The best books on people adapting to changing future worlds

The Books I Picked & Why

Green Mars

By Kim Stanley Robinson

Book cover of Green Mars

Why this book?

In this future, humanity needs to terraform Mars to provide a second home to a swelling population. The Mars Trilogy follows a group of scientists and astronauts, who gain extended lifetimes through a scientific breakthrough; this device enables us to follow the same characters through more than one normal active career span. 

My favourite book is Green Mars, because as a tree surgeon, I am fascinated by the methods shown of planting miniature trees and other plants, adapted from Nordic and mountainous shrubs. The people are experimenting with frontier lifestyles using available materials, and experimenting on adapting humans to the planet. Big business and inter-planetary politics keep raising their heads, as in any colonisation effort. And a few holdout scientists are saying that Mars is beautiful, precious, and unique, and we should study the red planet as it is, not terraform it.

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Snow Crash

By Neal Stephenson

Book cover of Snow Crash

Why this book?

I heartily recommend Snow Crash to anyone who wants a laugh, wants to learn, and be uplifted. A young man called Hiro Protagonist who delivers pizzas and strings stories for the CIA, and a younger skate courier lady named YT, team up in the altered and partitioned suburbs of Los Angeles. 

Stephenson initially intended this as a graphic novel, so the scenes are extremely visual. We explore the Metaverse, since Hiro is a coder who helped to develop the online worlds where cool people meet and do business without leaving home. Snow Crash is a spreading computer virus that harms people using the Metaverse. We also explore the crowded suburbs run by private enterprise, and travel, unwillingly perhaps, to the Raft, a floating garbage patch of boats, junk, and human life, as overpopulated Asia spills over into the Pacific and floats with the currents. And there is still room for this to be a story about a girl and a dog. 

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Climate Change Captives 2035 and Project SAVE: Students Help Save the Earth

By Carolyn Wilhelm, Pieter Els

Book cover of Climate Change Captives 2035 and Project SAVE: Students Help Save the Earth

Why this book?

In a near future, the creeping changes we already see due to warming climate, produce a sudden dystopia. Young people with rationed food, clean water, and goods, still need to go to school, help their parents and make friends. And then they get asked to help save the world. 

I love the energy of this recent publication. The science has been well researched, such as poison ivy thriving in a warmer climate. Middle-grade readers will identify with the characters, and I was delighted by the inclusion of a family in Ireland, chatting over the interwebs with the American schoolkids. Society is visibly shutting down, with resources provided to those in central locations, so anyone outside a city experiences a fast backslide. A few wealthy people are resource hoarders. The determination of the students to learn, share and develop solutions for everyone, leaves me with hope for a positive outcome.

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By Frank Herbert

Book cover of Dune

Why this book?

Dune is a classic for many reasons. We have a clear view of good and bad people, power plays, several strongly contrasting worlds, culture clash, and a spacefaring society which has banned intelligent computers. 

I read Dune first in my early teens and could identify with Paul Atreides, who had so many skills yet so much to learn. The ecological aspect made a strong impact on me, as I was already a nature lover. Paul travels from Caladan, a temperate planet, to Arrakis, a desert world where water is currency among the original inhabitants. The exploitation of the valuable Spice mined here, has clear parallels with resource exploitation around our own planet. Herbert provided women who were strong characters, yet set them up as having influence and personal standing, rather than power. When the book was written, power around the world still resided with men, but Herbert did not write a story all about men.

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Golden Witchbreed

By Mary Gentle

Book cover of Golden Witchbreed

Why this book?

An Earth Ambassador visits the planet Orthe to try to persuade the human-like inhabitants to join an interplanetary union. Christie’s blonde hair makes the suspicious native people associate her with their former ruling class, the Witchbreed, now overthrown, to the detriment of technological advance. 

While no listing would be complete without Ursula leGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, I am sure that has been a popular choice, so I’m taking a step further to a similar and later novel. I like the Ambassador being female this time; and her discovery that the Orthe people are derived from reptiles can account for many differences – but Gentle still conveys a universal humanity. The planet is splendidly realised with changes of scene around the globe and glimpses of the former glories – but dangers – developed by the Witchbreed. We see adaptation away from colonisation to diplomacy, which is a win in itself.

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