Animal Farm by George Orwell (England, 1945)
Sub-titled “A Fairy Story”, this was Orwell’s scathing satirical critique of Stalinist Russia. It takes the form of an allegory, where the farm animals overthrow the human owners of the farm and set up a commune where, at least at first, all the animals are equal. Gradually, though, the cleverer pigs assume control and one, Napoleon, becomes a de facto dictator. The commune’s main commandment morphs to “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”, and the pigs, now a ruling class, gradually become indistinguishable from their newfound human friends.
Bend Sinister by Vladimir Nabokov (USA, 1947)
A dystopian novel, written soon after Nabokov moved from the Soviet Union to USA, set in a fictional totalitarian European country called Padukgrad, ruled by a dictator called Paduk. The philosophy of the regime is that individuality is evil, and that everyone should be subsumed under the state, which is the sole arbiter of the common good. The plot revolves around Paduk’s failed attempts to persuade Krug, his childhood nemesis and now an eminent philosopher, to endorse his regime.
Walden Two by B. F. Skinner (USA, 1948)
A small party of guests visit a community of collective ownership modelled after Thoreau’s Walden Pond lifestyle, where children are raised collectively and family ties are minimized. Cooperation and sustainability are the cornerstones of the society, and the evils of society are avoided by minimal consumption, rich social relationships, personal happiness, satisfying work and leisure. “Behavioural engineering” and the soft sciences are used to ensure the smoth functioning of the society.
Ape and Essence by Aldous Huxley (England, 1948)
Huxley’s dark vision of future humanity after a nuclear war depicts people as vicious, Belial-worshipping apes who delight in chemical warfare and mass killing. The protagonist, Dr. Poole, confronts the priests of the Church of Belial who maintain this savage status quo, but is forced to escape in search of a rumoured community of “hots” who live outside the Belial influence.
1984 by George Orwell (England, 1949)
After a limited nuclear war in the 1950’s, the superpower of Oceania is run as a brutal police state under the control of the Party (the other two superpowers are Eurasia and Eastasia). Freedom of speech is ruthlessly suppressed, torture is rife, spies are everywhere and “Big Brother is watching you!” The technique of ‘newspeak’ is being developed to further facilitate thought control, and ‘doublethink’ is commonplace in state slogans like “Freedom is Slavery”. The methods of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia are taken to new depths in this bleak dystopia.
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson (USA, 1948)
An esteemed but controversial short story, which juxtaposes familiar small-town American village life with a brutal and all but meaningless tradition, which has been woven over the years into society’s fabric. The annual lottery is held to pick out a family, and then an individual member of that family, who is then stoned to death by the other villagers, supposedly to ensure a good harvest.
Seven Days in New Crete by Robert Graves (England, 1949)
The mid-20th Century narrator is mysteriously transported to the future, apparently idyllic society of New Crete, where there is no hunger, no war and no dissatisfaction. Their religion centres on a cruel Goddess Mari, and it soon becomes clear that the narrator has been brought in deliberately by Mari to inject some much-needed vitality and disruption into a society which has become bland and insipid.
The Pedestrian by Ray Bradbury (USA, 1951)
A short story, and precursor to Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, in which the world of 2053 is envisioned as being totally dominated by television, to the extent that no-one reads books or walks (or even drives) the streets at night, so that crime has fallen so much that one robotic police car is the only police unit in a city of three million.
Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham (England, 1951)
Although the title is about an invasion of ambulant, man-eating plants (which is also happening), much of the novel is about how humans try to re-invent civilization in the aftermath of a meteor shower which results in blindness afflicting the vast majority of the population. Various small groups are established under various regimes, from the despotic to the democratic to the ‘Christian’.
Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut (USA, 1952)
In a techno-utopian America of the future, machines now run almost everything, eliminating the need for human labour. The wealthy upper classes are super-educated, and the lower classes are all but redundant. But the prosperous protagonist, Dr. Paul Proteus, begins to wonder whether humanity hasn’t been deprived of hope (and ultimately happiness) by the apparent success of this mechanized world. Later re-issued under the title Utopia 14.
