The best apocalyptic and dystopian novels you haven’t read yet

Erica L. Satifka Author Of How to Get to Apocalypse and Other Disasters
By Erica L. Satifka

Who am I?

I’ve long been fascinated with the dark side of science and human behavior, and grew up on a combination of dystopian classics and horror fiction. When I started writing for publication, apocalyptic themes quickly emerged. As the world around us grows more fraught by the day, I find a strange sort of comfort in reading and writing fiction that doesn’t shy away from depicting the negative aspects of social media, genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, or any other technology that has the capacity to create manmade disasters beyond our understanding. And as a small-press author myself, I’m always on the lookout for books that didn’t get enough love.

I wrote...

How to Get to Apocalypse and Other Disasters

By Erica L. Satifka,

Book cover of How to Get to Apocalypse and Other Disasters

What is my book about?

The apocalypse can take many forms. Possibly our end will come by way of an addictive cell phone game that manipulates its users into a crowd-sourced mass murder. Or perhaps our downfall involves aliens drugging us into bliss and then taking it away. Maybe it'll be technological redundancy that leaves loved ones without a purpose, or corporations replacing the natural world with creatures more amenable to market pressure.

All these apocalypses and many more can be found in Erica L. Satifka's debut collection, which gathers together twenty-three short stories from the past decade.

The books I picked & why

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Anthropocene Rag

By Alex Irvine,

Book cover of Anthropocene Rag

Why this book?

The nanotechnological apocalypse at the background of Anthropocene Rag has turned the United States into a mythological vision. A mysterious construct known as Prospector Ed (who sometimes adopts the persona of Mark Twain) delivers six magical tickets to various scattered Americans, all of whom have lost something in the “Boom.” While the post-nanoboom landscape is deadly (one of the main characters was orphaned when an intelligence-imbued stadium containing her parents simply decided to become something else), there’s also a lot of wonder, and the book is a loving homage to American mythology and lore.

Composite Creatures

By Caroline Hardaker,

Book cover of Composite Creatures

Why this book?

Composite Creatures centers around a quiet apocalypse called “the greying,” a human disease linked to ecological collapse that’s never described outright but is unmistakenly real. Against this backdrop, the narrator, Norah, enters into an arranged marriage equal parts romantic and practical. The couple takes over the raising of an ovum organi, a bioengineered organism that both functions as a pet and serves another purpose connected to the greying that only becomes apparent near the end of the book. Beyond its slow-burn apocalyptic trappings, this book also has special relevance for me because the ova organi are clearly modeled on cats. While cats themselves are hardly a novelty in science fiction, the way that Hardaker develops the relationship between the artificial critters and their owners/exploiters is especially evocative.

A Short Film about Disappointment

By Joshua Mattson,

Book cover of A Short Film about Disappointment

Why this book?

Told as a series of movie reviews, A Short Film About Disappointment unfurls its dystopia gradually. A hacker attack kicks off a global multi-decade economic depression, and to prevent this from ever happening again the Internet is abolished and replaced with the “Betternet,” a neutered and highly censored version of the Internet. Personal screens are also banned in this nanny state, leading to a robust cinema culture that the unread reviewer wants to contribute to with a dense art film of his own. The hilarious capsule descriptions of eighty (fictional) films serve as an oblique way of introducing the world, while the numerous tangents of the writer “Noah Body” tell a personal story of love, filmmaking, and a literal haunting by an ex-friend.

The Crooked God Machine

By Autumn Christian,

Book cover of The Crooked God Machine

Why this book?

Unlike some of the others on my list, the apocalypse(s) at the center of The Crooked God Machine are in no way quiet. The narrator, Charles, has been born into a world in a constant state of collapse. Taking the form of a bildungsroman, the novel recounts the medical advancement of slip implants, “hot wire spiders” that live in one’s brain and turn its user into a brainless zombie. There are also buses that take you to hell, oracles with laser eyes in the back of their heads, and a family-killing murderess who’s considered a hero by the denizens of this demented world. Every page brings fresh horrors, and without giving away the ending I can say that the conclusion doesn’t provide any hope of improvement.

Bash Bash Revolution

By Douglas Lain,

Book cover of Bash Bash Revolution

Why this book?

The dystopia in Bash Bash Revolution is a bit closer to reality than the others on this list: it’s set specifically in 2017, but in a world pushed far closer to the brink of nuclear war than ours, with a much more psychotic version of Donald Trump in charge. Main character Matthew Munson’s mad programmer of a father creates an AI that might save the world from its own destruction, but only by locking every person into a solipsistic nightmare run on video game technology. In a way this book is about choosing between an apocalypse and a dystopia, which is something you don’t see very often.

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