Which science fiction book should our book club read this summer?

Which science fiction book should our book club read next?

The book club (founded in 2014) is all about the future of education and technology.  We read all kinds of nonfiction – the future of universities, sociology, education theory and practice, media history, higher education, economics, technology, financial aid – and also turn to science fiction as it imagines possible futures.  Plus, science fiction can be fun.

So it’s time to vote.

Over the past few years I’ve built up a big, annotated list of candidates (see below), helped enormously by fellow readers and commentators.  There’s literary and very genre-ish science fiction, award winners, and titles flying under the radar.  Authors are diverse by gender and race, including literary titans, first-time novelists, genre greats, and people you haven’t heard of.  In these stories future worlds are reshaped by nanotechnology, plagues, conspiracies, economics, wars, and satire, for starters.

Here’s the big poll.  Scroll past it to see the full, annotated, alphabetical-by-author list of every title.  The poll itself is randomized to keep things interesting.  You can vote for up to three titles.  I’ll run this for a few days, then announce the results.


And here is the mega-list.  It’s alphabetical by author.  I’ve added a tiny summary of what the book’s about, based either on my having read it or on online commentary.  I’ve linked to Amazon pages through my bookstore’s referral system, so anything you buy that way benefits my work (so thank you!).  I’ve also linked to Wikipedia, Goodreads, publisher, and author pages as I can.

  • Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake (2003) (Wikipedia) (Amazon).  One of the most famous books on our list, and an example of the literacy-genre fiction hybrid  The novel begins as a dystopia, and then things get worse.  It focuses on biology, consumerism, and the digital world.  It’s the first of a trilogy, but the book stands alone very well.
  • Paolo Bacigalupi, The Windup Girl (2009) (Wikipedia) (Amazon). A vision of a future southeast Asia after the collapse of petroleum, featuring global warming, advanced robotics, new energy forms, and new politics. (thanks to Phil Long)
  • Ryan Boudinot, Blueprints of the Afterlife (2012) (Goodreads) (Amazon).  A look at a very strange post-apocalyptic world.  (thanks to Andri Magnason)
  • James Bradley, Clade (2015) (publisher) (Amazon).  A look into the rest of the 21st century as climate change reconfigures humanity and the Earth. (thanks to Tom Fullerton)
  • Albert Brooks, 2030 (Wikipedia) (Amazon).  A dark and satirical vision of the world just 13 years away, from a comedian.  (thanks to Mike Richichi)
  • Girl in the Road coverMonica Byrne, The Girl in the Road  (2014) (author’s page) (Amazon). A voyage across a technologically advanced Middle East, as heroines travel from India to Africa.  (thanks to Jenny Colvin)
  • Cory Doctorow, For the Win (2010) (author’s page) (Wikipedia) (Amazon). A young adult novel concerned with massively multiplayer online games, economic issues, and migration.  The whole book is available for free, online.  We read Cory’s Walkaway in 2018, and he was a fine Future Trends Forum guest.  (thanks to Janet Whelan)
  • David Eggers, The Circle (2013) (Wikipedia) (Amazon). A look into a giant technology company and its impact on human life, from one of America’s most famous novelists.  Very critical of social media and big data. Turned into a movie. (Thanks to Larry Johnson for the recommendation)
  • William Gibson, The Peripheral (2014) (author’s page) (Amazon). Gibson is one of the great science fiction authors of our era, one of the first cyberpunk leaders from the 1980s. Part of this novel takes place in the near future, where poor folks and military veterans eke out an existence on the fringes of society.  Another part occurs two generations later, after civilization has been shocked and redesigned.  The two worlds come into contact.  (My review)
  • William Hertling, Kill Process (2016) (author’s page) (Amazon).  A near-future technology and espionage thriller.  It concerns revenge through hacking, social media, and abuse.  (thanks to Joshua Kim)
  • Liu Cixin, The Three-Body Problem (2006) (Wikipedia) (translator’s page) (Amazon).  A story about virtual reality, global politics, gaming, and first contact, with a strong historical component. Very popular in China, and also the first Chinese novel to become a major presence in the US market (Hugo Award winner 2015).  The first in a trilogy, but really stands alone as a single story.  My review. (thanks to Mike Sellers)
  • Ian McDonald, River of Gods (2004) (Wikipedia) (Amazon). This imagines a future India, explored through multiple and eventually intersecting plot lines.  (one review) (thanks to tom lombardo)
  • Will McIntosh, Soft Apocalypse (2011)  (Goodreads) (Amazon).  The world is gradually falling apart, thanks to several bad things, including epidemic and economic decline.  (thanks to dmweade)
  • Bill McKibben, Radio Free Vermont: A Fable of Resistance (2017) (Amazon).  A look at how one small piece of America could become weirder and branch out into a new future.  (NPR’s review)
  • Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven (2014) (Wikipedia) (Amazon).  The world after a devastating plague, where people struggle to find meaning through stories.  The plot loops back and forth between the moment the disease breaks forth and a period twenty years later. (my review) (thanks to Gardner Campbell)
  • Ramez Naam, Nexus (2012) (Wikipedia) (author’s page) (Amazon). Science fiction about a world restructured by nanotechnology, which enables new politics and a thriller plot.  The author is friendly on Twitter.
  • Linda Nagata, The Red (2015) (author’s page) (Amazon). Near-future military and technology thriller, within a grim political framework.
  • Too Like the Lightning coverAda Palmer, Too Like the Lightning (2016) (author’s page) (Amazon).   Science fiction extrapolating from all kinds of ideas we’re thinking about today.  Lots of world-building with science, technology, and culture.  NPR rave review.
  • Nathan Rich, The Odds Against Tomorrow (2013) (Goodreads) (Amazon). About a statistician tasked with predicting near-term futures, with an eye towards disaster.  Then real disaster happens.
  • Kim Stanley Robinson, New York 2140 (Amazon) (2017).  The latest from one of the major sf writers of our time. Here’s Joshua Kim’s recommendation

