Welcome to the glorious society of Oceania from Nineteen Eighty-Four, the poster child and one of the most triumphant examples for Dystopia. A Vast Bureaucracy that has control over almost anything, called The Party, rules over Oceania's inhabitants. Big Brother Is Watching You. By the way, 1984 presents multiple Crapsack Sub-Worlds to choose from:
Do you want to just be one of the vast majority who lives in blissful ignorance and just cares about living happily? Then, welcome to the Proles! The Proles are the vast majority Apathetic Citizens of the population of Oceania who have been conditioned as a bunch of politically uncaring idiots, only surviving and breeding in Wretched Hive habitats with next to no technology, education, or luxury. The Party will never give a shit about you and your wants, and will treat you like an animal in an African reservation while cruise missiles fall on your head. But at least you can still have limitless fun and sex, right? Yes, but if you get too smart the Party can still kill you here.
What's that? You want to join the Party so that you can take part in killing Proles and running the bureaucracy? Then congratulations! Big Brother's eyes will be constantly watching you for the rest of your life, whether it's your public life with other people, or your private life in your own bathroom and apartment, which in some cases is shittier than the Proles. You have to master the art of Doublethink, the art of holding two mutually contradictory ideas and believing in both of them at the same time, while constantly denying the self and Reality. You will constantly be informed that Oceania is at war with either Eurasia or Eastasia at any given time, and insists that they've always been at war with whoever they're fighting — the records of history and news are changed constantly in order to favor whatever The Party had in mind, which is done by The Ministry of Truth. If you have some unresolved anger issues, you can dispose of them in our "Two Minutes Hate" sessions, where all your anger and wrath can be directed to the first traitor to the Party, Emmanuel Goldstein. The best part? No Sex Allowed; the only sex you're allowed to have is with the partner the Party assigns to you, and only for procreation — sex for pleasure is strictly verboten. And by the way, unless you're a Prole which are nothing but animals compared to The Party, if you even think about dissenting against the rest of the Party and despise the watchfulness of Big Brother, which is called Thoughtcrime ("crimethink" in their "purified" language), the Thought Police will come to take you away, but instead of just killing you, they will "cure" you in the Ministry of Love, where you will be subjected to Cold-Blooded Torture and Mind Rape in Room 101 until you come face-to-face with the Despair Event Horizon itself and choose to love Big Brother. (You may want to join the Thought Police, but the rest of your comrades can still torture you there).
What's that? You want to get the fuck off Oceania and take a vacation in Eastasia and/or Eurasia? Then congrats! You are now hated by Oceanians, but at least you can mind your own business, right? Wrong! Both Eastasia and Eurasia have the exact same ideology as Oceania, the "Obliteration of the Self", the "Neo-Bolshevism" or as Oceanians like to call it, Ingsoc. Why all the wars and tortures despite being Not So Different? It's all just an excuse to waste as many resources as we can, provide the Proles with a cheap and easy reason should they come to complain about the crapsackness, and/or just because of pure power. You can also choose the "disputed areas" between the superstates where you can spend a great deal of time being smart, but you will be killed by the superstates' soldiers or be taken as their slave.
"There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face ... forever.
What makes it even more horrific is that O'Brien spends a good part of his second conversation with Winston detailing exactly why the Dystopia of the book will never ever be dismantled. Unless you include the Appendix.
What makes this Crapsack World truly effective is that...it's completely normal. There's no monsters, demons, or aliens anywhere in sight. It's just regular human evil in a terrifyingly realistic world fueling the eternal misery for decades and decades.
The world of The Giver Quartet. Either you live in a technologically advanced utopia that is tightly controlled, or a medieval tech level village where you can suffer cruelty from the forces of man, nature, or both.
In A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels there are several crapsack worlds, and alternate futures in which Earth is a crapsack world.
A Wrinkle in Time itself features Camazotz, a world so conformist and authoritarian it makes Ingsoc look like a utopia. People are so rigorously controlled, failing to bounce a ball in exact time with every other child on the planet gets you thrown in a torture chamber, and catching the common cold gets you euthanized.
A Swiftly Tilting Planet (the second sequel) has Charles Wallace and his flying unicorn twice landing in "projections" — crapsack possible future worlds.
What do you think about living in The Passage, where the majority of human population has been wiped out (possibly everyone outside North America, and mostly everyone in from North America), there are superhuman zombie-vampires who are far stronger than humans, too fast to aim at and you turn into one of them after being bitten in one of five cases - and are simply devoured in other four? Oh, and all of them are controlled by several Big Bads who are using most remaining humans as a cattle, and strong light is only effective defense you have?
In Jay Kristoff's Stormdancer, the Shima islands are flowing with pollution, an evil shogun is power-hungry and selfish, and "impure" people are being executed by a group of religious zealots called "The Lotus Guild." How can one girl and a flightless griffin set thing right again?
Fahrenheit 451. The entire world is an idiocracy that subscribes to a nihilistic and hedonistic ideology which boils down to "If you have problems, don't face them, burn them!" Nuclear war is so prevalent that the sound of jets flying off to nuke entire cities out of existence isn't even commented on. Television has taken the place of the family. Drug use is so ubiquitous that a single EMT team will likely deal with upwards of a dozen ODs a night. Running over pedestrians and crashing cars a la Grand Theft Auto is the new national pastime. Being a bookworm and engaging in other intellectual activities will make the ignorant masses feel unhappy and is punishable by having your house and possessions burned down. Resisting having your house burnt down will result in a giant mechanical spider hunting you down and killing you.
Gathering Blue: After The Ruin the book's community has been reduced to a barbaric society, with technology at pre-industrial levels.
Childhood's End: This Arthur C. Clarke novel deals with the end of humanity as we know it, shepherded along by alien overlords. Children are entering a new state of consciousness and in the process becoming something distinctly non-human in the way to their meld with the overmind of the universe. The remaining generation of adults, who are dying off without being able to reproduce, band together and go through the stages of grief as the death of human civilization approaches fast. World religions and cultures crumble with a whimper. Pretty sad.
Most of the Neuromancer universe, especially the Sprawl and Chiba City.
In The Sundered, the whole world's flooded with water... that eats people! The only technology left is old and rusting, and the only way anybody survives is by abusing psychic mutant slaves, which are dying out.
Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter's Time Odyssey. The universe will tear itself apart down to the subatomic level by cosmological expansion. The universe only has a finite amount of usable energy, and it's very slowly burning itself up. The very first intelligent species to evolve wasted a lot of that energy on an intergalactic war, and then resolved to last until the big rip. To do that, it systematically, and with much guilt, resolves to wipe out all life which consumes too much energy. If a species has the audacity to consume oxygen for energy, it gets wiped out before it manages to leave its home planet. If a species doesn't put a foot wrong, it gets wiped out when the sun dies of natural causes. Worst of all, apart from the aliens, it's this one.
Earth in Night's Dawn. The environment was completely wrecked; giant storms rage across the surface, forcing all cities to built giant domes to protect themselves. Overpopulation is so great that the anything much greater than jaywalking will cause you to be sent as a indentured servant/slave to a colony world. And the Government allows the crime cults to thrive in the lower parts of the cities.
The Last Dragon takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where it never stops raining, which means it's hard to grow crops that won't drown, which means a lot of people go hungry. Worse, there's some heavy Fantastic Racism and a terribly oppressive pseudo-feudal society.
A Song of Ice and Fire and its television adaptation, Game of Thrones. The nobility are busy squabbling over the throne of the largest single geopolitical bloc in the continent of Westeros, all while hideous monsters in the far North are waking from their long sleep and will likely invade... and, almost nobody is preparing for it. Also, most of the ordinary people are routinely treated horribly. Many nobles think nothing of raping or murdering them, and they also have to worry about dying of starvation when not conscripted to fight in agriculture-destroying wars they know little about. And winter is coming.
The continent of Essos is no better: part of it is still a smoking, glowing ruin from a major volcanic catastrophe that wiped a thriving empire off the map over three hundred years ago and, thus, is completely uninhabitable, unless you can bathe in lava and like sulphurous steam rooms. Other bits have such hopeful names as "The Shadow Lands", "The Bone Mountains" and "Slaver's' Bay", others are rumored to be suffering the equivalent of low-level magical fallout and/or plague of some sort... and the rest? Is mainly a patchwork of city states and would-be empires that have all seen better days, all loosely linked by that aforementioned slave-trade economy focused around Slaver's Bay, all compounded by hordes of marauding semi-nomads living in the grasslands between the states having to be fended off by bribes or they'll attack. And, the less said about the continent of Sothoryos, the better: it was Ground Zero to something truly nasty enough to make the Doom of Valyria look like child's play. There are only some islands well off the coast and, maybe, two or three cities even vaguely inhabitable left. Very little is known of what happened.
In The White Tiger, there's The Darkness, where all the poverty-stricken people reside.
House of the Scorpion is set Twenty Minutes into the Future, where Mexico is under control of the corrupt quasi-communist Keepers, and life in the United States is so bad, that not only are people crossing the border into the United States, but into Mexico as well.
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. Strangely, a rant about death given by a doctor who has just watched a woman he was supposed to be saving die a horrible and painful death is actually the only upbeat part of the entire novel.
A dramatic fantasy example would be the setting of The First Law. The Kingdom is run by a secret police, many of the main characters are murderers and cutthroats, Aristocrats Are Evil, the Wise Old Mentor likes to blow people up, the peasants are oppressed and the city-folk are slimy.
The book ends with pretty much no positive changes in the world, a figurehead Jezal as King of the Union, Logen still on the run, Ferro returning to her vengeance-seeking ways, and Bayaz turning out to be the biggest jerk in history.
And Jezal gets kicked hard when his change of heart and indications he wants to make a got of the 'king' situation results in Bayaz reminding him who's running the show. Ouch.
The Conan the Barbarian universe is a great example of a Crapsack World in fantasy. What you've got is a Low Fantasy world full of assorted, real-world inspired ancient civilizations, and some barbarians. The choice that the author gives you is basically Barbarism Vs. Civilization. Civilizations are generally decadent and corrupt old empires with scheming, militaristic kings who will do anything up to and including resurrecting a dead sorcerer from an ancient, evil empire (in Hour of the Dragon) to get more land for their nation. The only nation that doesn't seem to be either full of evil sorcerers (Stygia, Koth, Khitai, Zembabwei) or expansionist kings (Koth, Ophir, Nemedia, Turan, everyone else) would be Aquilonia, a Rome/medieval England hybrid that winds up being the first nation that is completely annihilated by a horde of savages, along with every other halfway-decent place to live in Hyboria. Barbarians will find that the line is very thin between savagery and noble savagery, once again. Cimmerians prove to be the only race in this category that have even a rudimentary grasp on morality, everyone else is either a cannibal (the Darfari), an unapologetic savage (Picts fit this perfectly), or a Viking-esque village pillager (the Vanir and Aesir).
Seeing how Howard and Lovecraft were friends and shared some ideas, the Conan books are set in a primitive version of the Cthulhu Mythos; they do share some gods.
The titular Edge in the obscure fantasy series The Edge Chronicles isn't exactly an ideal spot for a vacation. The Deepwoods are dark and extremely dangerous, the Twilight Woods are a cursed place where anyone who enters will most likely go insane, the Mire is a polluted wasteland, Undertown is a dirty, overcrowded slum, Sanctaphrax is "a seething cauldron of rivalries, plots and counter-plots and bitter faction-fighting", the river Edgewater is choked with sewage and the lands along the rim of the Edge are a desolate barren.
Things get worse in the Rook Barkwater series. The city becomes even worse, slavery returns, Sanctaphrax becomes grounded and taken over by Nazi-like fanatics, all of the sky pirates are gone, and 95% of the "good" characters from previous books are either jailed or dead.
And later, both Sanctaphrax and Undertown get destroyed. But it's okay, just about everyone except the Guardians of Night and Vox escaped.
By the end of the series, civilization has relocated to the Freeglades, and things are looking much, much better for everyone.
Stephen Baxter's Xeelee Sequence — hundreds of thousands of years of humanity in a massive Hopeless War of attrition against the Xeelee, who are also fighting a race of dark matter beings who want to render the universe unfit for baryonic life (like humanity). They lose. First the humans, then the Xeelee. Might be subverted, though, in that Xeelee knew they couldn't win and so spent all of time (and we do mean "all of time" literally) creating a method to leave the universe into one better suited for our type of life. They succeeded and even allowed the remnants of humanity to use it.
Patrick Suskind's Perfume. Everyone is either motivated by greed, selfishness, lust or desire for fame, or callous and apathetic to their fellow human beings. Grenouille, a twisted little troll of a man who kills women for their scent, actually comes across as the most sympathetic character in the whole book - at least he's motivated by a desire to create something beautiful, in the absence of anything else to give his life meaning.
