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At this point in our quarantine journey, it feels like the pandemic has become the new normal. While that is not the most comforting thought, it may mean that it's time to return to some of the way-too-topical dystopian novels that we haven't been reading (or, at least, I haven't been reading). As a long time fan of the dystopian genre, I thought I would throw together a list of some of my favorite futuristic novels to remind you that things could always be worse. 

Severance by Ling Ma

Severance is an example of a dystopian novel that might be a little too relevant to our new way of life. Taking place during and after the outbreak of a deadly fungal infection called Shen Fever, the novel follows Candace Chen, who works at a boring desk job in New York City, as the city slowly clears of people until she is forced to flee and find a group to keep her safe through the end of the world. The novel is well-written and gripping, and Ma's descriptions of an empty New York feel so heartbreaking, especially if you love the city as much as I do.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

While The Handmaid's Tale is Atwood's most popular dystopian novel, Oryx and Crake is a relatively unknown gem that explores genetic engineering and its extremes. The novel's two storylines follow the main character in his utopian world where genetic engineering runs rampant. After the fall of civilization, he lives amongst a group of genetically "perfect" beings as potentially the only “normal” human left. As in The Handmaid's Tale, the world Atwood creates in Oryx and Crake is a terrifying look into our potential future and the mystery of the story keeps you engaged throughout the whole novel. 

The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer 

The House of the Scorpion is one of my favorite books of all time. While it is a young adult novel, its story is enticing and mature, and will keep anyone of any age invested. The novel is set in a world where drug trade is legal. In the story, a strip of land between Mexico and America has been converted into the country of Opium, where El Patron, the opium drug lord, reigns. The novel follows Matteo Alacran, El Patron's clone, as he navigates the Alacran family's secrets and learns how to rule Opium once El Patron is gone. 

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven, another one of my favorite books of all time, is also a dystopian book that now hits a little too close to home. It's a pandemic story following characters before, during, and after the end of the world. It is ultimately about the importance of art and the humanity it brings to the bleakest situations. Mandel's story is sparse in terms of plot, but her elegant and ethereal writing style, as well as the connections she creates between her characters, are beautiful and engaging. And like Severance, the author’s descriptions of empty cities and a post-pandemic landscape are hauntingly accurate. 

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Okay, at this point you've probably already read The Hunger Games, but my thinking is why not return to an old classic during our own end of times? I reread The Hunger Games recently during a moment of quarantine boredom and found myself pleasantly surprised with how well the story holds up. In case you're somehow unaware, The Hunger Games follows Katniss Everdeen after she volunteers in place of her sister for the Hunger Games, a televised battle royale that pits 24 teenagers against each other in a fight to the death. The Hunger Games' themes of authoritarianism and rebellion are surprisingly relevant to our world, and you'll find yourself remembering why you liked this book so much as a kid when you reread it.

So there you have it, the top five books to read during this pandemic, if reading about the end of the world is something that sounds interesting to you, even now. Happy reading! 

Francesca DeGiorgio

Columbia Barnard '24

Francesca (she/her) is a sophomore at Barnard College majoring in English and minoring in History. She's originally from Los Angeles, California. She loves reading, writing, astrology, and watching way too much tv.
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