Top Ten Tuesday: Dystopia 101

Top Ten TuesdayTop Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Each week we do a specially themed Top 10 list, and this week’s theme is Top Ten Books That Would Be On Your Syllabus If You Taught X 101 (examples: YA fantasy 101, feminist literature 101, magic in YA 101, classic YA lit 101, world-building 101).

I started out making a Fantasy syllabus because, well everybody was doing it and it was the first thing to pop into my head, but well I was floundering and one of the titles that popped onto my list I found myself debating if it even belonged there because technically it was more properly Dystopian. That’s when I about smacked myself for not realizing that I was an idiot. Because of course that’s what I would teach!

I started scribbling down a list of titles and then looked up ten minutes later and frowned because I had over 40 on my list. So, obviously the hardest part of this for me was narrowing these down. It’s sort of humorous because it wasn’t all that long ago that I took a Lit course for my Creative Writing degree where I got to do exactly this. Design my own syllabus. And I chose that semester to study Dystopian Fiction. But at the time, I had no idea where to start. There wasn’t a list 60 books deep on Wikipedia. The trend hadn’t come close to hitting YA yet. I had to ask librarians, friends, professors, everyone I met for recommendations and most people came up dry… One or two people knew of a book or two. I ended up cobbling together a list of around 15 titles to study that semester, and it was delicious. Some of them are on this list, but I’ve read so many more since then (and truthfully I still have a huge list of TBR’s in this category). This would be the course required reading if I had to teach it today.

Dystopia 101

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

  1. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro – Ishiguro’s novel about Kathy and her friend’s growing up in an English boarding school is both haunting and beautiful. In this case, things are not as simple they seem, and the school itself is a magnifying glass on an entire dystopian society. It asks if all lives are of equal importance.
  2. the giverThe Giver by Lois Lowry – One of my favorite books. The Dystopia in The Giver is so well thought out. It highlights important dystopian themes such as whether or not people are capable of and, therefore, have the right to governing themselves or making their own choices.
  3. brave new worldBrave New World by Aldous Huxley – One of the classics of Dystopian lit, and for good cause. Huxley takes us on a grand thought experiment to explore an anesthetized controlled society.
  4. the hunger gamesThe Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – This one makes my list because it imagines a society so divided between the wealthy and the poor, and because no matter how messed up the games are, the members of the society are conditioned to just accept them as a normal fact of life, which is a hallmark of a true dystopia.
  5. ugliesUglies by Scott Westerfeld – This is another YA title that does Dystopia well. It paints a very lovely picture of what would seem to almost any pre-teen to be the ultimate Utopia, only to peel back the layers to reveal the corruption underneath.
  6. 19841984 by George Orwell – Orwell’s classic Big Brother story imagine’s a society almost entirely devoid of free will (something present to varying degrees in most dystopias), divided by class systems, controlled by propaganda and most memorably constantly watched. It’s a bleak dystopia that doesn’t try to veil itself as a pretty utopia as much as some of the others on the list do, yet it’s character’s find their own oasis.
  7. divergentDivergent by Veronica Roth – One of the most original and well thought out Dystopias I’ve come across the class system in Roth’s series does a great deal to bring up questions about how we identify ourselves and where we belong society in general, and this and later books continue to push the boundaries on human rights and personal freedoms.
  8. handmaid's taleThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – Although I can’t say it’s my favorite Dystopian read, I think it’s one of the more important ones. It deals with issues of religious, reproductive and rights to a woman’s own body in this stark dystopia.
  9. deliriumDelirium by Lauren Oliver – This one struck a nerve for me the first time I read this story about a society where feelings, most especially love are considered a disease and oblitrated surgically. You can see why I love dystopian fiction with so many rich themes to draw from. This one draws strong parallels for me between a somewhat frightening trend in psychiatry to label absolutely everyone and everything as abnormal.
  10. harrison bergeronHarrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut – This short story about a society striving to make everyone equal by ensuring that anyone the least bit special is handicapped in some way was my first introduction to the genre of dystopia when I was in the fifth or sixth grade. I’ve literally never been able to get the imagery and the ideology out of my mind and I’ve been in love with dystopia ever since.

{BONUS} Supplemental Materials:


  1. gattacaGattaca – This film deals with a society where the genetically engineered rule and those born without those advantages become second class citizens, unfit for all but the most menial of jobs. Just one more way for us to divide and separate society.
  2. the islandThe Island  – Living in an idyllic underground complex, thinking they are survivors of a horrible apocalyptic event two friends learn they are actually clones being kept alive as glorified organ donors for their rich patrons.
  3. equilibriumEquilibrium – This is another twist on the elimination of emotion theme, with the totalitarian government forcing the citizenry to take a daily “dose” and employing clerics to weed out offenders of thr crime of human emotion.
  4. in timeIn Time – This is a dystopia with a twist – time is literally currency and that currency is also life. But the wealthy horde enough time for lifetimes upon lifetimes while the poor die young in the streets.


  1. dollhouseDollhouse – Joss Whedon’s imaginative series was a picture perfect coporate run dystopia, complete with brain & body hijaking and a dollhouse full of memory wiped employees.
  2. continuumContinuum – The dystopia in this series is in the future world that feeds the stories taking place in the present day. It’s a corporate run government with strict controls still not curbing violence and chaos.
  3. fringeFringe – The dystopia here is subtle at first and grows until you get to the final seasons and then it sort of knocks you over the head and dumps you in the middle of a full fledged harsh dystopia.
  4. slidersSliders – If you want a crash course in dystopias I recommend this universe hopping series because quite often the parallel universes they are sliding in and out of are in some way a shade of dystopia. That and a young Jerry O’Connell if you need another reason.

