Dystopian fiction is a form of science fiction that arose as a reaction to dystopian fiction. A dystopia is a dehumanising and frightening imaginary community or society. A dystopia is an antonym of a utopia, which is described as a perfect society.
The word dystopia is derived from the word utopia. The English word utopia is derived from the Greek words “ou-” (meaning “not”) and “topos” (meaning “place”). It simply means “no place” or “nowhere.” Thomas More coined the term in 1516 when he published a book that portrayed a perfect imaginary island society. He named the book Utopia to emphasize that he was describing a made-up place
that he considered perfect. More and other thinkers who wrote about utopias imagined the place that was never meant to be real. From More to Plato, philosophers realised that the perfection they wrote about did not exist in fact, that it was “no place.”
Dystopia is derived from two Greek words that mean “bad place.” It describes a fictitious setting that the author finds frightening. However, unlike other genres, dystopias force the audience to examine current political and social structures. Because of flaws in the system, dystopian authors argued that the pursuit of perfection will inevitably lead not to a “no place,” but to a “bad place.” They made it their business to hold up funhouse mirrors to magnify those flaws and force a discussion about them.
List of Dystopian Literature (Dystopian Novels)
A Sojourn in the City of Amalgamation, in the Year of Our Lord, 19–
“A Sojourn in the City of Amalgamation, in the Year of Our Lord, 19–” (1835) by American author Jerome B. Holgate is a dystopian novel. The author attempted to discredit abolitionists and advocates of interracial marriage by portraying a dystopian way of life in the fictional city of Amalgamation (in his case it was Caucasian Americans and African American slaves).
The Republic of the Future
Anna Bowman Dodd’s novella “The Republic of the Future” was first published in 1887 and is 88 pages long. She portrayed a utopian society of futuristic “New York Socialist City” as a response to the many other dystopian themed novels of her period. While it seemed at first to have a better quality of life than the rest of the capitalist world, she soon discovered that its people are completely governed by the government.
Ignatius L. Donnelly’s “Caesar’s Column” (1890) is one of the first major dystopian novels in the English language. The plot of the novel follows the life of a simple man from Uganda who travels to the futuristic metropolis of New York City. It is sometimes referred to as an “apocalyptic dystopia.” There, he witnesses the city’s great prosperity as well as the labour class’s suffering. After the outbreak of open warfare between workers and aristocrats, he eventually flees the capital.
The Time Machine
“The Time Machine” (1895) is a science fiction novella by H. G. Wells that follows the life of a time traveller who travels to the year 802,701 A.D. There he witnesses the utopian society of Eloi, a race of human descendants who live peacefully in open nature. However, he soon discovered that Eloi (former aristocrats) were bread to live only to be food for the disfigured cave-dwelling monsters Morlocks (former working class). This was one of the first books in the science fiction “Dying Earth” subgenre.
When The Sleeper Wakes
H. G. Wells’ dystopian novel “When The Sleeper Wakes” was published in 1899. It is the storey of a man who awakens after a 203-year slumber. Surrounded by what seemed to be a futuristic world, he soon discovered that the reality was far from that when all of his horrors and fears materialised.
The First Men in the Moon
“The First Men in the Moon” is a science fiction novel written by H. G. Wells originally published in 1901. It depicts the journey of two protagonists to the moon. They discovered “Selene,” an underground society, and one of the protagonists was able to return to Earth after a brief imprisonment.
The Iron Heel
“The Iron Heel” (1908) is a dystopian novel written by American writer Jack London. Its story chronicles the rise of the oligarchic tyranny in the alternate history United States.
Lord of the World
Robert Hugh Benson’s dystopian novel “Lord of the World” was published in 1908. It depicts a future world in which all of the world’s countries have united into one. The growth of the anti-Christ movement in its governing government was fueled by a lack of faith and an increasing embrace of hopelessness and euthanasia.
The Machine Stops
E. M. Forster’s award-winning short science fiction story “The Machine Stops” (1909) is one of his most well-known works. It depicts a world in which humans have lost the ability to live on the Earth’s surface, as well as two protagonists who debate the possibility of life beyond their underground environments and the automated machines that provide them with life.
The novella “Metamorphosis” (1915) was written by influential German novelist Franz Kafka. This novel, which has been widely studied by colleges and universities all over the world, describes the life of a travelling salesman who gradually transforms into a monstrous insect-like creature.
