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

Who am I?

As a kid, I was known for hauling genre epics onto the school bus. I would devour tomes meant for adults as we wound through the mountains toward school. At that age, I was especially enthralled by dark, dangerous worlds that contrasted with my bucolic surroundings. The darker the better. Now, however, as I approach middle age, I still like darkness, but I’ve lived enough that I don’t need warnings about how bad things can be pounded into me via fiction. Thus the stories featured here contain more than darkness and danger: They contain hope. At least a note of it, and sometimes a symphony.


I wrote...

The Last One

By Alexandra Oliva,

Book cover of The Last One

What is my book about?

The Last One starts with a reality TV show. Twelve contestants are sent into the woods to face challenges that will test the limits of their endurance. During filming, an apocalyptic event occurs, but the contestants don’t know anything about it. When one of them—a young woman the show’s producers call Zoo—stumbles across the devastation, she can imagine only that it is part of the game.

Alone and disoriented, Zoo refuses to quit. Staggering countless miles across unfamiliar territory, she must summon all her survival skills to achieve the goal she believes will mark the end of the game: reaching her home.

The books I picked & why

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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.

The Dog Stars

By Peter Heller,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Dog Stars as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE ROAD - but with hope. Hig, bereaved and traumatised after global disaster, has three things to live for - his dog Jasper, his aggressive but helpful neighbour, and his Cessna aeroplane. He's just about surviving, so long as he only takes his beloved plane for short journeys, and saves his remaining fuel. But, just once, he picks up a message from another pilot, and eventually the temptation to find out who else is still alive becomes irresistible. So he takes his plane over the horizon, knowing that he won't have enough fuel to get back. What follows is scarier…


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.

The Dreamers

By Karen Thompson Walker,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Riveting, profoundly moving' Emily St. John Mandel, author of Station Eleven
'Beautiful and devastating' Red
'Thought-provoking and profound' Cosmopolitan

Imagine a world where sleep could trap you, for days, for weeks, for months...

She sleeps through sunrise. She sleeps through sunset.
And yet, in those first few hours, the doctors can find nothing else wrong. She looks like an ordinary girl sleeping ordinary sleep.

Karen Thompson Walker's second novel tells the mesmerising story of a town transformed by a mystery illness that locks people in perpetual sleep and triggers extraordinary, life-altering dreams.

One night in an isolated college town in…


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.

Project Hail Mary

By Andy Weir,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Project Hail Mary as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission—and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.

Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, Ryland realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Hurtling through space…


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.

Red Clocks

By Leni Zumas,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

SHORTLISTED FOR THE INAUGURAL ORWELL PRIZE FOR POLITICAL FICTION

'Intense, beautifully crafted . . . Her talent is electric. Get ready for a shock' Guardian

FIVE WOMEN. ONE QUESTION: What is a woman for?

In this ferociously imaginative novel, abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers.

Ro, a single high-school teacher, is trying to have a baby on her own, while also writing a biography of Eivor, a…


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.

Stories of Your Life and Others

By Ted Chiang,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Stories of Your Life and Others as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A science fiction genius . . . Ted Chiang is a superstar.' - Guardian

With Stories of Your Life and Others, his masterful first collection, multiple-award-winning author Ted Chiang deftly blends human emotion and scientific rationalism in eight remarkably diverse stories, all told in his trademark precise and evocative prose.

From a soaring Babylonian tower that connects a flat Earth with the firmament above, to a world where angelic visitations are a wondrous and terrifying part of everyday life; from a neural modification that eliminates the appeal of physical beauty, to an alien language that challenges our very perception of…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in survival, dystopia, and free will?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about survival, dystopia, and free will.

Survival Explore 135 books about survival
Dystopia Explore 257 books about dystopia
Free Will Explore 38 books about free will

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Contact, My Sister, the Serial Killer, and Outliers if you like this list.