Great storytelling often involves creating a fictional world for the character(s) to live in. Whether it be a simple story about life or a grand, epic adventure, fictional worlds are what can define a story and help it stand out on its own among the hundreds of millions of good stories out there. And in many instances, as I’ve pointed out in the past, fictional worlds can become so popular that they all seem too good to be in just mere pages.
Yeah, you’ve met those types of people, the kind who say, “I want to live in the world of Harry Potter, help Frodo destroy the One Ring with Samwise or ogle at Edward Cullen and Bella Swan with their sparkling vampire family!” Some worlds like these are fine, but then, when you think about it hard enough, many fictional worlds are just awful. It’s not that they’re badly written, aren’t interesting or make the novel less amazing than it probably is, but you’d rather live in this reality than suffer with the main characters.
From a new (and controversial) president rolling into the White House to the dread of daily news on how much the world has supposedly gone to hell, I thought I’d ease everybody’s minds this week. And what better way to talk about this than by making not just a Top 10 List, but a Top 15 List!
Now keep in mind, I’m going to put in a few ground rules for the list: One, I’m only including novels and a couple of comic books, so no manga/anime allowed since it’d make up a majority of the list. Second, I won’t include books based on true stories or with historical significance. I’m talking about fiction, not historical fiction. Plus, I’m only including four books I’ve reviewed on here. With that said, this is the Top 15 Worst Fictional Novels to Live In!
#15 — “Among the Hidden” (or “Shadow Children” series) by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Ah, “Among the Hidden”. For those of you who didn’t grow up in the 2000s, this is a book series that captivated me and my friends from elementary the way to middle school. I haven’t read it in years, but everyone has fond memories of it. Too bad the world in it isn’t as nostalgic.
“Among the Hidden” and its series that takes place in a distant future where overpopulation is quelled by a communist-like government that has the poor and the rich Barons. To combat this, heavy rations are in place, taxes high, freedoms oppressed and families are only allowed to have two children. Have a third, and the Population Police will raid your home and take the child away. Why? Because he or she doesn’t have the right to exist, and are killed, tortured or imprisoned. All because they were born unlucky.
While the series’ setting isn’t as bad as the others on the list, there is this sense of dread that makes every family worry and each third child cringe in fear. What would I do if one of my siblings were taken away? Would I fight, or help the shadow child (that’s the term for them) gain a new life?
“Among the Hidden”: where if you’re born a third child, you don’t exist.
#14 — “Infected” trilogy by Scott Sigler
Back when I was a freshman, this one book caught my attention at the library, a book trilogy about alien parasites called Triangles, are infecting humans, and a group of covert government officials trying to cover it up and end the threat. Boy did I get nightmares after reading its first book “Infected”.
So how do these things control a human, you may ask? Well, a Triangle comes to Earth in the form of a seed, then is inhaled by a human and burrows into your growing bones before releasing chemicals that cause the host to become extremely aggressive and paranoid, followed by permanent schizophrenia and aggression. And as the Triangles grow inside you (turning into a literal blue triangle under your skin), they become sentient and make you even more paranoid until they hatch.
Basically, we have a world where these freaky aliens burrow into your system and turn you into murderous psychopaths. And the best part? In each book, we experience it all in many characters, some seemingly innocent to other that would make you fear those with short tempers. Either way, you get the chills as you enter the psyche of our main characters.
Note to self: go to the doctor after this review.
#13 — “War of the Worlds” by H.G. Wells
On one hand, I know what you’re thinking: “Why have ‘War of the Worlds’, a story about Martians invading Earth and destroying all of humanity’ at just #13? It took place all over the globe, killed hundreds of millions of people, and not even the world’s best military could stop it!” Well, you’re thinking about 1950’s American film and the Tom Cruise one released in 2005, not the original 1895 novel.
It’s ironic isn’t it? Many people don’t realize that H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds”, one of the most popular British science fiction novels (and popular alien stories) actually takes place in just England. Yeah, if you read the book all the way through, they say only England has been affected by the Martian invasion. What this list comes down to is how the awful world affects the main characters and the general population. Because this invasion is only regional, it’d be pointless to put this higher.
