The Dystopian Novels Every Woman Should Read After The Handmaid's Tale

Sales of George Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984 surged on Amazon after Donald Trump was elected president last November. A debate raged as to whether the American population would be subdued through fear, as in 1984, or sated by pleasure, as in Aldous Huxley’s iconic dystopia, Brave New World. It’s safe to say that since November, dystopia has been in the air.

But with the release of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, a whole new dystopian narrative is coming to the forefront of the cultural dialogue. The Handmaid’s Tale, based on the 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood, envisions America after a religious coup strips women of their rights and codifies them within a stiff hierarchy, largely to wrestle with the rise of infertility. In Gilead, fertile women are leased out as “handmaids” to powerful families.

With some modern touches, Hulu’s adaptation brings Atwood’s novel into shockingly relatable territory. While watching, you just might think: Could this actually happen? Through the introduction of alternate realities, dystopias encourage people to reconsider their present day.

If The Handmaid’s Tale has blown your mind and you’re hungry for more dystopian stories with a focus on women, check out these novels.

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Station Eleven (2014)

By Emily St John Mandel

This layered, lyrical novel opens on the night of a production of King Lear — the last night of the world as we know it. By that evening, the highly contagious (and fictional) Georgian flu will have begun its deathly spree around the globe. Fifteen years on, the Traveling Symphony tours a ravaged American landscape, putting on Shakespeare plays for straggling communities of survivors.

Switching perspective between past and present, Station Eleven follows the strange twists and coincidences that connect five people over the years, all introduced in the very first scene.
Courtesy of HarperCollins
The Book of Joan (2017)

By Lidia Yuknavitch

This sci-fi retelling of Joan of Arc, a classic story of women's resistance, is certain to satisfy any fan of The Handmaid's Tale.

It's the year 2049, and unceasing wars have irrevocably damaged the surface of the Earth. Some humans orbit the planet on a space station called CIEL; meanwhile, surviving earthlings on the ground have turned into sexless, hairless creatures who tattoo their life stories onto their skin. While Jean de Men turns the CIEL into a police state, rebels are galvanized by Joan, an earthling child warrior who communicates with the planet and is the only one who can save a war-ravaged Earth.
Courtesy of Algonquin
When She Woke (2012)

By Hillary Jordan

Place the The Scarlet Letter into today's society, and you'll get When She Woke, the chilling story of a woman forced to display a physical manifestation of her so-called crime. Hannah Payne lives in an America taken over by a highly conservative government — think The Handmaid's Tale's Gilead meetings Puritanical Salem. After an STD renders the majority of women infertile, the government overturns Roe v. Wade to mitigate population loss. But after Hannah has an affair with the priest of her megachurch, she gets an illegal abortion. As punishment for an abortion, 26-year-old Hannah Payne's skin will be altered red — the color given to murderers. And from there, she's forced to cope in the general population as best she can.
Never Let Me Go (2005)

By Kazuo Ishiguro

Kathy, the narrator of this sparse tale, looks back at her childhood idyll at the Halisham school with fondness. Kathy reminisces about her long-lasting friendship with Ruth and Tommy, and their days learning, creating art, and growing up together. But by now, Kathy knows the truth of her upbringing and perhaps shouldn't be so nostalgic. If you've avoided spoilers about this chilling novel so far, consider yourself lucky — and go read it ASAP.
Courtesy of Mariner Books
The Stone Gods (2007)

By Jeanette Winterson

People on Earth are ablaze with talk of the new blue planet — untouched and plentiful, the blue planet has limitless possibilities, as Earth once had. Meanwhile, Billie Crusoe and Robo sapien Spike, both assigned to colonize the planet, are falling in love. When their trip backfires, Billie Crusoe and Spike find themselves in the distant past. Not only is The Stone Gods structured in a narratively fascinating fashion, it's also rendered beautiful by Winterson's prose.
Courtesy of Balzer and Bray
Bumped (2011)

By Megan McCafferty

Ah, the age-old infertility plot strikes again. A virus renders everyone above 18 infertile, so teen pregnancies are necessary for the furthering of humanity in this YA novel. The smartest, prettiest, and healthiest teens strike barters with couples seeking children, receiving material gifts or college tuition in exchange for a baby. Sixteen-year-old Melody thinks she's hit it out of the park after she's matched with Jondoe, a beautiful "bumping" partner. But then, her identical twin sister crawls out of the woodwork, set to save Melody from her intended "sin."
The Left Hand Of Darkness (1987)

By Ursula Le Guin

In this iconic work of science fiction, Genly Ai is sent to the planet Gethen as a representative for the Ekumen, a confederation of planets. While Genly wants to convince Gethen to join their ranks, there's something about the people that perplex him. The inhabitants are ambisexual, meaning they are neither male nor female. This thought experiment envisions a society without the prejudices of gender, to fascinating degrees.
Courtesy of Anchor
The Year Of The Flood (2009)

By Margaret Atwood

In The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood brings her dystopian A-game to creating a world shaped by socioeconomic inequality and ecological warfare, more than conservative forces as in The Handmaid's Tale. In this hellscape, the United States is run by a corporate elite, and the wealthiest elite are cordoned off on compounds. Toby, the book's heroine, is a member of an ecologically-minded Christian sect, and is determined to use her knowledge to save the world from the coming apocalypse. Will she do it in time?

For more of this shocking world, read the other two novels in Atwood's Maddaddam Trilogy.
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