One by David Karp (USA, 1953)
A dystopia in a similar vein to Orwell’s 1984, One follows the enforced re-education (brain-washing) of a well-meaning and innocent functionary, Professor Burdon, by the machinery of the “benevolent State”, which brooks no opposition to the totalitarian grip it holds over its repressed citizens.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (USA, 1953)
In this dystopian science fiction novel, written in the early years of the Cold War, all books are banned and critical thought is suppressed. The central character, Guy Montag, is a fireman (which here means a book-burner: 451°F is the temperature at which paper burns) in a hedonistic and totalitarian future America where the main entertainment is a form of interactive television. Inspired, as often happens, by a free-thinking and liberated woman, Montag starts to question his role and even to collect and memorize books in order to preserve them, and he becomes a fugitive from the repressive regime.
Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke (England, 1953)
When an alien race visits Earth, they help to solve many of the planet’s most intractable problems and usher in a utopian golden age, although some rebels establish a separate colony as they believe that man’s independence and innovation is being. It soon transpires, however, that the Overlords’ motives are not so philanthropic, and they actually intend to merge humans with the Overmind.
More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon (USA, 1953)
Five people with special powers (including telepathy, telekinesis and huge memory) merge to become the archetype for the next step in human evolution, homo gestalt. The gestalt in incomplete, however, until a sixth member contributes conscience to the mix.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding (England, 1954)
More an allegory than a strict utopia, the book follows a group of schoolboys stranded on a desert island and their disastrous attempts to govern themselves. Jack and Piggy favour a democratic approach, but Jack has more authoritarian designs and, in the conflict between these two approaches, life on the island slides into chaos and savagery.
Brain Wave by Poul Anderson (USA, 1954)
A change in the Earth’s ‘electrochemistry’ suddenly increases the intelligence of everyone (including animals) exponentially, but this soon turns out not to be a boon after all: the old prejudices still surface, and social chaos ensues. Although quite short, the novel looks at inequality and hierarchical structures and the whole way that human society is organized.
Utopia 239 by Rex Gordon (England, 1955)
The protagonists escape in a time machine to an unabashedly anarchistic future utopia, where freedom is unlimited and unfettered by laws, taxation, etc. There is a sort of scientific priesthood which strenuously denies that it is a quasi-government.
The Magellanic Cloud by Stanislaw Lem (Poland, 1955)
A star-travelling, communist, utopian society in the 32nd Century encounters a race in the Alpha Centauri system which is organized on a model suspiciously similar to the capitalist US/NATO countries of the day.
The Chrysalids by John Wyndham (England, 1955)
In a future, post-apocalypse (and warmer) Labrador, a pre-industrial, patriarchal, fundamentalist Christian society has evolved a strict belief in genetic invariance, and any mutations or deviations are banished to the Fringes. Some people gradually develop telepathic abilities (also considered a “blasphemy”) and manage to make contact with other cultures outside their own.
Andomeda Nebula by Ivan Efremov (Russia, 1957)
Known as Tumannost' Andromedy in the original Russian, this major milestone in Russian sci-fi describes a communist utopia set in a distant future of space travel and galactic communication. Among other action, a scientist voluntarily punishes himself after a reckless experiment causes damage.
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (USA, 1957)
In Rand’s magnum opus, a society where individuality and independent thought are demonized and discouraged is brought to its knees when intellectuals effectively go on strike and withdraw their contribution to civilization.
Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein (USA, 1959)
This is a military science fiction novel set in a future where mankind is involved in an interstellar war with an alien race known as ‘the Bugs’. In this militaristic future society, the right to vote is earned by military service, corporal and capital punishment are the norm, and government is close to fascist in nature (glaringly contrasted with the communistic Arachnids they are fighting against).
Return from the Stars by Stanislaw Lem (Poland, 1961)
An astronaut returns to Earth after 127 (Earth-) years to find a very changed society where humanity is now programmed to be ultra risk-averse and safety-conscious, to the extent that further space travel is considered with horror. The astronaut at first rebels against this, but eventually accepts it.
Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut (USA, 1961)
This is a short story (included in the comliation Welcome to the Monkey House) about a future America in which equality is achieved by discouraging exceptional talent or intelligence and creating forced mediocrity. Any intelligent people, like Harrison Bergeron, who slip through this net are press-ganged into working for the fascistic and repressive government.
Island by Aldous Huxley (England, 1962)
Will Farnaby is a cynical journalist shipwrecked on the fictional island of Pala, a Buddhist paradise where modern science and technology is embraced only insofar as it can improve medicine and nutrition, not for industrialization; drugs are used for enlightenment, not for pacification; and the evils of corporatism are unknown.
