Ah, the future. For as long as humans have had consciousness, they have wondered what happens next. Sometimes that means being curious about tomorrow, sometimes that means imagining centuries into the future. Ideas about what’s in store for us in the future usually involve aliens and interplanetary space travel, like The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury or The Jetsons cartoon. (According to the internet, The Jetsons is set in 2046, so don’t worry – there’s still time for jet packs and flying cars to be a reality.)
Many, many great dystopian novels that explore ideas about future civilizations are considered classics, like 1984 by George Orwell and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. These books both have aspects that have proven to be true in the 21st century. (Wave hello to your computer’s camera!)
And some dystopian novels are even eerily prescient, like A Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier, about a virus that spreads around the whole world, or The Dog Stars by Peter Heller, in which a deadly flu takes much of the population. Believe it or not, a lot of people find reading dystopian stories in our current world climate to be very comforting. It’s why Contagion is one of the most-watched films in the world right now. Because one of our fears has come true, and now people search for the familiar in these stories. Then they can say, “Yes, that’s what it’s like here right now,” while also marveling at the author’s apparent psychic ability to predict parts of the future.
Historical fiction can do a great job covering days gone by, but to write about the unknown is a whole other talent. Here are 10 great books from the 21st century that have taken a stab at what the world will be like not too long from now.
Imagine if, for once, women had the upper hand in the world, and no longer had to fear men. That's the reality in Alderman's spectacular work of speculative fiction. Young women around the world gain the ability to shoot electricity from their hands, making them the most powerful humans on the planet. But with great power comes great responsibility...
A young couple, Cal and Frida, abandon the increasingly frightening and violent city of Los Angeles to try and live off the grid in the woods of California. But their plans are derailed when Frida gets pregnant and they are faced with raising a child alone in the wilderness.
And this is an imagining of dating in the near-future. Anna is unhappy in her relationship with her boyfriend, who was a 70% match for her on Kismet, the popular dating app. So she secretly strikes up a conversation on Kismet with a man with a higher compatibility score, to see if he will be better. But should she take adventure over security?
In a near-future America, the borders have shifted. Laszlo Ratesic works hunting out lies for the Speculative Service in the Golden State, where California once existed. His special talent allows him to actually sense when people are lying. But when he discovers corruption where he works, it will place him in great danger.
To tell you what makes this amazing novel a dystopian story would be to give away the reveal, so let’s just say it’s about three close friends, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy, who attend an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside because they are very special.
And this is an award-winning novel about a young woman living in NYC, who is so bored and apathetic about life that she doesn’t even notice a plague is sweeping through the city until most everyone is gone. She teams up with a band of survivors, led by a holy roller, to search for more people, but she has a secret that might change everything.
A good amount of fiction about the future involves time travel, which is a central part of this fantastic novel. Rebecca spends her days working for an internet dating site, while her husband finishes up his invention, a “causality violation device.” But she can’t help the feeling that her life seems like it’s happening to someone else.
This novel was a huge success when it was released six years ago, but it is more relevant today than ever. It’s about a super-flu that strikes much of the planet’s population, bringing about a dark, desperate new world.
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Liberty Hardy is a Book Riot senior contributing editor and velocireader in the great state of Maine, where she reads 500-600 books a year and lives with her three cats, who hate to read.