Book Recs: Introduction to Dystopia

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All of you probably know how much I love books with dystopian societies. Last year, I dedicated a whole post to why I love dystopia and why dystopia matters, where I argued that dystopia matters because it is terrifying (and it should be), it draws our attention to important issues, and that it encourages critical thinking and raises awareness.

In the past, I’ve been asked what were some good books that had dystopian societies, especially for people who were not familiar with the genre. So today, I’ll be recommending four books that are, what I regard as, cornerstones (or just really darn good pieces) of dystopian fiction. Since I had a criteria for my previous book recommendation post on mental illness, I thought I would include a criteria for these books too. The following books:

  • have a dystopian society that has a facade of a utopia
  • are inherently critical and/or critique an ideology or a sociopolitical idea

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1984

1. NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR BY GEORGE ORWELL

I know I hold this book high on a pedestal, but it holds a special place in my heart: it was the first dystopian novel that made me feel… awake. Nineteen-Eighty Four may drag with its exposition, but the ending packs a punch so powerful and jarring that you cannot help but think

Why you should read Nineteen Eighty-Four 

  • Delves into scary but necessary ideas relevant to today’s society: surveillance, fear politics, the insidious effects and consequences of perpetual war, nationalism and fascism, and censorship.
  • Explores what a society might look like if we lost our basic, human right to freedom and liberty.
  • Birthed phrases such as:
    • ‘doublethink’ (act of simultaneously accepting two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct; e.g. we must fight for peace)
    • ‘2 + 2 = 5’ (something that is untrue is made ‘true’ through control and dogma, therefore reshaping reality)
    • ‘memory hole’ (to alter/remove pieces of history that are inconvenient or embarrassing to, essentially, rewrite history that fit the Society’s propaganda)
    • and, of course, ‘Big Brother is watching you’.

Find Nineteen Eighty-Four in Goodreads

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bnw

2. BRAVE NEW WORLD BY ALDOUS HUXLEY

I’ll admit: I need to re-read this book again. I read this shortly after Nineteen Eighty-Four, and what I wanted from Brave New World was severely influenced by my reading experience with the former. Nonetheless, Brave New World offers a very different perspective of society – one that is, dare I say it, a little more relevant to today’s culture (link opens to webcomic comparing BNW to 1984).

Why you should read Brave New World

  • Explores consumerism and how it can shape and dictate society; how excessive production and consumption can make people happily ignorant and complacent.
  • Examines how people are bombarded with meaningless media, making them apathetic and adverse to uncomfortable truths.
  • As per both points above, the society of Brave New World is an example of a trivial and superficial society – a future that our society could lead to.
  • The misguided pursuit of technological improvement, and how it can change societal values and result in a loss of empathy, art, religion, and culture.

Find Brave New World in Goodreads

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handmaidstale

3. THE HANDMAID’S TALE BY MARGARET ATWOOD

People call the society depicted in The Handmaid’s Tale as the ‘feminist nightmare’, and to an extent, I agree. Though the society portrayed in this book is ‘extreme’, it demands us to examine and speculate the ideological manifestations of the society in the book.

Why you should read The Handmaid’s Tale

  • Explores an authorative theoracy in which women are dehumanized and diminished to be ‘objects’ for pleasure, reproduction, and labour.
  • How Gilead uses an ‘Other’ to justify their authority and rule.
  • Examines how humanity adapts to disasters and normalizes atrocities and injustice, which encourages forgetfulness of the past.
  • Provides an opportunity for the reader to locate the ‘self’ within a totalitarian regime, and how the self changes under such conditions.

Find The Handmaid’s Tale in Goodreads, or read my review.

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neverlet

4. NEVER LET ME GO BY KAZUO ISHIGURO

I don’t think Never Let Me Go typically appears in most dystopian novel lists, but that’s why I’d like to recommend this book. Its dystopia themes are not very overt, but its a spectacular dystopian nonetheless. Unfortunately I have to tread carefully while talking about this book because I would hate to spoil this book for you, so excuse the vagueness! (If you have read this book, please do not spoil it for those who haven’t!)

