Vermilion Sands by J. G. Ballard (England, 1971)
A set of linked short stories all based in the imaginary desert resort of Vermilion Sands, a self-contained society of wealthy, disaffected or parasitic people. The setting functions as a dystopic vision of a post-apocalyptic world.
The World Inside by Robert Silverberg (USA, 1971)
In 2381, Earth has a massive population now that war, starvation, crime and birth control have been eliminated, and life takes place within high density 1,000-storey skyscrapers. Everything is shared, including partners, justice is harsh and “reprogramming” is the fate of any social deviants. The farmers that produce food for this population are almost a separate, and inferior, race.
Gray Matters by William Hjortsberg (USA, 1971)
The few hundred “cerebromorphs” (bodiless brains) that were preserved through the Armageddon of World War 3 have to pass through various levels of understanding before they can be released in perfect manufactured bodies into the pastoral paradise outside.
The Futurological Congress by Slanislaw Lem (Poland, 1971)
A delegate attending the Eight World Futurological Congress in Costa Rica to discuss the severe overpopulation problem, is caught up in a surprise coup d’état. After a light-hearted series of drug-induced episodes, he wakes in what he believes to be several decades later, to find a world in which drugs regulate every waking moment, and in which drug-induced hallucinations are used to mask the real conditions (a grimy, frozen world, administered by robots) from the masses.
The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner (England, 1972)
Set in a near-future USA in which the government is controlled by corporations, and air and water pollution is extreme. Rampant environmental degradation and overpopulation has led to a grim life of poverty, illness, hunger and civil unrest for the vast majority, while a rich elite profit from the situation. The plot revolves around the emergence of the charismatic environmentalist Austin Train as a possible saviour for the downtrodden masses.
The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin (USA, 1974)
Subtitled “An Ambiguous Utopia”, this book is set in a future, post-imperial galactic civilization, more specifically on two planets in the Tau Ceti system. Set against the very Earth-like organization of the larger planet Urras (with its USA-Soviet Union type set-up), the smaller planet Anarres has a utopian, anarchic structure without any government or coercive authoritative institutions (although it is not presented as a perfect society).
My Petition for More Space by John Hersey (USA, 1974)
In a claustrophobic, overpopulated future world, policies have been adopted to deal with the impossibility of getting away from other people, including a strict prohibition on anything which might be construed as sexual or lascivious.
Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach (USA, 1975)
Subtitled “The Notebooks and Reports of William Weston”, this was the first of the ecotopia sub-genre. In a future independent American North-West, the free-thinking, creative and energetic citizens make selective use of technology to optimize the social, medical and ecological health of their society. 1981’s Ecotopia Emerging is a prequel to this novel.
High-Rise by J. G. Ballard (England, 1975)
Over the course of three months, the "vertical city" of a luxury residential tower block retreats from the outside world and descends from civilization to tribalism to hunter-gatherer savagery (possibly even cannibalism). As the veneer of civilization breaks down with appalling swiftness, anarchy prevails and the rules of society morph on an almost daily basis.
Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy (USA, 1976)
In a schizophrenic delusion in the 1970’s, Connie Ramos travels to the idyllic village of Mattapoisett in the year 2137 to see a utopian society free from pollution, homophobia, racism, chauvinism, classism and subordination. She also travels to an alternative future where a wealthy, technocratic elite living on space platforms subdues the majority of the population with drugs and harvests their organs. Connie’s present is somehow instrumental in deciding which of those futures will come to pass.
Egalia’s Daughters (The Daughters of Egalia) by Gerd Brantenberg (Norway, 1977)
In the country of Egalia, men's and women's roles are completely reversed: “wim” occupy high-powered positions in business and government, while most “menwim” run the household, raise children or hold low-paid jobs. Throughout the novel, which is sub-titled “A Satire of the Sexes”, the female is defined as the normal (to the extent that all words that are normally in masculine form are given in a feminine form, and vice versa). A few of the oppressed men start to question their society and its values, and begin a Masculinist Movement, which receives only passing and sneering reviews from the female literary world.