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (England, 1962)
Set in the (then) near-future of 1990, the book is narrated by the protagonist Alex in a mixture of English and ‘Nadsat’ (an invented youth street language). Alex is the leader of a gang of dissolute ‘droogs’ who roam the night looking for opportunities for ‘ultraviolence’ in a lawless and unruly city. Once caught for his crimes, Alex is subject to a brutal aversion therapy, after which he later falls easy victim to some of his own one-time prey. Throughout the book, Burgess questions the high-tech, corrupt, authoritarian society, rife with violence.
The Wanting Seed by Anthony Burgess (England, 1962)
In a cramped and repressive near-future world of severe overpopulation, heterosexuality is discriminated against, homosexuality and self-sterilization are encouraged, and pregnancy is considered a crime. As the book progresses, the repression worsens, cannibalism becomes an acceptable practice and faux wars are waged in order to cull the population and provide (human) food. Towards the end, there are hints that the cycle of history is starting to turn once more towards a less repressive, more forgiving, socialist society.
The Drowned World by J. G. Ballard (England, 1962)
In a world where the ice-caps have melted and the habitable world has been reduced to haunting tropical lagoons and primeval swamps, the remnants of humanity start to discover ancestral memories and an unconscious drive towards a natural, primeval existence.
The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick (USA, 1962)
An alternative history rather than a dystopia as such, this novel imagines a world where the Axis Powers defeated the Allies in World War II and Nazi Germany rules with a rod of iron, continuing its policy of exterminating “inferior” races, as well as initiating early space exploration, while a distrustful but still powerful Japan controls much of Asia and the Pacific.
The Corridors of Time by Poul Anderson (USA, 1965)
This is essentially a time travel sci-fi adventure, but the war (between the technocratic Rangers, and the Wardens who believe in a more nature-based, organic development) which forms the backdrop to the action, is effectively a discussion of utopian ideals.
Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison (USA, 1966)
Providing the basis for the 1973 sci-fi movie Soylent Green, this is a black thriller set in a New York of 1999 where rampant population growth has resulted in severe over-crowding, shortages and a crumbling infrastructure. Disease and corruption are rife and the miserable living conditions result in birth control protests.
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein (USA, 1966)
In the year 2075, the Lunar Colonies are mainly populated by transported criminals under the nominal control of The Warden, in a free-wheeling, somewhat anarchic society with group marriages and almost slave-like labour conditions. A small group of unlikely individuals (including a self-aware computer) engineer a revolution, although its survival and its adherence to its original libertarian principles seem far from certain.
Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner (England, 1968)
In Brunner’s dystopic and overpopulated USA of 2010, humanity is largely reliant on super-computers; crime and sabotage is endemic; and powerful, shady corporations control entire nations and employ genetic engineering and eugenics in their intra-continental machinations.
Welcome to the Monkeyhouse by Kurt Vonnegut (USA, 1968)
A short story, published in a collection of short stories of the same name (along with the above-mentioned Harrison Bergeron), in which a controlling world government tries to keep the global population of 17 billion stable. Among other measures, it does this by urging people to commit suicide (to the extent of sponsoring “ethical suicide parlors”) and by mandating drugs to suppress sexual desire by numbing people from the waist down. A group of rebels called the "Nothingheads" rejects this denial of human nature and refuse to take the government-required drugs, advocating birth control pills instead.
A Very Private Life by Michael Frayne (England, 1968)
Uncumber is a teenaged girl living a life of drug-induced bliss in a high-tech future, one of the privileged Insiders. She falls in love with a working class man and sees something of the hidden underbelly of society before being picked up and imprisoned back in her own community.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick (USA, 1968)
Loosely adapted for the 1982 film Blade Runner, this science fiction novel is set in 1992, several years after a nuclear war has destroyed much of the Earth, and most of the population has emigrated off-world (with their android servants) to escape the radiation. The remaining humans live in cluttered, protected cities and use the ‘empathy box’ and ‘mood organ’ to make their lives bearable. Some androids, physically indistinguishable from humans, return to Earth to escape servitude on Mars, but are hunted down by bounty hunters.
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (USA, 1969)
Billy Pilgrim sees his life unfold in random order after his kidnap by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. Tralfamadorians see in four dimensions (including time) and can focus on whichever time in their lives they wish, but cannot choose to alter their fate. “So it goes” is the phrase used (106 times in total) whenever death or mortality are mentioned.