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Top 5 Worst Dystopian Novels

Welcome back!

I have a confession. I kept putting off this blog post all week because I realized as soon as I published my Top 5 Favorite Dystopian Novels, I was going to have some crap-talking to do about my least-liked dystopian fiction.

Well, the day has come and we’re going to do some complaining! As usual, feel free to disagree or add your own choices in the comments below.

5. The Heart Goes Last

I love Margaret Atwood in theory. We’ll talk a lot more about her when it’s time for my favorite dystopian films and TV shows, but her novels…

I just can’t get into them.

Granted, I’ve heard plenty of people say that this is not one of her best works, but it feels very slap-dash. The world building is borderline ridiculous (straying toward absolutely ridiculous at the end) and it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

The rules bend whenever they’re the most convenient for the main characters and the premise – that people choose to be imprisoned for 6 months out of the year in exchange for comfortable civilian life in the other half of the year – is gimmicky.

I respect the hell out of you, Ms. Atwood, but you’re reaching with this one.

4. The Maze Runner

This book gave me a severe case of the mehs. I bought it to read during an airport layover and if it weren’t for that, I might have set this one down without finishing it.

Maybe the rest of the series becomes phenomenal, but the first book just didn’t do it for me.

The concept reminded me of The Lord of the Flies, except that Dashner never really lets his characters reach the full fever pitch that William Golding achieved. Instead, they are disorganized, take very little agency in their situation, and repeatedly try the same things.

Maybe if we run faster, we’ll get out. No? Maybe just a leeeeettle bit faster…

Even when bad things happen, Dashner tends to mute them so that the stakes never get too high and none of the important characters are believably in danger.

3. Armada

OH, COME ON, ERNEST CLINE!

There’s an art to giving your fans what they want. Ready Player One was such a run-away hit that I don’t think anyone can blame Cline for wanting to recreate that success, but Armada is almost the same damn book.

Instead of Willy Wonka on a scavenger hunt, this is Ender’s Game meets… Ender’s Game.

The writing is tedious and probably well-suited to those who enjoy watching other people play video games. Unfortunately, I’m not in that camp and so it bored me to tears.

I really hope Ernest Cline has some more good stuff in that incredible head of his, but first he needs to let go of so closely parodying things that already exist. He made it work for Ready Player One, but unless your initials are ELJ, you can’t build a career on that.

2. Uglies

I put off reading this book for a long time because of the premise.

“Tally is about to turn 16, and in just a few weeks she’ll have the operation that will turn her from a repellent ugly into a stunningly attractive pretty.”

Okay, this is YA and it’s pretty clear before you even begin to read that the moral of the story is going to be about how being pretty isn’t important, or possibly even bad because it’s dystopian, but I let out an involuntary groan every time I think about the concept.

I did eventually pick it up, though, and I think Scott Westerfeld is a technically excellent writer. He works the story structure like a fine-tuned instrument, and it actually ends up being a little overwhelming.

There’s very little left to the reader to question. If Tally learns how to use a piece of technology at the midpoint, she will be using it in a critical way during the climax. If she needs a piece of information, a side character who has never trusted anyone with this information before will be there to give it to her.

Maybe I just waited too long to read this, but I got tired of everything being telegraphed to me, even if the book does stand as an excellent example of a tight plot for other authors to learn from (and improve upon).

1. Replica

True story – while I was trying to decide in what order to present my least-favorite dystopian fiction, the note I wrote for Replica was, “Ugghhhhh.”

Here’s a big part of the problem, to quote the Amazon description: “Turn the book one way and read Lyra’s story; turn the book over and upside down and read Gemma’s story. The stories can be read separately, one after the other, or in alternating chapters.”

Okay, choose-your-own-adventures were fun when I was 10, but asking someone to read a novel by continually flipping it upside down and keeping track of multiple places is too much work for anything less than House of Leaves. I also read this via audiobook, which meant that I ended up getting all of Lyra’s story, and then almost the exact same story again from Gemma’s perspective.

Shoot me, Lauren Oliver.

This is the only book on my least-liked list in which I liked the premise but the execution got in the way. I’ll use the word gimmicky again because I think it fits, and maybe I would have liked the book better if it were arranged in a more traditional alternating POV style.

Honorable Mentions:

Last time I could not keep myself from mentioning only 5 incredible dystopian novels, and this time I am going to bow out of the opportunity to drag additional books.

So just let me know in the comments what you think of my picks, and next week we’ll cover the best dystopian movies and TV shows! I will definitely have more than 5 of those.

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