Science fiction has many faces. Personally, my interests have always landed in that sweet spot of extra-reality-meets-literary. My favorites are dystopias, but I’ll go with anything that makes me think about an aspect of our own reality. There’s something special about these kinds of science-fiction books: they’re entertaining by the merit of their genre (different worlds, plots that take the impossible and make it real, fascinating characters that are, at times, literally out-of-this-world), but they’re also so substantial in their themes—and they always make fantastic book club picks! So whether you’re looking for your next great conversation starter or you’re just itching to work through the complex and—let’s be honest—tiring issues of our present-day world, these books are the perfect choices to add to your list.
This is the quintessential book for those who enjoyed the movie Contagion but wished that more people had died (just kidding) and that there was a little art in it (not kidding). Told in two timelines—one after a pandemic, one before—this novel shows you the beauty in humanity and how it can survive anything, even a flu of epic proportions.
For fans of “The Walking Dead”
While “The Walking Dead” hero Rick Grimes and his gang are keeping hope alive but losing their grip fast after a zombie apocalypse, STATION ELEVEN’s Kirsten Raymonde and her band, the Symphony, have dedicated themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive after a mysterious pandemic has ravaged civilization.
Great science fiction does more than tell a story—it creates a world so real you feel you can touch it, and leaves you with a message so strong it keeps you thinking for a long while after you finish reading. The world of AN OCEAN OF MINUTES takes all of the issues of our present—from lack of health care to immigration—and stretches them to their limits. After a flu ravages the world, the pharmaceutical company that owns the cure demands either an exorbitant levy or for a loved one to work off the sick person’s debt. In AN OCEAN OF MINUTES, a girl goes forward in time to for her sick boyfriend, not knowing that the future America she’ll step into will differ in every way from the one she’ll leave behind. It may seem like a health-care story on its surface, but ultimately, it’s about what people will do to save the ones they love—even travel to a land knowing that they can’t ever return home.
This is one of the only Stephen King books I can read, since I’m a notorious scaredy-cat who can’t even watch the opening credits of American Horror Story. (TOMMYKNOCKERS is a terrifying book that I still have nightmares about.) And this is more dystopia than horror, really. One hundred boys marathon-walk the entire length of Maine—they can’t stop for food, water, or even bathroom breaks, and they’re not allowed to go under 4 mph. For you King buffs, this is also one of the first novels he ever wrote, and I’m quite happy to stick to the early years of King.
“Read if you like your commentary on life, death, schadenfreude, and society straight up with no frills and no mercy.”
This book is weird in all the right ways, and by the end, you’ll want to reread it to see if you can catch the clues. After I read it, a friend asked me if I’d noticed the punctuation (answer: I’d just thought it was a lot of typos. But it wasn’t, my friends. It wasn’t!). In the follow-up to I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS, Iain Reid proves he’s a force to be reckoned with. The novel starts on a desolate, rural farm, where a man and his wife have settled into a very strong routine. But when someone comes and tells him he’s won the lottery to be sent into space, everything changes for the steady couple.
I read this, and then I read WORLD WAR Z, and then I read that weird manual that Max Brooks wrote, so this definitely led me down a certain path. Zombies meet Romeo and Juliet, this isn’t your average Edward Cullen story. R (he doesn’t remember his name, just an R, and so that’s what he goes by) tries hard to keep his humanity, even though he is a brain-eating zombie. And when he eats the brain of Jules’s boyfriend, he finds that love might really be able to conquer everything—even “undeath.” It’s fun and more light-hearted than you expect a book about zombies to be. They don’t even move that fast. Definitely my favorite zombie romance.
In this unexpected retelling of Romeo and Juliet, R is having a no-life crisis—he is a zombie. And then he meets Julie, a blast of living color in his gray landscape. However, their unlikely bond will cause ripples they can’t imagine, and their hopeless world won’t change without a fight.
If you’ve seen the movie, you might think you know the story of READY PLAYER ONE. It’s fan service with a side of David beating Goliath in a futuristic world where everyone does everything in a virtual-reality world. Simple, right? But the book is so much more. Even if you don’t know everything about 80s culture, it’s no biggie—there’s a little something for everyone. Wade plays the Game (the game that grants the victor complete control of the entire VR system) not because of ambition or some hero’s complex, but because it’s a game. And that’s what this book is, under everything: a game to play.
Years after reading this book, a friend of mine and I will still look at each other every so often and scream “THE CIRCLE!” This is not because we feel the need to remind ourselves that we have indeed read it, but because everything reminds us of this book. It’s about a company that is basically Google, Twitter, and Apple rolled into one that takes over the world. They demand transparency from all politicians, they create semi-truths like “privacy is lying,” and eventually the whole world is connected by The Circle, with no way out. It’s easily one of the most chilling dystopian books I’ve read because it truly begins as a utopia.
A war breaks out over the use of fossil fuels, and an entire generation of American climate refugees gets caught in the middle. This book does an exemplary job of describing how someone could become an extremist when there is no hope for the future and no good guys are left in power to praise and look to for an optimistic vision of the future. It’s almost visceral of how real each character feels to you by the end, and you will try to savor the last few chapters.