The best dystopia books

130 authors have picked their favorite books about dystopia and why they recommend each book.

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American War

By Omar El Akkad,

Book cover of American War

As someone with strong American family roots, though I’m technically British, I was fascinated at school by the American Civil War. In part this interest was spurred by Margaret Mitchell’s extraordinary book Gone With The Wind, which I read in the school sanitorium while enduring a cataclysmic dose of chickenpox – but which serendipitously helped me get dazzling results in my History O-levels a few weeks later. Later, I read extensively around the subject, fascinated by Shelby Foote’s Civil War trilogy and by Ken Burns’ 1990 PBS series, Civil War. Which is a long way of building up to the reason I found American War so compelling. The central thesis is that, instead of falling out over slavery, this time the American states go to war over oil – amid attempts to rein in fossil fuels to tackle climate change. I think we are very much closer to…


Who am I?

I have long been fascinated by history – and by the future. As a Boomer, born in 1949, I have surfed successive environmental, green, and sustainability waves. Since 1978, I have co-founded four businesses in the field, all of which still exist. I am now Chief Pollinator at Volans. I have served on some 80 boards and advisory boards and spoken at nearly 2000 major events worldwide. And I have authored or co-authored 20 books, including the million-selling Green Consumer Guide series from 1988. Science fiction has been a constant inspiration. The books I have picked are generally optimistic, in contrast to dystopias like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Finally, given the richness of this area of fiction, we can be sure that there are many many other green sci-fi shortlists out there waiting to be published, including ones featuring women like Ursula K. Le Guin and Margaret Atwood.


I wrote...

Green Swans: The Coming Boom in Regenerative Capitalism

By John Elkington,

Book cover of Green Swans: The Coming Boom in Regenerative Capitalism

What is my book about?

Even leading capitalists admit that capitalism is broken. Green Swans is a manifesto for system change designed to serve people, the planet, and prosperity. In his twentieth book, John Elkington—dubbed the “Godfather of Sustainability”—explores new forms of capitalism fit for the twenty-first century.

If Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Black Swans are problems that can take us exponentially toward breakdown, then Green Swans are solutions that take us exponentially toward breakthroughs. The success—and survival—of humanity now depends on how we rein in the first and accelerate the second.

Wool

By Hugh Howey,

Book cover of Wool

Wool took the world by storm, as one of the first ultra-successful independently published novels available on Kindle. And for good reason. In the first few chapters, the scene is quickly set for a harrowing tale. Humanity has suffered a terrible blow, and the few survivors left on earth are herded into a massive underground silo-type structure. The air outside has turned poisonous, and right off the bat, we see just how lethal it can be. This entire trilogy is awe-inspiring, and gives credence that Hugh Howey is a master at his craft. Smooth sailings to you, sir.


Who am I?

As a teenager, back when I still had some traces of childhood imagination left lurking about, I started envisioning scenarios and events which would later come together as a dystopian novel. Walks in the nearby park became areas of great skirmishes between neighboring militias; road trips out west became routes to safety; the dusty lot of a rundown gas station became the setting for a life-altering showdown. Flashforward twenty years or so, and all these fantasies came together in my first post-apocalyptic tale. Yet, my eagerness to explore other authors’ narratives in the same genre remains unquenched.  


I wrote...

The After War

By Brandon Zenner,

Book cover of The After War

What is my book about?

Two years have passed since humankind faced extinction: Two cousins are leaving the protection of their underground bunker for the first time, after a cataclysmic war and unrelenting disease ravaged the earth. On the other side of North America, a young survivalist is leaving the seclusion of his cabin deep in the woods. For individual reasons, these men are traveling east, where the fragmented lives of a small number of survivors will soon be decided by the choices of a corrupt few. The strength that resides inside them will be tested, and destiny will call for their fates to be forever intertwined.

"A fierce post-apocalyptic story of war and loss, of nature's vengeance, of survival in the face of overwhelming odds." - Manhattan Book Reviews

Parable of the Sower

By Octavia E. Butler,

Book cover of Parable of the Sower

I’d been reading science fiction for many years when I came across this book. While I was already a big fan of Ray Bradbury, Ursula Le Guin, and others, Butler’s work showed me a new perspective through the story of empath Lauren Olamina, an African American teenager in a dystopian future California. Her struggles to survive a world in chaos, to manage her power, and to begin a movement to save the human race remain with me.


