Basma Abdel Aziz
In the wake of a recently defeated uprising, the citizens of Abdel Aziz’s unnamed country face a tyranny made all the more insurmountable by its paucity of human symbols and by the overwhelming power of the Gate—the source of all governmental authority, which looms at the head of a (literally) never-ending queue. In elegant prose, Aziz’s scope widens beyond the queue and into the unlucky lives of those who form it.
A startling debut novel set in an America in which women are only permitted to speak 100 words per day, Christina Dalcher’s Vox turns the issues facing women today—being silenced—and literalizes it, spinning it into a haunting and thrilling wake-up call for our deeply troubled times. In it, a cognitive linguist fights against the Pure Movement that has brought about the horrifying, misogynistic rule. At first, she suffers through the electric shocks that come when a woman surpasses her allotted word limit. Then, she goes after the President. A must-read from a voice who needs, like so many, to be heard.
We Cast a Shadow
Maurice Carlos Ruffin
From its tantalizing premise—in a near-future Southern American city, a father considers putting his biracial son, who has a black birthmark that continues to grow, through a procedure known as demelanization, to turn him white—to its beaming, bustling lyricism, Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s We Cast a Shadow is one masterpiece of a debut.
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
The author of the upcoming Interior Chinatown, Charles Yu’s first work is a mind-bending romp through space-time. A young time-machine technician named Charles Yu navigates a world full of unbelievable (or science fictional) technologies, where the sudden appearance of a book, apparently written by himself, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, throws him into a strange, head-trippy adventure.
Atwood’s sequel to her classic 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale is, according to the novelist, inspired by “the world we’ve been living in.” Picking up the narrative 15 years after the events of its predecessor, The Testaments is not only one of the most anticipated books of the year but of the past few decades.
Emily St. John Mandel
After a flu wipes out much of the world’s population, a troupe of actors known as the Traveling Symphony move through the ruined civilization to promote and protect art as a means of giving people some hope. Emily St. John Mandel’s novel became a bestseller and an instant classic when it came out in 2014, and as an example of a dystopian story, it is a paragon.
Gold Fame Citrus
Claire Vaye Watkins
The cause of the dystopia at the heart of Claire Vaye Watkins’s first novel is a major drought in Southern California, where locals aren’t allowed to leave to live in America’s more inhabitable areas but instead forced to live in internment camps. A couple living in an abandoned mansion resists the internment and tries to create a semblance of a life together. A touching, tragic, and wholly original novel, Gold Fame Citrus is a one-of-a-kind vision.
The Sky Is Yours
Chandler Klang Smith
Empire City, the futuristic ruins at the heart of Chandler Klang Smith’s novel is haunted by two dragons who rule the skies. Three characters—a reality show star, a baroness, and a vagrant—are forced deeper into the treacherous territory of a crumbling metropolis. With The Sky Is Yours, Smith has shown herself to be an inventive and daring novelist.
Super Sad True Love Story
Set in a technologically advanced but culturally bereft future, Gary Shteyngart’s wonderfully oddball Super Sad True Love Story is filled with funny details, astute commentary, and, of course, a lovely romance at its center. A lighter fare than most dystopias, which isn’t a bad thing at all.
All Our Wrong Todays
How about a future that isn’t a disaster but is actually precisely how Americans imagined it in the 1950s? Technology has fixed all human problems in the 2016 of Elan Mastai’s All Our Wrong Todays, but is it a utopia? Or can a “perfect” future still qualify as a dystopia?
If you were to base your attitude toward the future on fiction writers, your outlook would probably be pretty bleak, as novels tend to depict one of two potential outcomes for any given civilization: either it’s full-on dystopic—replete with mass deaths, razed cities, droughts, paucities of food, even cannibalism—or it merely appears utopic but is actually a totalitarian regime disguised (or not so disguised) as harmony, unwaveringly to the benefit of the rich and elite. So in the coming decades, we’re either going to be lost in a post-apocalyptic world where we fight amidst anarchy for survival, or we’ll be deeply embedded in a corrupt system that exploits the complacent nature of societies.
Cool. That sounds awesome.
But I figure if everything’s going to turn to shit we might as well be as prepared as possible, and who better to equip us than the very people imagining these dreary futures? Maybe their precise predictions won’t come true, but at least by engaging with as many scenarios as possible, we might be a little less surprised when culture takes that inevitable (it seems) turn toward collapse. Thus, here are a few recent novels that imagine, to use the ubiquitous sci-fi phrase, the shape of things to come, so that we might plan some way to fit into the world’s new form.
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