The best books about dark futures that aren’t without hope

The Books I Picked & Why

The Dog Stars

By Peter Heller

Book cover of The Dog Stars

Why this book?

I like to describe this book as The Road but with hope. It’s a simplification, of course, but also gets at the book’s heart: it’s about a man struggling to make a life in a broken, violent world. But he’s a man who can still see beauty, and he finds meaning beyond just putting one foot ahead of the other. My favorite books are the ones that combine strong writing with nail-biting action. This novel has both those things—and more.

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The Dreamers

By Karen Thompson Walker

Book cover of The Dreamers

Why this book?

A viral epidemic strikes a sleepy college town and makes it exactly that: sleepy. People keep falling asleep and not waking up. Cue uncertainty, quarantine, panic, denial—all these things we are far too familiar with today. (This book was published pre-COVID.) Walker is a lyrical, insightful writer and many of the passages in this novel feel—intentionally, I believe—dreamlike.

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Project Hail Mary

By Andy Weir

Book cover of Project Hail Mary

Why this book?

This book is similar to Weir’s well-known debut, The Martian, in that it features a man stranded far away from Earth who uses math—lots and lots of math—to survive. But this book differs significantly in that instead of humanity banding together to save a single man, here a single man is tasked with saving humanity. Now that’s what I call raising the stakes! A quick, propulsive story with a sneakily gripping emotional core, I can’t recommend it enough.

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Red Clocks

By Leni Zumas

Book cover of Red Clocks

Why this book?

This is one of those books that gives you an unsettling sense of “this could happen tomorrow.” Abortion is banned nationwide; in-vitro fertilization is illegal, and a constitutional amendment grants full rights to every embryo. Women are not turned into handmaids a la Margaret Atwood’s imagination; life goes on much as it does today, but these societal restrictions—and the intense penalties for violating them—hang heavy over each character’s head. There is darkness aplenty in a world like this, but a close look also reveals kindness and connection.

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Stories of Your Life and Others

By Ted Chiang

Book cover of Stories of Your Life and Others

Why this book?

It’s rare that a short story collection grabs me with the same intensity of a good novel, but this collection not only grabbed me, it shook me about and then tossed me aside, dazed. Ted Chiang is a singular writer, and the stories in this collection (including the one that inspired the movie Arrival) reveal a startling, forward-thinking intellect—not to mention exceptional talent. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy today.

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