Who am I?

Like my narrator Maggie, I was a child, then a teen wandering the woods and dreaming of a life. I’ve always hated those books/TV shows/films where women, especially young women, are helpless and reliant on a man to get them out of trouble. I gravitate toward stories where females figure out their own paths, not always to a happy ending. I’m still a wanderer today, mostly solo, from New York City to the vast Highlands of Scotland, and while the world can seem scary, I’m confident and free on my own. 


I wrote...

In the Lonely Backwater

By Valerie Nieman,

Book cover of In the Lonely Backwater

What is my book about?

A whip-smart outsider insecure in her gender identity, 17-year-old Maggie explores the North Carolina woods and avoids misery at home and school by communing with shadowy figures including a long-ago biologist. When her gorgeous cousin’s brutalized body is found at the marina where Maggie lives with her broken father, a persistent detective intimates that she’s the prime suspect—and this backwater world, where people perpetually reinvent themselves to survive, suddenly becomes more complex and dangerous.

The Water Knife

By Paolo Bacigalupi,

Book cover of The Water Knife

As a resident of Phoenix, Arizona, I love this intense climate thriller as an all-too-real exploration of how climate change—and the water crises that may ensue—might play out for my city and state. Bacigalupi is an expert at not pulling punches, while also getting you invested in exciting plots and brutal but complex characters. I recommend this book to people who want a plausible vision of how the stressors of climate change can lead to breakdown and violence without a single apocalyptic catastrophe. It’s sobering, but also a helluva read.


Who am I?

Reading and writing speculative fiction is a big part of how I make sense of the world—particularly complex problems like climate change. I also believe our environmental problems are inherently political, which is why I went to grad school to study sustainability and the institutions trying (and often failing) to fix our broken planet. After attending the UN COP24 climate conference, I came back more sure than ever that we need a range of stories about future environmental politics to help us understand the onrushing challenges. I hope this book list is a good place to start!


I wrote...

Our Shared Storm: A Novel of Five Climate Futures

By Andrew Dana Hudson,

Book cover of Our Shared Storm: A Novel of Five Climate Futures

What is my book about?

In the 2050s, the world meets in Buenos Aires for the 60th annual UN climate negotiations. But what kind of world and what they’ll negotiate are determined by the choices we make now. Our Shared Storm weaves together stories that explore five real-world IPCC scenarios, ranging from the harrowing to the hopeful. When a superstorm blows in, four characters—Noah, Luis, Saga, and Diya—are brought together or thrown into conflict. But in each story there are different people living different lives, shaped by the diverging paths the planet has taken. Called “deeply affecting” by Publisher’s Weekly, this book will get you up to speed on climate politics and the culture of the people trying to save the planet.

The Aviary

By Emily Shore,

Book cover of The Aviary

In a world where beauty is bought and sold on the streets, sixteen-year-old Serenity has spent her whole life in hiding in order to avoid being taken. But, unfortunately, nothing ever stays hidden for long. She is snatched from her home and sold to the highest bidder. Now she’s a Bird, forced to live in The Aviary – an elite museum where girls are displayed as living art by day, and rented out to paying customers at night. In no time Serenity becomes one of the most coveted exhibits – The Swan – and learns that in order to stand any chance at finding her family again, she must play her new role to perfection. She didn’t anticipate how her feelings for the cold, yet charismatic, museum director, would complicate things.  

This story is such a unique and interesting take on a dystopian future, and Shore writes her world beautifully.…


Who am I?

Young Adult fiction has always been special to me. I think it’s because I started writing my first book, Alive?, when I was a teenager. There’s an added richness to YA stories; somehow the characters always feel so much more vulnerable, more unpredictable, and more real. My fascination with dystopian stories came after I first read The Handmaid’s Tale, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Whether it’s zombies, kids being forced to fight to the death, or people living their lives inside a virtual world, I’m in! I have three published books about the zombie apocalypse, and am currently working on an exciting new YA dystopian story, which I can’t wait to share!     


I wrote...

Alive?

By Melissa Woods,

Book cover of Alive?

What is my book about?

Everyone knows the first rule of the zombie apocalypse: Don't. Get. Bitten.

Unfortunately Violet has never been great at following the rules. Within minutes of meeting her first zombie, it has taken a chunk out of her arm. Fortunately for Violet, she doesn't die. Unfortunately —she's not exactly alive, either. Now she will need to learn to control her cannibalistic urges, and hide what she is from the other survivors. And the real zombies? They still want to eat her, too. Surviving the zompocalypse is tricky when you play for both teams.

