Released in 1949 as George Orwell’s final book, 1984 is one of the most popular dystopian books addressing the matters of individual freedom, privacy, and political oppression in a futuristic society.
The novel follows protagonist Winston Smith’s fight against the totalitarian superstate of Oceania, where The Party and Big Brother control every aspect of life through constant surveillance and the Thought Police. Smith begins to illegally journal his desires for a revolution, and he pursues a forbidden romantic relationship with his coworker, Julia. He eventually finds himself a target of The Party and their reform program for people who don’t comply with the prescribed order of society.
Many years later, 1984 is still heralded as a prototype for the dystopian, fiction genre. Here are 15 other fiction books with similar, thought-provoking plots and themes:
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1. The Handmaid’s Tail
In this 1985 book, the oppressive nation of Gilead has replaced the United States, and birth rates have plummeted. To repopulate society, the government forces the remaining fertile women to become surrogates for the elite. The novel follows one woman’s struggle to escape this situation and reunite with her kidnapped daughter.
The book shares many similarities to 1984. In both worlds, the oppressive governments use intimidation, manipulation, and constant surveillance to oppress their citizens. In addition, both books refer to the secret police that constantly monitor the lives of the main characters.
In 2017, a television series based on the novel debuted on Hulu. The first season of the series won eight Primetime Emmy Awards, making it the first Hulu series to win such an award.
2. Fahrenheit 451
The firemen in this 1953 novel don’t extinguish fires the same way they did before. Now, they start them. As in 1984, the citizens in Fahrenheit 451 are only allowed to consume the knowledge and information that the government permits them to. As such, the firemen are required to burn books because they make people think and pose a threat to the establishment.
Instead of reading books, people consume excessive amounts of television and they don’t engage in any activities that offer depth to their lives. Guy Montag is a fireman who eventually begins to question this state of existence and the idea of burning books altogether. Throughout the novel, he embarks on a painful journey of self-discovery as he seeks to reclaim knowledge and his individuality.
In 2018, Director Ramin Bahrani released a film adaptation of the book, starring Michael B. Jordan, Aaron Davis, and Cindy Katz.
3. The Shore of Women
In this feminist-themed, science-fiction book, women are the new rulers of a post-nuclear society, while men are banished and used only for procreation. When protagonist Birana begins to question this new matriarchal authority, she too is banished. After meeting a man named, she embarks on a journey of rediscovery as she learns to interact with the men she was once taught to hate.
A common theme in many dystopian novels is the distant relationships between men and women. In 1984, women and men were not allowed to have intimate relationships outside of procreation, and like Winston, Birana also became a target for resisting these new societal norms.
Pamela Sargent is an esteemed science-fiction author, who in 2012 was honored with the Science Fiction Research Association’s Pilgrim Award for her lifetime contributions to the science-fiction genre.
4. Before She Sleeps
In this 2019 thriller, the government of Green City controls its citizens with modern technology and terror and intimidation. Due to the unbalanced ratio of men to women, women must have multiple husbands to repopulate society. The government uses surveillance methods similar to those in 1984 to ensure compliance.
One group of rebel women find a way to give men intimacy without intercourse. When the government finds out, it seeks to destroy the collective of rebellious women.
This 2009 book explores the consequences of human’s dependence on animals for food.
100 years into the future, animals go extinct, and people must find a new food source. People who are considered genetically disabled are labeled as a permanent underclass and take the place of the animals as the new food.
Like 1984, Animals also addresses the concept of individual freedoms. The disabled human beings who are now food are no longer considered humans and must struggle to survive in a society that has decided their destinies.
6. Tokyo Doesn’t Love Us Anymore
This book was first published in 1999 as Tokio ya no nos quiere and then republished in 2003 under the English title Tokyo Doesn’t Love Us Anymore. In Loriga’s futuristic world, a pharmaceutical company referred to as “The Company” touts a new, miracle drug that promises to erase one memory of your choice. The protagonist was once an avid salesman of the new pill, but once he begins to use it he wounds up in a drug-induced haze that leaves him struggling to grasp reality.
The citizens in 1984 had their individualities stripped through totalitarianism. In Tokyo Doesn’t Love Us Anymore, however, it is the pharmaceutical industry that causes the main character to struggle with the question of what it means to be human.
The book received several positive reviews on Publishers Weekly. It also may have influenced the 2011 movie Limitless, in which the main character’s life goes awry after taking a miracle drug that increases brainpower.
Published in 1938, Anthem presents a tense, dystopian future where people have no names and no individuality. Committees make all decisions, and everyone lives collectively on one accord.
Protagonist Equality 7-2521 finds the courage to break away from this dystopian society by daring to demonstrate independent thought-something considered a sin in this society. He and his love interest decide to flee, making them both targets for elimination. Like Winston in 1984, Equality 7-2521 ultimately decides that taking a chance on a degree of freedom is worth the risk.
