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Dystopias in Fiction


A Clockwork OrangeA Clockwork Orange"War is Peace." "Freedom is Slavery." "Ignorance is Strength." These tenets of doublethink are from George Orwell's classic dystopian novel 1984. It's Dystopia Week at, which provides an excellent incentive to look at one of my favorite genres, or subgenres: Dystopian Fiction!

From failed attempts at perfect societies to aftermaths of natural and unnatural disasters, dystopian fiction has a long tradition of examining human dysfunction, as well as the resilience of individualism. "Dystopia" comes from the Greek for "bad place," and how this is used in literature is not a hard and fast rule. In a blog post, John Joseph Adams describes the genre as: "... an unfavorable society in which to live. 'Dystopia' is not a synonym for 'post-apocalyptic'; it also is not a synonym for a bleak, or darkly imagined future. In a dystopian story, society itself is typically the antagonist; it is society that is actively working against the protagonist’s aims and desires." He argues that the term is subjective, that one person's dystopia might be another's utopia, but for me, if things are bleak in a fictional society, no matter what the cause, the story qualifies as a dystopia.

In compiling this list, I looked at a number of "best dystopian literature" lists. Some books, such as 1984, were on all the lists I reviewed, while there is much disagreement over others. Some books, such as Cormac McCarthy's The Road (BR 17072, DB 63649-download only, RC 63649, NYPL) could be considered dystopias, but they could also be considered post-apocolyptic novels only. There's also disagreement over whether or not they are a subgenre of science fiction, an issue science fiction author Jo Walton discusses in an article on the site. Whatever side you take in the debates, you're sure to find something worth reading from the sample titles that follow.

As always, I've limited the list to books available in either braille or special format audio books from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. (BR = braille, DB = digital book, RC = recorded cassette). NYPL indicates links to large print or standard print editions found in New York Public Library branches.

  • Armageddon's Children by Terry Brooks, DB 63948 (download only), RC 63948 [NYPL]
  • Anthem by Ayn Rand, RC 18854 (contact the library to request) [NYPL]
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, BR 11922, RC 47108 (contact the library to request) [NYPL]
  • The Children of Men by P.D. James, DB 35885 (download only), RC 35885 (contact the library to request) [NYPL]
  • A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, BR 18284, DB 15213 (download only), RC 15213 (contact the library to request) [NYPL]
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, BR 15332, DB 34963 (download only), RC 34963 (contact the library to request) [NYPL]
  • The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, BR 11911, RC 24695 (contact the library to request) [NYPL]
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding, DB 48388 (download only), RC 48388 (contact the library to request) [NYPL]
  • Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison, DB 68208, RC 68208 [NYPL]
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, DB 59667 (download only), RC 59667 [NYPL]
  • 1984 by George Orwell, BR 10312, RC 34268 (contact the library to request) [NYPL]

Dystopias are also popular in Young Adult fiction. Although written for teens, many are worth reading even if your teen years are behind you. I've just finished reading the first book in Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy and have started on the second and I think the series can hold its own against any adult novel. With the movie currently being filmed, this is the time to read it.


Patron-generated content represents the views and interpretations of the patron, not necessarily those of The New York Public Library. For more information see NYPL's Website Terms and Conditions.


They do it today. Plus thought detection. I strongly suspect that Sol System's second planet rules us.

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