Sci-Fi Novels/Short Stories about Overpopulation Index

Extrapolating the social ramifications of an overpopulated world is a theme in science fiction (especially from the 60s and 70s) which particularly interests me.  Not only can an overpopulated world make a fascinating backdrop to a straightforward plot (Robert Silverberg’s The Time Hoppers) but can also serve as the motivating superstructure of an entire novel (John Brunner’s monolithic Stand on Zanzibar).

 An overpopulated world is often characterized by a breakdown of existing cultural and moral barriers, the “mechanization” or increasing “programmability” of mankind, societal good increasingly aimed at production or reproduction, landscapes plagued by extreme pollution (disease, extinctions, etc), and of course, a protagonist with traditionalist philosophies (for example, remembering the allure of “working the land” in the past less-populated world).

A few works below concern overpopulation on alien worlds…

I’ve decided to compile a list (updated as I discover more) of SF books and movies (my review linked) which feature overpopulation in some form or another.  I’ve listed them by release date.


Science Fiction Novels/Short Stories


C. M. Kornbluth, “The Marching Morons” (1951), 4/5 (Good)

Miriam Allen deFord, “Throwback” (1952), 4/5 (Good)

Isaac Asimov, The Caves of Steel (1954), 4/5 (Good)

Miriam Allen deFord, “One Way” (1955), 4/5 (Good)

Robert A. Heinlein, Tunnel in the Sky (1955), 4/5 (Good)

Frederik Pohl, “The Census Takers” (1956), (unread)

Robert Silverberg, “Why?” (1957), 4/5 (Good)

Robert Silverberg, “Force of Mortality?” (1957), 3.5/5 (Good)

J. G. Ballard, “The Concentration City” (variant titles: “Build-Up” and “The Disaster Area”) (1957), 4.75/5 (Very Good)

Robert Silverberg, Master of Life and Death (1957), .25/5 (horrible)

Robert Sheckley, “The Minimum Man” (1958), 4.25/5 (Good)

C. M. Kornbluth, “Shark Ship” (variant title: “Reap the Dark Tide”) (1958), (unread)

Robert Bloch, This Crowded Earth (1958), (unread)


Alice Glaser, “The Tunnel Ahead” (1961), (unread)

Anthony Burgess, The Wanting Seed (1962), (unread)

J. G. Ballard, “Billenium” (1962), 5/5 (Masterpiece)

Lester Del Rey, The Eleventh Commandment (1962, revised 1970), 3.75/5 (Good)

Frederik Pohl, “The Deadly Mission of Phineas Snodgrass” (1962, revised as “The Deadly Mission of P. Snodgrass”, 1970), (unread)

Jane Roberts, The Rebellers (1963), (unread)

Brian W. Aldiss, Earthworks (1965), rating: 3.5/5 (Average)

D. G. Compton, The Quality of Mercy (1965), rating: 4/5 (Good)

Brian W. Aldiss, “Another Little Boy” (1966), rating: 4/5 (Good)

Harry Harrison, Make Room! Make Room! (1966) (unread)

Keith Roberts, “The Deeps” (1966) 4/5 (Good)

Roger Zelazny, The Dream Master (1966), 4/5 (Good)

David I. Masson, “The Transfinite Choice” (1966), 3/5 (Average)

Philip E. High, The Mad Metropolis (1966), (unread)

Kit Reed, “At Central” (1967), 5/5 (Near Masterpiece)

Clifford D. Simak, Why Call Them Back From Heaven? (1967), rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Robert Silverberg, To Open the Sky (1967), rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Robert Silverberg, The Time Hoppers (1967), rating: 2.5/5 (Average)

Louis Charbonneau, Down to Earth (1967), rating: 2/5 (Bad)

Irving A. Greenfield, Waters of Death (1967), rating: 1/5 (Terrible)

Harry Harrison, “A Criminal Act” (1967), (unread)

James Blish and Norman L. Knight, A Torrent of Faces (1967), (unread)

John Brunner, Stand on Zanibar (1968), rating: 5/5 (Masterpiece — my all time favorite sci-fi novel)

Robert Sheckley, “The People Trap” (1968), rating: 4/5 (Good)

Brian W. Aldiss, “Total Environment” (1968), (unread)

Kurt Vonnegut, ‘Welcome to the Monkey House’ (1968), (unread)

James Blish, “We All Die Naked” (1969), rating: 4/5 (Good)

Raul R. Ehrlich, “Eco-Catastrophe!” (1969), (unread)

Roger Zelazny, “The Eve of RUMOKO” (1969), rating: 3/5 (Average)


