Dystopian fiction can be a lot of things, but the basics are: it's the future, and it's bleak. It's often pretty grim, but it can also be exciting and thought-provoking. Here are some great examples.
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Insomnia has claimed everyone Biggs knows. Even his beloved wife, Carolyn, has succumbed to the telltale red-rimmed eyes, slurred speech and cloudy mind before disappearing into the quickly collapsing world. Yet Biggs can still sleep, and dream, so he sets out to find her. Available to download: eBook
Five prominent biophysicists have warned the United States government that sterilization procedures for returning space probes may be inadequate to guarantee uncontaminated re-entry to the atmosphere. Two years later, a probe satellite falls to the earth and lands in a desolate region of northeastern Arizona. Nearby, in the town of Piedmont, bodies lie heaped and flung across the ground, faces locked in frozen surprise. What could cause such shock and fear? The terror has begun, and there is no telling where it will end. Available to download: eBook
When she fell asleep, the world was doomed. When she awoke, it was dead. In the wake of a fever that decimated the earth's population--killing women and children and making childbirth deadly for the mother and infant--the midwife must pick her way through the bones of the world she once knew to find her place in this dangerous new one. Gone are the pillars of civilization. All that remains is power--and the strong who possess it.
In the wake of a highly contagious virus, California is under quarantine. Sequestered in high rise towers, the living can't go out, but the dead can come in--and they come in all forms, from sad rolling cans to manufactured bodies that can pass for human. Wealthy participants in the "companionship" program choose to upload their consciousness before dying, so they can stay in the custody of their families. The less fortunate are rented out to strangers upon their death, but all companions become the intellectual property of Metis Corporation, creating a new class of people--a command-driven product-class without legal rights or true free will.
In an unspecified future, the United States' borders have receded behind a salt line - a ring of scorched earth that protects its citizens from deadly disease-carrying ticks. Those within the zone live safe lives in a society controlled by a common fear. Few have any reason to venture out of zone, except for the adrenaline junkies who pay a fortune to tour what's left of nature. Once out of zone, this group finds itself at the mercy of deadly ticks - and at the centre of a murderous plot. How far are they willing to go to get to the right side of the salt line?
A survivor of an apocalyptic plague maintains a blog about a decimated Manhattan before joining a motley group of survivors to search for a place to rebuild, a goal that is complicated by an unscrupulous group leader. Available to download: eBook
In this National Book Award-nominated novel, a rag-tag group of traveling Shakespearean actors struggle to survive in a landscape that has been decimated by a global pandemic that wipes out 99% of the population. In flashbacks, members of the group recall their lives during the pandemic and what it took for them to survive, with some surprising connections. Available to download: eBook Audio
A global pandemic makes public gatherings illegal and concerts impossible, except for those willing to break the law for the love of music--and for one chance at human connection. Available to download: eBook
In an alternate history world in which the population of Europe is almost completely wiped out by the Black Death during the fourteenth century, three superpowers--China, India, and the nations of Islam--battle for supremacy in a World War destined to create a new world order. Available to download: Audio
Portuguese novelist José Saramago's spellbinding tale begins when an unnamed man, in an unnamed city is suddenly struck blind. In the days that follow, everyone he comes in contact with, in turn comes down with the mysterious condition. As the blindness spreads to epidemic proportions, the government responds by isolating the infected in an abandoned mental hospital where social conditions quickly deteriorate. Available to download: Audio
Hazel Hayes is a grad student living in New York City. As the novel opens, she learns she is pregnant (from an affair with her married professor) at an apocalyptically bad time: random but deadly attacks on passersby, all by blonde women, are terrorizing New Yorkers. Soon it becomes clear that the attacks are symptoms of a strange illness that is transforming blondes--whether CEOs, flight attendants, students, or accountants--into rabid killers. Available to download: eBook
It’s the End of the World: Government Gone Wild, Genetic Engineering, and More Messed-Up Societies
An ancient society of witches and a hipster technological startup go to war in order to prevent the world from tearing itself apart. To further complicate things, each of the groups' most promising followers (Patricia, a brilliant witch and Laurence, an engineering "wunderkind") may just be in love with each other. As the battle between magic and science wages in San Francisco against the backdrop of international chaos, Laurence and Patricia are forced to choose sides. But their choices will determine the fate of the planet and all mankind. Available to download: eBook
A tale set in a bleak future society torn by class divisions follows the experiences of secret revolutionary Darrow, who after witnessing his wife's execution by an oppressive government joins a revolutionary cell and attempts to infiltrate an elite military academy. Available to download: eBook Audio
On the day the government decrees that women are no longer allowed more than one hundred words per day, Dr. Jean McClellan is in denial. This can't happen here. Not in America. Not to her. This is just the beginning. Soon women are not permitted to hold jobs. Girls are not taught to read or write. Females no longer have a voice. Before, the average person spoke sixteen thousand words each day, but now women have only one hundred to make themselves heard. For herself, her daughter, and every woman silenced, Jean will reclaim her voice. Available to download: eBook Audio
Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, that Louisiana is half underwater, and that unmanned drones fill the sky. When her father is killed and her family is forced into Camp Patience for displaced persons, she begins to grow up shaped by her particular time and place. But not everyone at Camp Patience is who they claim to be. Eventually Sarat is befriended by a mysterious functionary, under whose influence she is turned into a deadly instrument of war. The decisions that she makes will have tremendous consequences not just for Sarat but for her family and her country, rippling through generations of strangers and kin alike.
