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A Must-Read Dystopian Books Checklist for 2016

9th November, 2016

Must-Read Dystopian Books for 2016

This year was a happening one with regard to world politics. Though the main focus has been on US elections and Brexit, tumultuous ripples have been appearing in many other countries such as India and Philippines, to name a few. There is a fog of fear that has enveloped the world in 2016, and somehow it doesn’t seem to be clearing. Neither is the fear that has erupted inconsequential.

Maybe we need books to escape from the reality that is around us. Or maybe not. Maybe we need them to open our eyes. Maybe we need them to look around, think and examine what the future holds. Here are a few dystopian novels, some of which seem which seem scary enough to be a distant actuality. This list of books might hurt, but truth hurts!

Some of these books may fit in more than one genre. All books are linked to their GoodReads pages for further reading.

1984 by George Orwell

1. 1984 by George Orwell

1984 is synonymous with tyrannical governments and fascism. We owe phrases like ‘1984 era’, ‘Big Brother’ and ‘Big Brother is watching’ to George Orwell. The book has a theme of oppressive surveillance and how fear is used to manipulate the people by manipulating the truth and curbing freedom of press. Reality is fast approaching this dystopian world.

What is even more scary? The present day intrusion into the private lives of the general public goes unheeded and are accepted as a part of life.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

2. FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury

Guy Montag is a fireman whose duty is to burn the books that are forbidden. It is a brilliant take on how to make the public capitulate to an oppressive reign. Those who conform to the ‘norms’ set by the oppressors are rewarded. Guy transforms from soldier of the state to an independent free thinker, co-existing with ex-book lovers, which puts his life in danger.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

3. THE HANDMAID’S TALE by Margaret Atwood

This story is frightening because of how realistic the evolution of the nation of Gilead is. Offred is a maid during a time when the number of fertile women in the world is dwindling. From a normal life as a working woman with a happy family, she is thrown into a world where women can’t read, wear make up or have bank accounts. What’s more – every month she waits and prays that the Commandt makes her pregnant so that she can bear a baby for the him and his wife. Also shown is the stark contrast between women in different social circles (eg : the Commandt’s wife and Offred)


The Iron Heel by Jack London

4. THE IRON HEEL by Jack London

This book chronicles the rise of an oligarchy of robber barons in America who force the middle classes under its thumb. The oligarchs gain hold of the economic and political mantle of the country. Revolution breaks out and the Oligarchs resolve to crush the resistance under their ‘Iron Heel’.

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

5. THE CHRYSALIDS by John Wyndham

In this post-apocalypse world a holocaust has caused wide spread mutations among all life forms, and mutations of any kind are regarded as blasphemies – which means an extra toe implies that you are not in “the true image of God and hateful in the sight of God” and it can cause you to be executed.  The story talks of mental mutations as well, like telepathy, which isn’t physically visible but seen as a threat. The book is metaphorical about the plight of minorities.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

6. BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley

A dystopian world where identical human embryos are produced. During the gestation period the embryos travel in bottles along a conveyor belt through a factory like building, and are conditioned to belong to one of five castes: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, or Epsilon. The Alpha embryos are destined to become the leaders and thinkers of the World State. Each of the succeeding castes is conditioned to be slightly less physically and intellectually impressive. The Epsilons, stunted and stupefied by oxygen deprivation and chemical treatments, are destined to perform menial labor. A chilling read where ‘divide and rule’ policy survives.

The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz

7. THE QUEUE by Basma Abdel Aziz

Set in modern day Egypt, a centralized authority known as ‘the Gate’ is in power. Citizens are required to obtain permission from the Gate in order to take care of even the most basic of their daily affairs. The book is a mockery of the health care services that are promised by different countries. It gives a glimpse of a totalitarian regime that manipulates its citizens, yet doesn’t provide supporters with what they truly deserve. The Queue pricks you with a choice between duty and moral conscience.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

8. THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins

The nation of  Panem is a country that consists of a wealthy Capitol region surrounded by 12 poorer districts. As a reminder of the power exercised by the Capitol, each district must yield two candidates to participate in the games. The ‘tributes’ are chosen during the annual Reaping and are forced to fight to the death, leaving only one survivor to claim victory. You can take the easy way out and watch the movies, which are eerily fear-inducing.

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

9. BATTLE ROYALE by Koushun Takami

This book, translated by Yuji Oniki, has been compared with The Hunger Games for similarities in plot. A class of junior high school students is taken to a deserted island where, as part of a ruthless authoritarian program. They are provided arms and forced to kill one another until only one survivor is left standing, Placing junior high students in a do or die situation, the reader gets an emotional look at betrayal, loyalty, and desperation for survival.

The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus

10. THE FLAME ALPHABET by Ben Marcus

In this book, an epidemic has struck the Jewish communities. The voice of children is lethal, so many abandon their loved ones and seek shelter. The book is symbolic of a rebellion against language and shunning of the voiceless. The Flame Alphabet makes the reader ponder what is left of civilization when we lose the ability to communicate with those we love and how toxic language really is?

Well, these are just books that were born in the minds of writers with an imagination. It is our duty that they remain ‘just stories’ and not a reality that the future generations have to live with. It is in our power to sculpt a beautiful world. And it will be possible, as long as we have hope.

On an end note, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s quote seems apt :

We must accept finite disappointment but must never lose infinite hope

Let's discuss

Have you read any of these? Feel free to add more to the list.

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This Post Has 51 Comments
  1. I love the idea of these as Must Reads for 2016. It’s important to keep in mind how easily things can change. It’s that old adage where people look the other way by saying, “Oh, that can’t happen here.” We need to consider the consequences of our actions. Plus– these are some great books. 🙂 Great list!

