Author Dan Wells explains why writing dystopia is like one giant conversation spanning all of human history, and offers his own recommendations.
Ruins is the third and final novel in the Partials Sequence, a story that's equal parts dystopia, post-apocalypse, and epic quest. I was inspired by a lot of different sources, which is one of the greatest things about fiction: I write one thing, you write something similar, someone else writes their own take on it, and suddenly we have a giant conversation of ideas and hopes and fears, reaching around the world and spanning all of human history. It's our greatest achievement as a species. And if you're anything like me, and you're totally fascinated with this “dystopia” part of the conversation, I've got some awesome recommendations you may not have read yet:
The Island of Dr. Moreau, by H.G. Wells Look, another Wells! Dr. Moreau lives on an uncharted island, where the sub-human natives seem to worship him as a god. A shipwrecked man starts to suspect that they're humans, altered to be more animalistic, but soon learns the darker truth: they're actually animals who've been altered and indoctrinated to become more human. It's a terrifying exploration of where power comes from, how societies work, and what it means to be human.
A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller, Jr. This story begins with a group of monks in the post-nuclear ruins of the southwestern US, carefully gathering up the remnants of human civilization and preserving them for a time when humanity is ready to unlock the secrets of the past...and then we jump forward a few hundred years, and we unlock the same nuclear secrets that destroyed us in the first place, and we do it all over again. The darkness comes when you realize that there's no one forcing us to live in a dystopia, it's just our own fallible nature, returning to the same mistakes over and over.
A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle This is not a full dystopia, but as the characters travel through alien worlds and dimensions they arrive in one of the scariest dystopias I've ever encountered. Camazotz is a world similar to our own, but driven by a central consciousness so overwhelming it forces everyone to conform to it—they live in the same houses, they leave at the same time going to the same places, they even come out to "play" at exactly the same time, bouncing their balls in perfect, soulless unison. It's no exaggeration to say that this terrified me as a child. It forced me to examine my life, then and every day since, to make sure I was doing things because I chose to, and not just because the world, or my teachers or my parents or my boss or my friends or whoever, were making me.
“'Repent, Harlequin!' Said The Ticktockman,” by Harlan Ellison “Repent, Harlequin” is one of the greatest SF short stories ever written, if not one of the greatest short stories of any genre. It tells about a future so strictly regimented that being late is not only an expensive inconvenience, it's a crime. Fittingly for a story about a roguish troublemaker, the story is told in a chaotic mishmash: parts of it are out of order, words get mashed together or are made up completely, and standard rules of grammar and punctuation and spelling are alternately followed or discarded, seemingly on a whim. It's one of the best “stick it to the man” stories ever told, and it's about ten pages long, and it includes one hundred and fifty thousand dollars worth of jelly beans. How can you go wrong?