Dystopian Short Stories: Stories of Control

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Dystopian Short Stories

Here’s some short dystopian fiction, both modern and classic. In dystopian story world, society is usually regimented in an extreme way, sometimes with the intent of creating a utopia, and citizens are often monitored for compliance. “Harrison Bergeron” is probably one of the most recognizable titles in this genre, and it’s included below.

Find a Dystopian Short Story

“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson

On a summer morning, citizens of a small village are anticipating their annual lottery, a local tradition that is believed to bring a good harvest. The children gather first, making their usual preparations. The women and men arrive and make sure their whole family is present. Mr. Summers arrives with the black wooden box.

This story can be read in the preview of Brave New Worlds: Dystopian Stories(10% in)

“The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin

The citizens of Omelas are happy, but it’s unclear as to what exactly they have which makes them so. Their happiness depends on one thing, which all the citizens are aware of.

This story can also be read in the above preview of Brave New Worlds: Dystopian Stories. (66% in)

“2 B R 0 2 B” by Kurt Vonnegut

Life is almost perfect—no prisons, poverty, wars, disease or death. The US population is maintained at 40 million. Edward Wehling is at the hospital, and is in despair. His wife is going to give birth to triplets. Due to population control, this is a major problem.

This is the first story in the preview of Worlds of If Superpack #2(11% in)

“Amaryllis” by Carrie Vaughn

Marie is the captain of Amaryllis, a fishing vessel. Their catches are limited to a government mandated quota, as is the population in general and everything else. Marie was an illegal birth; her mother hid the pregnancy, causing the breakup of the family.

This story can be read in the preview of Lightspeed: Year One(66% in)

“Harrison Bergeron” by 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.

This is the first story in the preview of Welcome to the Monkey House: Stories.

“The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury

A family lives in a futuristic house that automatically meets all their needs, including a nursery for the children that can create any scene they want. The parents are thinking about reducing their reliance on technology by taking a break from the nursery and all the automation, but the children are against the idea.

“The Veldt”

“The Pedestrian” by Ray Bradbury

Leonard enjoys taking long evening walks. The streets are deserted as everyone is inside watching their view screens. In all his years of walking he’s never crossed paths with another person. As he nears home, he hears a voice.

“The Machine Stops” by E. M. Forster

Most humans live below the surface of the Earth, communicating with each other through video screens and rarely going anywhere. A machine takes care of everything for them. Vashti and Kuno, mother and son, live apart and have different views of their society – she is content while he is dissatisfied. He once visited the surface without permission. Soon, some new rules are instituted.

Read “The Machine Stops” (Novelette)

“‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” by Harlan Ellison

The Ones Who Keep The Machine Functioning Smoothly become aware of a disruption, the Harlequin, a man who pulls pranks that throw off their carefully planned schedule. This rebel is becoming a hero to some; they need to find out who he is. Being on time is of the utmost importance—it can even affect how long someone lives.

Read “Repent, Harlequin”

“Minority Report” by Philip K. Dick

John Anderton is head of the pre-crime division. The operation centers around three precogs who get visions of the future. Future criminals are identified when their names are generated on a card. Anderton is shocked one day by the name that comes up.

“Billennium” by J. G. Ballard

People are allowed a maximum of 4 square meters of living space due to overpopulation. Ward finds a place that is a bit larger than this, which he shares with a friend. One day, they discover there’s more to their home than meets the eye.

“The Funeral” by Kate Wilhelm

Madam Westfall has died at over a hundred and twenty. The girls who attended to their old Teacher are at her funeral. Carla, in particular, is unsettled. Soon after, Madam Trudeau calls all the girls who attended to Madam Westfall to her office. Carla finds out about her new role.

“The Era” by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenya

Ben is in school learning about the Long Big War and the Big Quick War. Ben isn’t optimized; he’s a clear-born. His sister, Marlene, is a rarity; her optiselection made her a para-one. She’s highly ambitious. Everyone receives regular helpings of Good at breakfast to function normally. Ben goes to the nurse for more.

This story can be read in the Amazon preview of The Best American Short Stories 2019. (39% into preview)

“The Prize of Peril” by Robert Sheckley

Raeder is holed up in a dingy apartment. A bullet smashes through the widow. Gunmen have the exits covered, and he knows he’s dead this time. Raeder is a contestant on a television show. He can hear the live commentary on his pocket television set. If he can survive for the agreed upon time, he will win two hundred thousand dollars.

This story can be read in the preview of Dangerous Games(22% in)

“Red Card” by 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.

This story can be read in the preview of Brave New Worlds: Dystopian Stories(24% in)

“Ten With a Flag” by 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.

This story can be read in the above preview of Brave New Worlds: Dystopian Stories. (48% in)

“Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment” by 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.

This story can be read in the above preview of Brave New Worlds: Dystopian Stories. (77% in)

“Welcome to the Monkey House” by Kurt Vonnegut

Sheriff Crocker is at the Federal Ethical Suicide Parlor in Hyannis. He warns the Hostesses, Nancy and Mary, that a Nothinghead, Billy the Poet, is believed to be in the area. Billy doesn’t take the state-mandated ethical birth-control pills that numb a person from the waist down. The birth-control is one method of keeping the population from expanding; the other is the Suicide Parlor, where people can volunteer to die. Billy has been targeting the beautiful Hostesses, who are also highly educated and trained in hand-to-hand combat.

“Escape from Spiderhead” by 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.

“Examination Day” by 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.

Read “Examination Day”

“Peter Skilling” by Alex Irvine

Peter Skilling wakes in a hospital with a robot attendant. He had fallen into a crevasse while mountain climbing. A few coincidences contributed to preserving his body and now he’s been revived through a new rejuvenation process. Peter tries to understand his situation, but it’s even more complicated than he first thought.

“April 2005: Usher II” by Ray Bradbury

William takes possession of his newly-built house on Mars. It’s a thoroughly hideous and bleak domicile; exactly as William wanted it. Thirty years ago on Earth, all books of fantasy, science fiction and horror were burned. William was outraged at the purge. Now, with his new house, he has a plan.

“Usher II”

“The Cull” by Robert Reed

Orlando, a boy, is trouble again, and this time it’s more serious—he hit his sister. The station’s residents are happy, but Orlando obviously isn’t. His parents are worried about how he will be punished.

“The Cull”

“The Perfect Match” by Ken Liu

People’s preferences are monitored and their phones tell them about things that should appeal to them. Sai doesn’t mind but his neighbor, Jenny, resents the lack of privacy and doesn’t like the recording devices. She thinks the phones are telling people what to do. Sai starts wondering if she’s right.

“The Perfect Match”


Stories that are sometimes considered dystopian but that I don’t think fit the category very well, include:

  • All Summer in a Day: Kids on Venus anxiously await a break in the constant rain.
  • There Will Come Soft Rains: An automated house carries out its daily functions.
  • A Sound of Thunder: Time-travelling dinosaur hunters.
  • Frost and Fire: Very short-lived humans stranded on another planet.
  • Zero Hour: Children play a game of “Invasion”.
  • Speech Sounds: A pandemic disrupts humanity’s ability to communicate.

I hope you found a great dystopian short story.