The best "science fiction" books that paint a vision of a near future society in trouble

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a scientist and technologist, trained in theoretical quantum physics, who became an Emeritus Professor of Network Technology from Oslo’s metropolitan university. I’ve strenuously tried to communicate the wonder of science to students and industry throughout my career. I’m also a long-standing fan of science fiction who grew up with heroes in both fact and fiction. The idea of future society has haunted me my whole life. I’m an optimist, who looks to the darker tales as warnings of futures we hope to avoid. Read these tales with a determination for us all to do better.

I wrote...

Slogans: The end of sympathy

By Mark Burgess,

Book cover of Slogans: The end of sympathy

What is my book about?

This is a book, written in 2004, about being in control that predicted many of the dark sides of social media that we see playing out today. It is "a few years from now” (which could be today). Society’s addiction to smart mobile communications is beginning to drive a wedge between communities all over the world. Citizens no longer talk to their neighbours, they connect electronically through buddy lists and address books, using virtual reality meeting places. Society is dissociating into tribalism. Meanwhile, companies large and small analyse `big data' to track the trajectory of the world, planning out ways to manipulate it to their advantage, and religious organizations imitate the mob to win back their own control.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Stand on Zanzibar

Mark Burgess Why did I love this book?

John Brunner became the master of “big society” science fiction, who was a major inspiration for me and my own writing.

He could paint a picture of society at large by cutting between the storylines of individuals caught in the midst of everything going on. By focusing on these personal stories, pitted against the forces of social change, he described future life in a way that had seldom been done before.

By John Brunner,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Stand on Zanzibar as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now in a Tor Essentials edition, the Hugo Award-winning, uncannily prophetic Stand on Zanizbar is a science fiction novel unlike any before in that remains an insightful look at America’s downfall that allows us to see what has been, what is, and what is to come.

“There are certain things John Brunner achieved, which no one has done before or since.” ― Bruce Sterling

Genetic engineering is routine, corporations have usurped democracy, technology governs human relationship, and mass-marketed psychosomatic drugs keep billions docile. The systems of the United States are universal in reach and out of control. Every citizen is…

Book cover of Atlas Shrugged

Mark Burgess Why did I love this book?

This book was a forerunner and inspiration to the big society science fiction of the John Brunner era, and (like much of her writing) should properly be understood as an alternative reality science fiction, imitated by many writers including Brunner and Robert Silverberg.

Rand became a controversial figure because of the cult that grew up around her, promoting elitist ideas, and driven mainly by her husband. Yet Rand herself was a brilliant writer and thinker who wanted to be a philosopher. The writing is not only deeply intellectual, it was deeply character driven.

As a non-native English speaker, her writing style is rich and could be the envy of native writers. Perhaps too long, this book is nevertheless a must read for any science fiction fan. 

By Ayn Rand,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Atlas Shrugged as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Published in 1957, Atlas Shrugged was Ayn Rand's greatest achievement and last work of fiction. In this novel she dramatizes her unique philosophy through an intellectual mystery story that integrates ethics, metaphysics, epistemology, politics, economics, and sex. Set in a near-future U.S.A. whose economy is collapsing as a result of the mysterious disappearance of leading innovators and industrialists, this novel presents an astounding panorama of human life-from the productive genius who becomes a worthless the great steel industrialist who does not know that he is working for his own the philosopher who becomes a the woman who…

Book cover of Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution

Mark Burgess Why did I love this book?

This book is not fiction, but rather a popular book about the direction of technology.

It was part of the original source inspiration for my own book. Written in 2003, it looked into the research about how mobile devices were beginning to change society, and redraw the lines to lead to modern tribalism. The book is now dated, as we have lived through twenty years of experience and much has changed.

Nevertheless, as a portrait of a moment in history, eminently readable, this book is an eye-opener.

By Howard Rheingold,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Smart Mobs as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How the convergence of mobile communications and computing is driving the next social revolution-transforming the ways in which people meet, mate, work, buy, sell, govern, and create. When Howard Rheingold sneaks off down an untrodden trail, everyone else follows. He is always onto something marvelous no one has seen before. An ever-considerate guide, he navigates this new world with ease, compassion, and grace, and gives you the inside story, with no punches pulled. Tech talk? Howard could get your mother to understand. }From Tokyo to Helsinki, Manhattan to Manila, Howard Rheingold takes us on a journey around the world for…

Book cover of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power

Mark Burgess Why did I love this book?

