This story was first published on The Reading Room.
We love dystopian novels. They are so often set in a world that seems far-off, even ludicrous, but yet, something about speculative fiction makes us uneasy. Could these places exist? There may never be a colony on the moon, but catastrophic events that are out of humans’ control do not seem outlandish—nor do repressive governments and suspicious neighbors. These authors know how to play on our fear of a dubious future. This list features new and upcoming dystopian novels that follow brave humans facing more-than-challenging situations. Maybe we can learn a thing or two from them.
Not On Fire is a mind-bending novel about a family living in Suburban New York after catastrophe struck San Francisco, their former hometown. After the unexplained, destructive event, the country was thrown into chaos. New state lines were drawn, Muslims were forced into old Indian reservations, and Dorian, the brave protagonist, strives to prove his memories are real despite the reluctance of his family. Hrbek’s coming novel is an apocalyptic, dramatic mystery which takes place in the future, but connects to our present.
Bacigalupi sets this crime-ridden novel in the water-thirsty, drought-prone American Southwest. Set in the past and future, water is used as a weapon, one that controls life. The antihero, Angel Velasquez, is a detective, spy, and assassin who ensures his well-to-do boss gets as much water as she needs. Meanwhile, the poor are left to drink dust. As the main water source, the Colorado River, dries up, Angel hears of a possible new spot for water, and the battle for survival begins (but not without bullets, bloodshed, and alliances.)
J, by Howard Jacobson
J, shortlisted for the Man Booker Award, is a dystopian tale set in Britain after a disastrous event. The event, ominously referred to as ‘WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED,’ has enabled the government to create a repressive society. In a manner similar to Orwell’s infamous ‘Big Brother,’ unknown, omnipresent overseers seem to know everything about everyone. On a quest for truth, and love, protagonists Kevern and Ailinn attempt to piece fragments of history together—despite mounting adversity.
Zero World, by Jason Hough
If you like the adrenaline pumping stories of secret agent James Bond, then Zero World is for you. Set in the near-future, Peter Caswell, who according to the book’s description is a “technologically enhanced superspy”, is sent on a mission. He must find a missing crew member from a spaceship that has recently resurfaced, after vanishing for some years, and is filled with the bodies of other murdered crew members. During his assignment, Peter finds what appears to be Earth’s double, and his journey quickly becomes a life-changing fight for survival on a strange planet.
On the Edge of Gone, by Corinne Duyvis
A comet is scheduled to hit earth on January 29, 2035, and it could wipe out the entire human race. While trying to make it to a temporary shelter, Denise encounters a generation ship filled with people who have been deemed ‘useful.’ The ship is set to colonize somewhere in the universe—a better alternative to the earth-fixed shelter. But Denise fears her autism will prevent her from getting on the ship, and must find a way to save her sister Iris, and her drug-addicted mother.
The Rule of Mirrors, by Caragh M. O’Brien
This is O’Brien’s sequel to The Vault of Dreamers, based on a school, Forge, where the students are the subjects of a wildly popular television show that chronicles their every move. Rosie Sinclair discovers the disturbing truth behind the Forge school and show, and thrilling events ensue. In case you haven’t read the first in this series, all we will say is that heroine Rosie Sinclair is back in this psychologically chilling and disorienting sequel.
The Girl at the Center of the World, by Austin Aslan
Also a sequel (to The Islands at the End of the World), Aslan’s action-adventure packed novel follows Leilani and her family. After a global blackout, a green presence known as the Emerald Orchid appears in the sky. Back home on the Hawaiian Islands, inhabitants are responsible for their own well-being, from farming food to rationing goods. Leilani’s struggle to survive and to help her family in a devastated world is both heartrending and enthralling.