain where suspected witches are still burnt at the stake, this story is dystopic to its bones. What I love about it is how unflinchingly dark it gets. It doesn’t shy away from the raw, existential terror of living in a society that hates you for how you were born: there’s one scene in particular that gives me a shiver whenever I think about it.


1984

By George Orwell,

Book cover of 1984

Why this book?

This is the novel that first sparked my appetite for dystopian fiction. No list of British dystopias would be complete without it, and it’s a classic for very good reason. Every time I read it, I’m amazed by the range of Orwell’s prose: the book flits from the tenderness of an emerging love affair, to deft explanations of political theory, to exquisitely claustrophobic evocations of a life lived under constant surveillance. Britain under the rule of ‘The Party’ is the most repressive and authoritarian society I’ve ever encountered in fiction. Fair warning: this is a bleak, bleak read, so wait until you’re feeling brave before you start!


V for Vendetta

By Alan Moore, David Lloyd (illustrator),

Book cover of V for Vendetta

Why this book?

Another classic, and the only graphic novel on my list. I read V for Vendetta in parallel with 1984, and it’s an experience I’d really recommend. There are so many interesting things to compare about the two that I found reading them together enhanced my appreciation of both. The fascistic societies they depict are superficially similar, but at their core, I think the two novels draw very different conclusions about the nature of dystopias, and the power individual people have to challenge them. I’d suggest reading them with a friend and then cheering yourselves up afterward by picking them apart.


The White Mountains

By John Christopher,

Book cover of The White Mountains

Why this book?

This is a lighter dystopia, in many ways—call it a unicorn chaser for 1984 and V for Vendetta, if you will! It’s a YA novel, and I found it a quick, fun, pacy read—as are its two sequels. You can often pick up all three in a single volume, which is how I read them. I don’t want to say too much about the first book, because so much of the fun of its opening chapters lies in figuring out what on earth is going on. You’re dropped into the peaceful English village of Wherton—a rural idyll on the surface, but there’s something not quite right about it. Maybe it has something to do with the strange headwear everyone’s sporting…


Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron

By Jasper Fforde,

Book cover of Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron

Why this book?

This underappreciated masterpiece is my favourite novel on the list, and the one I would make everyone read if I could. Fforde’s trademark is his "quirky British cosiness" (The Guardian) but in this book, that cosiness is twisted into something equal parts chilling and surreal. The result is the most compelling dystopia I’ve ever read. It’s about a hierarchical society organised according to colour perception, with the lowly Greys (who see in black and white) at the bottom and the illustrious Purples (who can see shades of red and blue) at the top. If that sounds weird to you, you’re absolutely right—it is. It’s also hilarious and heartbreaking by turns, fathoms deep and breathtakingly dark, with a series of brilliant twists and a killer sting in the tail.


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