Why you should read Never Let Me Go

  • Explores how human relationships transcend in dystopian systems.
  • Asks important and profound questions concerning identity and humanity when we are irrevocably entangled in a pervasive system.
  • Examines autonomy, the length and limitations to rights.
  • Speculates the future of medicine, science, and state of humanity.

Find Never Let Me Go in Goodreads.

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The above are my top four when it comes to dystopian novels, but there are plenty of others as well, all offering different ideas and criticisms. Others that I can recommend are:

  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collin
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (though I think BNW is superior)
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell
  • V for Vendetta by Alan Moore

(I also recommend The Giver if you want to see how a dystopia should not be written; read this review of The Giverwhich I wholeheartedly agree with.)

After researching for this recommendations post, I have found a plethora of dystopian books that I haven’t read yet, so I hope to read to read other great works such as The Children of Men, The Time Machine, and Unwind.

So friends, share with me:

  • What are some of your favourite books that have a dystopian society?
  • What do you like about books that explore utopian/dystopian societies?
  • What does dystopia mean to you?
  • What do you think of this comic strip? Do you think was right – Orwell or Huxley?

Again, thank you for stopping by – all of you are wonderful – and I hope you all have a pleasant week!

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50 thoughts on “Book Recs: Introduction to Dystopia

  1. So many of these are on my TBR! I’m sometimes a bit hesitant because dystopians don’t always hit the spot for me – only because I don’t know where I’m looking! These sound SO GOOD, I can’t wait to read them!

    • Hi Yarravy!
      Hehe, I see where you are coming from! I don’t read them as much as I used to, but I wholeheartedly recommend them. There are so many fantastic ideas in dystopian fiction, and they definitely help with critical analysis of other books.

      I hope you enjoy them! Let me know if you read any – I’d love to discuss them!

      • Hey! <3 You have attracted me completely, I need to get my hands on these books as soon as possible! I've never thought of dystopian that way but I'm sure I will once I get to these ones! I'm reading Brave New World for school next term and I can't wait for it!
        Thank you! I definitely will – I would love to discuss! <3

  2. I have both 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 sitting on my shelves waiting for me to pick them up, I’ve heard so much about them I really need to get to them soon :)
    Some of my favorites are The Hunger Games, and Tomorrow when the war began. I havent read a dystopian for a while actually because I was reading to many and they all started to blur so it will be good to start some of the ones you mentioned and get back into it :) Great post!

    • Ooh, I highly recommend 1984! I’ve read Fahrenheit 451 but it didn’t pack that much of a punch for me. I think Brave New World conveys similar messages but conveys its ideas better. BUT, I think reading a bunch of dystopian novels is good – all have something to offer, and we all have different interpretations too!

      Oh! I’ve read Tomorrow When the War Began! I studied it in high school. I didn’t like it when I read it, but in hindsight, I think it would be a book that I’d like. I’ll have to revisit it.

      Haha I understand what you mean! But the classics are great, and seeing as they were written years ago but are still relevant today says something very… interesting and scary about our society.

      Thank you so much!

  3. I really want to read 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale and Never Let Me Go! I really enjoy dystopia and definitely need to read more books in that genre. I really loved The Darkest Minds series by Alexandra Bracken, but I feel like that’s probably more sci-fi than dystopia. In general though I love the sociology behind dystopia/utopia and how it draws concepts from real life.

    • Hi Laura!
      I can say with utmost confidence that all three of those books are good! 1984 can be pretty slow, but there’s so much insight in there.
      I’ve never read The Darkest Minds! Dystopia or no, I’d be interested to read it. :D
      I agree! When I was in university I did a sociology course called ‘Social Futures’ which talked about the political and economic future of our society. It was pretty bleak, but so so interesting. We covered dystopia and utopia too, so it was really cool. :D

    • I LOVE Ishiguro!! I really recommend The Remains of the Day and Nocturnes (collection of short stories). The Remains of the Day beat up my emotions but it’s soooo good. ;_;
      I haven’t read it either! I remember watching the movie when I was younger but I didn’t really *understand* it. I should watch it sometime. *u*

  4. I hold the same feelings for 1984. I can’t recommend it enough. I “thought” and “saw” society for the first time with this book. I haven’t read Brave New World yet but it’s on my list, so is The Handmaid’s Tale. Never Let Me Go has been on my shelf forever, and I have no idea why I haven’t picked it yet! Great post :)

    • Hi Donna!