On the other hand, it’d be pointless to talk about worst fictional worlds to live in without addressing a very old piece of literature like this. Even though the rest of humanity isn’t as affected by the aliens invading as England is, it’s still horrifying when you think about it. If you lived in the 1890’s a time period where there’s no electricity, no such thing as an airplane and the most powerful weapon in your arsenal is a steam-powered battleship, try and picture waking up the morning of the invasion. There are Martian tripods snatching people up like chickens for slaughter, death rays turning your friends and loved ones into dust, a flying machine made of Martian skin and even Martian landscape covering a desolate English moor. Villages, London and many towns are deserted, burning, covered in alien foliage, or all three at once. That thought alone is terrifying enough.
In my opinion, putting “War of the Worlds” in modern day isn’t as terrifying as having it take place during its published year. It’s because unlike modern day, technology such as the ones seen in the original book and in the films (like Martian planes, tripods and humans turned into cattle) hadn’t been seen before, which makes it even more terrifying since it makes humanity, as well as the main characters, feel small and hopeless in the grand scheme of things.
It’s almost Lovecraftian in a kind of sense…
“War of the Worlds”: where Martian tripods snatch and disintegrate all of Britain.
#12 — “HEX” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
So imagine you’re moving to a small Hudson Valley town called Black Spring, and you find a decent home on the market. People warn you to leave and never come back, but you ignore them and move in. Then, after living in the house for a single night, you’re thrown some shocking news: you’re now part of an ancient witch’s curse that dominates the town, and must not leave for more than a single day. Anyone who does will suffer fits of insanity and die.
I remember having major mixed feelings towards “HEX” for all the edits and translation changes made, as well as the confusing ending, but I will never forget the town the novel was set in. At first, it’s like any New England town and is full of welcoming people and courteous citizens, but the centuries’ old curse slowly reveals how tormented, hateful and insane your next door neighbors are. It’s scary how far they’ll keep their town together, what lengths will be made to keep Katherine (the witch’s ghost) from wandering the town and destroying them all. Let’s not also forget the massive invasion of privacy done on the townsfolk, this demented teenager who loves to torture the witch, and the barbaric nature of secrecy behind the façade of a seemingly nice town. I kid you not, it’s like “The Crucible” meet’s Stephen King’s “Under the Dome”.
Black Springs, New York: a village of eccentric townsfolk who give a new meaning to the term, “Witches be trippin’.”
#11 — “Legend” trilogy by Marie Lu
If you’ve been liking Reader’s Boulevard, you know how much of a fan I am towards Marie Lu. She’s a fantastic author, writes wonderful characters and is an awesome person who knows how to create entertaining books. However, then there’s the option of living in the world of “Legend”.
I initially thought about having the “Young Elites” trilogy in this place at first, but most of the discrimination and hatred revolved around the Elites and the malfettoes, while the “Legend” trilogy’s problems were more global.
What wrong with the world of these three books though? Well, not only is half of the world underwater, ravaged by extreme climate change and whatnot, but the world is either divided or balkanized. America is now split into two warring countries; the Republic of America and the Colonies of America. One is a malnourished police state, the other is a corrupt corporatocracy, and both suffer from plagues, rioting and civil war while struggling to survive. To add insult to injury, Republican citizens must take a mandatory test that’ll determine their status in life. Score too low, and you’ll be forced into labor camps with no hope of escape.
The “Legend” trilogy: where the best place to live is literally Antarctica.
#10 — “Illuminae” by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
What did I say about “Illuminae” in my review of the first book?
“Imagine an Internet creepypasta of found footage set in the Dead Space universe along with the feeling you get after watching Sandra Bullock in ‘Gravity’.”
Yep, that’s it in a nutshell. A universe where two warring corporations try and attack each other with massive governmental cover-ups, endangering naïve civilians in space stations lightyears from Earth, genetically engineered viruses that make you kill and murder on a spree, alien hallucinogens, and a space-ship’s polite AI that will kill you à la HAL 9000. No thank you, I’d much rather stay on my home planet if you please.