“We” (1921) is a dystopian novel written by Yevgeny Zamyatin. This novel, written in response to the author’s experiences in the Russian revolutions of 1805 and 1917, tells the storey of the futuristic prison society known as “One State.” The totalitarian government constantly monitors the entire population of this “urban city made of glass.”
Brave New World
Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” (1932) is a well-known dystopian science fiction novel. It depicts life in a dystopian London of the future, where advanced human reproduction and new sleep-learning techniques have managed to create a dystopian society.
It Can’t Happen Here
Sinclair Lewis’s “It Can’t Happen Here” (1935) is an American political novel. This semi-satirical storey depicts the rise of one politician who was able to win the election and establish a society ruled by his loyal political militia. The main character realises what is going on too late and begins his fight against the fascist regime.
War with the Newts
Karel Capek’s “War with the Newts” (1936) is a satirical science fiction storey. It describes the enslavement of sentient species of newts by the human race, as well as their subsequent rebellion and the start of the global war.
Ayn Rand’s dystopian novel “Anthem” (1938) tells the storey of a future world in which the human race has entered another dark age. Aspects of collectivism, socialistic thinking, and economics are eliminated there, and the surviving population lives in an environment where the concept of individuality is forbidden (use of the word “I” is punishable by death).
Darkness at Noon
“Darkness at Noon” (1940) is a novel by Arthur Koestler, a Hungarian-born British novelist. Koestler, Arthur It tells the storey of a Russian who was outcast and imprisoned following the October Revolution, as well as the author’s disillusionment with Communism.
If This Goes On
“If This Goes On-” (1940) is a short science fiction storey written by Robert A. Heinlein that describes a future state of the United States governed by theocracy. He investigated the influences of mass communication, applied physiology, and hysterical populace on Christianity using aspects of mass communication, applied physiology, and hysterical populace.
Karin Boye’s 1940 dystopian novel “Kallocain,” tells the storey of a futuristic totalitarian state that rules over its people through the use of hallucinogenic truth drugs. The author focused its storey on aspects of totalitarianism, the meaning of life, and the power of love.
That Hideous Strength
C.S. Lewis’ sci-fi novel “That Hideous Strength” was published in 1945. This third part of the “Space Trilogy” follows Dr Ransom as he encounters superior alien beings and unregulated technological experiments in a futuristic dystopian Earth society. The author focused on ethical and moral issues in this work.
Vladimir Nabokov’s dystopian novel “Bend Sinister” was published in 1947. It is set in the fictional European nation of “Padukgrad,” where the government actively discourages the concept of individuality. The main plot revolves around Professor Adam Krug’s friendship with an evil tyrant who wants Krug’s help to legitimise his new regime.
Ape and Essence
Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel “Ape and Essence” was published in 1948. This novel, like his previous work “Brave New World,” depicts a pessimistic dystopian future in which the human race’s survival is threatened by the relentless presence of large-scale warfare and mutually assured destruction.
George Orwell’s dystopian novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four” was published in 1949. It depicts the tale of a dystopian world that is perpetually at war. People of that world are kept under surveillance and mind control by an oligarchical dictatorship. The main character is a member of the ruling party who gradually learns that he must overthrow his masters.
Kurt Vonnegut’s first book, “Player Piano” (aka Utopia 14), was published in 1952. His dystopian story, set in a near-completely mechanised future world, depicts the impact of technology and capitalism on the lives of those who live there.
“Fahrenheit 451” (1953) is one of the best-known novels by American writer Ray Bradbury. Set in a dystopian society that tightly controls the flow of information between its citizens. The main protagonist is a fireman(or often called “bookburner”)that is tasked to destroy all books that are deemed banned by the ruling government.
One“One” (aka Escape to Nowhere) (1953) is a dystopian novel by David Karp. It is set in a dystopian totalitarian state that has managed to shape its citizens to root away any dissension. They did that using the methods of surveillance, re-education, and brainwashing.
Bring the Jubilee
“Bring the Jubilee” (1953) is an alternate history novel by Ward Moore. It tells the story of the alternate mid-20th century United States, in which Confederate The States of America won the Battle of Gettysburg and the entire “War of Southron Independence”. Faced with the impending war between the Confederacy and the German Union, the main protagonist decides to travel back in time to witness the Battle of Gettysburg firsthand.
Love Among the Ruins
“Love Among the Ruins” (1953) is a short story by Evelyn Waugh. It tells the story of the dystopian state in which the main character works in the state-sanctioned euthanasia centre that is used not only by terminally ill but also by healthy citizens.
