My Favourite… Women Writers of Dystopian Fiction

25th May 2012

When I first read 1984 in my GCSE English class, it was one of the greatest literary moments of my life (perhaps only beaten by my A-Level English Literature essay, ‘compare and contrast dystopian themes in 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale’).

My hunger for dystopian fiction seems to know no boundaries, and while I still feel like I am very naïve to some of the dystopian greats around me, I couldn’t resist the temptation to tell you about the women who have created my favourite nightmare societies.

Margaret Atwood

Atwood’s The Handmaids Tale is an essential text for any feminist/dystopian lover/person who enjoys a bloody good read. Although it is not Atwood’s only dystopian novel (see Oryx and Crake and The Year Of The Flood), The Handmaid’s Tale is undoubtedly my favourite Atwood novel and in my top ten favourite novels of all time.

Like all good dystopian writers, Atwood creates a terrifying totalitarian government, where men rule and women are put into a hierarchy to serve a man’s needs.

Even when you think a woman is able to temporarily escape the regime, Atwood takes away your hope and shows you the ugliness of the society.

I wish I could tell you every single thing I love about The Handmaid’s Tale, from the naming of characters and their relationships with each other to the stunning ending which makes you want to scream at society.

I won’t give it all away because this is a novel you must read, and then watch the film with Natasha Richardson to round things off nicely.

Lauren Oliver

Lauren Oliver’s Delirium is the perfect book for any young adult who wants to get into dystopian fiction. Delirium and Pandemonium; the first two books of a trilogy; follow the story of Lena, a teenage girl who grows up in a world where love, or amor deliria nervosa, is a disease that the government is trying to eradicate.

Set in the US in an alternative present, Lena is nearing her operation to remove the part of the brain that allows a person to love. She will then be paired up with someone who the regime deems ‘compatible’ and live a 1950’s style life of ‘happiness’ with them.

However, Lena falls in love, properly in love. Delirium follows her plan to escape her city and her terrifying future, and the equally fantastic Pandemonium is a continuation of her story.

Lauren Oliver writes books I cannot put down. Her dystopian society is so realistic it makes me a little bit terrified, and it will make you question whether love is a curse or a blessing. Both books are full of unpredictable surprises that will tear at your heart.

Lauren DeStefano

Lauren DeStefano is a very simplistic writer. Her young adult series The Chemical Gardens is very easy to read, so easy that at first I didn’t get along with it.

However, the world DeStefano creates is very interesting; while genetic engineers were trying to make ‘the perfect human’, they somehow got things horribly wrong. This results in women dying at the age of 20, and men dying at the age of 25.

To try and counter this, ‘first generation’ men, as in, those who were born before everything went wrong, have decided that some men will have lots of young wives and spend a lot of time making a lot of babies.

At first I thought that DeStefano’s world was too closely based on The Handmaid’s Tale and lacked original thought. However, while there is a similarity in the patriarchal structure, the characters are very different and the storyline begins to take a different direction several chapters in.

While the writing does not focus as much on the dystopian aspects of the world they live in, the characters and the storyline make this book a sort of holiday read for fans of dystopian fiction. You don’t have to think too much about it but it is very much enjoyable.

Which women create your favourite dystopian worlds? And are women dystopian authors less prevalent than their male counterparts?

 Lauren Peel

(Image via Aaron Phelps)


  • Beulah Maud says:

    Your A-Level coursework shits all over my Enduring Love essays (urgh), thanks for the recommendations!

    • Lauren says:

      Oh dear, I also did Enduring Love but managed to avoid writing any essays on it! I just could not get along with it at all…

      • Beulah Maud says:

        Good maneuvering, it was that or Wuthering Heights for me (which I still haven’t finished reading – FBS fraud)

        • Alex Herod says:

          Wuh? Handmaid’s Tale essays? I spent my A Levels sulking my way through Bleak House*

          Great post, thanks Lauren!

          *I had to do exams on Bleak House at both A Level and Degree level… I never got past Chapter 6 but my teacher did have the heart to tell me that whilst the essay i’d handed in was excellent in style and structure, a quick look at the actual book would have told me it should have concerned a character called SIR Leicester, not a woman called Celesta… stupid book.

        • Libby says:

          Funny how we can get turned off by being forced to read fiction too young. I have it with The Grapes of Wrath. Wuthering Heights is a quick and spooky read though – totally worth it if you can put the bad memories behind … I like to imagine the girls sitting by candle light making up these outrageous and dark stories to freak each other out.

        • Lauren says:

          I somehow managed to get away with doing the dystopian essay, a character study of Lady Macbeth (AMAZING) and an exam on Gatsby. I love Gatsby…

          Sadly I also had to look at The Rime of the Ancient Mariner which was not for me. Not for me at all.

  • Libby says:

    Great! I have a long trip coming up and feel Delirium calling so hard.

    • Lauren says:

      Have you read it before? It’s not too long so if you’re away for a while, take Pandemonium with you too!!

  • Sarah says:

    I’m at CrimeFest in Bristol at the moment and there was a discussion yesterday on the influence of Ira Levin’s ‘The Stepford Wives’ on Attwood’s ‘Handmaid’s Tale’. I’d never noticed the similarity before but I can see how you could make links between the two books. Attwood apart, I haven’t read your suggestions but they are very tempting….

  • Joy says:

    Lauren Beukes “Zoo City”;
    Lauren Beukes “Moxy Land”;
    Jane Rogers “The Testament of Jessie Lamb”;
    Sheri S Tepper “A Plague of Angels.

  • Joy says:

    Octavia E Butler “Lilith’s Brood” (omnibus comprising the Xenogenesis trilogy “Dawn”, “Adulthood Rites”, “Imago”);
    Octavia E Butler Parable series “Parable of the Sower” and “Parable of the Talents”;
    Ursula K Le Guin “The Left Hand of Darkness”, “The Dispossessed”;
    Suzy McKee Charnas – The Holdfast Chronicles: “The Slave and the Free” (comprising “Walk to the End of the World” and “Motherlines”), “The Furies”, “The Conqueror’s Child”.

  • Joy says:

    Joanna Russ “The Female Man”

  • Libby says:

    Oh my god, i love Lauren Oliver and Delirium. Thank you for the wonderful tip.

  • Natasha says:

    I never took to the Handmaid’s Tale!
    But I loved Sheri S Tepper’s ‘Beauty’ and ‘Gibbon’s Decline and Fall’ I read those when I was 15/16 and they resonated with me to the point that I’m almost sure any feminism I believe in stems from those books!

  • Jess says:

    Reading your opinion on ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is like reading my own writing on the subject! My favourite novel, also discovered at A-Level, that time that (apparently) traditionally makes people passionately hate the books they study, I’ve read it so many times I’ve lost count and every time I do, I discover new levels and new things to love about it.

    Thanks for the other recommendations!