The best novels for a post-pandemic world

Why are we passionate about this?

Peter Warren Singer is a strategist at New America, a Professor of Practice at Arizona State University, and a Principal at Useful Fiction LLC. No author, living or dead, has more books on the professional US military readings lists. August Cole is an author exploring the future of conflict through fiction and other forms of “FICINT” [Fictional Intelligence] storytelling. His talks, short stories, and workshops have taken him from speaking at the Nobel Institute in Oslo to presenting on future warfare at SXSW Interactive to lecturing at West Point.



We wrote...

Burn-In: A Novel of the Real Robotic Revolution

By P.W. Singer, August Cole,

Book cover of Burn-In: A Novel of the Real Robotic Revolution

What is my book about?

Burn-In: A Novel of the REAL Robotic Revolution is a new form of book, a cross of a novel and nonfiction. It is a technothriller, following a hunt for a terrorist through the streets of a future Washington DC. But baked into the story are over 300 factual explanations and predictions, replete with nonfiction endnotes to show their source from the real world. The reader meets a new kind of hero for this genre, but through her hunt for a new kind of villain, they also learn about everything from how AI works to its impact on the future of politics, business, security, and even toys. Akin to fruit in a smoothie, it is a mix of entertainment and the latest research about important new issues that will soon shape all our lives.

As a result, Burn-In has garnered a unique set of reviews and praise, which range from the current or former heads of such groups as the CIA, NSA, US Navy, Marine Corps, NATO, and LinkedIn to a chess grandmaster and even the writer of Lost, Watchmen, and the new Star Trek movies. 

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The books we picked & why

Book cover of Player Piano

P.W. Singer and August Cole Why did I love this book?

We’ve rapidly been thrown into a world of AI population tracking of everything from your movements to maybe your body’s antibody status. If that feels like science fiction then a useful guide is one of the original greats. Vonnegut’s Player Piano may have been written in a time of punch-card machines, but it is set in what seems like a future utopia, where computers have turned America into a society that runs without conflict or want. But the new system has a catch: machines decide what you can do and where you can go. “Machines were doing America’s work far better than Americans had ever done it,” Vonnegut writes.

By Kurt Vonnegut,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Player Piano as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Player Piano is the debut novel from one of history's most innovative authors, published on Vonnegut's 100th birthday.

In Player Piano, the first of Vonnegut's wildly funny and deadly serious novels, automata have dramatically reduced the need for America's work force. Ten years after the introduction of these robot labourers, the only people still working are the engineers and their managers, who live in Ilium; everyone else lives in Homestead, an impoverished part of town characterised by purposelessness and mass produced houses.

Paul Proteus is the manager of Ilium Works. While grateful to be held in high regard, Paul begins…


Book cover of The Three-Body Problem

P.W. Singer and August Cole Why did I love this book?

Three Body Problem, the first book in Cixin Liu’s bestselling science fiction trilogy, imagines a world where a scientist writes to aliens, "Our civilization is no longer capable of solving its own problems. We need your force to intervene.” And, then plays out a story over the course of a narrative measured first in centuries then millennia, which also shares a Chinese vision of the future and science fiction. The English-language translation by American sci-fi author Ken Liu turned the Chinese bestseller into the most popular Chinese translation in America since Mao’s Little Red Book.

By Cixin Liu, Ken Liu (translator),

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked The Three-Body Problem as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Read the award-winning, critically acclaimed, multi-million-copy-selling science-fiction phenomenon - soon to be a Netflix Original Series from the creators of Game of Thrones.

1967: Ye Wenjie witnesses Red Guards beat her father to death during China's Cultural Revolution. This singular event will shape not only the rest of her life but also the future of mankind.

Four decades later, Beijing police ask nanotech engineer Wang Miao to infiltrate a secretive cabal of scientists after a spate of inexplicable suicides. Wang's investigation will lead him to a mysterious online game and immerse him in a virtual world ruled by the intractable…


Book cover of Infomocracy

P.W. Singer and August Cole Why did I love this book?

In democracies, does more information make us smarter, or more likely to be taken advantage of? That is one of the abiding questions asked by Malka Older’s novel Infomocracy, a fast-paced and intelligently crafted story about the late 21st-century contest for power in a world in which 100,000-strong blocs of people -- known as “centenals”--  and corporations have as much political clout as nations. “It’s all about participation. No matter who wins or loses, as long as everyone plays the game,” she writes. So when the ballots being cast will determine the direction of the entire world, you can be assured that desperate measures will be taken to determine the most important election of the century.