#9 — “Flashpoint” by DC Comics (written by Geoff Johns & penciled by Andy Kubert)
Alternate history is so much fun to tweak, so why not have one involving the Flash, DC Comics superheroes and a world on the brink of war? Enter DC Comics’ 2011 crossover comic entitled “Flashpoint”, a world where Superman doesn’t exist, Aquaman commits massive genocide by flooding all of Europe, Wonder Woman seizes Great Britain as New Themyscira, we have a more violent and brutal Batman, and there is no Justice League. Alternate universes where our favorite superhero has gone rogue is nothing new, but “Flashpoint” gives us a glimpse into a world where everything involving the Justice League went absolutely wrong, and now it’s on the brink of a catastrophic war between meta-humans and gods alike.
I thought about considering Alan Moore’s “Watchmen”, since it had a grittier take on a vigilante-fueled world on the brink of war as well (and has Rorschach in it), but I thought “Flashpoint” had one thing it didn’t have: a future. Without giving anything away, the ending of “Watchmen” implies that there is a possible future for vigilantes, the world, the United States and the Soviet Union to coexist.
Characters in “Flashpoint” could never coexist. Plus, I personally believe it is more shocking to see your favorite superheroes die and kill each other in a blood bath-fueled war compared to it. There’s no possibility for peace in this world, and only despair for those dying and about to die in the Amazonian-Atlantean War. To quote Flashpoint Batman from “Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox”:
“The only way to save the world is to keep this one from ever happening.”
#8 — “The Roar” and its sequel “The Whisper” by Emma Clayton
I remember reading these two lovely books back in my early high school days.
In this duology, Emma Clayton writes a bleak future where the Animal Plague causes every animal to kill and maul every human it sees. After a massive evacuation and the use of chemical weapons, most of the human population has moved to the Northern Hemisphere (specifically Canada, Northern Europe and Russia) before building a massive 50-foot tall wall around the planet to keep surviving animals out.
Now, after thirty years behind The Wall, Earth’s remaining population struggles to live in overcrowded shanty towns, with homes literally the size of closets and everything fabricated, from the walls to the food. And to combat the overpopulation, citizens couldn’t have children for twenty years, resulting in some children being mutated and many kids growing up without ever seeing wildlife, a tree, clear skies or a single animal. Meanwhile, the rich live lavishly in the Golden Turrets overlooking the common folk, but even that is nothing with there being no life aside from humans north of The Wall.
So yeah, we have a fictional world where all of the human race is displaced beyond the northern 45th parallel (almost 6 billion people), animals across the planet are extinct, pollution and smog are everywhere, and corruption is everywhere. If that’s not deadly enough, the human population is governed by a malevolent and power-hungry man named Mal Gorman, who is like a cross between our new president and those World Nobles from One Piece. When he isn’t secretly kidnapping mutated children in hopes of gaining their powers, Mal is gluttonous and smiling in front of the cameras. God, is this man so disgustingly evil!
“The Roar” and “The Whisper”: a future with no life or possible living space.
Speaking of duologies, let’s talk about a book I just reviewed recently. Yep, I’ve only known this book for less than two weeks and I put this on the list, and you can see why if you saw it last week.
Cyberpunk innovations, capitalism and world wars have led to a system where debt can actually begin for the poor the day you’re born. After that, there’s paying for school, food, housing and utilities. This leads to there being no middle class, no equality and debts too huge for any honest workers to pay on their own.
However, the worst part of this world is the Upper City’s proxy system, where children are selected from the Lower City as an Upper City child’s proxy. Whenever said kid from the Upper City commits a crime, they’re forced to watch their proxy be punished depending on said crime. From simple torture to lifetime labor, a proxy can be either heavily maimed or have their organs and blood used when their patron is injured.
There’s a scene in the book where our main characters are at a zoo in the Upper City, and we see misbehaving children line up to watch their proxies-kids their own age-be tortured to dead. It’s one thing to have an entire book contain uncomfortable honesty about how much debt can linger on a person’s life, but to have kids and teenagers take the punishments of reckless rich kids?!
And then there’s outside the Mountain City, where it’s either swampy marshes, barren desertland, balkanized and/or at war. So in the end, you have to choose between being prodded and whipped at like a cow to pay off your debt, or survive the Mad Max-style wasteland outside, huh? And do not get me started with what goes down in its sequel “Guardian“. No, no, no, no.
“Proxy”: we love the characters, but wouldn’t want to take their places.
