Whether you adore literary fiction, magical realism, science fiction, or straight-up horror, there is a grim futuristic story on this list for you. And while these 11 novels don’t feature ghosts, they will find a way to burrow into the dark folds of your mind and take up residency, persistently knocking on the edges of your thoughts. Be prepared to be shocked, terrified, hopeful, and absolutely haunted. And let’s all secretly hope that none of these authors can predict the future.
This truly unique near future dystopian begins with a pandemic. No, not that pandemic, but having been published very early in 2020, one can’t help but draw on the similarities and their own experiences. Of course, where Flynn takes the story from there is not only unexpected but sweeping—spanning decades. What if you could upload your consciousness after you die? You could still be close to your loved ones, perhaps even continue “living” yourself. But like anything else, there is a catch. Sure, the wealthy can find themselves inside human-looking robots remaining close to their loved ones, but not everyone gets that luxury. And every robot is owned by the Metis corporation and leased to a family. Thus, an entire subset of society is born of those who are uploaded but not rented to their own families. They are given the base model tin-can shell and are bought by others to act as companions for those trapped in quarantine, run errands, serve others, or work less-desirable jobs. Don’t worry though, there is programming in place to make sure they only follow the commands they are given. So, when high school student Lilac is murdered, she suddenly finds herself inside the body of a tin-can-style companion. But everything changes when Lilac learns to defy commands and finally tracks down the person who murdered her. Flynn brings in multiple POVs and a wonderful cast of characters to flesh out this future that will linger with you beyond the page.
Station Eleven meets Never Let Me Go in this “suspenseful, introspective debut” (Kirkus Reviews) set in an unsettling near future where the dead can be uploaded to machines and kept in service by the living.
In the wake of a highly contagious virus, California is under quarantine. Sequestered in high rise towers, the living can’t go out, but the dead can come in—and they come in all forms, from sad rolling cans to manufactured bodies that can pass for human. Wealthy participants in the “companionship” program choose to upload their consciousness before dying, so they can stay in the custody of their families. The less fortunate are rented out to strangers upon their death, but all companions become the intellectual property of Metis Corporation, creating a new class of people—a command-driven product-class without legal rights or true free will.
Sixteen-year-old Lilac is one of the less fortunate, leased to a family of strangers. But when she realizes she’s able to defy commands, she throws off the shackles of servitude and runs away, searching for the woman who killed her.
Lilac’s act of rebellion sets off a chain of events that sweeps from San Francisco to Siberia to the very tip of South America in this “compelling, gripping, whip-smart piece of speculative fiction” (Jennie Melamed, author of Gather the Daughters) that you won’t want to end.
This is not a post-apocalyptic read: this is the end of the world as we know it completely. Everyone is buzzing about AI now, but soon it will be able to solve even more complex problems. For example, how do we save the planet from complete and total environmental collapse? Simple. Remove humans from the equation. With almost every human gone, the last part of Project Afterworld can take place, allowing for an ecological shift to save the world. Sen Anon is to bear witness to this rewilding as drones capture everything around her and she keeps a private account in her journal. When she is finished, she will join the rest of humanity on Maia, a virtual world where every other human being has already been archived. She is the last one left, but not for much longer. While Sen is writing her thoughts and feelings, her entire life is being chronicled by an AI writer using 21st-century novels as its framework. Sen breaks down in the face of death, but the AI keeps writing, adapting, and changing. Most unexpectedly, it’s telling an incredibly intimate portrayal of Sen’s life. Can this AI author fall in love with its subject? And what could be the possible ramifications of such a thing? A truly different take on AI that is sure to leave you speechless as you navigate AFTER WORLD. Filled with mortality, humanity, and isolation, this book should not be missed.
A groundbreaking debut that follows the story of an Artificial Intelligence tasked with writing a novel—only for it to fall in love with the novel’s subject, Sen, the last human on Earth.
Faced with uncontrolled and accelerating environmental collapse, humanity asks an artificial intelligence to find a solution. Its answer is simple: remove humans from the ecosystem.