      I’m glad to hear someone can relate to my post-1984. I was taking very heavy sociology papers at the time too, so it was a very… oppressive but rude-awakening sort of experience.

      BNW is great! I didn’t *enjoy* it like I would an enjoyable book, but the themes are so good and there’s so much to think about. The Handmaid’s Tale is great if you’re interested in gender equality issues.

      Never Let Me Go, and all Ishiguro books, are amazing. I hope you read it and enjoy it! <3

  5. You have a way of analyzing books and making it all make SCRUMPTIOUS SENSE!! Teach me your ways!!!
    When I first started blogging I went on the enormous dystopia binge-read (though just YA and none of the classics because I’m dumb 🙄) so now I feel veryyyy burned out. However, I still want to read the classics, like 1984!! Honestly, it’s sounds muchhh creepier than any more modern dystopian I’ve read, and it seems to analyze societal aspects more deeply too. I mean, after this post, I’ve got room for one more dystopia!

    • Hi Becca!

      Oh you! You are too wonderful and kind. :’D I’m glad they made scrumptious sense! I wrote this all when I was sick so I am glad they are coherent, hehehe! XD

      You’re not dumb at all! I don’t blame you for being burnt out – dystopia is so heavy. I definitely encourage you reading Nineteen Eighty-Four! The best way, imo, to get over a dystopia hangover is to talk to someone about it! They can make you feel so alone, so always good to get your feels and thoughts out. :) (And you can talk to meeeee!!)

  6. Great choices – Never Let Me Go is such a good book, I must re-read it at some point. 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale are fantastic too! I really want to read Brave New World, I’ve tried a couple of times and struggled to get into, but I will definitely give it another go sometime. 1984 is definitely my favourite dystopian book of all time, but in terms of series, Unwind and Chaos Walking are among my favourites.

    • Hi Jess!

      To be honest, I don’t blame you. I read BNW some years ago and didn’t ‘enjoy’ it, but I really like the themes that the book presents (especially since they’re so relevant to today’s society), so I had to include it!! Hehe. :D

      I’ve heard so many good things about Unwind – I’m definitely going to check it out sometime soon. I LOVE the Chaos Walking trilogy! So, so, so good. I can’t wait until the movie too – it’ll be so interesting to see how they portray Noise.

      • It definitely sounds interesting – I’m really intrigued by the themes! I think the writing style was what I struggled with initially, but I am determined to give it another go. Ooh yes please do check it out – I think the books are very clever. Especially the later ones – Neal Shusterman quotes from real news articles at the beginning of each chapter, which makes it even scarier as everything that happens in the books is plausible and some of it is already happening in one form or another. And yesss the movie of The Knife of Never Letting Go is so exciting – have they started filming already or has it just been announced? Hope it will do the books justice!

  7. Nooo! How can you recommend ‘Brave New World’ or ‘Animal Farm’? They’re sooo bad! (granted I read them in like… middle school. :/ ) It’s really odd. We read so many dystopians in school and I hated all of them… Now I write dystopians. >.> Not sure where that one came from, but I still can’t say I accept Animal Farm as a good book (partly because it’s too grotesque for the age at which I read it) and Brave New World was super depressing and also wrong for the age at which I read it. (Maybe that’s my problem. Though, I can’t say I’ll re-read any of them. :/)

    I definitely push Hunger Games (because I love death and cruelty. Fluff isn’t my thing.) And I also quite enjoyed Fahrenheit 451. (I’ve yet to read 1984, but it’s on my TBR). And I disagree with you about The Giver. It’s a dystopian disguised as a Utopia. *won’t start a war here in the comments* :p

    • Hi Melanie!

