Maybe happy endings just aren’t your thing. Whatever the reason, fear not: the books below will let you stay gloomy, if you like. [Note: several of these books are in the public domain and can be downloaded for free, here.]
Behold, your dystopian beach reading list:
Published in 1949, George Orwell’s bleak dream of a future 1984 depicted a UK (“Oceania”) in which war was perpetual, facts were negotiable, and Big Brother was always watching. Bonus fact: Throughout the writing of this novel, his last, Orwell was extremely ill and often in physical pain. Nevertheless, he finished writing the book, and now we have the word Orwellian, in addition to these Orwellian gifts to the English language: Big Brother, doublethink, memory hole, Newspeak, telescreen, thought police — and more.
Set in the near future, near Boston, Margaret Atwood’s work of “social science fiction” portrays a US in which the Constitution has been overthrown by a religious sect that enslaves women.
Who preserves the human spirit in a highly technologically advanced world? Who gets to decide what humanity “should” think or feel? Brave New World is a philosophical cautionary tale about genetic selection, economic inequality, and pharmaceutical solutions to moral despair.
Technology and climate change mix with romance and resilience in this award-winning YA novel, published in 2016. Recommended by film and culture writer Sheerly Avni, “this is the book you give to your friend who agrees that It’s the End of the World As We Know It, but still wants to Feel Fine.”
Can you preserve your mind in a society where free will, self-expression and curiosity are under fire? This is the question at the heart of Bradbury’s 1953 classic. Set in a world where books are banned — and possessing, let alone reading them, is forbidden, the protagonist, Montag, is a fireman responsible for destroying what remains. But after meeting a woman named Clarisse, he begins to question everything he has ever known.
The first in Butler’s Earthseed series, the book follows Lauren Olamina in 2025, in a world that has descended into madness and anarchy. When a fire destroys her family’s compound— the last safe neighborhood on the outskirts of LA— Lauren is forced to make her way north to safety, and into a world of danger.
Find out why dystopian novels have been popular for centuries, and to learn how to recognize a dystopia:
Want more book recs? Here are 6 books to get you started in cli-fi
Art credit: TED-Ed.