Joanna Russ, And Chaos Died (1970), rating 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Dean R. Koontz, Anti-Man (1970), (unread)

James Blish, “Statistician’s Day” (1970), (unread)

Don Pendleton, 1989: Population Doomsday (variant title: Population Doomsday) (1970), (unread)

Michael G. Coney, “The Sharks of Pentreath” (1971), (unread)

Kate Wilhelm, “Where Have You Been, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?” (1971), 3.5/5 (Good)

Mark Adlard, Interface (1971), 3.25/5 (Vaguely Good)

Maggie Nadler, “The Secret” (1971), (unread)

T. J. Bass, Half Past Human (1971), rating: 2.5/5 (Average)

Harry Harrison, “Roommates” (1971), (unread)

Gordon R. Dickson, The Outposter (1971), (unread)

Robert Silverberg, The World Inside (1971), rating: 5/5 (Masterpiece)

Max Ehrlich, The Edict (1971), (unread)

Ursula Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven (1971), (unread)

Dan Morgan, Inside (1971), 3/5 (Average)

Frank M. Robinson, “East Wind, West Wind” (1972), (unread)

Kurt Vonnegut, “The Big Space Fuck” (1972), (unread)

Marion Zimmer Bradley, Darkover Landfall (1972), 3/5 (Average)

Andrew J. Offutt, The Castle Keeps (1972), (unread)

Thomas M. Disch, 334 (1972), (unread)

Michael Elder, Nowhere on Earth (1972), (unread)

Edmund Cooper, The Tenth Planet (1973), (unread)

Colin Free, Soft Kill (1973), (unread)

John Jakes, On Wheels (1973), (unread)

Michael G. Coney, Friends Come in Boxes (1973), 4.25/5 (Good)

Stanislaw Lem, The Futurological Congress (1974), 4.5/5 (Very Good)

John Hershey, My Petition for More Space (1974), 4/5 (Good)

Alan E. Nourse, The Bladerunner (1974), (unread)

J. G. Ballard, High-Rise (1975), rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Arthur C. Clarke, Imperial Earth (1975), 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Evelyn E. Smith, Unpopular Planet (1975), (unread)

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Time of the Fourth Horseman (1976), (unread)

George Guthridge, “Dolls Demise” (1976), (unread)

William Walding, “Triage” (1976), (unread)

Mark Adlard, Interface (1977), 3.25/5 (Vaguely Good)

Colin Kapp, Manalone (1977), (unread)


Axel Madsen, Unisave (1980), (unread)

Philip José Farmer, Dayworld (1985), (unread)

Philip José Farmer, Dayworld Rebel (1987), (unread)

Barry B. Longyear, Sea of Glass (1987), (unread)

David Brin and Gregory Benford, Heart of the Comet (1987), (unread)

Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle and Stephen Barnes, Legacy of Heorot (1987), (unread)


Philip José Farmer, Dayworld Breakup (1990), (unread)

David Brin, Earth (1990), (unread)

Charles Harness, Lunar Justice (1991), (unread)

George Turner, The Destiny Makers (1993), (unread)


Charles Stross, Accelerando (2005), (unread)

Brian Aldiss, Finches of Mars (2013), (unread)


Science Fiction Anthologies


Future City (1972), ed. Roger Elwood, rating: 3.25/5 (Average)

No Room For Man (1979), ed. Joseph D. Olander, Martin Harry Greenberg, Ralf S. Clem, (unread)


Science Fiction Movies


Michael Campus, Z.P.G (1972), (unseen)

Richard Fleischer, Soylent Green (1973), rating: 6.75/10 (Average)


Neill Blomkomp, Elysium (2013), (unseen)

24 thoughts on “Sci-Fi Novels/Short Stories about Overpopulation Index”

  1. Some are quite terrible — for example, Silverberg’s Master of Life and Death. I highly recommend Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar, Ballard’s High-Rise, Silverberg’s The World Inside Compton’s The Quality of Mercy, and Joanna Russ’ And Chaos Died…

    Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Well that tears it, I need to get a copy of Stand on Zanzibar! And I realize this is a douchey thing to do (soliciting opinions) but I wrote a dystopian story based on overpopulation and water depletion (Source). Any interest in taking a look at it?

  3. I’m trying to locate a short story I read 30 years ago about a public relations guy who is hired to help the government develop a program to reduce the population. He comes up with several ideas promoting sterility, suicide, etc. but the program works a little too well & things spiral out of control with mass suicides, death-cults & the like. In the end he’s left with the last group of people on earth who are counting on him to mate with the last females to repopulate the earth. I remember the last line of the story was “I don’t have the heart to tell them I’m sterile”. I also remember that the President of the USA now dresses up like Uncle Sam (lol). It was a fantastic story & I wish I could find it again. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  4. I’ve one to add — the short story “The Tunnel Ahead” by Alice Glaser. Think an alternative version of “The Lottery” in an extremely overpopulated earth.