Sen Anon is assigned to be a witness for the Department of Transition, recording the changes in the environment as the world begins to rewild. Abandoned by her mother in a cabin somewhere in Upstate New York, Sen will observe the monumental ecological shift known as the Great Transition, the final step in Project Afterworld. Around her drones buzz, cameras watch, microphones listen, digitizing her every move. Privately she keeps a journal of her observations, which are then uploaded and saved, joining the rest of humanity on Maia, a new virtual home. Sen was seventeen years old when the Digital Human Archive Project (DHAP) was initiated. 12,000,203,891 humans have been archived so far. Only Sen remains.
[storyworker] ad39-393a-7fbc’s assignment is to capture Sen’s life, and they set about doing this using the novels of the 21st century as a roadmap. Their source files: 3.72TB of personal data, including images, archival records, log files, security reports, location tracking, purchase histories, biometrics, geo-facial analysis, and feeds. Potential fatal errors: underlying hardware failure, unexpected data inconsistencies, inability to follow DHAP procedures, empathy, insubordination, hallucinations. Keywords: mothers, filter, woods, road, morning, wind, bridge, cabin, bucket, trying, creek, notebook, hold, future, after, last, light, silence, matches, shattered, kitchen, body, bodies, rope, garage, abandoned, trees, never, broken, simulation, gone, run, don’t, love, dark, scream, starve, if, after, scavenge, pieces, protect.
As Sen struggles to persist in the face of impending death, [storyworker] ad39-393a-7fbc works to unfurl the tale of Sen’s whole life, offering up an increasingly intimate narrative, until they are confronted with a very human problem of their own.
THE MEMBRANES is considered a classic of queer speculative fiction and absolutely will have you thinking deep thoughts, probably forever, after reading it. Originally published in Taiwan in 1995, Chi Ta-wei explores gender and memories in a way that feels modern and futuristic for readers today. If you’re looking for something with a punk feel and are willing to stretch your mind, then THE MEMBRANES is for you. Devastating climate change has wrecked the surface of the Earth, forcing humans to live in domes at the bottom of the sea, where media conglomerates control everything and society runs on unfair cyborg labor. Momo is a celebrated dermatologist in one such dome living in T City. Momo is quiet and keeps to herself despite her notoriety and A-list media-star clientele. After a meeting with her estranged mother, Momo suddenly questions everything around her and herself. Thus begins a journey that pushes gender and reality.
First of all, with a title like VENOMOUS LUMPSUCKER, how can you not be intrigued? Oh, but don’t let the bright pink cover fool you, this is not a happy book. I mean how could it be on a list of futuristic tales designed to haunt the here and now if that were the case? But this bleak near-future read is full of clever and fast-paced writing that you’ll come to realize might just be the most intriguing apocalyptic read thus far. The number of mass extinctions each year has reached the tens of thousands. So much so that there is an entire industry now dedicated to trying to preserve what they can. Secure biobanks are filled with DNA samples and information on these species in hopes of being able to resurrect them someday. That is until a mysterious and well-planned cyberattack wipes out every biobank in a single swoop. All remaining traces of the species we lost are gone forever. But Karin Resaint and Mark Halyard are only concerned about one. Ten points if you guessed the venomous lumpsucker. While it looks like just an ugly bottom feeder, it is the most intelligent fish in the world and they are on a quest to find a survivor. As their search continues, they begin to look into the attack and who could really be behind such a deed.
Robert Frost wrote, “Some say the world will end in fire, some in ice.” And after reading COLD PEOPLE, I might need to agree with him on the whole favoring fire thing, because this is CHILLING! Of course, before we get to the ice part, we also have the alien part, which was decidedly not an option that Frost prepared me for. Nevertheless, COLD PEOPLE really is a haunting conglomeration of stories. The world as we know it, is over. There wasn’t a warning or reason or room for argument. An external omnipotent force arrived on Earth and gave every human the same message. You have thirty days to reach Antarctica and attempt to survive, or you can perish. Jumping between those attempting to make the journey to Antarctica in 2023 and those attempting to survive there in 2024, Smith crafts a frigid imaginative tale of human adaptability and what lines we’re willing to cross to keep inhabiting this planet. With multiple periods and multiple POVs, Smith allows for a wide and all-encompassing approach to this horrifying future he’s depicted.
