Ah, books: the best friends who will always be with us, even after civilization ends. We may only be able to read by the light of day, but we’ll keep on reading until the sun explodes.
We’ve collected five of our favorite dystopian novels from a few different genres to jumpstart the booklearnin’ portion of your disaster preparedness. They may be fiction, but they can still teach us something about humanity at the end of its rope. Here they are, in no particular order! Scroll down for more info on each one.
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- The Road by Cormac McCarthy
- Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
- The Stand by Stephen King
- Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
- The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
BONUS – Only Begotten Daughter by James K. Morrow
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
- Genre: Science Fiction, Suspense, Contemporary
- Our Summary: Everybody loves a good road trip movie! This is not that. This is a road trip novel that will haunt you so hard that you will surpass the limits of hauntedness and circle right back to being completely unhaunted. (I hope.) It’s also a tale of father/son bonding for the ages! You’ll laugh (citation needed); you’ll cry; you’ll scream in terror. You’ll give your papa a call and tell him you love him, and that you’re thinking about buying a pistol. You’ll love the immersive feel of the wasteland with bandits lurking in the shadows, threatening our heroes and their ultimate goal of making it to safety so they can just give each other a hug in peace.
- GoodReads Community Rating: 3.98/5 stars (832,865 ratings and 53,080 reviews)
- Our favorite GoodReads review: “The Road is suffocating; it is claustrophobic and it is entrapping. What McCarthy shows us, is that no matter how shit human society may become (has already become?) it will always have the possibility of rejuvenation. There is light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. The entire novel is an allegory, one that is not revealed until the final few pages.” –Sean Barrs
Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
- Genre: Shockingly-Accurate Science Fiction, Afrofuturism
- Our Summary: This book from 1993 is set in 2026, and it’s wild to witness the parallels to our present time. Among other disturbing similarities, society is unsafe, with police officers on the take and uninterested in protecting or serving. Our 15 year old heroine lives in a compound near Los Angeles, which she escapes after it is burned to the ground. As she and her companions travel in search of safety, she puts her hyperempathy to use in the service of reinvigorating compassion in the people they meet along the way. Do they develop a new religion as a means of righting society’s ills? You’ll have to read it to find out!
- GoodReads Community Rating: 4.21/5 stars (134,786 ratings and 14,246 reviews)
- Our favorite GoodReads review: “Octavia Butler is an absolute gem of a writer and, while it is sad that the current state of world affairs leads people to seek out a book like this, I’m glad Butler was there to have a nearly perfect one ready and waiting. Earthseed is an interesting concept to consider, particularly because it is fairly secular, so those without a religious bent will not be turned off by strong focus on developing an afro-futurist belief system. In fact, it’s all rather beautiful and encouraging. This is the book I would most recommend for those looking for something in the 1984/BNW/etc category of dystopian classics. Butler invites us all to help build a better world before it is too late.” –s.penkevich
The Stand by Stephen King
- Genre: Horror, Supernatural Fantasy
- Our Summary: Before you begin, know that this book has more than 1,000 pages, so prospective readers should start their eyeball exercises now. Almost immediately, both the likable and unlikable humans face a plague with an amazing kill rate; it outpaces the bubonic plagues of the Middle Ages, even with the help of modern (1970s) medicine. The survivors are few, and they start having dreams. As they meet one another on their journeys, they realize they’re all having the same dreams, with two opposing sources. What we thought was a standard plague dystopia is really a war between good and evil, putting individuals’ free will to the test and putting your imagination into warp speed. One of the most inventive and gory works of apocalyptic fiction you’ll ever encounter!