    1. I was a bit flummoxed by the date notated for that one – it WAS on the list but listed as “unread” – because I read a story decades ago myself – but further back than that I thought – and never forgot it. It was in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction which my dad always brought home and I loved reading. I always read the shortest stories first. This was one of the shortest ever. And it turned out to be one of my two favorites of all time. The scene: everyone is on the road in their cars coming back from the beach (didn’t we all?) and the traffic would back up, coming to a complete stop every so often, with some regularity. When that happened, it was something everyone rather expected, and they all seemed to have some concept of a time frame that would occur while they waited for the traffic to begin moving again. It was normal and standard for folks to get out of their cars, and strike up conversations with the folks behind or in front of them, as they got out of their cars as well…..waiting…..for the traffic to resume its pace. There was a tunnel ahead. Everyone knew about the tunnel. Talk often centered around the problems with overpopulation, the density in the city, the small, low ceilinged apartments, the difficulties endured, and then, the traffic would proceed again. A group of cars would make it through the tunnel, but just behind them, the tunnel would be shut off, and apparently–at each end. And that would be that society’s way of handling the problem with overpopulation. And every one knew. And every one still went to the beach every weekend. When I finished reading it, I remembered stories about the Lemmings and their yearly journey, their yearly – dispatch – to control Lemming Overpopulation.

      I wonder – was Alice Glaser’s story the one I just reframed. It was a great short story and I would love to see it again.

      1. Thanks for your comment! I realized that I do have a copy of her story in an unread collection I have on the shelf… Voyages: Scenarios for a Ship Called Earth (1971). It has appeared in quite a few collections over the years (her only story!).

        Here is the publication listing — perhaps you can track down one of the collections to give it a reread! (if you haven’t used The Internet Speculative Fiction Database I highly recommend it. It has the best publication histories for the genre on the web).

      2. That was the story, exactly. Extremely overpopulated future. Buildings made of recycled cans. “Zoos” made up of a cat, a dog, and maybe goldfish on certain complex floors. Birthing pods at supermarkets. The description was just nightmarish. I have my LIT1000 students read it sometimes just to stir up discussion about the issue of overpopulation, government “interferences” vs. individuals’ “freedoms.” It really stirs up the pot.

  5. Sometimes make SF references in my econ blogs. Need help recalling author/title of a short story plot I remember. In an overpopulated world parents take kids to a fair and they pay by taking a random chance on death. Kids keep asking for more stuff.

  6. Hi,
    What was the title of the SF short story with this scenario?
    Humankind had split into a seafaring group that lived by fishing and never returned to the land, and a land-bound group that had developed a culture of murder and mayhem to deal with a massive overpopulation problem, with its seminal figure presented as a kind of anti-Hugh Hefner.
    Seems to have been inspired by Calhoun’s experiments on overpopulation in artificial rat and mouse colonies.

    1. A spectacularly belated reply – this story is “Shark Ship” aka “Reap the Dark Tide” by Cyril Kornbluth. The survivors on the land evolve a death cult from a porn publisher’s discovery that pain and death sell better than plain sex. Of course Kornbluth stories like “The Marching Morons” and “The Education of Tigress McCardle” are also about schemes to combat overpopulation.

      This story was probably the last thing Kornbluth sold before he died as it was published after his death but the author’s note describes him as still writing.

      The original magazine publication is scanned online at:

      1. Thank you, Mr. Davis. I knew that many others would remember any story I remembered so vividly. In addition, thanks for the link.

  7. Can anyone recall the short story (I think) where the planet was so crowded, only part of the population could be awake at any given time. People shared living space (and the entire world) during waking hours while other slept in the same apartment.

    1. “The Sliced-Crosswise Only-On-Tuesday World” by PJ Farmer, 1971 which he would expand into the Dayworld series of novels

  8. You have Robert Bloch’s THIS CROWDED EARTH (1958) as unread. I remember it as quite readable, but the imagined effects of overpopulation were strange. Making apartment hallways narrower seems to me to be way past the point when food, air, and water would really have been the problems. The “solution” is the “horrifying” (author pushes this opinion) modification of the next generation into only 3 feet tall, with not unpleasant childlike proportions. My reaction was “meh”, and that it would only be postponing a reckoning. Love the title, though.

    I think a little of Bloch’s true talent (horror fiction) seeps through, leaving the reader scratching his head.

Comment! Join the discussion!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: