Science Fiction/Fantasy

Dystopian Literature You Need to Survive the End of the World

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Mya Nunnally

Staff Writer

Having loved books since the age of four, Mya is a writer and poet who looks to explore the complexities of life through language. They attend Barnard College of Columbia University with their kitten, Ramen. Their reviews of independent literature can be found at Foreword Reviews. When they aren't writing or reading, they're playing video games with strong female characters. Twitter: @literallymya Blog:

Well, we’ve all seen the president’s not-so-stable tweets about nuclear war. We’ve seen the rising tides of global warming and the increase of poverty despite abundance of resources. Heck, we might have even seen the aliens. You might be thinking: if only I could prepare myself for the inevitable onslaught of terror brought on by an unstable society. Well, you’re in luck! With these titles in dystopian literature, you’ll be sure to (maybe) survive the last decades of civilization as it crumbles. Cheers!

Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

Reason for apocalypse: In an alternate universe, Nazis win World War II and take over the United States.

Why this book is great: In our universe, we need to constantly be reminded that the fires of fascism should be put out at all costs.

dystopian literatureParable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

Reason for apocalypse: Environmental and economic collapse leads to society’s downfall.

Why this book is great: Octavia Butler is a science fiction queen and everything she wrote is phenomenal.

The Children of Men by P.D. James

Reason for apocalypse: Mass infertility hits the human race hard and society crumbles in response.

Why this book is great: Inspired one of the best movies ever made, Children of Men, directed by Alfonso Cuarón.

dystopian literatureBattle Royale by Koushun Takami

Reason for apocalypse: Fascism from the Japanese government prompts them to…make a televised event in which teenagers kill each other?

Why this book is great: Gratuitous violence and gore, if you’re into that sort of thing.

House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

Reason for apocalypse: Drug trade and nationalism gone wild. In a country aptly called Opium which separates Mexico and the United States, people are cloned in order to give their organs to their original.

Why this book is great: The character of Matteo is one of the best in young adult literature in recent decades. In addition, allows young adults an outlet to view illegal immigration through a speculative lens.

dystopian literatureOryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Reason for apocalypse: Multinational corporations and the want to genetically engineer everything in nature.

Why this book is great: Margaret Atwood is the master of the poignant apocalypse novel. See The Handmaid’s Tale. She blends intriguing characters with masterful plot twists and raises interesting philosophical questions in much of her work.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Reason for apocalypse: Unspecified cataclysm that leads to the destruction of most of civilization and the rise of violence, starvation, and cannibalism.

Why this book is great: Cormac McCarthy takes his literary prowess to genre writing and explores the relationship between father and son as it’s pushed to the limits.

dystopian literatureThe Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

Reason for apocalypse: Global warming, corporate greed, and extreme biotech.

Why this book is great: Bacigalupi explores the depths of humanity’s vices in a future Earth’s 23rd century. He does this very, very well. In addition, this is one of the staples of the biopunk genre.

 uglies by scott westerfield

Reason for apocalypse: We’re obsessed with our looks and with technology. Combine those vices and we force plastic surgery onto teenagers so they can look perfect and beautiful. Of course there are intense disparities between the “pretties” and the “uglies,” otherwise it wouldn’t be dystopian literature.

Why this book is great: Prompts the age old philosophical questions about what beauty truly consists of. Is it outside, inside, or some combination of the two?

dystopian literatureThe Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Reason for apocalypse: Alien war leads to the death of all the women on Earth. Oh, and also everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts now, all the time. Yikes.

Why this book is great: That title! But also, fantastic characterization and a coming-of-age story unlike any other.

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Reason for apocalypse: Colonization of the stars and humans bred for specific work. These humans are ranked by color, leading to extreme inequality between them.

Why this book is great: A flawless entry in dystopian literature. Like Hunger Games but much more intense and gruesome. (And better, in my opinion. Don’t shoot!)

dystopian literatureWho Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Reason for apocalypse: Unnamed global events lead to a post-apocalyptic Sudan where the light-skinned Nurus terrorize the dark-skinned Okeke.

Why this book is great: A truly unique work of speculative fiction. Okorafor breaches some of the most intense topics in our current day through the eyes of Onyesonwu, a brave, powerful female character. Warning: this book is not for the faint of heart.

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

Reason for apocalypse: The moon breaks apart into little pieces that will soon fall down to earth and kill us all.

Why this book is great: The amount of research, detail, and just substance present in this work is mindblowing. And terrifying. It’ll be sure to have you looking at the moon with a paranoid eye every now and again.

dystopian literatureNever Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Reason for apocalypse: We breed clones in order for them to “donate” their organs to us when they’re old enough.

Why this book is great: The relationship between the three main characters of Never Let Me Go, and in turn their relationship with the world, is something seen more often in literary fiction than dystopian literature, yet it excels here. Plus, Ishiguro recently won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Infomacracy by Malka Older

Reason for apocalypse: Technology overload and the development of micronations lead to an unstable global political system.

Why this book is great: Raises fantastic questions about politics and the role of technology in our daily lives.

dystopian literatureThe Fireman by Joe Hill

Reason for apocalypse: The spreading of a disease that will cause you to spontaneously combust. There is no cure.

Why this book is great: Joe Hill (son of Stephen King) writes such a captivating story in such a hopeless world. I might dare to say this is better than much of his father’s work.

Pines by Blake Crouch

Reason for apocalypse: I can’t tell you without giving it away! But trust me, it’s good.

Why this book is great: The plot twist of all plot twists, and amazing writing by Blake Crouch.

dystopian literatureThe Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

Reason for apocalypse: Not explicit but some sort of global catastrophe that leads to the instability of the Earth. Certain people develop the ability to control the Earth (to a degree) and these people are ostracized and hunted down or trained to be soldiers.

Why this book is great: Besides Jemisin’s wonderful writing, the diversity across the board is phenomenal. Racial, sexual, and gendered representation abound. Especially in dystopian literature, this can be hard to come by.

Underground airlines by ben winters

Reason for apocalypse: Slavery is still a thing! Talk about dystopia.

Why this book is great: Winters is a white author who does a fantastic job writing black characters in a racially charged novel. The beautiful prose tells a gripping story every step of the way.

dystopian literatureZone One by Colson Whitehead

Reason for apocalypse: Finally, zombies!

Why this book is great: Whitehead brings a literary lens to a worn-out trope. In this novel, he mixes the genres expertly. He weaves dystopian literature with contemporary fiction in order to make a stunning work.