Protectors - Book one of Beyond These Walls

By Michael Robertson,

Book cover of Protectors - Book one of Beyond These Walls: A Post-Apocalyptic Survival Thriller

This is my favourite series by Michael Robertson; its world-building is so real that it’s scary because this dystopian world could really exist. The world has its defined structure and the characters within it are believable, even if not all likable. It’s a complex series and yet is simple in its reading; compelling at the very least.

Who am I?

Because sometimes I think they go further than the formulas set by traditional publishing.  I love fantasy and similar genres because there are no limits for the imagination. The books I’ve chosen fulfill what I think is important – world-building, imagination, thought-provoking, intelligent, and wonderful characters on a mission of some kind.


I wrote...

Gone

By Julie Elizabeth Powell,

Book cover of Gone

What is my book about?

Gone will always be my most important book because of why it was written. When my daughter, Samantha, was two, her heart stopped and she died. Doctors revived her, but too late because she was left severely brain-damaged, who she’d been was wiped clean. For the next seventeen years, I watched her withering, twisting body survive without her knowing what was happening except for pain and suffering until she died a second and final time.


During those seventeen years, I had a question: Where had my daughter gone? Because her essence had vanished leaving only an empty shell: hence I created a world and went in search of her. Gone is one answer to that question.  It’s a unique fantasy and might even help others to come to terms with loss.

An Unkindness of Ghosts

By Rivers Soloman,

Book cover of An Unkindness of Ghosts

This is an astonishing read, set on a generation ship ferrying the last of humanity through space to a mythical Promised Land. In a society organised like the antebellum South, the story follows our remarkable heroine, Aster. She is flawed, self-effacing, astonishingly courageous, with a huge heart and fierce hope despite what seems like hopeless odds. It’s a story of survival against the brutal reality of slavery, a journey of hope, and an enormous lesson in working with what you’ve got, never giving up, and appreciating that there are always choices to be found. Resourceful Aster never stops fighting, while taking care of those in need along the way. Awe-inspiring.


Who am I?

I adore the SFF genre for its scope of limitless creativity. In particular, I look to both read and write books that incorporate contemporary issues, represent marginalised sections of society, challenge stereotypes, and generally make you think – themes that don’t shy away from tough topics, while interspersed in plenty of colour. In my own epic fantasy series, Blood Gift Chronicles, themes include wildlife and the environment, social justice and marginalisation, magic, animism, and dragons. I have a definite soft spot for complex women and girl protagonists and am excited by the range of voices coming through in the genre. I hope you enjoy my recommendations as much as I have.


I wrote...

Return of the Mantra (Blood Gift Chronicles)

By Susie Williamson,

Book cover of Return of the Mantra (Blood Gift Chronicles)

What is my book about?

16-year-old Suni has always known she is different. She and her mother, Mata, live a secretive life on the edge of society, hidden from the tyrant King and his autocratic rule. Her father abandoned them to work in the King’s crystal mines. In a land ravaged by drought, where the natural world is forsaken for profit, Mata follows the old ways of the Mantra, which the King has outlawed. When tragedy strikes, Suni is cut adrift. She sets off to find her father. Will she also find the destiny Mata wanted for her?

This award-winning, character-driven fantasy adventure chronicles Suni’s search for justice and her own identity, as she finds herself at the centre of a desperate bid to save her homeland.

The Giver

By Lois Lowry,

Book cover of The Giver

The Giver is close to my heart, as it played a huge role in my development as an author and was one of the first book recommendations my mother gave me. This novel shows you what it could take for humanity to reach perfection, and makes you question whether perfection is something really worth reaching for. It also introduced me to the wonderful dystopian genre, and showed me that literature is much more than entertainment: it’s a whole world of important messages that the world needs to hear.


Who am I?

I am a dystopian author who loves using writing to spread awareness about different social issues in society. As an avid reader, I feel like nowadays, the quality of literature has decreased. Authors have been focusing more on how close to trending topics and easy-to-read a book is than on its depth, themes, or any kind of element that is crucial in storytelling. This is why many recently published books have been difficult for me to connect with. As an author myself, I want that to change. Here’s a list of books that are so well written that it’ll feel like you’re riding a rollercoaster—of emotions.


