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10 Classic dystopian books you won’t be able to put down

Dystopian novels, whether based on alternative histories or futuristic societies, have captured generations of readers. Here is a list of must-read dystopian fiction, from beloved classics like 1984 and Brave New World to contemporary blockbusters like The Hunger Games and Infinite Jest. Check them out below, complete with publishers’ descriptions.

1984, by George Orwell

In 1984, London is a grim city where Big Brother is always watching you and the Thought Police can practically read your mind. Winston is a man in grave danger for the simple reason that his memory still functions. Drawn into a forbidden love affair, Winston finds the courage to join a secret revolutionary organization called The Brotherhood, dedicated to the destruction of the Party. Together with his beloved Julia, he hazards his life in a deadly match against the powers that be.

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

Aldous Huxley’s tour de force, Brave New World is a darkly satiric vision of a “utopian” future ‒ where humans are genetically bred and pharmaceutically anesthetized to passively serve a ruling order. A powerful work of speculative fiction that has enthralled and terrified readers for generations, it remains remarkably relevant to this day as both a warning to be heeded as we head into tomorrow and as thought-provoking, satisfying entertainment.

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

Guy Montag is a fireman. In his world, where television rules and literature is on the brink of extinction, firemen start fires rather than put them out. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden. Montag never questions the destruction and ruin his actions produce, returning each day to his bland life and wife, Mildred, who spends all day with her television “family.” But then he meets an eccentric young neighbor, Clarisse, who introduces him to a past where people didn’t live in fear and to a present where one sees the world through the ideas in books instead of the mindless chatter of television.

The handmaid’s tale, by Margaret Atwood

The handmaid’s tale is not only a radical and brilliant departure for Margaret Atwood, it is a novel of such power that the reader will be unable to forget its images and its forecast. Set in the near future, it describes life in what was once the United States, now called the Republic of Gilead, a monotheocracy that has reacted to social unrest and a sharply declining birth rate by reverting to, and going beyond, the repressive intolerance of the original Puritans. The regime takes the Book of Genesis absolutely at its word, with bizarre consequences for the women and men of its population.

It can’t happen here, by Sinclair Lewis

It can’t happen here is a cautionary tale about the fragility of democracy, it is an alarming, eerily timeless look at how fascism could take hold in America. Written during the Great Depression, when the country was largely oblivious to Hitler’s aggression, it juxtaposes sharp political satire with the chillingly realistic rise of a president who becomes a dictator to save the nation from welfare cheats, sex, crime, and a liberal press.

The Chrysalids, by John Wyndham

The Chyrsalids is set in the future after a devastating global nuclear war. David, the young hero of the novel, lives in a tight-knit community of religious and genetic fundamentalists, always on the alert for any deviation from the norm of God’s creation. Abnormal plants are publicly burned, with much singing of hymns. Abnormal humans are also condemned to destruction ‒ unless they succeed in fleeing to the Fringes, where nothing is reliable and the devil does his work. David grows up ringed by admonitions: KEEP PURE THE STOCK OF THE LORD; WATCH THOU FOR THE MUTANT. At first he does not question. Then, however, he realizes that the he too is out of the ordinary, in possession of a power that could doom him to death or introduce him to a new, unimagined world of freedom.

A clockwork orange, by Anthony Burgess

A clockwork orange is as brilliant, transgressive, and influential as when it was published 50 years ago. A nightmare vision of the future told in its own fantastically inventive lexicon, it has since become a classic of modern literature and the basis for Stanley Kubrick’s once-banned film, whose recent reissue has brought this revolutionary tale on modern civilization to an even wider audience.

Logan’s run, by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson

In 2116, it is against the law to live beyond the age of 21 years. When the crystal flower in the palm of your hand turns from red to black, you have reached your Lastday and you must report to a Sleepshop for processing. But the human will to survive is strong ‒ stronger than any mere law. Logan 3 is a Sandman, an enforcer who hunts down those Runners who refuse to accept Deep Sleep. The day before Logan’s palmflower shifts to black, a Runner accidentally reveals that he was racing toward a goal: Sanctuary. With this information driving him forward, Logan 3 assumes the role of the hunted and becomes a Runner.

The children of men, by P.D. James

The children of men is a story of a world with no children and no future. 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.

Never let me go, by Kazuo Ishiguro

In one of the most memorable novels of recent years, Kazuo Ishiguro imagines the lives of a group of students growing up in a darkly skewered version of contemporary England. Narrated by Kathy, now 31, Never let me go hauntingly dramatizes her attempts to come to terms with her childhood at the seemingly idyllic Hailsham School, and with the fate that has always awaited her and her closest friends in the wider world. A story of love, friendship and memory, Never let me go is charged throughout with a sense of the fragility of life.

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