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Nine works of dystopian fiction set in New York City

Annalise Mantz

This week, George Orwell’s 1984 took the top spot on Amazon’s list of bestsellers. It wasn’t the only dystopian novel to make an appearance, either: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury also cracked the top 40 titles.

Know what else made the list? Our new president’s autobiography, The Art of the Deal, and the United States constitution.

It’s no coincidence. The heightened sense of anxiety, frustration and uncertainty about the state of our democracy seems to be motivating readers to take another look at classic dystopian novels. Is it a coping method? A cynical look at our future? Either way, these nine works of dystopian fiction set in New York City seem especially appropriate.

Watchmen by Alan Moore
In the version of the 1980s presented in this comic book series turned graphic novel, America won the Vietnam War, Nixon is still the president and costumed superheroes roam the streets. The story begins with five heroes—Rorschach, Nite Owl, Silk Spectre, Dr. Manhattan and Ozymandias—reuniting to solve a murder mystery, but soon devolves into a battle between good and evil.

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
In Shteyngart’s version of the NYC of the near future, the country is teetering on the brink of financial collapse, with riots breaking out in Central Park and our Chinese creditors threatening to foreclose at any moment. Americans are obsessed with the media, shopping and dating at the click of a button. Too real?

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Sixth-grader Miranda lives on the Upper West Side, where she’s always felt comfortable and safe. Until the anonymous notes start arriving, that is. The writer knows secrets that no one else should know, and as Miranda investigates, she realizes that she may be the only one with the power to prevent a tragic death.

City of Darkness by Ben Bova
There are no New Yorkers any more. Everyone has moved outside of town, to suburban Tracts, and the only time tourists can visit the city of Manhattan, now covered with a giant dome, is during summer vacation. That’s why teenager Ron Morgan came to the city, but once he loses his government-issued ID, he’s trapped and must learn to survive in the dark underbelly of “Fun City.”

The Republic of the Future by Anna Bowman Dodd
First published in 1887, Dodd’s novella is the oldest work on this list. Her vision of New York Socialist City in 2050 is bleak: locals live in identical homes, travel is forbidden, mediocrity is enforced by law and everyday life is a dreary, tedious thing.

Rage and Redemption in Alphabet City by Amy Grech
This collection of five short stories oscillates between creepy, witty and thought-provoking. The Brooklyn-based noir author covers everything from sex, murder, sibling rivalry, adultery to social stratification. If you’re looking for something dark, Grech’s work will do the trick.   

Presence by Perie Wolford
What would you do if you came home one day to realize your entire life had been erased? Someone else has rented your apartment, your boss has never seen you before, even your own sister doesn’t recognize you. That’s exactly what happens to Samantha, and what opens her eyes to a parallel reality.

Random Acts of Senseless Violence by Jack Womack
Womack tells the story of New York’s collapse through 12-year-old Lola Hart’s diary. As unemployment rates skyrocket, riots and violence erupt all over Manhattan—throwing the Hart family’s privileged existence into question. They must learn to live with this new world order if they want to survive.

All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin
The year is 2083, and New York City is overrun with criminals. It’s not too bad for our protagonist, Anya Balanchine, though—her late father was the city’s most notorious mafia boss. That is, until her ex-boyfriend is mysteriously poisoned by the chocolate her family manufactures, and everyone thinks she is behind it.

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