- GoodReads Community Rating: 4.34/5 stars (716,924 ratings and 26,829 reviews)
- Our favorite GoodReads review: “If King would have just written a book about a world destroyed by plague and a small number of people struggling in the aftermath, it probably would have been a compelling story. What sets this one apart is the supernatural element. Flagg is the embodiment of evil and chaos. He’s a mysterious figure who has been giving the wrong people the push needed for them to make things worse for everyone, and he sees the plague as his chance to fulfill his own destiny as a wrecker of humanity.” –Kemper
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
- Genre: Scientific Science Fiction, Dystopia
- Our Summary: Surprise, surprise. Corporations take over and burn it all to the ground while testing the limits of genetic experimentation. A non-accidental pandemic has taken down humanity, and the one remaining representative of Homo sapiens is Snowman. This story is a truly, madly, deeply upsetting exploration of human nature, so take care of yourself while reading. It’s also a story about complicated friendship! In a flashback, Snowman’s childhood friend, Crake, develops a genetically engineered species of humanoids (Crakers) and does a bunch of other balls-to-the-wall sociopathic stuff. Things don’t turn out well for him. Snowman’s journey through a dystopian landscape in search of survival is chaotic and feral, with “fun” around every turn.
- GoodReads Community Rating: 4.01/5 stars (253,122 ratings and 15,621 reviews)
- Our favorite GoodReads review: ‘Once again, Atwood takes a current trend (this time it’s bio/genetic engineering) and extrapolates it to an insane extent, creating a horrifying world of social disparity, violence, genetic hybrids, raging man-made viruses… The author’s imagination is limitless, her command of English language is mind-blowing. This book is so much more than a science fiction novel that it so often labeled. It is a deeply philosophical book that raises numerous questions: is it wise to artificially alter something created and perfected by Nature over millions of years? does a man have a right to engineer a “perfect human” and decide who lives and who dies? or is there such a thing as a “perfect human”?’ –Tatiana
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
- Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Adventure, Teen Romance
- Our Summary: Hey, it looks like the US! But is it, really? Twelve districts of varying resources surround and support The Capitol. The Hunger Games is a reality TV competition with compulsory participation from the districts. The objective of each cast member is to kill everyone else. Did we mention the participants are kids? Our heroine, Katniss, is here to chew gum and shoot arrows… and she’s all out of chewing gum.
- GoodReads Community Rating: 4.33/5 stars (7,870,807 ratings and 192,132 reviews)
- Our favorite GoodReads review: “I more think this series is interesting in how it talks about the nature of power and the nature of uprising. The uprising, as a whole, is an upswelling of the people, a realization that there is strength in numbers. Yet some of the most revolutionary actions of this series are individual — it takes Katniss’ desire to save her sister to start a war, Katniss’ love for little Rue to create horror, Cinna’s willingness to sacrifice his life to create a symbol. Even during war, the individual lives of characters like Joanna and Haymitch and Finnick matter. They matter to the narrative, and thus they matter to us too.” –Elle (ellexamines)
That’s it for our 5 favorite dystopian novels, but if you need some more jokes in your life as you prepare for the end of the world, stick around for our bonus pick! And if you’re ready to get started on your disaster prep after these reads, we’ve got everything you need.
BONUS: Only Begotten Daughter by James Morrow
- Genre: Humor, Religious Science Fiction
- Our Summary: Starting off strong with an immaculately conceived test tube baby, this book flips that tired old Christian script on its head before the End of the World begins. The child of God is a girl! And she doesn’t even know she’s a special one. After a delightful bildungsroman and a brief stint in hell, our heroine comes back to a fully wack scenario on Earth. Things are not good, to the tune of state secession and well-attended public executions. A real shitshow! It’s the perfect religious dystopia for anyone who thinks that deities might be real, but benign… and it’s their rabid followers you have to look out for.
- GoodReads Community Rating: 3.89/5 stars (1,744 ratings and 117 reviews)
- Our favorite GoodReads review: “You know, as funny as meeting Jesus in Hell is going to be, serving heroin to the damned in a soup kitchen just before they completely obliterate themselves. Or the realization that Jesus has a sister. A modern one. A true begotten daughter of God. Julie: the one who talks to sponges, gets scolded for performing miracles, gets embroiled in a plot of Satan, and who absolutely ADORES science. […] Sure, we’ve had a number of classics that skewered religion before, but few do it as regularly and consistently and as cleverly as this one. The real devil is in the details, and this one gets under your skin like the buckshot of a shotgun.” –Bradley