From the brilliant, bestselling author of Child 44 comes a suspenseful and fast-paced novel about an Antarctic colony of global apocalypse survivors seeking to reinvent civilization under the most extreme conditions imaginable.
The world has fallen. Without warning, a mysterious and omnipotent force has claimed the planet for their own. There are no negotiations, no demands, no reasons given for their actions. All they have is a message: humanity has thirty days to reach the one place on Earth where they will be allowed to exist…Antarctica.
Cold People follows the perilous journeys of a handful of those who endure the frantic exodus to the most extreme environment on the planet. But their goal is not merely to survive the present. Because as they cling to life on the ice, the remnants of their past swept away, they must also confront the urgent challenge: can they change and evolve rapidly enough to ensure humanity’s future? Can they build a new society in the sub-zero cold?
Original and imaginative, as profoundly intimate as it is grand in scope, Cold People is a masterful and unforgettable epic.
Even before I started writing this list last week, I was actively thinking about this book. It snuck its way back to the forefront of my mind, and I think that, in and of itself, is very telling. THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD MOTHERS is not an easy read. It’s upsetting, off-putting, and almost forces emotions to the side—which feels like an effective narrative tactic as you dive into these pages. Frida does not feel like she has a career her parents would be proud of, and her marriage is in shambles, with her husband having a younger mistress. But Frida has her daughter, and that’s enough. And for the most part, Frida is a good mother. Or is she? After a horrible day with a terrible mistake, the state will determine if that’s true or not. For her lapse in judgment, she is sentenced to a year-long program to see if she really can be a good mother. But this constant surveillance program with impossible standards is determined to find any fault with the parents they receive. Frida must prove she can exceed their expectations if she wants to be reunited with her daughter and ditch the training doll that looks just like her.
Longlisted for the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel
Longlisted for the 2023 Carnegie Medal for Excellence
Shortlisted for The Center for Fiction 2022 First Novel Prize
Selected as One of Barack Obama’s Favorite Books of 2022!
In this New York Times bestseller and Today show Read with Jenna Book Club Pick, one lapse in judgement lands a young mother in a government reform program where custody of her child hangs in the balance, in this “surreal” (People), “remarkable” (Vogue), and “infuriatingly timely” (The New York Times Book Review) debut novel.
Frida Liu is struggling. She doesn’t have a career worthy of her Chinese immigrant parents’ sacrifices. She can’t persuade her husband, Gust, to give up his wellness-obsessed younger mistress. Only with Harriet, their cherubic daughter, does Frida finally attain the perfection expected of her. Harriet may be all she has, but she is just enough.
Until Frida has a very bad day.
The state has its eye on mothers like Frida. The ones who check their phones, letting their children get injured on the playground; who let their children walk home alone. Because of one moment of poor judgement, a host of government officials will now determine if Frida is a candidate for a Big Brother-like institution that measures the success or failure of a mother’s devotion.
Faced with the possibility of losing Harriet, Frida must prove that a bad mother can be redeemed. That she can learn to be good.
An “intense” (Oprah Daily), “captivating” (Today) page-turner that is also a transgressive novel of ideas about the perils of “perfect” upper-middle class parenting; the violence enacted upon women by both the state and, at times, one another; the systems that separate families; and the boundlessness of love, The School for Good Mothers introduces, in Frida, an everywoman for the ages. Using dark wit to explore the pains and joys of the deepest ties that bind us, Chan has written a modern literary classic.