You may have seen some mixed reviews about New York 2140 (too long, too much, etc.).  Don’t believe the reviews.  The book is fantastic.  Robinson pulls off a completely believable world of rising oceans, coastal flooding, and economic cataclysm brought on by un-checked unchecked carbon emissions and the resultant global warming.  New York 2140 is so much more than a climate change fable.  The book is a NYC history lesson, a treatise on comparative economic systems, and an entertaining adventure story.  What would man made climate change skeptics make of this fabulous book?

His books get the tech right because Suarez is first and foremost a techie.  Change Agent is Suarez’s most ambitious and polished work to date.  He extends his curiosity into the world gene editing and genetic engineering.  The world of 2045 in Change Agent is one where gene tech has supplanted silicon, and the center of gravity of the startup / knowledge economy world has moved away from the U.S. (too many pesky laws) to the unregulated frontiers of East Asia.  Suarez is reliably imaginative and detailed about the technology.  Change Agent also demonstrates his improving craft as a writer of can’t put down thrillers.

  • _____,  Daemon (Amazon) and Freedom™ (Amazon). Older (2006 and 2010) but fresh and exciting, this two-book series begins with the death of a famous computer programmer, and the unusual developments that follow (he said, avoiding spoilers).  A fine combination of thriller plot with plenty of ideas. (thanks to Chad Bergeron, Ton Zijlstra, and haymest)
  • Genevieve Valentine, Persona. (2015) (author’s page) (Amazon) . Imagines a near future where international diplomacy has taken on attributes of today’s celebrity culture.  NPR review.  (thanks to Steven Kaye)
  • Alexander Weinstein, Children of the New World: Stories (publisher)(Amazon) (2016).  Short stories examining near-future challenges to the world, from virtuality to climate change. Enthusiastically recommended by Joshu Kim.
  • Andy Weir, The Martian (2011) (Wikipedia) (Amazon). Perhaps the most commercially successful of these titles, and “the ultimate Maker book”, the story of an astronaut stranded on another planet, his struggle to survive, and the effort to rescue him.  A movie version came out in 2015. (thanks to haymest and Tom Elliott)

As a bonus, here’s the science fiction that we’ve already read.  Each title links to the book’s blog discussion:

Ashby Company TownMadeline Ashby, Company Town.  Ashby’s a professional futurist, and uses this book to imagine what could happen with biology, technology, and society.

Paolo Bacigalupi, The Water Knife.  A thriller about corporate espionage, set in the American southwest after climate change has caused aridification and social dislocation. (thanks to Steve Burnett)

Ernest  Cline, Ready Player One.  Something of a modern classic, this involves an epically elaborate computer game based on 1980s pop culture.  It’s played by people in a near-future dystopia, who use it to escape.

Cory DoctorowWalkaway (published 2017; read 2018).  A near future science fiction novel that imagines a world divided by class and technology, with utopian hopes.  Cory spoke with us on the Future Trends Forum.

Malka Older, Informocracy.  A political adventure, taking place in a world driven by information and polling.

Vernor Vinge, Rainbows End (2006) (Amazon) (Wikipedia). Hugo-award-winning science fiction novel about the future of education.

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7 Responses to Which science fiction book should our book club read this summer?

  1. Chris says:

    Maybe add one of the lighter novels in Iain M Banks’ Culture universe (far future galaxy spanning, post-scarcity, AIs and super-AIs as interesting characters)? Perhaps Excession, or Player of Games.

    • Chris, you took the words out of my mouth (and I did list on the poll). Maybe Use of Weapons? Or Surface Detail?

      (I also neglected to vote for The Girl in the Road, but it’s great).

      Another “other” idea, if you want to go with Vernor Vinge, would be the Zones of Thought series. I would say either A Fire Upon the Deep or a Deepness in the Sky (both very different, for being in the same series). I think those are really much stronger than Rainbow’s End.

      • Bryan Alexander says:

        What’s that Banks story about a Culture mission visiting Earth?

        I agree, Joseph, about the space operas being stronger than RE, but the former do exceed our near future sf boundary.

  2. Phillip Long says:

    This list alone is gold! Wow!! I’ve got my reading cut out for a decade …. 😉

    Thanks Bryan and all who contributed to this comprehensive selection.


  3. Finally trimmed choices down to just three — voted, then saw more I might have picked. Better a surfeit than a deficit. I can still them anyway and am going to share For the Win with my grandsons.

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