Graphic Novel:

  1. androidsDo Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick – This might be my fvorite one on the list. Yes, you could just read the book. Yes you could watch the movie Blade Runner, but this is by far the more awesome way to go. This graphic novel series by Boom! takes the full text of PKD’s original story and gives it the full graphic novel treatment and is not to be missed. Looking for more dystopia? Dick’s stories are ripe with them and they are pretty hard to miss.

That pretty much completes our syllabus for Dystopia 101. Let us know what you think. Are there ones that you’d add to the list? What were you teaching for Top Ten Tuesday? Feel free to leave your links below!

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36 Replies to “Top Ten Tuesday: Dystopia 101”

  1. I totally agree with 1984 and The Hunger Games! But where is Fahrenheit 451? Oh, and Uglies is one of my FAV books ever!

    1. Fareinheit 451 was definitely on my list! That was the impossible part was bringing it down to just 10! I cheated as it was by sneaking in a couple movies etc. lol!

    1. Awesome! I love finding fellow dystopia lovers! You had a great list with some titles I hadn’t heard of!

  2. I debated doing dystopias, but I was worried that I wouldn’t have enough of a mixture of new and old. I love your mix! And have a new title or two to add to my list…

    1. Oh good! I love adding titles to people’s lists! Lol. And yeah, that was one of the things I was going for was a good balance between the classics and the newer titles!

    1. Thanks! I’m always happy when I get to bring new titles to people’s attention!

  3. Wow, fantastic! I LOVE how you included movies as well as TV in here! And can I just say that “Dollhouse” is a great addition I adored that show!

    1. Thanks! I know! Dollhouse like most of Whedon should never have been cancelled!

  4. Great list! Agree on The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984, Divergent, The Hunger Games, and The Giver.

    I have Never Let Me Go and Welcome to the Monkey House so I definitely can’t wait to read those. Dystopian novels is like on the top of my favorite genre to read so I’m so glad you have some of my personal favorites listed on here. 😀

    1. Thanks Erika! It’s at the top of my favorites too! Let me know what you think of Never Let Me Go. It’s one of my favorites!

  5. I love this list! I’ve read everything on it except the Vonnegut. I guess that’s going on my TBR list. I adore the inclusion of Dollhouse in the supplemental material.

    1. Thanks! I loved Dollhouse so I had to include it! I haven’t read all the stories in that Vonnegut collection so I’m not sure if any more fall under the Dystopian umbrella but I’d be thrilled if they did.

    1. Oh yes! That’s one of the few books I can read over and over again.

  6. I love The Giver! It’s such a well-written and thought provoking book.

    Great list 🙂

    1. Thanks! The Giver is one of my favorite books of all time and one I like to re-read every few years.

    1. I was obsessed with Sliders! And with Jerry O’Connell. Lol. Continuum is good. Some episodes are better than others. It just got cancelled annoyingly since the last season was great and seemed to really be finding its rhythm. Always a risk with Canadian imports though sadly.

  7. Oh man. I hope the class you’re using these books in is for university students. Some of those titles are a bit dark and, dare I say, inappropriate for younger readers. Goodness knows I was scarred by a couple when I was younger. Even so, I still love me a dystopian.

    1. Hahahaha. Yah I would probably say it would be a college level class. It’s surprising to me though how young some of these do get taught though. We forget that Hunger Games is actually a Scholastic children’s title and my nephew’s class read it in 4th grade. Obviously that’s one of the milder ones but I think because they do have such deep thought provoking messages. They do get covered at a lot younger ages than maybe we’d expect them to be. I read most of these in my 20’s though and I definitely don’t want to scar any kids! Lol

      1. 4th grade?! Goodness gracious. That’s most definitely not the type of books I was reading at that age (though I hated reading at that age. So, I suppose my argument’s invalid.) Anyway! Yeah, I read ‘Brave New World’ and other age-inappropriate dystopian novels in middle school and early high school as part of the required reading list. We also watched ‘Gattaca’ and ‘The Island’ in early high school, as well. Though, most of the titles you mentioned weren’t out yet until I was in college and, even if they were, my grade school teachers enjoyed older ‘classic’ literature.

      2. See I don’t know how I would have reacted to reading or watching these at a younger age. I was shocked that my nephew’s class was reading Hunger Games. But my first dystopian story was in 5th grade and I loved how it made me think. I loved Gattaca so so much and I think would have loved being exposed to that in high-school. But I can see where Brave New World even though it’s a classic is a little bit much for teens to try and process even with an adult guiding the conversation. But I think a lot of what we read had elements that were harsh and adult. Lord of the Flies. The Scarlett Letter. Hamlet. We weren’t just being taught YA lit back then we were being taught lit and I think that’s good to some extent in a classroom environment where ideally there is open communication and a conversation about what is being read, but I know all teachers don’t teach to that ideal.

    1. Oh I hope you get to read some of them and let me know what you think! 🙂

  8. I loveddddd Delirum! The world Oliver created was so dope,(and incredibly shitty) and her writing was absolutely beautiful! I liked Divergent, but Allegiant pretty much ruined the entire trilogy for me lol. I actually started Never Let Me Go in 2013 or 14 can’t remember, but I put it down because at the time, it wasn’t for me. I’m a completely different reader now, so I may have to pick it back up!

    1. Yah it’s interesting to read books at different times in our lives and see them from a different perspective. And Delirium was insane in so many ways.

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