#6 — “Escape from Furnace” series by Alexander Gordon Smith
“Escape from Furnace”, my old friend. It’s been too long. For those who don’t know, this book series was popular for a while (I myself a fan in the day), and you can tell based on the plot of the story.
In the near-future, juvenile crime in the United Kingdom has risen to the point a prison being built for young offenders called Furnace Penitentiary. And in this prison, if you’re a teenager and are convicted of a crime, you never come out until you die. Prisons are scary enough, but this one makes Riker’s Island look like a 5-Star resort. Why? Because Furnace is a place of literal pure evil.
To give you an understanding of what makes Furnace Penitentiary so horrifying, imagine Alcatraz Prison but instead of a concrete island with guards, it’s a miles-deep facility with huge guards called ‘blacksuits’, blood-red walls, humid air and violent prison gangs. If you don’t decide to commit suicide (which even the prisoners find entertaining), then you do hard labor, survive each cold night in a concrete cell, and survive as a ‘new fish’. And then there’s the Lockdowns, where inmates must make it to their cells after a siren blasts and the door close. If not, then they’re torn to shreds by Furnace’s skinless guard dogs.
The worst part? On random nights, there’s an event called a Bloodwatch where these monstrous beings in sewn gasmasks called Wheezers go to different cells and snatch prisoners from their beds.
Alexander G. Smith’s writing makes it nightmare-inducing each time you read Alex Sawyer’s story. The way he describes the prison layout, the other prisoners, the cells, the Courtyard, the Wheezers, the blacksuits, the Warden, the Lockdown, the descriptions of blood and violence; it’s like you’ve entered Hell.
To quote the ads, “Beneath Heaven is Hell, and beneath Hell is Furnace.”
#5 — “An Ember in the Ashes” by Sabaa Tahir
Now to be fair, there are probably many more fantasy worlds that would count on this list, like Middle Earth, Westeros or Alagaësia. At first I was going to put Rukis Croax’s “Off the Beaten Path” trilogy, but this one seemed much more heartless and diversely barbaric. And looking back on it, yeah this is the better choice for this list.
“An Ember in the Ashes” and its sequel(s) follow our main characters Elias and Laia on a continent that is culturally diverse, but has the brutality of the Roman Empire and Middle Eastern lore tenfold. I’m serious when I say this world is just depressing, from the slavery aspect to the cruel punishments that suck away beauty and individuality at Blackcliff. And after reading “A Torch Against the Night”, this world became even more dangerous with a tyrannical regime transforming the Martial Empire into a symbol of evil.
And don’t even get me started on Elias’ scary mom…
#4 — “Hunger Games” trilogy by Suzanne Collins
Well, it’s obvious I had to put this on here. Gladiator fights are horrible enough, but watching it all on live television makes it all the much worse. And how can you blame it? Suzanne Collins’ “Hunger Games” universe is a franchise that has made a world you want to explore but are too afraid to live in it. But mostly afraid of.
And don’t blame me. As much as I love the trilogy and the films, I wouldn’t want to be forced to fight in an arena with teenagers and fight to the death, then watch my own children, their friends, my children’s friends and my grandchildren be picked in a yearly lottery. And even if I do win a single Game, I’ll have to teach future contestants how to survive and pander to the Capitol like I’m Miss America.
The arenas are especially terrifying, from a forest of death to jungle sprawl and forests. Between other tributes and the Gamemakers rigging the arenas, the most terrifying thing to watch out for are the Mutts. The Tracker-Jackers, the Wolf Mutts (outside the films; have you even read what they look like in the book? It’s so creepy!)
Despite that though, I personally think the films are the best example of a young adult novel being adapted to the big screen. Jennifer Lawrence showed the struggle of Katniss beautifully, the director and producers knew what to keep in and out of the books, and showcased how sadistic and monstrous the Hunger Games are.
“The Hunger Games”: May the odds be ever in your favor.
#3 — “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy and “H2O” by Virginia Bergin
I put these two together because they’re both similar, yet disimilar. Each talk about an extinction-level event and follow a main character surviving as the last of the humans, but each have a different take on the idea.
McCarthy’s “The Road” is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a man and a boy traveling across a desolate America, which is devoid of all life and roaming with cannibalistic gangs that search for food. Not only that, but the world is now in a gray winter so cold, so ashy that crops are all gone, the sky is always cloudy and animals are all but gone. The man even carries around a revolver with two bullet in the instance if he and the boy were about to be captured and eaten.
