Howard is an avid short story reader who likes to help others find and understand stories.
Stories of dystopias have become favorites for many readers. Thought provoking tales of surveillance, regimentation, oppression and rebellion have long fascinated and frightened us.
Here are some short story selections for fans of dystopian fiction with links where available.
1. "The Era" | Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenya
Ben is in school learning about the Long Big War and the Big Quick War. Ben isn't optimized, unlike most of his classmates. His sister, Marlene, is an anomaly—her optimization attached to one personality point rather than being balanced. She's highly ambitious. Honesty, pride, and intelligence are prized qualities. Everyone gets a helping of Good at breakfast, but Ben goes to the nurse for more.
"The Era" can be read in the Amazon preview of The Best American Short Stories 2019.
2. "The Funeral" | Kate Wilhelm
After a very old woman dies, the young girls who attended to her in her final years are assigned to write down things that she said. Most of it is government approved, but one of the girls remembers her saying something about a cave where she could go and hide.
3. "Billennium" | J. G. Ballard
Overpopulation is society’s main problem. The government has mandated a maximum living space of 4 square meters per person. A man, Ward, finds a place slightly larger than the legal limit which he shares with a friend. They make a discovery that changes everything.
4. "Amaryllis" | Carrie Vaughn
Marie is the captain of a fishing vessel. Their catches are limited to a government mandated quota, as is the population in general. Marie was an illegal birth; her mother hid the pregnancy, causing the breakup of the family.
5. "Ten with a Flag" | Joseph Paul Haines
In the future when advanced testing is available for pregnant women, a mother finds out that her unborn child will be gifted—the government believes the child will benefit society. The father believes the child is dangerous.
The last thing we needed was to anger a government official, particularly one as high up as Mr. White seemed to be. It was best to remain compliant until he finished.
— Joseph Paul Haines
6. "Peter Skilling" | Alex Irvine
Peter died 98 years ago in a mountain climbing accident. He is revived with advanced medical technology. Peter is eager to begin his life again, but due to strict anti-terrorism laws he must first answer for the crimes of his past.
7. "The Pedestrian" | Ray Bradbury
Leonard Mead leaves his house at 8 PM for a walk. In ten years of taking evening walks he has never met up with another person; everyone stays inside to watch television. He is spotted by the police and approached.
8. "Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman" | Harlan Ellison
The Ticktockman is in charge of a highly regimented society where everything runs on schedule. He has the power to shorten, or end, people’s lives as punishment for being late. A rebellious figure, the Harlequin, disrupts the master schedule by causing interference for the citizens, bringing him to the attention of the Ticktockman.
9. "Is This Your Day to Join the Revolution?" | Genevieve Valentine
Liz lives in a society where citizens are closely monitored and ordered to report each other for suspicious behavior. She has been matched with Greg to reproduce. Disease control workers hand out pills and masks, warning people of a dangerous contagion.
10. "Minority Report" | Philip K. Dick
John Anderton is the head of the pre-crime division—a division that can determine in advance who is going to commit a crime. The nucleus of the operation is the three precogs, mutant-like humans who get flashes of the future and are attached to extensive analytical machinery. The names of the future criminals are generated on a card; one day, Anderton is stunned by a name that appears.
The three gibbering, fumbling creatures with their enlarged head and wasted bodies, were contemplating the future. The analytical machinery was recording prophecies, and as the three precog idiots talked, the machinery carefully listened.
— Philip K. Dick
11. "Just Do It" | Heather Linsley
Alex Monroe interviews for a job at CraveTech, a company in chemical advertising— advertising that is shot into people which makes them crave a particular product. She has an ulterior motive for wanting the job.
12. "Civilization" | Vylar Kaftan
You are in charge of a civilization. You get to make important decisions that affect the whole population in a Choose Your Own Adventure style story.
13. "Resistance" | Tobias S. Bucknell
Stanuel helps a mercenary gain access to a restricted building. They try to avoid detection by Pan, the leader, who has extensive monitoring systems in place. They’re headed for the tower with weapons and explosives.
14. "Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment" | M. Rickert
Certain women are executed every night on television for a crime that isn’t immediately clear. The woman’s name is given and her face is shown, but there are many women who seem to vanish without ever appearing on the show.