8. Brave New World
Published in 1931, Brave New World is set in the futuristic society of World State. Here, the children are produced through genetic engineering and grouped into castes. Everyone uses a drug called “soma” to avoid the unpleasantries of life, and artificial happiness is the way of life.
The first half of the plot follows World State citizen Bernard Marx and the second half follows outsider John, known as “The Savage”. Both protagonists come to question the status quo of the World State and its obsession with creating the perfect society uniform society similar to that of 1984.
Due to sensitive topics such as sexuality and racism, Brave New World has frequently been challenged and banned in the United States and other countries.
It has consistently been included on the American Library Association’s top list of challenged books.
Many people see this 1924 novel as a precursor to 1984. In the fictional One State, citizens are subject to the oppressive rule of The Benefactor, and they live in transparent homes in a land surrounded by a glass border.
Protagonist D-503, a mathematician, suddenly discovers that he can dream. Dreaming is considered an illness by the government, but D-503 finds that not only can he dream, but he also has an individual soul, imagination, lust, and other relics of human existence.
There was much controversy surrounding the life of the author after he wrote the book. The Soviet Union initially banned the book and imprisoned the author until 1931. In 1988, Russia finally allowed the book to be printed.
10. It Can’t Happen Here
Lewis Sinclair became the first writer from the United States to win the Nobel Prize for literature in 1920. By 1935, however, his concerns about world politics grew tremendously, leading him to write this book.
It Can’t Happen Here tells of the rise of a fascist regime in the United States under President Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip. The novel’s narrator is Doremus Jessup, a newspaper editor who later publishes anti-Windrip newspapers through an underground network.
The plot mirrors the primary concern of 1984: a centralized, oppressive political regime in which no one is free to question anything. The Windrip presidency can be seen as a slippery slope to the extreme dystopian society of 1984.
11. The Circle
In this 2013 novel, Mae Holland lands her dream job at The Circle, a burgeoning tech company comparable to Google or Facebook. While The Circle initially seems like a cutting-edge firm, it ultimately seeks to control the privacy of its employees and customers. As Mae climbs the corporate ladder, she ignores warnings about the consequences of a surveillance-based technological society, and a series of events unfold.
Like 1984‘s Big brother, The Circle is also always watching. As the book progresses, The Circle gains more transparency into the lives of everyone, and readers find themselves challenged to consider the current state of technological affairs. In 2017, a film was released based on the novel.
12. Material Girls
In this 2013 book, teenagers are the real trendsetters of society. A prominent fashion label hires 16-year-old Marla to develop the latest fashion trends, while teen pop star Ivy markets the trends to her fans. Over time, however, the teens begin to question the obsession with consumerism, and they dare to go against the very same industry that controls their livelihood.
Material Girls puts a modern spin on the Orwellian theme. Instead of resisting a totalitarian government, the protagonists in Material Girls stand up to a company that ultimately seeks to exploit children for profit.
13. Jennifer Government
In this 2003 novel, the future government is 100% privatized, and corporate entities have complete control over the lives of everyone. People even take the last name of their employers. When Hack Nike’s employer reveals a murderous marketing plan for their latest shoes, Jennifer Government has to stop them.
In this world where people take on the last name of the company they work for, the common Orwellian theme of sacrificing individuality to an entity larger than oneself is prevalent here. Such a sacrifice, as this book shows, can have deadly consequences.
14. The Giver
Narrated by 11-year-old Jonas, this 1993 novel introduces a new painless society where emotional depth and individuality have become “sameness”. When the protagonist Jonas turns 12, he is next in line to becomes the Receiver of Memory, a person who stores the good and bad collective memories of the old society. After realizing that the ability to feel pain makes someone uniquely human, he seeks a new life outside of the utopian society of sameness.
Although The Giver initially depicts the new society as paradise, it has some elements of Orwellian culture: a society with set rules and the main character who seeks to break away from the status quo.
The Giver has sold more than 10 million copies and has won numerous awards, such as the 1994 Newbery Medal. in 2014, a film adaptation of the novel was produced, starring Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges,
15. Pills and Starships
In this 2014 novel, corporations offer citizens two ways to numb their pain in this dystopian society. They can either take the psychotropic drug known as pharma or purchase a corporate death contract that allows an adult to end their lives at whatever age they desire. When two siblings learn that their parents bought a death contract, they discover secrets about the corporations and then try to save their parents’ lives.
As with 1984, it is presumed that most of the citizens in Pills and Starships don’t question the reality of their existence in the dystopia.
Instead, the only choice they have is to make themselves numb to reality through drugs or other means. Although they are children, the protagonists are brave enough to challenge the status quo for the people they love.