In the world of Gnomon, citizens are constantly observed and democracy has reached a pinnacle of 'transparency.' Every action is seen, every word is recorded, and the System has access to its citizens' thoughts and memories--all in the name of providing the safest society in history. When suspected dissident Diana Hunter dies in government custody during a routine interrogation, Mielikki Neith, a trusted state inspector, is assigned to the case. As Neith becomes immersed in the investigation, she begins to catch glimpses of the real Diana Hunter--and, alarmingly, of herself, the staggering consequences of which will reverberate throughout the world. Available to download: eBook
This is the way the world ends...for the last time. It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world's sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun. It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter. It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester. This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy. Available to download: eBook Audio
China's one-child policy and its cultural preference for male heirs have created a society overrun by forty million unmarriageable men. By the year 2030, more than 25 percent of men in their late thirties will not have a family of their own. An Excess Male is the story of one such leftover man's quest for love and family under a State that seeks to glorify its past mistakes and impose order through authoritarian measures, reinvigorated communist ideals, and social engineering. Available to download: eBook
In a future, long-declining America, society is strictly stratified by class. Long-abandoned urban neighborhoods have been repurposed as highwalled, self-contained labor colonies. And the members of the labor class—descendants of those brought over en masse many years earlier from environmentally ruined provincial China—find purpose and identity in their work to provide pristine produce and fish to the small, elite, satellite charter villages that ring the labor settlement. In this world lives Fan, a female fish-tank diver, who leaves her home in the B-Mor settlement (once known as Baltimore), when the man she loves mysteriously disappears. Fan’s journey to find him takes her out of the safety of B-Mor, through the anarchic Open Counties, where crime is rampant with scant governmental oversight, and to a faraway charter village, in a quest that will soon become legend to those she left behind. Available to download: eBook
Once upon a time, damaged women came here to be cured. We took them in, fed them glasses of our clean, good water, let them scream at the waves till their lips split like ripe fruit. Now no one is left but my sisters and me. King died a year ago, quite suddenly. Mother has vanished, no one knows where. And the safe compound they built around us, far away from the toxic world, has finally been breached. Available to download: eBook Audio
It's been twenty years and two election cycles since Information, a powerful search engine monopoly, pioneered the switch from warring nation-states to global micro-democracy. The corporate coalition party Heritage has won the last two elections. With another election on the horizon, the Supermajority is in tight contention, and everything's on the line.
For the filming of a new reality TV show, 12 contestants of different backgrounds and varying talent are pitted against one another in a remote New England forest to determine who has the best survival skills. Separately, we come to know one of those contestants intimately as she sets out alone, a few weeks into the future, to complete her solo challenge. But as her emotional and physical reserves dwindle, she comes to see that the real world might have been altered in terrifying ways while they've been away--and her ability to parse the charade will either be her triumph or her undoing. Available to download: eBook
In the near future, America is crushed by a financial crisis and our patient Chinese creditors may just be ready to foreclose on the whole mess. Then Lenny Abramov, son of a Russian immigrant janitor and ardent fan of 'printed, bound media artifacts' (aka books), meets Eunice Park, an impossibly cute Korean American woman with a minor in Assertiveness. Could falling in love redeem a planet falling apart? Available to download: eBook
In this story of a ruined, nameless city of the future, the humans are Rachel and Wick -- a scavenger and a drug dealer -- both with too many secrets and fears, ready with traps to be set and sprung. The creatures are Mord and Borne -- animal, perhaps plant, maybe company discard, biotech, cruel experiment, dinner, deity, or source of spare parts. One day, Rachel finds Borne during a scavenging mission and takes him home, and nothing may ever be the same. Available to download: eBook
In this ferociously imaginative novel, abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers alongside age-old questions surrounding motherhood, identity, and freedom. Available to download: eBook
After the Apocalypse: Climate Change, Nuclear Fallout, and More Ways the World (Almost) Ends
With the American Southwest decimated by drought, three women find themselves pawns in a game far bigger, more corrupt, and dirtier than any of them could have imagined. Their only hope for survival rests in one another's hands. But when water is more valuable than gold, alliances shift like sand. Available to download: eBook
In a ruined and toxic landscape, a community exists in a giant silo underground, hundreds of stories deep. In a society full of regulations meant to protect the community, Sheriff Holston, unexpectedly breaks the greatest taboo of all: he asks to go outside. An unlikely candidate is appointed to replace him: Juliette, a mechanic with no training in law, whose special knack is fixing machines. Now Juliette is about to be entrusted with fixing her silo, and she will soon learn just how badly her world is broken.... Available to download: eBook
The world Cal and Frida have always known is gone, and they've left the crumbling city of Los Angeles far behind them. They now live in a shack in the wilderness, working side-by-side to make their days tolerable in the face of hardship and isolation. Mourning a past they can't reclaim, they seek solace in each other. But the tentative existence they've built for themselves is thrown into doubt when Frida finds out she's pregnant. Available to download: eBook Audio
Born into post-apocalyptic Africa to a mother who was raped after the slaughter of her entire tribe, Onyesonwu is tutored by a shaman and discovers that her magical destiny is to end the genocide of her people. Available to download: eBook
In the post-apocalypse, folks getting by in the Sanctuary (the remains of St. Louis) are surprised when a woman rushes in to report that in the West, civilization flourishes and crops grow. Unfortunately, there's also an army on the march that enslaves everyone it encounters. Available to download: Audio
On a seemingly ordinary Saturday in a California suburb, Julia and her family awake to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. The days and nights grow longer and longer, gravity is affected, the environment is thrown into disarray, and the slowing inexorably continues. Available to download: eBook Audio
Drought has transfigured Southern California into a surreal, phantasmagoric landscape. Most of the Southwest has been evacuated. Luz and Ray are holdouts, squatting in a starlet's abandoned mansion and subsisting on rationed cola and whatever they can loot, scavenge, and improvise, their love somehow blooming in this arid place. But when they cross paths with a mysterious child, the thirst for a better future begins. Available to download: eBook Audio
In a post-apocalyptic world decimated by zombies, the U.S. government has retreated to Buffalo, New York, and survivor efforts to rebuild are focused on lower Manhattan. With several others, Mark Spitz works as a "sweeper" -- eliminating zombie stragglers as he struggles with PASD (Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder) and recalls humanity before the apocalypse. Available to download: eBook Audio
In the near future, world wars have transformed the earth into a battleground. Out of the ranks of the endless wars rises Jean de Men, a charismatic and bloodthirsty cult leader. A group of rebels unite to dismantle his iron rule--galvanized by the heroic song of Joan, a child-warrior who possesses a mysterious force that lives within her and communes with the earth.
Dystopian, Apocalyptic, and Post-Apocalyptic Classics
This is the story of Offred, one of the unfortunate "Handmaids" under the new social order who have only one purpose: to breed. In Gilead, where women are prohibited from holding jobs, reading, and forming friendships, Offred's persistent memories of life in the "time before" and her will to survive are acts of rebellion. Available to download: eBook
First published in 1962, J.G. Ballard's mesmerizing and ferociously imaginative novel not only gained him widespread critical acclaim but also established his reputation as one of the finest writers of a generation. The Drowned World imagines a terrifying world in which global warming has melted the ice caps and primordial jungles have overrun a tropical London. Set during the year 2145, this novel follows biologist Dr. Robert Kearns and his team of scientists as they confront a cityscape in which nature is on the rampage and giant lizards, dragonflies, and insects fiercely compete for domination.
