Brave New World by Aldous Huxley is a foundational text of the dystopian genre that has been prompting readers to question the world around them for almost 90 years. For those who enjoyed the book, here are ten other major novels that trace the path of dystopian fiction from its inception, along with a few that provide contemporary takes on some of Brave New World’s major themes. Like Huxley, each of the authors on this list presents a vision of a possible future, a world governed by different principles. Serving as prophecies, as warnings, or just as thought experiments, these books encourage us to interrogate the societal norms we might otherwise take for granted.
1. We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin
Considered the first dystopian novel, We was written in Russian in 1920–1921 and is believed to have influenced the later works of George Orwell and Huxley himself. In the book, citizens of the One State are given numerical names, wear uniforms, and follow rigorously logical rules. All of the buildings are made of glass to facilitate mass surveillance. But one mathematician, D-503, slowly discovers his own individuality as he is drawn to an enigmatic woman and begins to question everything. As the ur-text of Brave New World’s genre, this book tackles many of the same themes and will be of particular interest to those curious about the development of dystopian fiction.
2. 1984, by George Orwell
Another titan of the dystopian genre, 1984 follows Winston Smith as he struggles to survive in the totalitarian state of Oceania, ruled by the Party and its beloved figurehead, Big Brother. Each home is equipped with a two-way television, allowing the Thought Police to monitor every moment of life. Those who do not conform disappear. Winston works at the Ministry of Truth, editing the historical record so it always matches the party line, secretly hating the Party and longing to understand why the world is the way it is and how it could be changed. Extremely prescient and relevant to today’s media-saturated landscape, 1984 explores propaganda, nationalism, and the mutability of thought itself.
3. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
Books are outlawed, and instead of putting out fires, firemen burn any books they find. Literature has been replaced by floor-to-ceiling television screens and other forms of new media. Fireman Guy Montag slowly becomes disillusioned with the world around him, which seems progressively emptier and crueler. Eventually, like many of the protagonists on this list, he wonders whether things could be different. Fahrenheit 451 primarily explores the dangers of government-led censorship, written by Bradbury during the McCarthy era to explore “what would happen to a country if we let ourselves go too far in this direction, where… all thinking stops.”
4. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
The United States as we recognize it has been overthrown by a quasi-Christian military dictatorship called the Republic of Gilead. In this rigidly hierarchical society, women in particular are forced into a limited set of strict societal roles: they cannot read, write, or own property. Extensive pollution and radiation mean most people are infertile, so reproduction is overseen by the government. Our protagonist, Offred, lives with the Commander and his wife as a Handmaid, a woman whose sole purpose is to produce children for powerful men. As Offred goes about her life in this restrictive role, she remembers the time before Gilead: the people she loved, the way she used to live. Now all of that is gone, and Offred must try to survive in her new world. Margaret Atwood insists that she pulled every element of this novel from real-world events and trends, which perhaps explains its enduring relevance and its status as a classic of feminist speculative fiction.
5. The Memory Police, by Yōko Ogawa (trans. Stephen Snyder)
This haunting 1994 novel by acclaimed Japanese author Yōko Ogawa was translated into English for the first time in 2019. The story follows a novelist who lives on an island where the Memory Police regularly force the inhabitants to forget things: birds, perfume, hats, and more. Some of the island’s inhabitants are immune to this process; these people are hunted down and captured by the Memory Police. The novelist’s editor, R, reveals to her that he is one of the people who can remember, and she decides to shelter him. Despite the high stakes of the premise, this novel is far more meditative than plot-driven. It is almost a slice-of-life story, quietly contemplating what it means to lose something if you can’t remember it well enough to grieve.
6. The Giver, by Lois Lowry
The Giver is a classic of middle grade fiction that depicts a seemingly utopian society dedicated to stability and Sameness. One person, the Receiver of Memory, holds all the knowledge about the world before Sameness. That person alone understands pain, hunger, and fear—as well as joy, color, and thousands of other things. At age 12, Jonas is selected to be the new Receiver. The more he learns about the world before the Community and its policy of Sameness, the more he questions the morality of the society around him. Like Brave New World, The Giver is set in a society that prescribes its citizens’ life courses, controls their reproduction, and moderates their emotional states. This book is an exploration of social contracts, freedom, and conformity that is appropriate for younger readers.
7. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
In Panem, each of the 12 districts must send forth two adolescent tributes for the yearly Hunger Games, a televised fight to the death with one winner. Our protagonist Katniss volunteers in order to spare her younger sister, but the tributes from District 12 are at a major disadvantage compared to those from wealthier districts, and it will take all of her strength and skill—and some help from fellow tribute Peeta—to make it out alive. I don’t feel I can discuss the genre of dystopian fiction as it stands today without mentioning The Hunger Games, due to its phenomenal popularity. If you like this trilogy, there are myriad other YA dystopian novels that draw inspiration from it.
8. The One, by John Marrs
When the company Match Your DNA invents a simple DNA test that can tell you who your soulmate is, everything about love and relationships changes. Marriages break up. People uproot their lives and move around the world to meet their matches. And some soulmates might be harboring dark secrets—they might even be dangerous. Brave New World presents one way that our ideas of love, sex, and relationships might shift as technology develops; this sci-fi thriller presents another, plus a twisty plot that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
9. Temporary, by Hillary Leichter
While Huxley imagines a world in which people are conditioned from birth to perform certain jobs and do not stray from their paths, Leichter responds to today’s gig economy by portraying a society in which temporary workers float from placement to placement, desperately hoping to attain permanence. Funny, zany, and a little surreal, Temporary explores what late-stage capitalism demands of its workers and how our identities are intertwined with the jobs we do.
10. Followers, by Megan Angelo
The “feelies” in Brave New World were a response to developing film technology and the ways it altered the media landscape; Followers by Megan Angelo asks similar questions about the internet and social media. Orla is working a dead-end job until she meets Floss and the two hatch a plan to become high-profile influencers. More than 30 years later, a woman named Marlow lives in a closed, corporate-sponsored village where government-appointed celebrities are on camera 24 hours a day. These two timelines weave together to interrogate friendship, fame, and how we use technology to seek out human connection.