1985 by Anthony Burgess (England, 1978)
In a novella based loosely on Orwell’s 1984, Burgess imagines a near-future ruled by the whims of powerful trade unions, and with Islam as a major political and cultural force.
Macrolife: A Mobile Utopia by George Zebrowski (USA, 1979)
The Bulero family escape an over-populated and collapsing earth in a mobile colony in a hollowed-out asteroid, which over a thousand years develops into a successful, self-contained society. After a hundred billion years, as the universe itself begins to collapse, the resulting ‘macrolife’ (an amalgamation of beings of all kinds) is dominant throughout the universe, but now has to find a way to conquer time itself.
The Probability Broach by L. Neil Smith (USA, 1980)
Smith’s first novel is set in an alternative Earth history in the alternative Gallatin universe, where the North American Confederacy is organized as a libertarian utopia, science and medicine have advanced at a prodigious pace, and the more intelligent mammals have been recognized as sentient beings and granted equal rights.
Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban (USA/England, 1980)
A post-apocalyptic dystopia set in a fictional southern Inland (England) about two thousand years after a nuclear war has devastated world civilizations. The level of civilization has been reduced back to the prehistoric Iron Age (although using iron salvaged from ancient machinery), and the church and state have combined into one secretive institution, whose mythology (based on misinterpreted stories of the war and an old Catholic saint, Eustace) is enacted in Punch-and-Judy style puppet shows.
Mockingbird by Walter Tevis (USA, 1980)
The novel is set in a decaying 25th Century New York of complete illiteracy, routine drug use and declining population, ruled over by androids. It follows the journey of two rebellious humans as they try to reconstruct the arcane (and illegal) art of reading, as well as the parallel tribulations of a depressed and suicidal android, in a society where children are raised in dormitories from birth and discouraged from personal relationships and any questioning of the status quo.
V for Vendetta by Alan Moore (England, 1982-8)
This is graphic novel (comic book) series set in a near-future Britain after a limited nuclear war, where a mysterious anarchist works to overthrow the totalitarian fascist government.
Neuromancer by William Gibson (Canada, 1984)
The first of Gibson’s cyberpunk novels presaged a not-too-distant future world of artificial intelligence, virtual reality, ‘cyberspace’ and genetic engineering. It is set in a dystopic urban society where callous multinational corporations overpower nation-states, and cheap and ubiquitous technology has dehumanized the world. Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive are the sequels in Gibson’s 'Sprawl' trilogy.
Three Californias Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson (USA, 1984-90)
The trilogy depicts three different possible futures for Orange County, California. The Wild Shore (1984), set in 2047, details a pastoral, agrarian post-nuclear society. The Gold Coast (1988), set in 2027, is a dystopic car-orientated sprawl of condos, freeways and malls. Pacific Edge (1990), set in 2065, is possibly the most obviously utopian in nature, and describes the transformation from our own culture to an ecologically sane future.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Canada, 1985)
Set in a totalitarian, theocratic future America known as the Republic Of Gilead, the story follows Offred, a Handmaid or concubine, whose job it is to bear children to her employer, or Commander. Through various plot twists she becomes connected with the underground resistance and, pregnant, escapes the clutches of the regime. In this dark dystopia, post-revolutionary America has become a strict Christian theocracy following biblical fundamentalist philosophies, with enforced social roles, austere dress laws, an almost complete suppression of freedoms and the subjugation of women.
Brazil by Terry Gilliam (USA, 1985)
This is a black comedy movie by one-time Monty Python member Gilliam set in a future dystopian world, not dissimilar to that of 1984, where a bureaucratic, totalitarian regime uses machines to impose state control.
Always Coming Home by Ursula Le Guin (USA, 1985)
This book chronicles the society of the Kesh, a post-apocalyptic people who combine some elements of the distant past (computers, electricity, trains, etc) with a more anarchistic, ecological social order which has much of its basis in hunter-gatherer societies and Native American philosophies. It is contrasted with another tribe who have a much more rigid, patriarchal, hierarchical and expansionist way of life.
Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks (Scotland, 1987)
This is a science fiction book about a war between two very different races with very different ideologies. The Culture is a rather self-satisfied, star-faring society run by benevolent machines; the Idirians, are a more traditional, religious and passionate race.