15. "The Cull" | Robert Reed
The doctor on a Mars station hears that a young boy, Orlando, has caused trouble again, hitting his sister. Everyone on the station is happy except for Orlando. His parents are worried and in denial about his behavior. They fear Orlando will be culled.
Orlando has a well-earned reputation. But stealing and lying are lesser crimes compared to physical violence, particularly violence towards a small and very pretty three-year-old girl.
— Robert Reed
16. "The Perfect Match" | Ken Liu
Sai lives in a society where companies monitor people’s preferences and a voice on their phones, Tilly, tells them about things they like, even coaching them on dates. Sai’s neighbor, Jenny, rejects the invasion of privacy and complains about the recording devices outside Sai’s door. She claims that Tilly tells people what to like and what to do, which gets Sai thinking.
17. "Harrison Bergeron" | Kurt Vonnegut
All Americans are equal—no one is allowed to be better than anyone else in any way. An exceptional fourteen-year-old, Harrison, is taken away from his parents by the government.
18. "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" | Ursula Le Guin
The citizens of Omelas are happy and celebrating the summer festival. They have an arrangement that guarantees their happiness.
19. "The Lottery" | Shirley Jackson
The inhabitants of a village prepare for the lottery, an annual harvest time tradition. Everyone gathers to draw slips of paper from an old black box.
20. "Frost and Fire" | Ray Bradbury
Sim is born on a planet close to the sun where people live only eight days. There is a ship, intact, on a mountain, but it’s too far away to reach in time.
The nightmare of living was begun. Almost instantly at birth his eyes grew alert, and then, without half understanding why, filled with bright, insistent terror.
— Ray Bradbury
21. "We Ate the Children Last" | Yann Martel
Patient D, who has a terminal case of colon cancer, receives a digestive system transplant from a pig. He recovers quickly and his appetite becomes voracious and unusual.
22. "The New Utopia" | Jerome K. Jerome
The narrator dines with his friends at the National Socialist Club where they discuss their goal of equality for all. He goes home thinking about how delightful a completely fair society would be. After going to sleep, he wakes up a thousand years later in this ideal socialist state.
23. "Sacre du Printemps" | Ludwig Bemelmans
Emil kratzig lives in a society that's heavily controlled by the government, which includes many class distinctions for the citizens.
24. "2 B R 0 2 B" | Kurt Vonnegut
All of society's ills have been cured: wars, famine, disease, and death from aging. The population is maintained at 40 million. When there is a birth, someone has to volunteer to die. Edward Wehling finds out that his wife is going to give birth to triplets.
25. "Examination Day" | Henry Slesar
Dickie Jordan has just turned twelve, so it's time for him to take a Government mandated intelligence test. His parents don't say much about it. His mother seems to be worried about Dickie's performance, but his father says he'll do fine.
The Jordans never spoke of the exam, not until their son, Dickie, was twelve years old. It was on his birthday that Mrs. Jordan first mentioned the subject in his presence, and the anxious manner of her speech caused her husband to answer sharply.
— Henry Slesar
26. "Created He Them" | Alice Eleanor Jones
Ann Crothers is up early to get the children out of the way and prepare her husband's breakfast. She's careful about everything she does because she knows her husband will complain. Food and other supplies are low.
27. "Speech Sounds" | Octavia E. Butler
Rye is on a bus heading for Pasadena. She might have a brother there who's still alive. Two passengers, young men, start getting hostile. When one inadvertently falls into the other, a fight breaks out. This leads to further hostilities. The driver stops the bus. There is lots of grunting and other sounds and many gestures, but no one talks.
28. "Escape from Spiderhead" | George Saunders
Jeff is an inmate at Spiderhead, a research facility. Along with others, he tests drugs that affect his speech, perception, and feelings for people. He's there because of a fateful day from his past.
29. "April 2005: Usher II" | Ray Bradbury
William Stendhal is given the key to his new house on Mars. The architect has made it just as William wanted—desolate, terrible, and hideous. All life has been exterminated around the house and hidden machines block out the sun. Years ago on Earth, all horror and fantasy were banned. William lost his huge library. Now he's built the House of Usher from Poe's story, and he has a plan for revenge.