"Harrison Bergeron", by Kurt Vonnegut, in which any person who has any kind of talent is handicapped to prevent them from excelling and thus making other people feel inferior. The main character is smart, tall, strong, and handsome, so his handicaps include headphones that play distracting noises, three hundred pounds of weight strapped to his body, forty pounds of birdshot around his neck, eyeglasses designed to give him headaches, and a rubber ball on his nose, black caps on his teeth, and shaven eyebrows to hide his beauty. He rebels and dies, and his parents are too handicapped to be aware of watching their own son shot on television.
In fact, lots of Kurt Vonnegut's books either have the world heading for disaster (imminent or eventual), or illustrate how crapsacky the world is even without the end looming.
Flannery O'Connor had issues. Just about her entire body of work involves unbelievably flawed, unsympathetic characters feuding and bickering with each other, finishing with a tragic, often gruesome climax, usually the consequences of their actions. Of course, since all of her stories were written while she was dying of lupus, this might explain her outlook. Considered one of the premier authors of Southern Gothic literature, which is an entire genre of this trope.
However, given O'Connor's strong belief in the redemptive power of suffering, she certainly didn't see it this way. For example, in response to a fellow Catholic who wondered why she couldn't use her considerable talents to write something "uplifting", she said, "If your heart had been right place, you would have been uplifted."
India in the Alan Dean Foster novel Sagramanda. Rampant poverty, the poor attacking people to get money, greedy corporations that just leave it that way, a man eating tiger just left alone, multiple hit men, and an insane serial murderer feature prominently, as does somebody who tries to kill his own son because of the caste system.
The novel A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole seems to personify this entire trope in the character of Ignatius J. Reilly: Fat, ugly, repulsive, arrogant, full of useless facts but little actual intelligence, utterly lacking in empathy and humor, sponging off his mother with zero gratitude whatsoever, and generally making the world a worse place to live. It doesn't help that all of the other characters in the novel are defined by their flaws and inadequacies, and stumble through their lives without a clue as to what they're doing or how they're affecting others. The novel's climax gives the reader the hope of Reilly finally getting his comeuppance, then dashes it by giving him an easy out that promises the continuation of his repugnant behavior. It's worth noting that the author committed suicide eleven years before the novel's first publication.
It's also worth noting Ignatius is often considered to be a self-portrait of Toole, who went into a depression after no one picked up his "amazingly brilliant" piece of work. Theory goes his suicide was not so much for a bitter outlook on the world as from a bitter moment of self-realization.
There's an additional theory that Toole's suicide may have been the result of a conflict with his own sexuality. Furthermore, although Ignatius and other characters are painted as blinkered and bumbling fools, it should be noted that New Orleans (the novel's setting) still retains its sense of carnival and is replete with colorful characters. In fact it gives quite a balanced view of New Orleans, giving us a look into the party atmosphere of the city without sparing us its seedier elements. I'm not completely convinced that the book qualifies as a decent example of a Crapsack World.
The late Robert Asprin edited a series of short fantasy anthologies with multiple spinoffs known as Thieves' World. All of the anthologized stories were written for the series, and set in a common World Half Empty. At least it started out as one; it later got much, much worse.
His Cold Cash War, about corporate-sponsored mercenaries, also depicted an extremely grim and violent world, so much so that he started writing the light comedy series Myth Adventures to cheer himself up in contrast.
Search the Sky by Frederic Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth. Halsey's Planet is slowly depopulating itself, Gemser is an insane gerontocracy where age is the sole factor in determining status, Azor is a Straw Feminist world where believing in gender equality is a crime against the state, Jones is a world where conformity in everything (including appearance, architecture, dress, and habits) is mandatory, and Earth is a coin-operated world where intelligence is frowned on. And all colony worlds are inbred because there were too few original colonists for each world.
Pretty much everything Kornbluth ever wrote falls under this trope:
His most famous work, "The Marching Morons" and its prequel "Little Black Bag", which were the inspiration for Idiocracy. The average intelligence has plummeted; the world is full of stupid people with a few geniuses desperately scrambling to keep everything running.
The Luckiest Man in Denv portrays a completely militarized society where Chronic Backstabbing Disorder is the norm, locked in a generations-long atomic war with its rival Ellay. (Nobody remembers that the two cities used to be part of one nation; indeed, nobody is even quite sure why the war started.)
Shark Ship shows us a community of ocean dwellers who have forever forsaken the overpopulated land to lead a regimented life on the open seas. They are the lucky ones: a ship that loses its fishing net and goes back to the land in desperation finds that it has been taken over by a fanatical religious movement that glorifies torture, violence and a one-child policy. The land is no longer overpopulated. It's barely populated at all. Remarkably, this is probably the most optimistic ending in Kornbluth's entire body of work, as it's suggested that the ocean dwellers will recolonize the land and establish a sustainable, relatively humane society.
Virginia portrays a world where a handful of billionaires control everything and gloat over all the wonderful inventions and discoveries they have suppressed to maintain their grip on power. (It's played strictly for laughs, but it wouldn't be at all pleasant to live in such a world.)
Two Dooms imagines a victorious Axis partitioning North America between a Japanese West and a Nazi East - the same premise as The Man in the High Castle but played much nastier. The Japanese half is made up of fanatic pseudo-samurai ruling over a wretched population of slaves whom they'll murder at the slightest provocation; meanwhile the Nazis are every bit as evil as you would expect (they enjoy torturing prisoners to death) but they're also insane - the protagonist, an American scientist from the 1940s who's become temporally displaced, saves his life by convincing a Nazi commandant that he's really an "Aryan" who's been the victim of a plot by Jewish magicians. This is taken absolutely seriously by the commandant and every one of his officers. note None of this was actually invented - Kornbluth was just taking the very worst aspects of Nazism and Totalitarian Shinto/ Bushido and turning them up to eleven.
The Twelve Kingdoms: Whenever a king falls from the way, their kingdom is overrun by man-eating beasts, volcanoes erupt and the earth cracks open, snow buries villages in the middle of summer, monsters swim up from the depths to devour ships, it rains frogs and locusts consume crops for miles, plagues wipe out whole villages in a single night, typhoons flatten forests and...well, you get the general idea.
