Between the end of 2016 and the political climate so far in 2017, there has been a spike in classic dystopian book sales. George Orwell’s famous 1984 has become a popular point of comparison to the world today, while Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is getting the small screen treatment, being released as a Hulu original this month. This sci-fi sub-genre of dystopian literature has also enjoyed a long period of popularity, thanks largely to YA series like The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner.
1. All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
Let’s face it: 2016 sucked the life out of most of us. Between upsets on both political and personal fronts, it was a memorable year for many of the wrong reasons. In Elan Mastai’s debut novel All Our Wrong Todays, Tom Barren lives in a 2016 where technology has solved all of humanity’s problems. Despite this, Tom is unhappy. He’s lost the girl of his dreams and he’s about to do something drastic: use his time machine. Unfortunately, instead of sending Tom through time, it sends him to an alternate 2016: the reality we all experienced, but one where he has his girlfriend. Now Tom must make a tough choice: go back to his perfect but loveless life, or stay in a messy reality with a soulmate by his side.
2. American War by Omar El Akkad
Omar El Akkad’s debut novel American War, follows the story of a young girl named Sarat Chesnut, who loses her father and her family is forced into a camp during a second Civil War plaguing the country in 2074. The story asks the important question of what might happen if America were to turn its most devastating policies and deadly weapons upon itself.
3. Black Wave by Michelle Tea
In Michelle Tea’s novel Black Wave, the end of the world serves as a backdrop for the erratic life of its heroine, Michelle. Heading south to LA from San Francisco, Michelle learns that the world will end in one year—which gives her just twelve months to finish her new novel, make queer love and art and figure out if she’ll need to compromise her artistic process in order to properly ride out doomsday.
4. Book Of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch
The Book of Joan is a retelling of the story of Joan of Arc, but in a world ravaged by radiation, and with few land-based survivors. This novel raises questions about what it means to be human, the fluidity of sex and gender, and the role of art as a means for survival.
5. New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson
New York 2140 presents a bold vision of what the Big Apple will be like in the next century. In a drowned city, only one apartment building in Madison Square stands. However, when two coders, who happen to be the building’s roof dwellers, go missing, their disappearance triggers a series of events that leave an entire future society is at risk.
6. Not Dark Yet by Berit Ellingsen
Berit Ellingsen’s Not Dark Yet makes the personal political. The protagonist of her story, Brandon, leaves his professor/lover in the city to retreat to the wilderness after the two commit an act of violence. While in the mountains, his neighbors use the increased temperatures to stage an agricultural project in an effort to combat globally heightened food prices and shortages. This gives Brandon hope for a future threatened by climate change and its impact on the environment.
7. Proof Of Concept by Gwyneth Jones
In this sci-fi novella, the future Earth is overcrowded and damaged by climate change. Kir, a woman whose brain is the host to a quantum artificial intelligence, is asked to join a project working towards the possibility of humans inhabiting another planet. Will her brain, which is wired for optimism and to ignore any future dangers, be able to avoid the artificial blocks in her mind and make this dream a reality?
8. Tender by Sofia Samatar
Sofia Samatar’s collection of short stories may be more fantasy than sci-fi, and in them she chronicles alternate and parallel realities over possible futures. These offbeat and quirky tales, including her story “How to Get Back to the Forest,” earned her a spot among the Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories in 2015.
9. Thirst by Benjamin Warner
Thirst takes place in the immediate aftermath of an ecological disaster, one that forces suburbanites Eddie and Laura Chapman to deal with the violent fallout of the crisis, and compels them to each reconsider what it is that they cherish most.
10. Too Like The Lightning by Ada Palmer
In this novel, which was short-listed for the 2017 Hugo Award Best Novel category, is set in the 25th century, where society’s perception of gender and religion have changed considerably. It is a hard-won utopia built on technology as well as on complex and mandatory systems of labeling all public writing and speech. In this world, two men—Mycroft (a convict) and Carlyle (a spiritual counselor)—have stumbled on a wild card that may destabilize the system: a boy named Bridger, who can effortlessly make his wishes come true and bring inanimate objects to life.
11. Void Star by Zachary Mason
Void Star sees a future where the seas have risen and central latitudes are emptying, yet it’s still a good time to be rich in the tech-hub of San Francisco. Irina isn’t rich, but she does have an artificial memory that allows her to act as a medium between her employers and their AIs. However, those without this luxury are left as refugees, struggling in this new landscape.
12. The Weaver by Emmi Itäranta
The Weaver tells the story of a young woman becoming entangled in a web of ancient secrets and deadly lies that lie at the center of her island world. While Eliana’s life may seem like a pleasant one, living on an idyllic island as a weaver, the cracks in her perfect world begin to show when a young girl washes up on the shore, bearing a tattoo of Eliana’s name.
13. Zero K by Don DeLillo
Jeff’s father, Ross, an eccentric billionaire, has always been somewhat absent from his life. But when Ross’s second wife, a younger woman named Artis, gets sick, he invites his son to visit him at a mysterious cryogenics facility. It is in this remote compound where death is controlled and bodies are preserved until biomedical and technological advances can return them to a life of promise, which causes Jeff, Ross and Artis to examine their views on life and death.
While there are many ways to speculate about the future, not all of them need to be bleak. However, the dystopian sci-fi sub-genre does do an excellent job of holding a mirror to today’s problems―whether they be climate change, excessive government control or gender definitions. It is by creating fictional worlds that we may not want to live in that we can create a better understanding of the real world we do inhabit.
YouTube Channel: Penguin Platform
Featured image via Quora
h/t Huffington Post