The best books on a future worth living in

O.E. Tearmann Author Of The Hands We're Given (Aces High, Jokers Wild)
By O.E. Tearmann

The Books I Picked & Why

From What Is to What If: Unleashing the Power of Imagination to Create the Future We Want

By Rob Hopkins

From What Is to What If: Unleashing the Power of Imagination to Create the Future We Want

Why this book?

Most nonfiction books on social issues begin—in fact, some go on for about half the book—on the theme of what’s so bad about the problem being addressed. Most authors want you good and scared before they start talking about the good stuff. This book doesn’t do that. It opens, in fact, with a short story set in The World That Turned Out Okay.

And then it backs it up with real-world examples. Transition Town Totnes. Transition Streets. All sorts of projects, from all around the world. And throughout the books, it asks the same question again and again: why is it so hard to imagine a better future? How can we work on that? And then it answers it. The book is a toolbox of research, ideas, and techniques at both the personal and community level. Narrated first-person by the author, reading it is like chatting with a very clever, very committed friend. And right now, I really need that.


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The Ministry for the Future

By Kim Stanley Robinson

The Ministry for the Future

Why this book?

I added a physical copy of this one to my own shelf. That, from me, is the highest praise I can give. What I’ve always liked about Robinson’s worldbuilding is the reality of it. If the hopeful future genre—solarpunk, hope punk, give it what name you like—has a flaw, it’s in imagining gorgeous future worlds of soaring stained glass and gardens, with a vague comment about ‘oh, the transition out of the Old World was really messy’.

We do need those stories, but for those of us living in the very messy now, they can be frustrating. We can’t see how to jump from the current clusterfuck to that gorgeous future. There’s no clear path forward. Robinson has set Ministry right in the middle of that transition, and he’s done it beautifully. The transition out of our current destructive practices is, in his description, messy. And it’s complicated. There’s bloodshed. There’s frustration. And there’s a tangible possibility.


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A People's Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers

By Charlie Jane Anders, Charles Yu, Lesley Nneka Arimah

A People's Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers

Why this book?

By turns uplifting, bloody strange, heartbreaking, and joyful, this story collection touches on so many things: gender relations, race, hope, the need to feel safe, and the need to feel dignity among them. There are versions of America in this series that I dread, and versions of America that I long for. This is a book we need right now: a collection of dire warnings and beautiful dreams, hopes, and fears. We’re at a crossroads in history. This book reminds us that we can take a turn into the dark or the light. And wherever we go, we’ll be taking our whole selves and all our facets along for the ride: good and bad, kind and cruel, genetic and historical.

Strap in.


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A Psalm for the Wild-Built

By Becky Chambers

A Psalm for the Wild-Built

Why this book?

This book is the most wholesomely indulgent thing I’ve read all summer. It’s both an escape to somewhere better, and a promise OF somewhere better existing. A world where our needs are met, we take care of each other, and where you can go looking for the songs of crickets to soothe your soul. I’ll give you a taste with one quote.

“Do you not find consciousness alone to be the most exhilarating thing? Here we are, in this incomprehensibly large universe, on this one tiny moon, around this one incidental planet, and in all the time this entire scenario has existed, every component has been recycled over and over and over again into infinitely incredible configurations, and sometimes, those configurations are special enough to be able to see the world around them. You and I—we’re just atoms that arranged themselves the right way, and we can understand that about ourselves. Is that not amazing?”


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Space Opera

By Catherynne M. Valente

Space Opera

Why this book?

Oh. My. Flipping gods turning cartwheels. This is my book.

Oookay, now I got that out of my system, the world. Or rather, the universe. All of it. In this universe, all intelligent life very nearly wiped itself out. In the smoking rubble of the universe, everyone decided that the best way to answer the question 'who is people, and who is meat?' with music. In this universe, teeth and claws and big, big guns aren't the only answer to survival. Sometimes, being unbearably cute and fragile and setting off every maternal instinct in every species is the answer. Or being made out of stuff so inedible that nobody bothers is. Or, in the case of humanity, being very, very odd is.

And we are odd. And beautiful. And stupid. And so is the universe.

The plot is direct: sing, or die. But in that simple arc is packed a poem, a buzz ballad, and a dream. I'm not going to try to explain it to you. Go read it. But I am going to tell you that, strange as it is, it absolutely works.


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