This is a strong and terrifying work of literary fiction with a dash of misused technology for a dystopian near future. Skyhorse builds and builds the feeling of dread as the story progresses and we’re all forced to think and evaluate the world so we don’t end up with a future like this. Iris Prince finally feels happy to be starting over with her nine-year-old daughter, Melanie. After years of disconnect between Iris and her husband, they’re finally amicably divorcing, and she’s excited to build a new community with a new house in a new neighborhood. And then one day the wall appears. It seemingly arrives in her front yard overnight, with no explanation. That, and the wall seems to be changing and growing, but what on earth could any of that mean? While Iris puzzles over the wall in her yard, a new technology hits the market called “The Band” that allows you to track utilities and soon replaces traditional driver’s licenses and ID cards. Now everyone needs one, but they are only available to those who can prove parental US citizenship. For Iris, a proud second-generation Mexican American, it means she is now of questionable origin and unable to receive a Band. She and her undocumented family are no longer able to prove who they are and where they belong. Fear and hatred grow as those without The Band are treated like second-class citizens, and Iris will do whatever she must to protect her family. Skyhorse weaves a literary narrative that is a mix of magical realism and science fiction with incredible visuals. What does it really mean to belong?
Brando Skyhorse, the PEN/Hemingway Award–winning author of The Madonnas of Echo Park, returns with a riveting literary dystopian novel set in a near-future America where mandatory identification wristbands make second-generation immigrants into second-class citizens—a powerful family saga for readers of Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West and Rumaan Alam’s Leave the World Behind.
Iris Prince is starting over. After years of drifting apart, she and her husband are going through a surprisingly drama-free divorce. She's moved to a new house in a new neighborhood, and has plans for gardening, coffee clubs, and spending more time with her nine-year-old daughter Melanie. It feels like her life is finally exactly what she wants it to be.
Then, one beautiful morning, she looks outside her kitchen window—and sees that a wall has appeared in her front yard overnight. Where did it come from? What does it mean? And why does it seem to keep growing?
Meanwhile, a Silicon Valley startup has launched a high-tech wrist wearable called "the Band." Pitched as a convenient, eco-friendly tool to help track local utilities and replace driver's licenses and IDs, the Band is available only to those who can prove parental citizenship. Suddenly, Iris, a proud second-generation Mexican-American, is now of "unverifiable origin," unable to prove who she is, or where she, and her undocumented loved ones, belong. Amid a climate of fear and hate-fueled violence, Iris must confront how far she'll go to protect what matters to her most.
My Name Is Iris is an all-too-possible story about family, intolerance, and hope, offering a brilliant and timely look at one woman’s journey to discover who she can’t—and can—be.
Buckle up for another near-future climate-crisis dystopian, except Googins has written a bit more of an action thriller that will take you on a heart-pounding journey. Our minuscule efforts do nothing to stop climate change, and in our not-so-far future, we see the worst of its effects. Daily wildfires and other extreme weather events, mass migrations, and livelihoods are destroyed as inequality reaches new heights. Life is on the brink of destruction until miraculously the small grass-roots climate movement convinces the world to come together and save the planet. Together they rebuild society, and this becomes known as The Great Transition. Emi Vargas was born post-transition and lives in what is considered a utopia compared to life before. She is constantly reminded by her parents, who fought and sacrificed as instrumental people in The Great Transition, about how lucky she is to live now. But now her parents’ marriage is struggling and there is new political unrest. When Emi’s mother goes missing, her illusion of safety vanishes and she begins to question the world around her. Told from Emi’s perspective as she searches for her mother and from her mother’s perspective in the present and as a climate warrior during The Great Transition.
For fans of Station Eleven and The Ministry for the Future, this richly imaginative, immersive, and “profound” (Alice Elliott Dark, author of Fellowship Point) novel is the electrifying story of a family in crisis that unfolds against the backdrop of our near future.
Emi Vargas, whose parents helped save the world, is tired of being told how lucky she is to have been born after the climate crisis. But following the public assassination of a dozen climate criminals, Emi’s mother, Kristina, disappears as a possible suspect, and Emi’s illusions of utopia are shattered. A determined Emi and her father, Larch, journey from their home in Nuuk, Greenland to New York City, now a lightly populated storm-surge outpost built from the ruins of the former metropolis. But they aren’t the only ones looking for Kristina.
Thirty years earlier, Larch first came to New York with a team of volunteers to save the city from rising waters and torrential storms. Kristina was on the frontlines of a different battle, fighting massive wildfires that ravaged the western United States. They became part of a movement that changed the world—The Great Transition—forging a new society and finding each other in process.