On the inverse side, if a king rules justly, a kingdom can prosper and greatly avoid being attacked by Youma. En for instance is a very good place to live under its current king and has been so for 500 years (though there are still some less pleasant people around). It's more of a World Half Full, since the evil can be held back when people are good and just (contrast to most examples, where the good simply can't win for any significant period of time). It also has the twelve Kirin, who do their best to advise their less-than-perfect human monarchs.
Almost anything by Patricia Highsmith. The POV characters of her books are generally either Villain Protagonists who get away with it, or pathetic losers who suffer horribly at the hands of unspeakable villains who get away with it. She did, however, write a surprisingly positive lesbian love story called The Price of Salt.
The Star Wars Expanded Universe sometimes looks like it's heading in this direction. It's less intense than in other examples, but still, whenever the peaceful, freedom-loving institution of the moment manages to get the upper hand and finally look like it's going to turn things for the better, something happens that screws everything up and plunges the whole galaxy right back in the darkness of endless war. After the Empire there's Ysanne Isard, then Thrawn, then the Emperor reincarnates, then he reincarnates again, then the Imperial Remnant reunites under Daala and starts messing up the place again. Then the cult of Ragnos springs up, then the Yevetha set out to destroy everyone, then there are several more attempts to restore the Empire... and all this in only twenty years. And when the galaxy finally seems to have some peace and things seem to be looking brighter, the Yuuzhan Vong invade and start a war that kills trillions. Then there's another civil war. Then the Empire and the Sith rise yet again. Seriously, how people from the Star Wars galaxy ever wish for anything but a quick, painless death is a mystery.
It really depends on the book and the author. The ending of Outbound Flight aside, Timothy Zahn's novels, for example, tend to stay true to the original feel - there are dark times, but there is also joy and beauty and hope and adventure, and nothing is completely, unambiguously terrible. In some novels it's almost a white and gray contrast between the good guys and the bad guys, and the Empire is never some monolithic evil structure - it's made of people who are trying their hardest to do what they think is right.
Of course, Zahn-bashing is more popular now. His characters are being systematically killed off and his preference for Everybody Lives, where the tension comes not from who dies next but how can they escape, gets mocked as unrealistic. A lot of old-school EU fans are very selective with canon. Many like to believe that it ended with the Hand of Thrawn duology, when the Empire and the New Republic finally sign a lasting truce.
Star Wars: Legacy is a comic book series, but it is set in the same universe as the EU just set about a century into the future. According to this, after all the aforementioned stuff has been dealt with... it gets worse anyway. Until it gets better.
Most of Nathaniel Hawthorne's work is about how much people suck and the world is a horrible place full of evil. For some reason, he's called a Romanticist. Well, a Dark Romanticist, anyway.
Somewhat subverted with Discworld's city of Ankh-Morpork. It has all the makings of a Crapsack World and yet, due to the brilliance of the Patrician and the sheer stubbornness of its inhabitants, it is the place where everyone on the Discworld wants to live and always bounces back from whatever crisis it faces. In Night Watch, however, you see just how bad the city can be without Vetinari.
Whereas the city of Haven in Simon R. Green's Hawk And Fisher series is the Wretched Hive version, where even the "gods" aren't above greed, mayhem, sociopathy and a host of other antisocial tendencies, but still attract worshippers. His later Nightside series draws heavily on Haven to create a similar setting as part of a hidden version of London.
Voltaire's Candide disabuses the title character of the notion that he lives in the best of all possible worlds (a popular metaphysical notion of Voltaire's time) by tossing him from one ridiculous misfortune to the next, throughout the entire novel.
However, though the end leaves Candide a poor peasant working to death for the rest of his life, he does consider that the friendships he got from those misfortunes are evidence that at least this world isn't the worst of all possible worlds.
The Running Man by Stephen King is set Twenty Minutes into the Future in a world where many people are dying of lung cancer due to pollution and cannot even get basic medicine, where the more elite classes are apathetic and everyone is numbed out by watching horrific TV "game shows" where people die for small amounts of money.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy is set After the End, in a world where there has been no sunlight for eight years, the forests are dead and falling to the ground, Georgia is as cold as Alaska, and the nights are described as being "as dark as the cellars of Hell". Cannibal cults with female slaves roam the countryside, eating the babies of their women as soon as they give birth, and sometimes 'farming' people in their basements, slowly eating them bit by bit. People are dying from the cold, from some kind of horrible disease that causes them to cough blood until they drop dead, and from starvation, walking through barren farmlands. If this sounds awful that's because, you know, it kind of is.
The Cthulhu Mythos. An entire universe where Humanity is surrounded by unimaginably horrifying Eldritch Abominations, compared to whom we are insignificant ants, and who will plunge all of us into madness, despair, and insignificance when they awaken from their slumber. Plus there's a True Neutral race of alien time travellers, who also confirm that humanity will go extinct in a horrible way.
H. P. Lovecraft: The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either Go Mad from the Revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.
The basic idea of The Laundry Series is that creatures like those from the Cthulhu Mythos really exist, and that it's only through the efforts of a few top secret organizations that they don't invade our planet. This kind of business can get very, VERY nasty. In the first book alone they only saved the entire universe from being eaten by the skin of their teeth. And It Gets Worse. Especially when CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN gets brought up: Basically, there will soon come a time when interdimensional boundaries wear so thin that unspeakable horrors will be able to be summoned by ordinary humans unintentionally, as a product of a particularly horrifying variation of Clap Your Hands If You Believe. This is so serious, the government considers using the SCORPION STARE program to reduce the world's population by turning random people to stonea viable solution.
China Miéville's world Bas-Lag, and especially its apparent largest city, New Crobuzon, featured in his novels in Perdido Street Station, The Scar, and Iron Council, fits this to a 'T'—-if there's a pool of water in the city which is not stagnant and oily, or any non-corrupt person with any amount of noticeable power, we've not seen it or him.
There are implied to be nice and happy things in Bas-Lag - Bellis wants to save New Crobuzon from invasion for a reason - but thanks to the particular paths the novels take, we don't see much of them.
This trope is one of the base premises of a whole genre: Cyberpunk.
What makes it even more tragically hilarious is that a few chapters later it is revealed that a new propulsion system - the Infinite Improbability Drive - has made hyperspace travel obsolete and no one will be using that bypass. Douglas Adams knows his tropes.
A village full of insane crow worshippers (no, really) who murder anyone who doesn't follow their ridiculous set of laws.
A circus where the performers are treated like dirt by both their bosses and the spectators.
