With the ever-growing success of Margaret Atwood‘s The Handmaid’s Tale since its debut in 1985, both the book and its subsequent TV adaptation, you may find you’re after something similar to read when you need your next lit fix. There’s no doubt that its relevance and its cultural impact is heavily felt today, after all these years, especially during the #MeToo era.
It has now spawned a whole new sci-fi subgenre of dystopian feminist fiction, which has grown hugely popular, especially over the last few years, and has also helped elevate and amplify the voices of lots of female writers as well as shine a light on many important women’s issues. Some have even already been lined up for TV and movie adaptations. And we can only hope others do too.
Here are some picks of the best feminist dystopian science fiction novels out there at the moment that need to be added to your reading list pronto…
Margaret Atwood – The Testaments (2019)
In what has been deemed the literary event of this year, this compelling story of The Handmaid’s Tale continues in this long-awaited sequel that has been 35 years in the making, bringing everything full circle. The sequel picks up straight from where its predecessor left off and continues the events in the totalitarian state of Gilead from the last book fifteen years later with an explosive conclusion. Its screen adaptation is already in the works at Hulu.
Stephen and Owen King – Sleeping Beauties (2017)
One of his more recent works, the feminist dystopian novel receives the Stephen King treatment. Written with his son Owen, Sleeping Beauties is set in a women’s prison in the small town of Dooling, West Virginia and dares to ask what would happen if women disappeared from the world of men? While it might not be the most notable King novel, it’s still definitely worth a read.
Leni Zumas – Red Clocks (2018)
An extremely timely book, Red Clocks is a fascinating and intriguing novel which explores the lives of five very different women who are navigating their way in a society in which abortion has been made illegal in every state. The novel takes us through various issues that bears so much relevance within today’s current societal climate with its compelling narrative and its nuanced characters.
Naomi Alderman – The Power (2016)
Soon to be adapted into a TV series by Amazon Studios, which has already cast Leslie Mann in a role, The Power tells the thought-provoking story of what would happen if women had all the power. In The Power, women discover that they are able to electrocute through their fingers and inflict devastating pain and sometimes even death, overpowering men.
Kim Liggett – The Grace Year (2019)
The Grace Year is a must-read YA novel which could be envisioned as The Handmaid’s Tale for a whole new generation, mixed in with a bit of Lord of The Flies. It has already been lined up for a movie adaptation from Universal to be directed by Elizabeth Banks. The story follows a 16-year-old girl named Tierney, who is sent off along with a group of teenage girls to an isolated forest to rid themselves of magic and become purified for a year.
Christina Dalcher – VOX (2018)
This award-winning, best-selling novel, tells the story of what happens when women do not have a voice and are only allowed to speak 100 words a day. Also, there is a word counter which gives the jolt of electricity if the word count is exceeded at any point. This is a well-written thriller with a very chilling premise – an intriguing read.
Octavia Butler – Parable of The Sower (1993)
Part of a series, Parable of The Sower is a dystopian novel, sharing similarities to Stephen King’s The Stand and Cormac McCarthy’s On The Road, which explores race, sex and power. This is the first novel in a series of books which follows the protagonist Lauren Olamina as she develops her own religious system in the form of Earthseed.
Sophie Mackintosh – The Water Cure (2018)
The short but sinister debut novel from Sophie Mackintosh is a beautifully written, chilling masterpiece which follows three sisters, Grace, Lia and Sky. The girls live on an island with their parents, who are trying to keep them safe from the contaminated water that surrounds the island, until men one day start being washed ashore and, you guessed it, trouble ensues.
Jenny Melamed – Gather The Daughters (2017)
If you love The Handmaid’s Tale, then you’ll definitely be compelled to read this gem. Gather The Daughters is a very dark, dystopian tale set on an isolated island (starting to notice a bit of a theme here). The story has a lot of depth regarding its story and its characters and also covers so many important themes and issues.