      I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t enjoy them. I really do think you should read them though; they are all fantastic books, and I am pretty sure you’ll interpret and appreciate them differently compared to when you were in middle school. And yes I do agree – Brave New World isn’t really something I would recommend to someone in middle school.

      Why do you think Animal Farm is not a good book? I am interested to know.

      You make a good point – I phrased that sentence wrongly re: The Giver. I have rephrased it to, “I also recommend The Giver if you want to see how a dystopia should not be written”. Thank you for pointing that out!

      • Animal Farm… *sigh* Honestly, I wanna say I was in early middle school to elementary school when I read it. Aka most of the concepts went over my head and it was awfully grotesque for someone so young. (We read the picture book format if that makes a difference in my view of the book.) It was just… disturbing for a small child who still lives in an innocent state of blissful ignorance. Sometimes I wonder if all the dark reading I was forced to do in school had an impact on the dark writer I became. :/ Does that make sense?

        • Oh I see, yes that makes perfect sense to me. I understand your aversion to it better now, because of your negative experience with it.

          In saying that though, I really do recommend you read it though. The analysis of how fascism, dictatorship, corruption, and inequality arise in society is spot-on.

  8. Another great post, CW! I’ll be honest and say that I’ve never read any of the books you mentioned. When it comes to dystopian, I think to stick to YA mostly because these kinds of books tear my mind apart and freak me the fuck out and it’s really hard to find the correct mind space to have that kind of reflection. However I totally agree with your thoughts on the genre and how it should affect us as readers; I actually wrote a discussion post about it a few months ago (https://freadomlibrary.wordpress.com/2016/05/20/freadom-speaks-about-dystopia-and-how-it-should-affect-us/) using some of the YA dystopian books that are set in places that could be considered as part of the US. I definitely need to read more of this genre either way haha

    • Hi Sara!

      Ooh, I highly recommend the books I mentioned! They were written so long ago but are so relevant today. The ideas presented in the books are so interesting and thought-provoking, and there’s so much to analyse with their depth.

      Oh, thank you so much for sharing that post with me! I’ll go read it now! <3

      Yess, me too! Writing this post made me realize I've read the *big* ones, but I should really try and read a variety. :)

    • Hi Jessica!

      I agree. I think the world leans sometimes towards 1984, and sometimes towards Brave New World. It’s incredible that these authors had such insights to our present and future. I have so much respect for these authors.

      I haven’t read Witch and Wizard, but thanks for the recommendation! I’ll keep an eye on it on Goodreads! :)

  9. Great post! I am so happy to see this because I feel like people often don’t understand dystopian literature.
    I just started reading Never Let Me Go last night, and I didn’t know what I was about to get into. I feel like there are a lot of parallels to The Handmaid’s Tale in the first 3rd of this book already. I can’t wait to finish it.

    • Hi Jackie!

      I agree with you. I think there are a lot of misconceptions of the genre, especially following the release and popularity of books like Divergent, Shatter Me, and Matched, which have some ideas but really lack the depth and critical analysis of society.

      Ooh, what spectacular timing! I hope you enjoy Never Let Me Go – it’s wonderful, as are all of Ishiguro’s books. Let me know what you think when you finish it?

  10. I read 1984 and Brave New World in high school, but have reread only 1984 since then. I think you’re right that Brave New World is probably more relevant to how the world has actually turned out since the publication of both books, so I’d like to pick it up again. Even though I remember not actually liking it in high school.

    • Hi Briana!

      How did you find your re-reading of 1984? I last read it several years ago, so I think I’m due for a re-reading sometime soon.

      I remember not liking Brave New World very much too, but its themes are so, so relevant and incredible, so I just had to share. I probably have to re-read this one too; I think I’ll appreciate it, now that I have a better grasp of things.

      • I think I was more impressed by 1984 the first time around, but that may have been just because I had little experience with dystopians in general at the time. Also I just find the surveillance frightening in a way that’s different from the problems in Brave New World. 1984 is more “unlikely,” but I guess it has more of an obvious horror factor. I actually just spent the past couple hours rereading Brave New World, and while I still think it’s boring in some ways, it’s predictions are more likely. There are definitely some values embraced in the book that are not completely different from some proposals being made today.