Lord of the Flies
“Lord of the Flies” (1954) is the bestselling novel by Nobel Prize-winning author William Golding. It describes the controversial events that happened when a group of deserted boys start fighting for survival on a distant island. Masterfully explored aspects of human nature, common good and individual warfare earned this book much attention from readers across the world.
“The Chrysalids” (1955) is the best-known novel from the English science fiction writer John Wyndham. The story follows the group of people that survived a natural disaster, that few thousand years in the future decimated the human population. In their everyday lives, they are faced with the fear of genetic mutations and dangerous knowledge from past times (writing is forbidden).
“Facial Justice” (1960) is a dystopian novel by L. P. Hartley. It describes the futuristic post-apocalyptic society that has the goal to banish privilege, envy and hate. To ensure that, they enabled people who hate the look of their faces a process of easy surgical alteration to a state of being not too beautiful or too ugly.
“Harrison Bergeron” (1961) is a short story by Kurt Vonnegut that describes life in the futuristic dystopian version of the United States where all men are truly “equal”. Special government agents called “Handicappers” enforce equal intelligence, physical and athletic looks, and lack of competition.
A Clockwork Orange
“A Clockwork Orange” (1962) is a dystopian novella written by the English author Anthony Burgess. Often selected as one of the best novels of the 20th century, Clockwork Orange tells the tale of the dark dystopian nightmare future filled with violent gangs. It brilliantly tackles the aspects of good and evil, social pathology, the meaning of human freedom and social reform.
“Nova Express” (1964) by William S. Burroughs is a satire novel that describes the dystopian world in which the police force tries to exterminate various forms of ever-growing crime. The book focuses greatly on the aspects of control, crime and addiction.
The Penultimate Truth
“The Penultimate Truth” (1964) is a science fiction novel from a famous American writer Philip K. Dick that is set in the dark dystopian world in which most of humanity lives in underground shelters. Unaware that World War II has been finished a long time ago, people continue to live in a lie, surrounded by paranoia and political oppression.
Make Room! Make Room!
“Make Room! Make Room!” (1966) is a science fiction novel by American writer Harry Harrison. It describes a dystopian world that is overrun by the never-ending unchecked growth of society, lack of resources, human wasteland inefficient infrastructure. (In this novel author postulated that 7 billion people are a start point of a dystopian environment, a number that we know will be reached before the year 2015.)
Stand on Zanzibar
“Stand on Zanzibar” (1968) by John Brunner is a novel that describes the lives of several protagonists in the dystopian environment of the overcrowded 21st century Earth. Surrounded by over 7 billion people, people of this world must live alongside many consequences of overpopulation.
The Jagged Orbit
“The Jagged Orbit” (1969) is a science fiction novel by John Brunner that describes events in the futuristic dystopian United States of America. The author’s main storyline revolves around interracial tensions, gang crimes, drugs, and violence.
This Perfect Day
Ira Levin’s science fiction novel “This Perfect Day” (1970) is frequently compared to the dystopian classics “Nineteen Eighty-Four” and “Brave New World.” The story depicts a dystopian future in which mankind is ruled by a central machine known as UniComp. Daily injections have made the entire populace obedient and content, with little knowledge of their untapped capacity or independence.
The Lathe of Heaven
“The Lathe of Heaven” (1971) by Ursula K. Le Guin is a science fiction dystopian novel that follows the life of a man who can make his dreams come true. Helped by the psychologist Dr Haber, two of them start the impossible quest of creating a better society for the entire humankind.
The Sheep Look Up
John Brunner’s post-apocalyptic science fiction novel “The Sheep Look Up” (1972) is set in a world nearly ruined by pollution gases. Its plot follows the exploits of environmentalist Austin Train, who is on a mission to save the earth from a toxin that has harmed the health and mortality rates of all living creatures on the planet.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said
“Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said” (1974) is a science fiction novel by American writer Philip K. Dick. Set in the dystopian totalitarian version of the future United States, this award-winning tale follows the life of popular pop singer who overnight loses his identity overnight.
The Shockwave Rider
John Brunner’s silent fiction novel “The Shockwave Rider” was published in 1975. It tells the storey of a protagonist who uses his computer hacking abilities to avoid being apprehended by the government’s all-knowing powers. This novel, set in a world dominated by knowledge surveillance, multi-billion-dollar companies, and spying governments, paved the way for the coming cyberpunk revolution.