Kurt Vonnegut’s weary, cheeky, and wise 1963 masterpiece was such a massive influence on me that I wrote it into my own novel. Researching a book about the day the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, John is drawn into the orbit of the Hoenikker family, propelling this exploration of utopian society, brilliantly irreverent philosophy, the unintended consequences of technology, and the personal connections that bind us and give our lives meaning.
Emily St. John Mandel
On a snowy day in Toronto, an unstoppable pandemic erupts, sweeping the globe and causing human civilization to collapse. Twenty years later, life is very different, but human nature can only change so much. This compelling, richly imagined story darts back and forth between the two timelines, before and after, following an interconnected group of characters as they struggle to survive and, for those that do, find renewed purpose in a very different world.
Six stories nested within one another, each a different genre, set around the world in timelines ranging from the distant past to the distant future, with surprising connections between the characters and eras. It could seem gimmicky, but instead, it’s transcendently beautiful and gloriously insightful about the enduring questions of what it means to be human. David Mitchell’s writing is exact, sweeping, and bold, but also deliriously entertaining.
Never Let Me Go
Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth attend Hailsham, a boarding school in England. In many respects, they are normal teenagers. But in one crucial respect, they are not—because they are clones raised to provide organs for real human beings. Of course, what makes a human “real” is one of the many complex questions raised with oblique elegance and heartbreaking depth in Booker Prize-winner Kazuo Ishiguro’s unforgettable novel.
All Our Wrong Todays
Growing up, my grandfather had an extensive collection of vintage ‘50s and ‘60s science fiction and, as a kid, I loved reading the strange and vivid stories I’d find behind the garishly painted covers. Nowadays, I bounce around reading novels of any and all genres, but I’ll always have a soft spot for science fiction. When an author chooses to escape the orbital gravity of strict realism and venture into arenas of possibility and prediction, they often find daring and unexpected ways to illuminate our essential humanity. Many of these books wouldn’t necessarily be filed in the sci-fi section of your local bookstore, but they deftly use science fiction concepts to offer bracingly unique insights and observations about who we are, how we live, and where we’re going.
Elan Mastai’s debut novel, All Our Wrong Todays, also dabbles in the sci-fi world. You know the future that people in the 1950s imagined we’d have? Well, it happened. In Tom Barren’s 2016, humanity thrives in a techno-utopian paradise of flying cars, moving sidewalks, and moon bases, where avocados never go bad and punk rock never existed…because it wasn’t necessary.
Except Tom just can’t seem to find his place in this dazzling, idealistic world, and that’s before his life gets turned upside down. Utterly blindsided by an accident of fate, Tom makes a rash decision that drastically changes not only his own life but the very fabric of the universe itself. In a time-travel mishap, Tom finds himself stranded in our 2016, what we think of as the real world. For Tom, our normal reality seems like a dystopian wasteland.
But when he discovers wonderfully unexpected versions of his family, his career, and—maybe, just maybe—his soul mate, Tom has a decision to make. Does he fix the flow of history, bringing his utopian universe back into existence, or does he try to forge a new life in our messy, unpredictable reality? Tom’s search for the answer takes him across countries, continents, and timelines in a quest to figure out, finally, who he really is and what his future—our future—is supposed to be.
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Featured image: Bruce Rolff/Shutterstock.com; Author Photo: © David Leyes