Also not that the circus freaks had abilities most people wouldn't even consider bad or freaky most of the time...like being able to write with both of your hands....I mean....What the hell Villain? That's low even for that type of setting.
The Marquis de Sade novel Justine is pretty horrific. Justine recounts how, at the age of twelve, she asked for shelter in a man's house and was told that she could only stay if she would have sex with him. The person she talks about this to screams at her for being a parasite that wanted something for nothing. Mind you, this is essentially the high point of the story — it gets much, much worse for the poor girl as it goes on.
The world of pretty much all of Sade's work in general qualifies as this big time. Anyone who isn't a bastard in his works is either a hypocrite or a victim. Given his general Humans Are Bastards worldview, this isn't too surprising.
The Edge the Loner pulp western series by George G. Gilman featured a Wild West so violent and corrupt that the sociopathic walking scar called Edge may have been the only man strong enough to survive it. Inspired by the Eastwood/ Leone spaghetti westerns, the Edge books may well have inspired the equally vile western settings of Vertigo Comics' Preacher and Jonah Hex series.
The Dresden Files. Good or often merely neutral supernatural factions are outnumbered and outgunned by bad supernatural factions that are always chaotic evil and prey on humanity like cattle. Dark magic is hyper-addictive while few are even warned of this. Cosmic horrors lurk in the background, as well as the threats of sacrificial ascension rituals and old gods. The breaking of the masquerade being an effective "nuclear" option, the divisions between various evil factions, and the web of rules and alliances are the only reasons why the evil factions haven't simply taken over. However, the current villains appear to be systematically breaking from those rules, such as killing tens of thousands of people in a nerve gas attack.
But it's also arguably a World Half Full. Insanely determined people like Harry Dresden and Michael can make a difference with a lot of effort and help from the benevolent supernatural powers. The whole Crapsack World and Hopeless War tropes get subverted when Harry wipes out the entire Red Court at the end of Changes.
Of course, in the following book, it's revealed that the destruction of the Red Court left a power vacuum open that was filled by an even nastier group, bringing the Crapsack back in full.
Let's discuss Zothique. It's the last inhabited continent—all the others either had all their inhabitants slaughtered, or sank beneath the sea. Technology has been smashed back to the level of bows and arrows. Zul-Bha-Sair, one of the better locations, is ruled by the "Charnel God" Mordiggian. Naat, meanwhile, is run by particularly nasty necromancers, and Uccastrog is also known as "The Isle of the Torturers." A typical story in the setting, "The Last Hieroglyph," sets up a standard heroic journey that turns out to be to the fate of all living things: being stored as a hieroglyph on a god's record of the world, which will be complete on the approaching day when everything in the setting is wiped out. For added fun, the author and his buddies loved shared-universe fiction, so this is the future of the above-mentioned Cthulhu Mythos, which is the future of the above-mentioned Cimmeria, so the inhabitants were actually lucky that they weren't all eaten by Eldritch Abominations.
Early Robert Cormier stories like The Bumblebee Flies Anyway are set in either A World Half Full, or this, depending on how you look at it—we're all doomed, but at least God is reasonably benign. His later stories fall squarely into this trope—good people are doomed, bad people usually rise and prosper, and according to In the Middle of the Night, we're headed for The Nothing After Death. Standard heroes are often set up, then subverted, like Jerry Renault of The Chocolate War, who's set up to fight The Brute and gets sent to the hospital, having achieved nothing, or the Avenger in We All Fall Down, a pint-sizeVigilante Manwho's actually fully adult and completely insane.
K.J Parker's The Scavenger Trilogy. Life is hard, short and mired in failure. There is less and less secure government, and you don't want to know what is driving what order there is.
Left Behind, during the last 7 years of humanity, people get to experience at frequent intervals: worldwide earthquake, 1/3 of the world's water supply turning into deadly poison or blood, utter darkness covering the Earth, hail of fire, plague of giant locusts whose bite cause painful boils for 6 months (those bitten are rendered immortal temporarily to prevent suicide), deathly cold, deathly heat, and then the Prince of Darkness himself gets in on the fun...
For the believers in the last 3 1/2 years of the Tribulation, to a certain extent, it becomes a Cozy Catastrophe as God provides protection for them and their equipment while everyone else suffers. Bloody rivers? God provides clean water. Sun-baking heat that scorches everything? Not if you're a believer. Pitch-black darkness in New Babylon? God will at least provide some level of visibility. The world's economic system crashing with the destruction of New Babylon? God has the believers covered in that area. Oh yeah, don't forget to look up, believers, because your redemption draws near!
American Psycho and other works by Bret Easton Ellis. Everybody is completely shallow and selfish, and they're usually too dense to notice how empty and meaningless their lives are.
The Parrish Plessis series takes place in one. Parrish tries her best to improve things, she really does, but Diabolus strikes at every turn, and the series' ending leaves open the possibility that all her efforts have only made things worse.
Modern day Britain in Noughts & Crosses, a rare example of a functional world where although everyone can get enough to eat and can live well there is so much prejudice against non-African descended races that if you don't have dark skin, you will probably spend your life only having the most basic things on offer.
The world of Battle Royale, where Japan is part of an isolationist dictatorship, rock music is illegal, there are terrorist groups trying to take down the government... and every year a class of 3rd year high school students are drugged on a school trip and taken to an isolated location, where they are fitted with explosive collars and told that they have to fight to the death. If they refuse to fight to the point where no one dies for 24 hours, then they all die anyway.
How about Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games? North America has collapsed into a totalitarian nightmare which considers watching children slaughter each other on television to be the height of entertaining. People from the satellite states (which supply the children in question) tend to be dirt-poor and will be beaten or killed for pretty much no reason at all. Then you have the arena itself, complete with neurotoxic mists, nightmare-inducing bees ( a.k.a. tracker jackers), giant walls of fire, mad dogs who happen to be templated off your dead friends...did we mention the whole country is required to watch? The rest of the world is conspicuously absent, possibly destroyed in the vaguely implied calamity that brought the government in question to power.
For a freakin' young adult novel, the world of Panem is insanely brutal.
Special mention to the tracker jackers, who were just one species of many, rather horrifying ones created in said government's labs to beat down a revolution over seventy years ago, that the government just let loose and are now running (or buzzing) 'round the countryside, terrorizing people.
Even joining the rebels isn't much better. After risking everything following a rumor with risk of being killed or becoming a mute slave of the Capitol, you get to look forward to a civilization where everything must be rationed and everyone works. Cinna's prep team were locked in a dark room in chains and beaten for 'hoarding food.' Even Katniss — the Rebellion's symbol for hope — isn't given much special treatment by Coin. Coin herself is just President Snow playing for the good side. One of her suggestions when they beat the Capitol was to hold a Hunger Games themselves except using Capitol children. Which, other than completely destroying their pampered way of life would give them ample reason to start a rebellion on their own later down the line.
Holly Lisle and her Matrin novels. In the prequel of the books, you have a society of rich, powerful wizards that waste energy like it's nothing and when they run out, they use the souls of the people of the Warrens, obliterating any chance they have to be reborn. The rest of the timeline isn't much better, with a world destroyed by magic, people turned into mutants and those same mutants hunted down and killed in brutal ways.
Tadeusz Borowski calls this the "world of stone," and most of his Holocaust fiction fits into it nicely. The slaughter of innocents becomes not just commonplace, but normal, just another event in an ordinary day. The concentration camp inmates who retain their human decency get killed off, leaving behind only those who're willing to steal and betray others to survive (and even they're subject to their luck running out or their captors no longer needing their assistance.) Hope itself is an essentially negative force, leading people passively to their fate when, had they completely given up hope, they might have at least taken a few of their tormentors with them.
On the other hand, every once in a while Borowski sets up the trope and subverts it, as in "The January Offensive," where the narrator's initial arguments in favor of this trope are countered with a more uplifting tale.
Duff: Zombies are excellent stylists, if you ask me. They dance the Moonwalk like professionals, make the best cotton candy and even rap faster than Eminem.
The planet Dosadi in The Dosadi Experiment (by Frank Herbert) is so vile and horrid that anyone that wasn't born on the planet is bound to get torn to shreds within a couple of hours. Jorj X. McKie, the protagonist, quickly finds that he must adapt to the mindset of the Dosadi natives if he is to survive his stay on the planet and complete his mission.
The world of the Witcher books is full of monsters that are often better than the humans they prey on, but are still hunted by the titular Witchers - humans mutated into perfect monster killers - who are hated and loathed by common people. Fantastic Racism is everywhere - Humans Are Bastards abusing their position of power, Elves, who are forced to live in ghettos, aren't really that much better - other races generally side with Elves but remember that they weren't so nice before the humans conquered them. The Empire is conquering other nations with force of arms (and War Is Hell in this setting, by the way) or economics, and it is made clear that soon after the end of the last book, this world will suffer their equivalent of the Black Death, which the Corrupt Church will blame on magic users, leading to a wizard genocide. This world is so corrupt and rotten that Ciri, who can travel between the worlds, abandons it in the end, which means that when the new ice age comes to wipe everybody out, there won't be any of her descendants to lead the survivors to another world. The games, despite being so dark they're often compared with Dragon Age are still Lighter and Softer compared to the books.
Darwath is being invaded by flesh-eating Lovecraftian monsters, but that's just their top problem; also, their world is sliding into an Ice Age, and the Church is zealously destroying the wizards and magic-tech that are the only things that just might save them. Hambly spends three books basically raising hopes in order to dash them. Even when, at the very last minute, the wizard persuades all the monsters to emigrate to a warmer climate, that still leaves them with a collapsing ecology and a politico-religious state that makes Afghanistan look like a shining city on a hill.
In The Pale King, the New Mexico trailer park and the rest of Chapter 8 provide a grim portrayal of a teenage girl trying to survive with her drifter of a mother.
Witch and Wizard: Let's see, children ripped from bed in the middle of the night? Check. Evil overlord bent on taking over the world? Check. Said children constantly on the run from said overlord? Check check.
Sunshine is set in a world where the vampires and other assorted nasties are going to win the war against humans in about a century or so.
Bill the Galactic Hero's military system is seemingly designed to make the lives of the enlisted a living hell, from the moment they put their name in the dotted line.
The world of Timeline-191 may not be a total Crapsack World, but it's definitely a much grimmer reality than our own. The United States is forced into geopolitics much sooner, and is never able to develop into the "land of opportunity" that defined its character from the late 19th Century onward. Surrounded by hostile countries, it instead evolves into a slightly less-oppressive version of the Soviet Union, becoming just another player in the global empire-building game. The world is far less idealistic and far more militarized. The most brutal battles of both World Wars take place between the Union and the Confederacy, and nuclear weapons are used with more abandon. Ironically, Japan is the only major player in this timeline's version of World War IInot to have a nuclear bomb dropped on it.
The world of Of Snail Slime definitely falls under the roof of the Crapsack World. Inventions of mass destruction are showcased in large competitions, standard operating procedures for US government agents is breaking, entering and kidnapping, and ancient Greek mythological figures have a tendency to show up and wreck the place.
The two 'future worlds' shown in Animorphs. One is in The Stranger and one in The Familiar. Both have the world controlled by the Yeerks, with all humans enslaved, and a lot of Earth's natural flora and fauna destroyed due to Yeerk tendancies.
Book of the New Sun is such a Crapsack World that the ending of the series, in which almost the entire population of the world drowns is seen as being the good ending.
The sequel, Book of the Long Sun is arguable worse. Humanity has been trapped inside a huge Generation Ship for so long that almost nobody remembers that there is anything outside. Everyone worships gods that are a cross between sociopaths and Neglectful Precursors and in fact are just the digitized personalities of a dictator, his family and his cronies. Technology is being slowly lost, the fabric of the cities is crumbling and the titular Long Sun is beginning to malfunction, causing droughts.
In Dune, Arrakis was one to some degree or other for most of the people. And definitely the Harkonnen home planet, Geidi Prime, as detailed even more in some of the prequels (with Gurney Halleck suffering horribly there as a slave child).
The universe itself would count, as even when Paul is the new Emperor of the known universe, he is unable to stop the Jihad his Fremen have unleashed which result in the deaths of billions of people.
In Tom Holt's Ye Gods!, Prometheus gives Jason Derry a view of a world without him in order to show why it's so important he sides with him against the Jerkass Gods. In this world there's no such thing as a joke, everyone lives in fear of the gods all the time, and game shows are deadly. Jason's reaction is "I wouldn't want to live there, but I wouldn't want to live in Florida and plenty of people do."
Wherever Davey Rice goes in Jumper, somebody wants to beat the crap out of him. They often succeed.
The short story "Transaction" by Redfern Barrett takes place in a city (implied to be Berlin) where every interaction - sex, violence, conversation, breastfeeding - involves a financial transaction. Everything is broken, and people live minute-to-minute attempting to avoid falling into debt.
In Caliphate, much of Continental Europe is under decay under Caliphate rule. The Middle East is a crapsack state as well, as noted by character Besma. The rest of the world isn't much better, with everyone pretty much in a state of hostility to one another that's effectively low-level war punctuated by periods of actual armed combat.
In the Countdown series it becomes clear that the world is slowly but surely going to hell, and that civilisation is crumbling under the rising tide of barbarism that the governments of the world are either unwilling or unable to try to address.
Three Zed from Fusion Fire and Crown Of Fire has a strict eugenics program culling any children who are too compassionate, gentle, friendly, or fearful. On top of that, the political intrigues and power struggles at the top also mean that it's rather easy to get on someone's bad side, those who aren't at the top are likely to be manipulated and used against their will for the leaders' plans (including for suicide missions), and resistance to orders means death.
Z Is for Zombie by Adam-Troy Castro and illustrated by Johnny Atomic. As the introduction puts it:
"The truth is that something primal has changed during the night. There have been dark negotiations between those we exalt as gods and those we fear as demons. Treaties have been rewritten. Borders have been redrawn. The territories that once belonged to the realm of life now belong on the wrong side of death. For those of us living on Earth its a lot like learning that the government has decided to plow under our homes and neighborhoods using the right of eminent domain, except there's no warning and no appeal and no compensation and no other place to go. Yes. This is unfair. It certainly sucks to be us."
The Leonard Regime takes place in a world where everybody is controlled by an oppressive dictator.
Spin presents an Earth that has become encased in a membrane by unknown forces and appears to be doomed to be destroyed within a few decades. Crime and violence are rampant, an oppressive right-wing regime has taken over the United States, much of the developing world is flirting with theocracy, and religious zealots are everywhere and have caused an epidemic of bovine disease to spread around the world thanks to their idiotic attempts to breed a pure-red calf. The ending subverts this trope, as it turns out that not only has the membrane ensured Earth's survival, but the beings who created it have gifted humanity with a whole new planet to colonize.
The eponymous planet Riesel in Riesel Tales: Two Hunters is covered in rusting, miles-high cityscape, giant swaths of which have been outright abandoned; and it's all lorded over by a powerful mafia faction. The air, thin as it is due to the sheer altitude of the skyline (nobody lives on the deadly ground level), is heavily polluted from centuries of neglect. Just about every corner is crawling with crime, ranging from petty thieves to violent psychopaths. Its population has more than its fair share of swindlers, gangsters, bounty hunters, mercenaries and megalomaniacs; and the rest are comparatively nice people who are too poor to leave or are rich enough to live in the safer and more updated districts.
In Oblivion, we get to see what the world looks like under the Old Ones. It's an endless string of natural disasters, wars, terrorist attacks, plagues, refugees, crazed despots, dystopian police states and, of course, the occasional Eldritch Abomination attack.
In the Moreau Series, the Pan-Asian War left Tokyo and New Dehli radioactive craters, and the PRC conquered Japan and Taiwan. Tel Aviv was nuked by the Islamic Axis during the Third Gulf War, and sub-Saharan Africa and South America have been devastated by other, unnamed wars. Moreaus, created as soldiers, are second-class citizens at best throughout the world, and many are refugees from war or persecution. The Troubles continue unabated in Northern Ireland. The U.S. verges on a Police State, with rampant political corruption as a bonus, and verges on civil war with the Moreau population. and the alien invaders who caused much of this conspire behind the scenes to make it worse.
The Godless World Trilogy: The Gods abandoned their creation 1000 years before the story starts, leaving it to all spiral out of control. There's never ending wars between the True Bloods and the Bloods of the Black Road, tensions between Huanin and Kyrinin that never end, relentless persecution of the na'kyrim, and a general sense of misery and despair that never goes away. This gets worse once Aeglyss taps into The Shared and starts poisoning everyone with his own angst and misery.
In the eyes of many of its characters, London is this in The Rats, even before the mutant killer rats come up out of the sewers.
Grubindy in Fates Road qualifies. It's underground, smoky, and governed by priests of a Religion of Evil — and everyone who lives there is trapped there.
Clocks that Don't Tick is set in a world ruled by immortal oligarchs known as the Bosses. They're not controlling or oppressive. On the contrary, it's their apathy that's responsible for the state of the world. With the elites immune to disease, cures ceased being developed. As a result, humanity is stricken by numberless deadly diseases, and most die before the age of thirty. Basic amenities such as heat or electric lighting is rare, as is food. The world's once great cities have been reduced to rusty wastelands. One can opt to become immortal and escape the filthiness of the outside world, but in doing so they become Thralls. That entails working sixteen-hour days for a debt that can never be paid off due to the astronomically high interest rate.
In The Maze Runner Trilogy, the world is crawling with those infected with the Flare and even those not infected have proven themselves to be just as nasty. Nearly everybody is willing to kill the protagonists (and everybody else) and there's nearly nothing in the way of plant life either.
The Earth of the Idlewild series has been completely depopulated for at least fifteen years with skeletonized corpses commonplace. Without people, structures have fallen into disrepair and supplies are frequently questionable. The handful of survivors realize that just one unlucky day may result in their slow, agonizing, inevitable death and they won't even know that day. Disagreements commonly undercut teamwork. The burden of rebuilding civilization is constant, as is the fact that Nature has survived just fine and will be happy to bury them as well.
The Man in the High Castle: An extremely hellish and oppressive one where the Axis won World War II. Not just for the actual characters, but also applies for the book-within-a-book The Grasshopper Lies Heavy — an incredibly racist United Kingdom ends up winning the Cold War and conquering the world. Of course, compared to the one they live in, the characters view the one in the novel as paradise. Similarly, the divide between Nazi-occupied territories and Japanese-occupied territories reflect this divide; while the Japanese are certainly not nice to their subjects, they are on the whole far more humane, rational and sane than the Nazis are, who practically become Omnicidal Maniacs in their endless war to attain racial purity.
Ten years before the beginning of The Reckoners Trilogy, humans began to spontaneously manifest superpowers. Unfortunately, use of these powers almost instantly transforms any Epic, no matter how moral they might have been before, into a total psychopath. Now, humanity is crushed and shattered. The lucky are slaves to the most powerful Epics, while the unlucky are caught in the crossfire between multiple feuding Epics. The only heroes are the titular Reckoners, a secretive organization which hunts and kills Epics.