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (USA, 1992)
This speculative fiction and early cyberpunk novel is set in a near-future anarcho-capitalist America, in which the government has largely ceded power to sovereign enclaves run by big business franchises, and in which drug trafficking, violent crime and traffic congestion are rife. Parallel lives are also lived out in the Metaverse, a virtual reality-based successor to the Internet populated by user-controlled avatars. The story hangs on a new pseudo-narcotic known as Snow Crash, which acts both as a computer virus and as a mind-altering drug in reality, and is being distributed by a shady network of powerful Pentecostal churches.
The Children of Men by P.D. James (England, 1992)
In 2021, Britain, like the rest of the world, is gradually becoming depopulated due to mass infertility after the sperm count fell to zero in the 1990s, and the last generation to be born, known as the Omegas, are treated as a race apart and granted special privileges, making them spoiled, violent and unstable. In this milieu, the people have lost all interest in politics and the country is ruled by a despotic Warden, backed by a private army. Justice is administered summarily, and those over 60 are expected to commit suicide rather than burden the rest of the population.
The Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson (USA, 1992-6)
Red Mars (1992), Green Mars (1993) and Blue Mars (1996) depict a largely (but not entirely) utopian society as it colonizes and terraforms Mars. A violent revolution occurs in 2061 against the power of the meta-national corporations who wield much of the power on Earth and Mars. The rebels (both Earth-born and native-born, hailing from many disparate backgrounds and beliefs) are forced to live in hidden sanctuaries of various types, until a successful revolution creates an independent Mars. In the wake of the revolution, they try to construct an inclusive, equitable and ecological Martian society, based on eco-economics and cooperative businesses.
The Giver by Lois Lowry (USA, 1993)
Popular both with young readers and adults, the novel describes a future world where pain and strife has been eliminated by a complete denial of emotion and individuality. Love and sexuality (“stirrings”) are suppressed by pills; children are born to designated birth-mothers; genetic engineering removes the seeing of colours or hearing of music; climate control and even physical landscaping alter the world to make it comfortable, if boring; a Council of Elders assigns jobs to each adolescent; and punishment is by secret euthanasia. A single person, The Giver, is burdened with the emotional weight of the whole community’s suppressed memories and emotions, both good and bad, until Jonas decides to release them back to the population. Gathering Blue (2000) and Messenger (2004) are Lowry's later novels set in other dystopic future eras.
Burn by James Patrick Kelly (USA, 1995)
The inhabitants of Transcendent State have rejected high technology for a simple, Thoreau-esque life on a planet named Walden. But contacts with the ‘pukpuk’, survivors of a previous settlement on the planet, and then with the ruler of a distant world, cause the protagonist Spur to doubt the wisdom of their social experiment.
Hostile Takeover Trilogy by S. Andrew Swann (USA, 1995-6)
Profiteer, Partisan and Revolutionary are all set in the 24th Century where humans, ‘moreaus’ (biologically-uplifted animals) and ‘franks’ (genetically-engineered humans) have established a loose confederacy on several worlds, one of which is the anarcho-capitalist planet of Bakunin.
The Truth Machine by James L. Halperin (USA, 1996)
A machie is invented which infallibly detects lies and becomes ubiquitously used in all walks of life. Crime is eliminated overnight, as is political duplicity, but at a cost to personal privacy.
The Beach by Alex Garland (England, 1996)
A tight-knit and largely self-sufficient community has been established at an idyllic beach, almost completely cut off from mainstream civilization. There is a sophisticated hierarchy and an almost dictatorial leadership, but a series of events causes fractures to develop and chaos ensues.
The Night’s Dawn Trilogy by Peter Hamilton (England, 1996-9)
In the 27th Century, humankind is split into the Adamists (a religious people of various cultures and backgrounds, who use nanotechnology and fusion-energy space travel) and the Edenists (an idealized, egalitarian, genetically-engineered society, living on huge, sentient space stations, and using ‘affinity’ to communicate with each other and their ‘bitek’ technology). Despite the immensely high technology, it is clear that suffering, environmental destruction and crime continue, although there is some room for hope. The trilogy consists of The Reality Dysfunction (Parts 1 and 2), The Neutronium Alchemist and The Naked God.
Elvissey by Jack Womack (USA, 1997)
This novel is set in a future dystopic United States of 2054 where the Dryco corporation, a mind-manipulating multinational conglomerate, runs everything and everyone has been “re-gooded” for their own good.
A Scientific Romance by Ronald Wright (Canada, 1997)
Museum curator David Lambert discovers a Victorian time machine built after the model of H. G. Wells and travels 500 years into the future in search of a cure to his own terminal disease. Britain in the year 2500 AD is almost unrecognizable: a tropical land with lush vegetation and exotic wildlife (due to the effects of climate change), but almost no people other than a Scottish tribe bearing the name MacBeth but with otherwise little resemblance to the Scots of the 20th Century: dark-skinned, mostly illiterate and technologically backward. Lambert struggles to uncover the exact nature of the calamity that erased London, halted progress and all but wiped out ancient knowledge.
Kirinyaga by Mike Resnick (USA, 1998)
Subtitled “A Fable of Utopia”, Kirinyaga is a small planetoid settled by Kikuyu tribesmen in an attempt to return to their roots without technological or cultural interference. However, a computer link with the outside which the tribe use to maintain their idyllic existence eventually proves their undoing.
White Mars by Brian Aldiss (England, 2000)
Subtitled “The Mind Set Free: A 21st Century Utopia”, this is Aldiss’ response to Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy. A thriving Mars colony is cut off and marooned after Earth’s economy collapses in the mid-21st Century. The citizens then debate the ethics and morals of various political issues in order to plan their society for the long term.
Hominids by Robert J. Sawyer (Canada, 2002)
The Neanderthal Parallax Trilogy, consisting of Hominids (2002), Humans (2003) and Hybrids (2003), imagines an alternative Earth in which Neanderthals and not Homo Sapiens were the dominant species. Hunter-gatherers with no developed concept of agriculture, they are nevertheless technologically advanced, possessing quantum computers, helicopters and communication and recording biological instruments. They live in a strong ecological harmony with their environment, using clean energy, living homes, and keeping a constant manageable population.
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (Canada, 2003)
This book presents a very different dystopic future to Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale - a world of genetic engineering, transgenic animals and the commodification of human life. In this post-apocalyptic milieu, a race of peaceful, vegetarian human-like beings are created by the mad scientist Crake in an attempt to create a sustainable life-form to harmoniously populate the Earth, and at the same time he creates a virulent pandemic to kill off the existing humans. 2009's The Year of the Flood and 2013's MaddAddam are follow-ups to this story.
Jennifer Government by Max Barry (Australia, 2003)
The novel is set in a dystopian alternative reality where global corporations dominate America (which in turn dominates most of the world outside the ‘socialist’ European Union), and where the government has been almost totally privatized. People take their surnames from the company they work for, schools are sponsored by corporations, welfare has been abolished and weapons and drugs legalized and deregulated.
Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. Coetzee (South Africa, 2003)
Set at an unspecified time in a small frontier town of a nameless Empire, possibly in Africa, the town’s peaceful existence is disrupted by the arrival of some special forces of the Empire (led by the sinister Colonel Joll) who are investigating rumours of a possible attack on the Empire by the “barbarians” beyond the frontier. The town’s magistrate becomes involved with a barbarian girl who was left behind crippled and blinded by the Empire’s torturers, and helps her return to her own land, a symbol of nonconformist thought and action in the face of an oppressive political regime.
Uglies by Scott Westerfield (USA, 2004)
Tally Youngblood lives in a futuristic world where all 16 year olds have an operation to make them beautiful (and therefore, supposedly, equal), transforming them from “Uglies” to “Pretties”. However, there are some who hide in The Smoke because they do not wish to go through with the operation, which also affects people’s personalities, and the authorities want to close down this unpredictable and embarrassing resistance movement. The quartet continues with Pretties, Specials and Extras.
