12 Dark Horses of Dystopian Fiction

Author Greg Hickey picks a dozen lesser-known books for readers who loved 1984 and Brave New World.  

Mockingbird by Walter Tevis (1980)

As humanity teeters on the brink of extinction, a suicidal android and two humans striving for literacy are the last hope for a human rebirth in this 1981 Nebula Best Novel nominee.

This Perfect Day by Ira Levin (1970)

This novel about a future technocratic society in which eugenically uniform humans are programmed into docility won the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award in 1992 (the Prometheus Awards were not established until 1979).

War with the Newts by Karel Capek (1936)

Hailed as a “classic work” of science fiction by sci-fi author and critic Damon Knight, this often-overlooked novel describes the global war between humans and an aquatic species of enslaved intelligent newts who rebel against their human overlords.

Gun, with Occasional Music
By Jonathan Lethem

Gun, with Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem (1994)

Nominated for a 1994 Nebula Award for Best Novel, this book follows the adventures of a private detective through a futuristic San Francisco and Oakland in which evolved animals have become part of human society.

Bend Sinister by Vladimir Nabokov (1947)

Nabokov’s second English-language novel and the first book he wrote while living in America is an overtly political story about a European philosophy professor’s resistance to the totalitarian police state of the “Party of the Average Man.”

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (2014)

The first installment of the Southern Reach Trilogy, this book about a biologist, anthropologist, psychologist, and surveyor exploring the abandoned and deadly Area X won the 2014 Nebula Award for Best Novel and the 2014 Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel in the literature of psychological suspense, horror and the dark fantastic.

The Jagged Orbit
By John Brunner

The Jagged Orbit by John Brunner (1969)

This story of race wars and weapons cartels in 2014 America won the 1970 British Science Fiction Association Award for Best Novel.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler (1993)

Also nominated for the 1994 Nebula Best Novel, this book follows a hyperempathicgirl’s trek to establish a community for her new religion after her family is murdered by marauding scavengers.

Across the Universe
By Beth Revis

Across the Universe by Beth Revis (2011)

This young adult novel about a girl who awakens on a generation spaceship en route to a new planet after her cryo chamber is mysteriously unplugged made The New York TimesBest Seller list for children’s chapter books.

Snow Crash
By Neal Stephenson

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (1992)

Nominated for both the British Science Fiction Award and the Arthur C. Clarke Award, Stephenson’s third novel follows pizza delivery boy-cum-computer hacker Hiro Protagonist as he fights a nefarious virtual villain.

Partials by Dan Wells (2012)

Hugo-nominated author Dan Wells depicts the ravaged vestiges of humanity in the aftermath of a war with the engineered, imitation-human Partials. Sixteen-year-old Kira strives to save her race, only to discover that the survival of humans and Partials lies in the secret of the war’s origins.

The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham (1951)

A monstrous species of stinging plants overrunsEarth following a worldwide plague of blindness in this novel that was nominated for the International Fantasy Award in 1952 and listed on the 2003 BBC survey The Big Read.

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Greg Hickey is the author of the dystopian fiction novel Our Dried Voices and curator of The 110 Best Dystopian Novels.

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