30. "Machinations" | Shira Hereld
Mr. Grubb buys his wife a third android for her thirty-eighth birthday. It's one of the newest models. It was a necessary gift, as their neighbors just bought two more androids last week. They call it Andi 3, and get it trained in its duties. Mr. Grubb continues to progress at work, opening the possibility for more androids and a bigger house.
Read "Machinations" (scroll down slightly)
Many of her friends gave their Andros real-people names, even tailoring the name to the region the Andro was from, but to her, this crossed an invisible divide.
— Shira Hereld
31. "Disappearing Act" | Alfred Bester
The War for the American Dream is being fought. General Carpenter makes it clear that America is fighting for dreams, for the noble things worth preserving. The war effort requires experts in every field. All citizens are required to become experts, specific tools for specific jobs. A mystery arises in Ward T of the United States Army Hospital. The experts are called in.
Read "Disappearing Act" (Pg 63 is out of order but it's there)
32. "Red Card" | S. L. Gilbow
Linda Jackson shoots her husband. The general reaction of the public is favorable. She reports her “enforcement” to the authorities and prepares to follow proper procedure as the holder of a red card.
33. "Welcome to the Monkey House" | Kurt Vonnegut
The county sheriff enters a government facility. He tells the Hostesses that a man who's off his population-control pills named Billy the Poet is headed their way. Earth's population is up to 17 billion, and drastic measures are being taken to make sure it gets no worse. Billy has been targeting Hostesses. He usually sends a poem first and then makes a phone call.
Hope you enjoy some of these dystopian stories. If I come across more, i'll add them to this page.
Howard Allen (author) on May 05, 2020:
Thanks for giving us this title. Great story! I've added it to the page.
JJ on May 05, 2020:
Doug, you probably want "Disappearing Act" by Alfred Bester
Howard Allen (author) on December 17, 2019:
That one's about an automated house.
Ashley Gilman on December 16, 2019:
It's called "There Will Come Soft Rains"
Howard Allen (author) on August 19, 2019:
I just checked out "Usher II". That could be the one Kyle's looking for. I added it to the page. Thanks for letting us know.
Josh on August 19, 2019:
You're thinking of "Usher II" by Ray Bradbury. It's in his collection _The Martian Chronicles_.
Kyle on June 15, 2019:
Hi there. Im looking for a storu inread back in 8th grade. It was about a society where no art could be practiced so the protagonist invited some governmental big wigs to his home and murders them in artistic fashion in front of each other without them knowing because they think its a show. And then he replaces them with automatons and sends them back home.
Doug Vardell on October 05, 2018:
Hi, I am looking for a dystopian short story I read around 1976 about soldiers coming home from war asleep in deep comas. No one could wake them up. Someone said they needed a poet or musician or artist, but all those talents had been banned in the technological world of the time.
faze jay on September 20, 2018:
love them all
Howard Allen (author) on September 07, 2018:
The story you're looking for might be The Machine Stops by E. M. Forster. That's all I can think of right now. Hope that's the one.
Beverly Kalinin on September 07, 2018:
For years I have been trying to recall the well-known author and his short story in which all the characters lived underground (or within a house, hovel, or whatever) and never came out to see each other in person. This author saw the writing on the wall for future human communication. I have so often wished I could return to this "lost" story. Do you know this author and story?
Howard Allen (author) on May 14, 2018:
Sounds like "By the Waters of Babylon" by Stephen Vincent Benet.
PointyBlkHat on May 14, 2018:
Hi! I’m looking for a short story I read a long (long!) time ago. A man came out of hiding after a war or other great disaster. He’s seeing things he’s never seen before, and he (and the class I was in at the time) had to use the clues to figure out where he was.
One clue was a pile of rubble with the “ASHING”, on one side of the building. Another was several gigantic animal/creatures with huge tentacle-arms, that must be some kind of dinosaur.
That’s all that I can remember. Can you all think in your brilliant minds and tell me the name and author of this story? It’s driving me batty!
Mj on April 19, 2018:
These are great sort stories
unanimous on March 03, 2018:
These stories are so interesting. I enjoyed them all. So creative
jeffery sasuke on February 22, 2018:
they are very interesting
Uchiha sasuke on September 12, 2017:
I like all your stories