The best novels that wonder about the future

Why am I passionate about this?

There are days when it seems like all I do is imagine what the future holds. I love reading “wonder tales,” as I’ve heard Margaret Atwood call them – novels that imagine how our world might change or fantasize about completely different realms. At the same time, they reflect on conditions in our world today. That’s what I do with my own creative writing. I was trained to think about the future as a journalist, talking with media executives about how their content and technology are evolving. My stories have appeared in Asimov's; they’ve been selected by the Writers Lab for Women; and my novel The Juice was published in February.


I wrote...

The Juice

By Janet Stilson,

Book cover of The Juice

What is my book about?

This cyberpunk, dystopian novel is at turns an espionage rollercoaster ride and a spellbinding romance. It features Jarat Ellington, an exile from Elite society, who was trying to lead a simple life when a genius friend dropped an explosive mystery in his lap. The pal, Thom, created a priceless chemical substance called the Juice that turns mildly charming people into supremely charismatic beings, known as Charismites. Because of their magnetism, they can get anyone to do almost anything. But the Juice is stolen, and Thom killed.

Jarat goes on an obsessive quest to uncover the deadly adversary who now controls the Juice. Along the way, he must deal with a powerful media executive with a mysterious agenda and a dirt-poor fearless girl, who transforms into a celebrity with extraordinary powers of persuasion. The Juice explores the future of America and how media companies could increasingly shape the opinions and behaviors of the public.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Zero History

Janet Stilson Why did I love this book?

This novel represents a sharp turn for me. Until I snapped up Zero History in an airport bookstore many years ago, the science fiction I’d read seemed like dry, intellectual exercises. The characters didn’t have depth. They never made me laugh (or cry). But Zero History unleashed a passion in me for speculative fiction, and eventually, it turned my own writing in that direction as well. To this day, it’s one of my all-time favorite novels. While it’s the third book in a William Gibson trilogy, it is entirely complete on its own. There’s a pop culture, cool vibe about it as the story taps into the lives of three people with unusual gifts – which a global marketing magnate dearly wants to use in various ways.

By William Gibson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Gibson is having tremendous fun' Independent

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THE THIRD NOVEL IN THE BLUE ANT TRILIOGY - READ PATTERN RECOGNITION AND SPOOK COUNTRY FOR MORE

Hubertus Bigend, the Machiavellian head of global ad-agency Blue Ant, wants to uncover the maker of an obscurely fashionable denim that is taking subculture by storm. Ex-musician Henry Hollis knows nothing about fashion, but Bigend decides she is the woman for the job anyway.

Soon, though, it becomes clear that Bigend's interest in underground labels might have sinister applications. Powerful parties, who'll do anything to get what they want, are showing their hand. And Hollis is…


Book cover of New York 2140

Janet Stilson Why did I love this book?

My home port, New York City, never stops entertaining me, with endless pockets of culture to explore. Kim Stanley Robinson’s book centers on parts of Manhattan that I know very well, like Madison Square Park, and reimagines them in a Venice-like environment, with most of the city’s streets submerged in water. 

While climate change is clearly at play, this book isn’t all doom-and-gloom. There’s a somewhat quirky cast of characters that all inhabit the same building and include a media star known for her airship escapades and a couple of coders whose disappearance has monumental consequences for the financial industry. If Robert Altman were still with us, I could see him directing a movie adaptation of New York 2140. It has a sensibility that’s similar to his own.

By Kim Stanley Robinson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked New York 2140 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NOMINATED FOR THE HUGO AWARD FOR BEST NOVEL 2018

'A towering novel' - Guardian

'Relevant and essential' - Bloomberg Businessweek

As the sea level rose, every street became a canal, every skyscraper an island. For the residents of one apartment building in Madison Square, however, New York in the year 2140 is far from a drowned city.

New York Times bestselling author Kim Stanley Robinson delivers a bold and brilliant vision of New York in the next century.

'New York may be underwater but it's better than ever' - New Yorker

'Massively enjoyable' - Washington Post

'Gripping . . .…


Book cover of Parable of the Sower

Janet Stilson Why did I love this book?

If my first two choices were desserts, they’d be variations of a tart lemon meringue pie, with an airy buttery crust. Parable of the Sower is a denser substance, like a flourless chocolate cake, with next to no sugar. In other words, it activated different “taste buds” in me.

Sower imagines America at a time when barricaded communities protect people from a general state of violence and poverty. The heroine, Lauren, has supernatural powers of empathy. And she creates a completely new religion, which is pretty darned fascinating to consider. After her family and community are destroyed, Lauren journeys north from the Los Angeles area to find safety, collecting a band of friends and religious followers along the way. Octavia E. Butler followed up this masterpiece with a second novel, Parable of the Sower, which is equally delicious.