I wrote...

A Gleaming Shard of Glass

By Sowon Kim,

Book cover of A Gleaming Shard of Glass

What is my book about?

Every six months on Regulation Day, children from the honorable city of Nepenthe take a required intelligence examination. Those who pass resume their lives as valuable students, but those who fail are imprisoned, no longer considered human.

When fourteen-year-old Grecia Rivera fails the examination—despite being one of the best artists of her age—her life is turned upside down. To avoid her prison sentence, she must abandon everyone she loves and escape from Nepenthe. But Grecia soon discovers that the outside world is just as brutal as the city she left behind. Now trapped within a society of runaways, Grecia must risk her life for freedom once again.

Station Eleven

By Emily St. John Mandel,

Book cover of Station Eleven

Even before the pandemic, this novel was poetic and timely and elegantly portrayed humanity's desire to survive. Something about the traveling performers captivated me from the first moment, thinking about how art links us to generations past. Centuries of people sitting for the same Shakespeare play; and wouldn't the playwright love reading about his work being performed by a troupe of deadly actors—a drama being performed within another. It’s not surprising it was made into a television series; the scenes jump off the pages. 


Who am I?

I’ve worked in journalism, politics, and public policy for 30-plus years and watched as the extreme voices gained the most traction on either side of a debate. On social media, these minority views often dominate the discussion. 48 States is a stand-alone novel highlighting the problems of extremist viewpoints in a civil society. I also have another book series that features a political consultant who discovers she's a witch and joins a secret society that uses magic to manipulate elections to protect humanity. Bottom line: if I can’t fix political discourse for a living, I can write science fiction novels that contemplate how to do it.


I wrote...

48 States

By Evette Davis,

Book cover of 48 States

What is my book about?

Widow, single mother, and Army veteran Jennifer “River” Petersen works as a truck driver in Energy Territory No. 1, formerly known as North Dakota. Forced to enlist after her father’s death, the lines of River’s life have been redrawn. Living in a motel room with nothing but her books and a Glock handgun, River is weeks away from returning home when an injured man standing in the middle of the highway upends her plans. From the moment he encounters River, Finn Cunningham knows he must conceal his identity or be left for dead. His deception draws them into a megalomaniac's deadly conspiracy to ignite a civil war and overthrow the government. 48 States is a one-of-a-kind dystopian thriller about the dangers of extremism and the power of love and forgiveness.

We

By Yevgeny Zamyatin, Gregory Zilboorg (translator),

Book cover of We

For an absolute classic, I would be amiss if I did not include Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We in this list, as it’s been credited for inspiring both Orwell and Rand in their dystopian journeys. This is a classic dystopian novel set in something called ‘OneState’- a city enclosed in glass under the totalitarian rule of the ‘Benefactor'. In ways similar to Fahrenheit 451, I love We for its exploration of what happens when free thought collapses and is replaced by government-enforced conformity.

The main protagonist (simply named D-503) lives a life void of all passion and creativity. The most precious things like love, family, and reproduction are all closely monitored – with rebellion viciously condemned. All it takes is one person- I-330, one of the few left with a free, courageous spirit to inspire D-503 to break free from the system and decide that ultimately, life is worth living for…


Who am I?

I’ve been very interested and involved in psychology and philosophy over the years, ever since becoming fascinated by anthropology in my early high school days…the concept of the human psyche is so wonderfully explored in the dystopian genre, setting extremes of how far greed and power can go (authoritarian governments) and how much strength of will and love can go even further (woven into these rebellions). I truly think that these books put so much into perspective of what’s truly important for us as a species and the things we want to carry forward- in all of them, the nature of freedom, community, and expression bonds us all together.


I wrote...

City of Immortal Shadows

By T.J. Swackhammer,

Book cover of City of Immortal Shadows

What is my book about?

Something is rotting in the city of Emaldin, and everyone knows it. Valencia was supposed to be one of the lucky ones. Plucked from a life of crime, the Institute promised her an easier life inside the Pod, if she could make it to graduation. Instead, she reawakens after being killed, back from the dead with a lethal touch. Valencia survives under the radar as a deadly shadow. Her touch, a weapon. Until she realizes she hasn’t been the one wielding it. Until the wrong life, at the wrong time, gets cut short.

On the run, she must make new alliances to untangle the web surrounding the Institute and find the truth of Emaldin… even if it means letting go of everything she’s ever known.

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