  2. Excellent selection. I’d also add Kafka’s The Castle, which was not exactly intended perhaps as a dystopian novel, but certainly ticks all the boxes of strangeness. To a certain extent, The Plague by Camus can also be interpreted as that kind of novel.

  3. This is a great list. I’ve only read a couple of them – 1984, Hunger Games, and Fahrenheit- but it’s been a while! The Handmaid’s Tale sounds really interesting and I’ll be adding it to my TBR. Thanks for the recommendations!

  4. Thank you for this great selection, especially on a day like this… I’m always shocked to know how early 1984 was written, it’s crazy how relatable it feels, every single year and with everything happening… These kind of books really seem close to the truth at times.

    1. Thank you! Though I am not from the US, I am shocked at the turn of events. It is definitely scary when such a large number of people feel some who have always stayed in the country are unwanted. I will look into We by Yevgeny too.

  5. A very relevant list considering what happened here in the U.S. this week. I agree with all of your selections too and your words about reading them to make people open their eyes. Great post.

  6. What a great post! I wish I could think of another suggestion for you, but right now I’m coming up blank. There are several on here I would like to read, though!

  7. This is a wonderfully timed list full of excellent choices! The Queue and The Flame Alphabet are both new to me and they sound incredibly interesting. I’d also like to check out Battle Royale sometime as well. 🙂 Great list!

    1. I think post-holocaust books like The Chrysalids and The Road are in a slightly different category. Even so, I’d nominate M.K. Wren’s A Gift Upon the Shore as probably my favorite post-holocaust novel.

  8. These feature some of my favourites, and I hope none of them ever come true, especially Battle Royale or Hunger Games. Sigh. Have to get my hands on the Queue ASAP. It sounds magnificent.

  9. Quite a thorough list. (Only read 3 out of ten). Book reading is definitely an escape route, but I try to avoid fiction that is too close to current reality. (I have had Submission by Houellebecque on my reading table for almost a year now, and can’t myself to open it.)
    Have a lovely week-end, dystopia notwithstanding.

    1. Thank you! I agree. Reading these will make you even more scared of the present world. We are living in a dystopian world. Just that things aren’t happening as fast in the books to make us really scared (and I hope they never would).

  10. I’ve only read The Hunger Games out of this (afkdsla I love that book and it got me addicted to YA. <3) but I really want to try The Battle Royale and The Handmaiden's Tale and Ray Bradbury's book too. *nods* ON MY ENDLESS TO DO LIST. The world seems to be very intent on setting itself on fire right now. So disappointing and saddening.

  11. I’ve read a few of these as a massive dystopian reader but 1984 was a book so ahead of it’s time. He was onto something and his vision of what was a previously dystopian big brother type society is terrifying and pretty much on the mark. Another book I enjoyed was The Giver, although I enjoyed the movie adaptation more so because it delves into details that were missed. I think my favourite will always be Ready Player One. How although our worlds crumble and die around us, we escape online to live a life within the confines of our screens. It’s very eighties nostalgic too and one I recommend that everyone read, rather than just eighties children and gaming nerds. Wonderful post and going to check a few of these out <3

    1. I have heard so many good things about ready Player One. I must read it soon. I thought of including it in this list as well. Then, I wasn’t really sure about it. Thank you for recommending both the books. I will check them out.

      I totally agree that 1984 is so way ahead of its time. 😛

  12. What a perfect and timely list.
    I’ve read half of these but The Queue and The Flame Alphabet are new to me. Love the sound of both of them and will consider them when I’m in the mood for dystopian Lit. Thanks for the recommendations.

  13. I recently read The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster and was blown away by how relevant it is to today. It’s basically about how the world is after we become reliant on technology, from how we interact and how we sustain ourselves physically and mentally. The crazy thing is that it was written almost 100 years ago! It’s a really interesting short read, if you’re in the mood for another one.

  14. A great list I know most of them but not -The Queue and The Flame Alphabet , both of which sound interesting. I also have The Machine Stops downloaded and waiting to be read, Fiction Fan pushed that one to my attention.

    And the Martin Luther King quote is one to hug close and repeat firmly and often, I think|, these days

    1. I am glad you have read many of the books in the list. I have not read Queue either and I found the concept fascinating and relevant. I agree about the Martin Luther quote. It seems so in sync with the present

  15. Glad you have Battle Royale on there! I got an early translation of it many years ago and it blew me away (a long time before The Hunger Games appeared – though I also did enjoy the latter series). So technically “This book, translated by Yuji Oniki, has been compared with The Hunger Games for similarities in plot” isn’t quite true, since it came first – it’s actually Hunger Games that has been compared to Battle Royale.

    I don’t think anyone mentioned this: Z For Zachariah by Robert O’Brien

    I loved it, and since it’s from a very independent girl’s point of view (ahead of its time when it was written in 1974!) I’m surprised more women haven’t heard of it. It’s an excellently written story, kept simple so the focus is clear. It’s about humans destroying the world; survival; holding on to values; hope; and the misuse of power.

    Great list though. Only three of them were new to me.

    1. Thank you so much for adding to the list. I have not heard of the book mentioned, Z for Zachariah. I will definitely check it out. And how nice that you have read a majority of the books in this list. I agree the comparison between Hunger Games and Battle Royale didn’t quite point out the meaning I intended to convey.

  16. I entered my Dystopian novels phase this year, starting with The Handmaid’s Tale. I’m yet to read the others. I think my next one would be either 1984 or Animal Farm.

    However, The Handmaid’s Tale left me in a very peculiar mood. Also, I couldn’t pick my next read for about a week or so. Did that happen to you too?

    – Gurveen

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