By Malka Older,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

It's been twenty years and two election cycles since Information, a powerful search engine monopoly, pioneered the switch from warring nation-states to global microdemocracy. The corporate coalition party Heritage has won the last two elections. With another election on the horizon, the Supermajority is in tight contention, and everything's on the line. With power comes corruption. For Ken, this is his chance to do right by the idealistic Policy1st party and get a steady job in the big leagues. For Domaine, the election represents another staging ground in his ongoing struggle against the pax democratica. For Mishima, a dangerous Information…


Book cover of Agency

P.W. Singer and August Cole Why did I love this book?

William Gibson’s latest novel Agency is as prophetic as his establishment of cyberspace and cyberpunk culture in the 80s and 90s. His latest novel chronicles reality-busting skirmishes among gangsterish multi-generational families based in a glitzy post-apocalyptic 22nd century London. In this future, nano-machines conjure luxuries from nothing while sky-high scrubbers struggle to restore a ravaged atmosphere after the jackpot, a global environmental catastrophe. Agency tells a heist-type story about the emergence of Eunice, a sentient AI born in our stub out of American special operations research. Leading a cross-dimensional band of techies, publicists, hipsters, and hackers, ace software designer Verity fights to introduce Eunice to her world in order to save it. Yet Gibson is telling us about today's ecological and technological forces. He writes of pre-jackpot life in our era: “‘Did we ever come to terms with the sheer cluelessness of it?’

By William Gibson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

AN INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

“ONE OF THE MOST VISIONARY, ORIGINAL, AND QUIETLY INFLUENTIAL WRITERS CURRENTLY WORKING”* returns with a sharply imagined follow-up to the New York Times bestselling The Peripheral.
 
William Gibson has trained his eye on the future for decades, ever since coining the term “cyberspace” and then popularizing it in his classic speculative novel Neuromancer in the early 1980s. Cory Doctorow raved that The Peripheral is “spectacular, a piece of trenchant, far-future speculation that features all the eyeball kicks of Neuromancer.” Now Gibson is back with Agency—a science fiction thriller heavily influenced by our most current…


Book cover of World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

P.W. Singer and August Cole Why did I love this book?

Though Max Brooks’ zombie apocalypse in World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War seems to have the makings of an eternal conflict pitting humans against the undead, it offers a reminder that all crises eventually come to an end. What Brooks, one of the world’s leading experts on pandemics who warned in early 2020 about the brewing COVID crises, makes clear in World War Z is how important a competent national mobilization and international effort is to solve an existential crisis. The narrator is a United Nations Postwar Commission investigator compiling a history of the zombie uprising 12 years after VA Day, starting with the virus outbreak in Dachang, China. The story’s voices vary wonderfully, and include a human smuggler in Tibet mapping out his illicit trade, a Canadian soldier in Kyrgyzstan wrestling with post-war ailments, an American Army soldier who learned hard lessons about military hubris at the botched Battle of Yonkers. Given Brooks’ research, it is rightfully read as a serious book, even earning praise from former Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.

By Max Brooks,

Why should I read it?

23 authors picked World War Z as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It began with rumours from China about another pandemic. Then the cases started to multiply and what had looked like the stirrings of a criminal underclass, even the beginning of a revolution, soon revealed itself to be much, much worse.

Faced with a future of mindless man-eating horror, humanity was forced to accept the logic of world government and face events that tested our sanity and our sense of reality. Based on extensive interviews with survivors and key players in the ten-year fight against the horde, World War Z brings the finest traditions of journalism to bear on what is…


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Tidelands: Ghosts and Monsters

By Gareth J. Southwell,

Book cover of Tidelands: Ghosts and Monsters

Gareth J. Southwell

New book alert!

What is my book about?

In a flooded city on the brink of collapse, the arcology provides a high-tech haven – for those who can afford it. Here, safe in her pampered confinement, Eva longs for escape. But each day she is made to play The Game, a mysterious virtual environment that seems more designed to monitor and test than to entertain.

Outside, life is a different story, where unregulated tech spawns nightmares to rival those of fairtytale and folklore – ghosts and monsters, the no-longer-human and the never-should-have-been. Here, Squirrel is a memory thief, eking out a fraught existence in service to the criminal…

Tidelands: Ghosts and Monsters

By Gareth J. Southwell,

What is this book about?

Tidelands is an ongoing sci-fi and fantasy serial. Set some years in the future, it is a dystopian blend of cyberpunk, first contact, Lovecraftian horror and dark humour.

In a flooded city on the brink of collapse, the arcology provides a high-tech haven – for those who can afford it. Here, safe in her pampered confinement, Eva longs for escape. But each day she is made to play The Game, a mysterious virtual environment that seems more designed to monitor and test than to entertain.

Outside, life is a different story, where unregulated tech spawns nightmares to rival those of…


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