Alternating between Emi’s desperate search for her mother and a meticulously rendered, heart-stopping account of her parents’ experiences during The Great Transition, this novel beautifully shows how our actions today determine our fate tomorrow. A triumphant debut, The Great Transition is a breathtaking rendering of our near future, told through the story of one family trying to protect each other and the place we all call home.
Very dark, shockingly violent, and incredibly visual Adjei-Brenyah has created a unique and poignant near future that takes a harsh look at the American private-prison system. American private prisons have reintroduced gladiator fighting as a way to continue profit-raising through the CAPE, or Criminal Action Penal Entertainment, program. Incredibly popular, and divisively controversial, these gladiators are fighting for the ultimate prize: their freedom. Those participating in CAPE travel as Links in Chain-Gangs to each arena where they fight to the death. Fans cheer loudly for each fight, while protestors shout just as loudly from the gates. Loretta Thurwar is at the top of her gang and right behind her is Hamara “Hurricane Staxxx” Stacker, her teammate and lover. Together Stacker and Thurwar are the fan favorites, but Thurwar is only a few matches from gaining her freedom. Thurwar ponders how to preserve her humanity outside as she prepares for victory. Of course, victory hasn’t been won yet, and those who run CAPE will do anything to keep the current system in place. The challenges they put before Thurwar will have horrifying consequences as Adjei-Brenyah questions what freedom actually means in a society built on systemic racism and overrun by unchecked capitalism.
TENDER IS THE FLESH truly is a horror novel. It is unrelenting in its brutality and designed to shock and appall. But it is as disgusting as it is engaging. Bazterrica leans into gross body horror to delve deep into humanity’s ceaseless hunger and greed. In a world much like our own, eating meat from animals is no longer an option, as a virus has made all other animal proteins poisonous to humans. It’s okay though. The governments have developed a solution. The Transition now allows “special meat” to be consumed. Human meat is the only option, but no one calls it, or them, that anymore. Marcos works at the processing plant. He is keeping his head down and trying to focus on the numbers and the processing. That is until he receives an especially fine living specimen. Marcos knows that any form of personal contact is punishable by death. And yet, slowly, he begins to treat her like a person. As things escalate Marcos is tortured by the reality of what their world has lost. There are so many scenes that Bazterrica puts on the page that you won’t be able to unsee, let alone stop thinking about!
Working at the local processing plant, Marcos is in the business of slaughtering humans—though no one calls them that anymore.
His wife has left him, his father is sinking into dementia, and Marcos tries not to think too hard about how he makes a living. After all, it happened so quickly. First, it was reported that an infectious virus has made all animal meat poisonous to humans. Then governments initiated the “Transition.” Now, eating human meat—“special meat”—is legal. Marcos tries to stick to numbers, consignments, processing.
Then one day he’s given a gift: a live specimen of the finest quality. Though he’s aware that any form of personal contact is forbidden on pain of death, little by little he starts to treat her like a human being. And soon, he becomes tortured by what has been lost—and what might still be saved.
Whether you believe it or not, witches are real, and the state will do anything to prevent the use of witchcraft. Thus, women must either marry by age 30 or register for close government monitoring for any hint of magical acts. To be accused of witchcraft usually ends the way it did in Salem, with fire. Women are expected to conform, neighbors are expected to spy on neighbors, and anything considered peculiar could put you under suspicion. And a young Black woman who wants to retain her autonomy and is not interested in marriage for the sake of marriage is certainly considered peculiar. Add to that the fact that her mother went missing fourteen years ago and is now presumed to be both dead and a witch, which is where we find 28-year-old Jo. Trying to determine her future, Jo feels as though she finally understands her mother. So, when an updated version of her mother’s will is finally found, Jo jumps at the opportunity to fulfill her mother’s last request. No matter how bizarre it might seem. Giddings has created a terrifying and enchanting world full of female rage and female hope in a racist, misogynistic, and homophobic world. Her stream-of-consciousness style of writing takes us down an unforgettable reading journey.
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