London in The Glimpse, if you belong to the 25% of the population predisposed to mental illnesses. The "Pures" without that predisposition get the Crap Saccharine version in gated communities.
In the Daniel Faust series, God is missing or dead, angels are genocidal, and the only reason the world isn't in Hell's hands is because the various demonic courts are too busy feuding with each other to really focus on us. Humanity is a guppy in a very big ocean filled with very hungry sharks.
Flatland. Your social class is determined by how many sides you have, with autocratic Circle priests in charge. Irregulars are shunned by society and endure miserable, closely-monitored lives. Women, being line segments, are subject to many restrictive laws (announce their presence everywhere they go, use special doors) in order to prevent them from accidentally impaling someone. Painting and even use of colour have been outlawed and suppressed, and only shapes with a pedigree can marry. The lower classes' only hope is that their children are born with extra sides, so they will get a better chance at life. Additionally, every thousand years, when a sphere arrives to preach the Gospel of Three Dimensions, the Circles execute or imprison anyone who follows its word.
Nino: He said that if the mountain crashed into the ground, it would be a mercy. He said the whole idea of a city in the void was insane. One by one, things would go wrong — things that couldn't be fixed without help from outside. Within a generation you'd all be starving. Eating the soil. Begging for death.
The city of Parole from Chameleon Moon, populated by superheroes, watched at all times by the Eye in the Sky, and slowly falling into a river of fire.
Life under the rule of her stepmother is terrible, but arguably only gets worse after Snow White leaves the house in Six-Gun Snow White, because now she has to face being biracial and a woman in a white man's world. Even when she finds the best haven she's going to find in Oh-Be-Joyful, Witch Hex tells her that "What's east is hungry. What's west is hard."
NowWhat in Mostly Harmless, a singularly miserable planet (which also happens to be an alternate of Earth) which Arthur Dent happens across in his travels to find a suitable alternate Earth (and Fenchurch?) So bad is this planet that the only picture of the president was after he'd shot his own face off, the only export is the useless skin of an animal that's just as cold and miserable as the colonists, whose only ambition is to leave at any cost.
In Citadel, the central part of the US is a gang ruled war-zone, a significant part of the Upper Hemisphere was frozen solid, the entirety of Europe is under the complete mental control of Tyrant, and the Citadel itself admits to striving more towards brutal efficiency than actual justice.
The world of The Mysterious Stranger, written by Mark Twain at the height of his Creator Breakdown, is certainly this trope. Featuring a small Austrian village at the height of the European witch craze, where the common folk are so miserable that anyone who has a run of good fortune, no matter how small, will be accused of witchcraft and certainly burned at the stake— and the condemned accept this without protest, because their lives are so horrific that they prefer death. Yet at the same time, paranoia is so high that everyone goes along with it even though the majority know that witches aren't real, because they're terrified that others are true believers who would suspect them for their skepticism. And this is before Satan shows up and reveals that all humans are doomed from the start, and that the only way to reduce suffering is either to let them die immediately, so that they no longer experience the horrors of the world, or to render them insane, so that they at least have the illusion of joy which may or may not be the fate of the narrator at the end. Not that Satan is any better of course; despite not being the same entity as the Devil (at least, according to his own word), he cares naught for human beings at all, because he has no Moral Sense whatsoever, and claims that humans are the worst of all creatures because of their sense of morality. Not that any of this matters because humans have no free will, and any attempt to change one's fate simply seals one's doom. The setting is so misanthropic and depressing that the story could have been written by Gen Urobuchi and nobody would notice any difference.
In Shattered Twilight, to the point that a widow's child being kidnapped by demons is almost ignored by the priesthood on the basis that it happens all the time and they have more important things to do.
On one hand, the society Administration has no racism, sexism or homophobia, safe and non-addictive drugs are sold by the government and every citizen has government-provided contraceptives implanted.
On the other hand, even talking ill of the government within earshot of anyone working for the various security agencies can get you arrested and interrogated i.e : tortured, there is institutionalized classism, with "corporates" able to get away with almost anything, and sabotage in the corporate world can be fatal.
Played straight with the future America- a Christian theocracy.
Pretty much any dystopian novel ever written is this.
Tales Of The Space South takes place in the badly impoverished planet-city Space Alabama, a hellhole ruled by a racist aristocracy, with Lord George "Fore-man Grill" Birmingham, a disgusting Jerkass, at the helm.
Mars in Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars, as well as its comic book adaptation Warlord of Mars is stated to be a dying word whose oceans dried up thousands of years ago due to a ecological catastrophe. The planet is an arid, extremely dangerous place, most of its fauna is hostile and carnivorous. Hordes of Green Martiansroam the land raiding the weak, while the last civilized peoples live in the city-states where Deadly Decadent Courts and tyrants are depressingly common place with princesses and noblewomen being regularly targeted for kidnapping. Resources are scarce to keep their populations under control, the Martians developed a culture the causes them to exist in a constant state of perpetual warfare, consider assassination and kidnapping to be respectable and honorable professions, and fight duels at the drop of a hat. The predominant religion is a Path of Inspiration created by a society of cannibals that lures their unsuspecting victims in search of paradise to their domain in order to enslave and devour them. Said cannibals are also victims themselves of another Path of Inspiration created by others that feed on them and this cycle has been perpetrated for eras and nobody that returned alive was able to warn the world about it, being executed for heresy. To top it all off, the atmosphere is decaying and the one thing keeping all life on the planet from suffocating is a complex factory built by the Precursors that few people understand how it works. On the flip side, technology is so advanced that Martians are functionally immortal and can live for thousands of years, that is if they can get that far.
Divergent: A war caused by a disastrous attempt to correct human genes that went wrong claimed half of the US population and turned most of the environment into rough, uninhabitable wasteland. The entire human race is now sorted according to whether they are genetically pure or damaged, and being sorted into the latter is...not nice. This predictably resulted in violence that erupted in the metropolitan areas, which are practically the only places where people live. The United States is now a shadow of itself, agreeing to a plan by a certain Bureau which necessitated an entire city, uhm, cities, to be transformed into giant experimental bottles with the intention to produce more pure people. That goal is not noble by itself, but then the Bureau isolated them for eight generations and counting, which resulted in the people inside to forget why they live there and actually flipped the racism upside down, so that now the genetically pure (or as they call, Divergents) are persecuted, ensuring that the experiment will go on for a while.