Surveillance capitalism is a social commentary about today.

The title refers to the Big Tech "social media" companies and how they use bug data to track and predict our thinking. They use this to predict out thinking and manipulate us into buying advertised products. This amazing piece of writing is reminiscent of the great social commentary of Alvin and Heidi Toffler.

There is no simple way to summarise it except to say that it is riveting first-class writing, on a subject that is surely close to all our hearts. Although this is a book very much about the present (as all science fiction is), we have to ask: is this the future of unsympathetic subliminal control that we’re heading for?

By Shoshana Zuboff,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked The Age of Surveillance Capitalism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


'Everyone needs to read this book as an act of digital self-defense.' -- Naomi Klein, Author of No Logo, the Shock Doctrine, This Changes Everything and No is Not Enough

The challenges to humanity posed by the digital future, the first detailed examination of the unprecedented form of power called "surveillance capitalism," and the quest by powerful corporations to predict and control us.

The heady optimism of the Internet's early days is gone. Technologies that were meant to liberate us have deepened inequality and stoked divisions. Tech companies gather our information online and sell…

Book cover of Future Shock

Mark Burgess Why did I love this book?

Alvin Toffler writes powerfully about the future.

Like Arthur C. Clarke, he was one of few writers outside of fiction who dared to look into the future and make predictions based on what he saw in the present. Working with his wife, and building on their experience as government advisors, the two wrote a powerful series of books starting with Future Shock, The Third Wave, and so on, which detailed the social forces at work on us all.

Written around 1970, Future Shock became a social phenomenon. It was referred to in the rock album by the Ian Gillan Band in the 1980s and is still a fascinating icon of writing. Toffler writes eloquently and pedagogically about complex subjects. This is a must read for all.

By Alvin Toffler,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Future Shock as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The classic work that predicted the anxieties of a world upended by rapidly emerging technologies—and now provides a road map to solving many of our most pressing crises. 

“Explosive . . . brilliantly formulated.” —The Wall Street Journal 

Future Shock is the classic that changed our view of tomorrow. Its startling insights into accelerating change led a president to ask his advisers for a special report, inspired composers to write symphonies and rock music, gave a powerful new concept to social science, and added a phrase to our language. Published in over fifty countries, Future…

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By David Joiner,

Book cover of Kanazawa

David Joiner Author Of Kanazawa

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

My book recommendations reflect an abiding passion for Japanese literature, which has unquestionably influenced my own writing. My latest literary interest involves Japanese poetry—I’ve recently started a project that combines haiku and prose narration to describe my experiences as a part-time resident in a 1300-year-old Japanese hot spring town that Bashō helped make famous in The Narrow Road to the Deep North. But as a writer, my main focus remains novels. In late 2023 the second in a planned series of novels set in Ishikawa prefecture will be published. I currently live in Kanazawa, but have also been lucky to call Sapporo, Akita, Tokyo, and Fukui home at different times.

David's book list on Japanese settings not named Tokyo or Kyoto

What is my book about?

Emmitt’s plans collapse when his wife, Mirai, suddenly backs out of purchasing their dream home. Disappointed, he’s surprised to discover her subtle pursuit of a life and career in Tokyo.

In his search for a meaningful life in Japan, and after quitting his job, he finds himself helping his mother-in-law translate Kanazawa’s most famous author, Izumi Kyoka, into English. He becomes drawn into the mysterious death of a friend of Mirai’s parents, leading him and his father-in-law to climb the mountain where the man died. There, he learns the somber truth and discovers what the future holds for him and his wife.

Packed with subtle literary allusion and closely observed nuance, Kanazawa reflects the mood of Japanese fiction in a fresh, modern incarnation.


By David Joiner,

What is this book about?

In Kanazawa, the first literary novel in English to be set in this storied Japanese city, Emmitt's future plans collapse when his wife, Mirai, suddenly backs out of negotiations to purchase their dream home. Disappointed, he's surprised to discover Mirai's subtle pursuit of a life and career in Tokyo, a city he dislikes.

Harmony is further disrupted when Emmitt's search for a more meaningful life in Japan leads him to quit an unsatisfying job at a local university. In the fallout, he finds himself helping his mother-in-law translate Kanazawa's most famous author, Izumi Kyoka, into English.

While continually resisting Mirai's…

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