Bergin’s “H2O” is a new young adult novel about a girl named Ruby (not that RWBY) who is trying to survive in a world where, due to an alien bacteria, rainfall and almost every single drop of water on Earth is poisonous. That means no showers, no toilets, no plumbing and no streams, otherwise you’re infected.
Although both are different (“The Road” won a Pulitzer and “H2O” is…not that good), each of them convey this dread and belief that all is lost in the world while we follow a main character that looks for a beacon of hope. All while avoiding starvation, gangs and keeping their sanity and morality in the world.
“The Road” and “H20”: one makes you depressed of the future and the other makes you afraid of the rain.
#2 — “Crossed” series by Garth Ennis and drawn by Jacen Burrows
I’ll be honest and say I’m not a huge reader of comic books, but I always love to read one here and there. But one comic book series for me that has to be at #2 of this has to be the “Crossed” series started by Garth Ennis.
In 2008, a pandemic broke out that caused people to turn into the Crossed, these infected humans with a rash across their face in the shape of a cross, who will carry out their most evil, disgusting and perverted thoughts on others. Unlike infected or zombie-like people though, the Crossed retained basic human intelligence and could use weapons from melee object to firearms; it’s like our darkest human thoughts manifested. And oh boy, the ways they kill are so gory that I’m pretty sure putting an illustrated example of it will get me kicked off WordPress.
I remember my roommate introducing me to this last year and couldn’t believe how messed up the artwork was, which happened to be in Saw and Evil Dead territory. Heck, I even wondered if this was illegal or not. Don’t get me wrong: the characters are on-par with characters from The Walking Dead, and the psychopaths that make up the rest of the population are crazily likeable, but you sometime worry about how Garth Ennis finds creative ways to torture, kill, dismember and rape a body.
And if that doesn’t scare you, other humans such as Harold Lorre are demented psychopaths who lie, murder and do everything in their power to survive. There’s even one arc where a serial killer becomes a Crossed, but retains much of his human will because he never had any morality to unearth from the virus. That means would you rather face murderous psychopaths or murderous sociopaths?
“Crossed”: making zombie movies look like a Scooby-Doo episode.
And the #1 Worst Fictional Novel to Live In is…
#1 — “1984” by George Orwell
George Orwell’s “1984” is a novel that redefined the dystopian genre early on, and even today novels like “Proxy”, “The Giver”, “Among the Hidden”, “V for Vendetta” and countless others have taken inspiration from this very book.
“1984” takes place in an alternate timeline and is set in a world where three superpowers are in a perpetual war with each other and constantly switch sides while rewriting their own histories. Not only that, but Oceania has a government that spies on its citizens, promotes xenophobia and nationalism, invented a new language that destroys synonyms, encourages the children to rat on their parents, and always has Big Brother watching you.
The novel also coined the term ‘thoughtcrime’, where even thinking about how wrong the government and your country is can get you arrested. The very idea of this has led to questions of legal morality. Thinking what the state doesn’t want you to think is a crime, having a social life outside worshipping the party is a crime, and there’s no such thing as being in love. There is only the IngSoc Party and victory for Oceania.
What makes “1984” so haunting is the vagueness of the world and how it heavily relates to ours in each element it has. Nowadays with biased and social media, truth is skewered on different sides. Privacy on our phones and computers is almost nonexistent, the constant broadcast of disasters and warfare shadow never ends, and the rising hatred of bigotry and nationalism shadows the world we live in.
I was considering whether or not to put “Fahrenheit 451” on this spot, and thought about why this had to be at #1, but then it hit me: Unlike everything else, there is no hope for the main character. With “Crossed” before, at least there was hope for the future. “1984” does not. There is no hope for Winston Smith, no hope for the neverending war to end, and no escape or revolution to topple it all down. And that is what makes “1984” the worst (and hopefully still) fictional novel to live in.
So tell us which of these you consider the worst setting to live in, or leave a suggestion of your own in the comments below.
Thank you for taking your time here! 🙂 Please leave a reply or comment below. Knowing that someone is reading this is what keeps me going, and I’d love to know everyone else’s opinion is on these books or any recommendations for future reviews.
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