        • Hi Briana!

          Fair enough! I think these dystopians aren’t saying that the societies will manifest in a physical form, but are warning us of their ideological manifestations, which I think are already happening around the world.

          I agree with your conclusion about Brave New World. I think we are already there in a way, especially in society’s interest or fixation on celebrities, gossip, or sexual desires rather than more pressing, significant issues. Once when I was reading the news, our ‘Breaking News’ was about The Bachelor, even though on the same day there were civil rights protests in the US. It’s scary that institutions help perpetuate this too.

  11. Never Let Me Go is one of my all time favourite books, and I love your other recommendations too. I have to admit, The Hunger Games in my opinion is such a well-articulated dystopian book. I really enjoyed this post CW! (Surprise, surprise, since all your posts are fantastic :P)

  12. Your discussions always frustrate me, you know? I always end up never knowing how to word or phrase myself because my thought train is basically, “YES YES YES YES SO ON POINT YES EXACTLY PREACH THAT GOSPEL TRUTH.”

    I think I’ve made my point.

    P.S. In one of my earlier blog posts, I mentioned my intention of visiting every blog that follows me and leaving a little comment love as a small expression of my gratitude. Having said that, I personally want to thank you for being a part of my readership. You are incredibly wonderful, and your support means more to me than you realize! 😊💕

    • Hi Shealea!

      OOH GOODNESS, you had me worried for a second there, haha! Thank you sooo much for your wonderful and kind words!

      Oh, thank you for sharing that post with me! That’s such a lovely thing to do – thank you so much for stopping by. I shall visit your blog and pass on the love. <3

  13. I love this post, CW! Thank you for this great post! I also love dystopian. Dystopian books keep me awake. I enjoy them so much. Never Let Me Go seems interesting. It’s definitely going straight to my tbr. By the way, I have something to recommend to you. Check out Melophobia by James Morris. This book has a very special place in my heart. It’s beautifuly written. It talks about family, friendship, love and finding yourself in a place where music is illegal. I hope you’ll like it. :)

    It’s nice to know that you also love dystopian. <3 :D And thanks for the recs! Gonna check them out.

    • Hi Karina!

      You’re welcome! I completely agree with your statement that dystopia keeps you ‘awake’. That’s why I love dystopia!

      Ooh, thank you so much for the recommendation! I’ll add it to my tbr and marked that you recommended it to me – thank you!

  14. I have read every book in this list except V for Vendetta. I’m so proud of myself!
    These are excellent introductory choices to dystopian fiction and books all readers should read in general because you will learn so much and come out a changed person. I read most of these books as a teenager and during my college years, but I haven’t explored much dystopian literature since. I need to change that!

    • Hi Naz!

      YAY GO YOU. V for Vendetta is… interesting. I liked it a lot.

      I agree completely! I regard dystopia as more than just a genre – like required reading? I don’t know, maybe because of my degree, I think it’s important to read dystopia to learn more about the society around us as well as become more aware of our own consciousness.

      But, me too. I’ve been lacking in the dystopia department. I’m going to change it too. :)

  15. These are such fabulous recommendations! I loved how dystopians explored human nature and the stark contrast of wholly different societies. Sadly a lot of them divulged into a teen romance. I’ve only read 1984 which was creepy but memorable, and have Never Let me go on my TBR.

    • Hi Jeann!
      Thank you! Agreed, and that’s my grievance with most YA dystopia (with some exceptions).
      Ooh Never Let Me Go is so good! I really recommend it. :D I’d love to talk to you about it, but it’s one of those spoiler-ridden sort of books, especially if you discuss its theme. X_X

  16. *Such* a brilliant list. All these books have stayed with me for years. 1984 was also my first big dystopian read and I remember how it helped me start to ask difficult questions and think critically. Great post!

    • Hi Margot!
      Thank you so much! 1984 was my first too, and it has still stuck with me. I read it at the time when I was really getting into my Sociology study, which complemented it quite well in hindsight. (Though, at the time I felt super overwhelmed and depressed, but I’m calling it character growth!)

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