Kristen Simmons – The Glass Arrow (2015)
This YA fantasy story follows Aya, who lives with a small group of women who are hunted down by men who wish to auction off their breeding rights to the highest bidder. It acts as an important commentary on female rights and fertility. A terrifying concept where women have no say, just like in many of the aforementioned titles.
Virginia Bergin – Who Runs The World? (2017)
A world without men? Have you ever wondered what that would be like? Then you should wonder no more. This novel is a gripping read in which it takes place in a world where men have been completely wiped out and are extinct and thus provides us with an interesting piece of speculative fiction. A very unusual but engaging concept.
Louise O’Neill – Only Ever Yours (2014)
This novel takes an interesting look at beauty and body image where baby girls are no longer conceived but instead are engineered in labs, designed to be perfect for men. This is a very bleak read and something that gives quite a lot of food for thought. Women are basically treated and seen as Barbie dolls which, as this novel demonstrates, is a terrifying prospect rather than an idealistic one.
Louise Erdrich – Future Home Of The Living God (2017)
This provocative, dystopian novel from best-selling American author Louise Erdrich tells the story of a young woman who fights for the life of both herself and her unborn child. It is set within a futuristic America in which there is a major biological shift and everything has changed, this is a very harrowing read and shows the ultimate fight for freedom.
Charlotte Nicole Davis – The Good Luck Girls (2019)
The Good Luck Girls is an action-packed story which follows five girls who are sold into slavery and consequently fight for their freedom. This is a truly unique Wild Western fantasy mashed together with a dystopian feminist tale. It explores friendship, family and romance and holds a powerful message of course. It is also a great introduction into the Western genre with lots of supernatural elements involved.
Chelsea Cain – Maneaters (2018)
A very divisive comic/graphic novel series, to say the least, written by Chelsea Cain, who wrote Marvel’s groundbreaking Mockingbird series. Maneaters tells the story of teenage girls who begin to transform into flesh-eating monsters when they first get their period. What more could you want?
It has faced lots of criticism for many reasons but has great art. Nevertheless, if you love dystopian fiction then this is worth your time.
Kelly Sue DeConnick – Bitch Planet (2015)
Bitch Planet is a visually stunning and unique graphic novel from publisher Image Comics, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, who wrote graphic novels including Captain Marvel and Pretty Deadly. The story sees non-compliant women incarcerated and held in a facility run by men where they are kept under constant surveillance. With brightly, coloured, gorgeous vivid artwork to accompany the tale, along with propaganda, Bitch Planet is a must-read.
Joanna Russ – The Female Man (1975)
Long before The Handmaid’s Tale took the world by storm, The Female Man offered an insightful look at science fiction and feminism as it explores four women living in parallel worlds, each with a different gender landscape. This story offers a very powerful insight into gender roles in society and also is a landmark within the science fiction genre.
Carmen Maria Machado – Her Body And Other Parties (2013)
A collection of short stories heavily reminiscent of the likes of Angela Carter, Her Body And Other Parties provides a very interesting exploration into womanhood. From a woman who recounts sexual encounters as she sweeps the earth to a woman who refuses to remove a mysterious green ribbon around her neck, each story is very distinctive in its own way and is a very enjoyable read.
Joanne Ramos – The Farm (2019)
Being heralded as The Handmaid’s Tale for 2019 by some literary critics, The Farm is a refreshing addition to the feminist dystopian genre, showing the impact of colonisation. In The Farm, a luxury retreat in Hudson Valley transforms the fertility industry – women get special retreatment but have to produce a baby for someone else in return. The novel follows the main protagonist Jane, a Filipino immigrant and single mother who wants a better life for herself.
Marge Piercy – Woman On The Edge Of Time (1976)
Another piece of feminist dystopian fiction which was making waves long before The Handmaid’s Tale and The Power, is Woman On The Edge Of Time. This is definitely worth a read and a landmark title within the feminist dystopian sci-fi genre. This time-travelling story follows a woman named Connie Ramos who is unfairly incarcerated in a mental institution, communicates with the year 2137, and envisions a utopian future of sexual and racial equality.