By Octavia E. Butler,

Why should I read it?

25 authors picked Parable of the Sower as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The extraordinary, prescient NEW YORK TIMES-bestselling novel.

'If there is one thing scarier than a dystopian novel about the future, it's one written in the past that has already begun to come true. This is what makes Parable of the Sower even more impressive than it was when first published' GLORIA STEINEM

'Unnervingly prescient and wise' YAA GYASI

--

We are coming apart. We're a rope, breaking, a single strand at a time.

America is a place of chaos, where violence rules and only the rich and powerful are safe. Lauren Olamina, a young woman with the extraordinary power to…


Book cover of The Windup Girl

Janet Stilson Why did I love this book?

Imagine the teeming, dense city of Bangkok thrown into a future time. It’s inhabited by a corporate spy in search of food substances thought to have gone extinct. Another character, the windup girl in the title, is a bio-engineered human created to answer the decadent needs of Kyoto men. Emiko, as she’s known, is abandoned on the streets of the Thai city and longs to reside in one of the villages where people like herself can live independently.

Windup Girl has lots of characters. Their agendas interlock in various ways. According to some of the reviews I’ve read, that is a bit too much for some readers. But hey, I’m a fan of Leo Tolstoy. To my mind, the rich, complex nature of the book is in keeping with the city where it takes place.

By Paolo Bacigalupi,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Windup Girl as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE HUGO, NEBULA, LOCUS, JOHN W. CAMPBELL AND COMPTON CROOK AWARDS

The Windup Girl is the ground-breaking and visionary modern classic that swept the board for every major science fiction award it its year of publication.

Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen's calorie representative in Thailand. Under cover as a factory manager, he combs Bangkok's street markets in search of foodstuffs long thought to be extinct. There he meets the windup girl - the beautiful and enigmatic Emiko - now abandoned to the slums. She is one of the New People, bred to suit the whims of…


Book cover of Never Let Me Go

Janet Stilson Why did I love this book?

There’s a sensibility to Never Let Me Go that reminds me of a quiet piece of music that grabs you unawares by slowly introducing dark layers filled with devastating emotion. Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel features a young woman named Kathy who is a clone. Her purpose on planet Earth is to donate her organs to “real” humans on an as-needed basis. 

Kathy’s state of being, and its consequences, are revealed as she recounts her memories of two other clones whom she met at a special private school. On one level the push-pull between the trio is similar to what school mates the world over encounter. But their special purpose adds a much deeper level, which is explored through a variety of emotions, experiences and longings. It all points toward their inevitable fate: when they donate so many organs that they can no longer live.

By Kazuo Ishiguro,

Why should I read it?

16 authors picked Never Let Me Go as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the most acclaimed novels of the 21st Century, from the Nobel Prize-winning author

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize

Kazuo Ishiguro imagines the lives of a group of students growing up in a darkly skewed version of contemporary England. Narrated by Kathy, now thirty-one, Never Let Me Go dramatises her attempts to come to terms with her childhood at the seemingly idyllic Hailsham School and with the fate that has always awaited her and her closest friends in the wider world. A story of love, friendship and memory, Never Let Me Go is charged throughout with a sense…


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A School for Unusual Girls

By Kathleen Baldwin,

Book cover of A School for Unusual Girls

Kathleen Baldwin Author Of Sanctuary for Seers: A Stranje House Novel

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Loves God Mother to Many Wilderness Adventurer History Enthusiast

Kathleen's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

A spy school for girls amidst Jane Austen’s high society.

Daughters of the Beau Monde who don’t fit London society’s strict mold are banished to Stranje House, where the headmistress trains these unusually gifted girls to enter the dangerous world of spies in the Napoleonic wars. #1 NYT bestselling author Meg Cabot calls this exciting historical series "completely original and totally engrossing."

A School for Unusual Girls

By Kathleen Baldwin,

What is this book about?

A School for Unusual Girls is the first captivating installment in the Stranje House series for young adults by award-winning author Kathleen Baldwin. #1 New York Times bestselling author Meg Cabot calls this romantic Regency adventure "completely original and totally engrossing."

It's 1814. Napoleon is exiled on Elba. Europe is in shambles. Britain is at war on four fronts. And Stranje House, a School for Unusual Girls, has become one of Regency England's dark little secrets. The daughters of the beau monde who don't fit high society's constrictive mold are banished to Stranje House to be reformed into marriageable young…


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