Utopia X by Scott Wilson (USA, 2004)
In the year 2048, multiculturalism and political correctness have become the sacred cows of America and any transgressions are harshly punished by an oppressive police state. Liam, a lowly office clerk working on editing history into a more favourable version, is mistakenly identified as a rebel and eventually find himself in a position to bring down the whole regime.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (England, 2005)
In a dystopian parallel Britain, humans are cloned in order to provide organs for transplants and carers for these donors (the main character, Kathy is one such). Attempts to improve attitudes towards the clones (which are regarded as sub-human organ sources, whereas in fact they are fully human) seem doomed to failure.
The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist (Sweden, 2006)
In a dystopic near future, “dispensable” people (the unloved and childless, those considered not useful to society) are taken to live their remaining days after age 50 in the caring, comfortable and luxurious Unit, with the proviso that they become the subjects of psychological and drug experiments and are used for biological material and ultimately organ donors for the “necessary” people, those who produce and raise children and contribute to the economic growth. Dorrit, however, is a “dispensable” who falls in love and, miraculously, becomes pregnant in The Unit, and looks to find a way out of the system.
The Book of Dave by Will Self (England, 2006)
500 years after a catastrophic flood, England is reduced to a series of technologically primitive islands, peopled by a brutal, superstitious and misogynistic culture who communicate in Mockney, a bastardized Cockney dialect incorporating elements of text messaging and London cabbie slang. The prevailing and all-pervading religion is a fundamentalist belief based on random (and largely misunderstood) snippets from a book written by Dave Rudman, a mentally unstable cab-driver who recorded for posterity his rantings against women and his thoughts on custody rights for fathers, as well as elements of the London cabbie “Knowledge” which, over time, have taken on religious significance.
Rant by Chuck Palahniuk (USA, 2007)
Subtitled "The Oral History of Buster Casey", this bizarre future dystopia imagines that urban dwellers are divided into two distinct classes by a strict curfew, the respectable Daytimers and the oppressed Nighttimers, the latter taking to dangerous games like ‘party crashing’ for thrills.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (USA, 2008)
In a dystopic post-apocalyptic future North America known as Panem, the ultra-wealthy inhabitants of the Capitol rule despotically over the other twelve districts, most of which are grindingly poor and essentially exist only to provide slave labour for industrial output. Each year, one boy and one girl teenager from each district are selected by lottery to participate in a hugely popular, televised, gladiator-style fight to the death. The Hunger Games is the first book in a very popular young adult trilogy of the same name, the sequels being Catching Fire (2009) and Mockingjay (2010).
The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood (Canada, 2009)
A sequel (or, arguably, a prequel or parallel) to Atwood’s Oryx and Crake of 2003, which describes a dystopic world of genetic engineering, transgenic animals and the commodification of human life. The book focuses on a group called God's Gardeners, a small community of survivors of the worldwide environmental catastrophe and answers some of the questions of Oryx and Crake.
Matched by Ally Condie (USA, 2010)
In the first book in the young adult Matched trilogy - followed by Crossed (2011) and Reached (2012) - Condie envisions a tightly-controlled society in which young people are "matched" with their life partners at the age of 17, and the state decides where people live and work, and even when they are to die. Although the society is a technological marvel, the state is ever-present and closely controls the population (even down to its nutrition and the culture it is allowed to experience), and individuals are constantly monitored.
Divergent by Veronica Roth (USA, 2011)
In a post-apocalyptic dystopian future Chicago, citizens are defined by their social and personality-related affiliation with five factions: Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), Erudite (the intelligent), Abnegation (the selfless), and Candor (the honest). At the age of 16, all youths must undergo extreme aptitude tests to select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. A few, like Tris, though, are "divergent" and do not fit into any one group. Divergent is the first book in a young adult trilogy, followed by Insurgent (2012 and Allegiant (2013).
MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood (Canada, 2013)
In this final conclusion to the grim dystopic future described in Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, Atwood looks at the post-apocalyptic world after the Waterless Flood has wiped out the vast majority of humanity. The different factions within the remaining few, both human and otherwise, pursue their own competing visions of a new society, against a backdrop of extreme porn, the institutionalized exploitation of women, and genetic engineering removed from ethical considerations.