In a society in which books are outlawed, Montag, a regimented fireman in charge of burning the forbidden volumes, meets a revolutionary school teacher who dares to read. Suddenly he finds himself a hunted fugitive, forced to choose not only between two women, but between personal safety and intellectual freedom. Available to download: eBook Audio
Told through a central character, Alex, the disturbing novel creates an alarming futuristic vision of violence, high technology, and authoritarianism. A modern classic of youthful violence and social redemption set in a dismal dystopia whereby a juvenile delinquent undergoes state-sponsored psychological rehabilitation for his aberrant behavior. Available to download: eBook Audio
In 2025 California, an eighteen-year-old African American woman, suffering from a hereditary trait that causes her to feel others' pain as well as her own, flees northward from her small community and its desperate savages. Available to download: eBook
By 2021, the World War has killed millions, driving entire species into extinction and sending mankind off-planet. Those who remain covet any living creature, and for people who can't afford one, companies built incredibly realistic simulacra: horses, birds, cats, sheep. They've even built humans. Immigrants to Mars receive androids so sophisticated they are indistinguishable from true men or women. Fearful of the havoc these artificial humans can wreak, the government bans them from Earth. Driven into hiding, unauthorized androids live among human beings, undetected. Rick Deckard, an officially sanctioned bounty hunter, is commissioned to find rogue androids and "retire" them. But when cornered, androids fight back--with lethal force. Available to download: eBook
Aldous Huxley's profoundly important classic of world literature, Brave New World is a searching vision of an unequal, technologically-advanced future where humans are genetically bred, socially indoctrinated, and pharmaceutically anesthetized to passively uphold an authoritarian ruling order whose motto is "Community, Identity, Stability."--all at the cost of our freedom, humanity, and perhaps our souls. Available to download: eBook Audio
The human race has become infertile, and the last generation to be born is now adult. Civilization itself is crumbling as suicide and despair become commonplace. Oxford historian Theodore Faron, apathetic toward a future without a future, spends most of his time reminiscing. Then he is approached by Julian, a bright, attractive woman who wants him to help get her an audience with his cousin, the powerful Warden of England. She and her band of unlikely revolutionaries may just awaken his desire to live . . . and they may also hold the key to survival for the human race. Available to download: eBook Audio
This is the way the world ends: with a nanosecond of computer error in a Defense Department laboratory and a million casual contacts that form the links in a chain letter of death. And here is the bleak new world of the day after: a world stripped of its institutions and emptied of 99 percent of its people. A world in which a handful of panicky survivors choose sides -- or are chosen. A world in which good rides on the frail shoulders of the 108-year-old Mother Abagail -- and the worst nightmares of evil are embodied in a man with a lethal smile and unspeakable powers: Randall Flagg, the dark man. Available to download: eBook Audio
In a future world racked by violence and environmental catastrophes, George Orr wakes up one day to discover that his dreams have the ability to alter reality. He seeks help from Dr. William Haber, a psychiatrist who immediately grasps the power George wields. Soon George must preserve reality itself as Dr. Haber becomes adept at manipulating George's dreams for his own purposes. The Lathe of Heaven is an eerily prescient novel from award-winning author Ursula K. Le Guin that masterfully addresses the dangers of power and humanity's self-destructiveness, questioning the nature of reality itself. Available to download: eBook
A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don't know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food--and each other. Available to download: eBook Audio
In a nightmarish ruined world slowly awakening to the light after sleeping in darkness, the infant rediscoveries of science are secretly nourished by cloistered monks dedicated to the study and preservation of the relics and writings of the blessed Saint Isaac Leibowitz. From here the story spans centuries of ignorance, violence, and barbarism, viewing through a sharp, satirical eye the relentless progression of a human race damned by its inherent humanness to recelebrate its grand foibles and repeat its grievous mistakes. Seriously funny, stunning, and tragic, eternally fresh, imaginative, and altogether remarkable, A Canticle for Leibowitz retains its ability to enthrall and amaze. It is now, as it always has been, a masterpiece. Available to download: eBook
Winston Smith toes the Party line, rewriting history to satisfy the demands of the Ministry of Truth. With each lie he writes, Winston grows to hate the Party that seeks power for its own sake and persecutes those who dare to commit thoughtcrimes. But as he starts to think for himself, Winston can't escape the fact that Big Brother is always watching... A startling and haunting novel, 1984 creates an imaginary world that is completely convincing from start to finish. No one can deny the novel's hold on the imaginations of whole generations, or the power of its admonitions--a power that seems to grow, not lessen, with the passage of time. Available to download: eBook Audio
First arriving on the scene in 1992 to critical acclaim, this definitive novel of the information age weaves virtual reality, Sumerian myth, and just about everything in between. Available to download: eBook
Cat's Cradle is Kurt Vonnegut's satirical commentary on modern man and his madness. An apocalyptic tale of this planet's ultimate fate, it features a midget as the protagonist, a complete, original theology created by a calypso singer, and a vision of the future that is at once blackly fatalistic and hilariously funny. Available to download: eBook Audio