The Best Dystopian Novels Plunge You into Darkness but Also Give You Hope

Dystopian Woman

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The best dystopian novels swing open their doors to welcome us into a strange dimension that often explores a technology-driven society and one depicted by poverty and subjugation. Often survivors are on the run, seeking ways to live in an oppressive regime. The best dystopian novels have us clawing away spider webs, hoping to come upon a peaceful civilization, but often coming upon the spider itself. 

MasterClass has this to say about dystopian fiction: “Dystopian literature is a form of speculative fiction that offers a vision of the future. Dystopias are societies in cataclysmic decline, with characters who battle environmental ruin, technological control, and government oppression . . . [They] often explore themes like anarchism, oppression, and mass poverty.”

Since dystopian fiction is a form of speculative fiction, let’s get a workable definition of speculative fiction: 

Speculative fiction is a literary “super genre,” which encompasses several different genres of fiction, each with speculative elements that are based on conjecture and do not exist in the real world. Sometimes called “what-if” books, speculative literature changes the laws of what’s real or possible as we know them in our current society and then speculates on the outcome. (MasterClass)

Speculative fiction then stirs in the minds of readers the many possible outcomes of situations. It jump-starts the thinking of readers in a way they may never have experienced before, causing anxiety, depression, and anger.

Learn more about speculative fiction.

These 10 Best Dystopian Novels Show 
Struggle for Survival

Couple running from fire

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I will be your tour guide as we explore several dystopian novels. 

Time Machine Book Cover

Our first novel is The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells (1895). The protagonist travels into a world where humanity is divided into two races. One is the peaceful and childlike Eloi and the other is the monstrous Morlocks. Based on this, Wells showcases the widening gap between the socioeconomic classes.

Brave New World Book Cover

Our next stop is Aldous Huxley's (1932) Brave New World. This society, called the World State, is centered on science and control. Here, there is no place for emotions and individuality. At a young age, children are taught that there are no long-lasting relationships. This new world is disease-free and people live on controlled and superficial happiness.

Nineteen Eighty Four Book Cover

The tour brings us to Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (1949). Big Brother takes its job seriously and keeps a keen eye on people, places, and things. Winston Smith is a low-ranking member of “The Party,” and is discontent with the ever-present intrusion of Big Brother. It controls every aspect of the lives of the people. Here, privacy and free thought are things of the past. “The Party” gives a picture of absolute power, and it isn’t pretty.

The Day of the Triffids Book Cover

We pull up short to the year 1951 to John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids. There’s a meteor shower, which blinds most of the population. To wit, there are plants with stingers that hunt humans. The sighted people are tasked with taking care of the blind, and they must also figure out a way to stop the growth of the plants that have locomotive ability. This novel explores survival and community service.

Fahrenheit 451

We can feel the heat as we approach Ray Bradbury’s 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451. This future society bans books. Any that are found are burned by “firemen.” The protagonist is a fireman whose conscience bothers him. He’s beginning to feel that perhaps burning books isn’t the right thing to do. He’s in a dilemma that involves his personal beliefs and his loyalty to the government. The act of burning books allows us to realize what the abolition of human individuality entails.

Brown Girl in the Ring

Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson (1978) is a dystopian story where wealthy people have fled the city, leaving behind the poor who are controlled by a murderous criminal. In desperation, a young woman bargains with the gods. New legends are formed. This story showcases magic and folklore.

The Handmaid's Tale

 Next, we come eye to eye with Margaret Atwood’s 1985 story of The Handmaid's Tale. In this story about a totalitarian state, most of the women are infertile. However, some of the handmaids are fertile and must bear children for the elite couples who cannot. This is a hard gaze into the misuse of religion to justify inequality.

The Road Book Cover

Continuing our tour, we come to The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006). In this post-apocalyptic world, a father and son trek across a barren landscape, hoping to survive cunning people who try to kill and eat them. Despite fighting many threats and facing gripping starvation, the bond between father and son grows. The test for survival looms large in this novel.

The Hunger Games book cover

Next, we enter the arena of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008). In this story, teens compete in a televised death match. The rich organize the Hunger Games yearly where a boy and a girl fight in battle. This is done by the rich to punish the poor districts. The games help in desensitizing that which is horrible.

Station Eleven book cover

 Our tour ends with Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014). This is a tale about a devastating flu that cripples the world population. A nomadic group of actors roam the scattered outposts and face many threats. These survivors attempt to reconstruct civilization while embracing the power of the arts despite the bleakness of times.

These best dystopian novels, imbued with deep sociological insights, will remain in your memory for times to come. Their gripping narratives unveil deep insights into societal decline but offer an outstretched hand of hope. 

These best dystopian novels, with their layered symbolism, let us explore our human condition, assessing where we stand and where we could end up. And where we end up could constitute an array of ominous tomorrows. Take a deep breath before you grab a dystopian novel. Make sure your heart is strong enough to take the tour. 

“What Is Dystopian Fiction?” MasterClass Articles, MasterClass, 21 Sept. 2022,

“What Is Speculative Fiction?” MasterClass Articles, MasterClass, 2 Sept. 2021,