The best science fiction books that paint high-concept futures

Why am I passionate about this?

Science fiction has been my life since I first saw A New Hope at the age of six. Whether the story is set five years ahead of the present or five thousand, the ability of sci-fi writers to envision where we might be going and how it could all end up—while influencing real-world technology and innovation in the process—is an inexhaustive source of inspiration to me. Best of all is when science fiction creators manage to pull off the double act of thoroughly entertaining us while offering a concise, intelligent critique of our present without ever proselytizing.


I wrote...

Reality Testing

By Grant Price,

Book cover of Reality Testing

What is my book about?

Selected as one of Kirkus Reviews’ Best Indie Books of 2021, Reality Testing is a bullet-quick, action-packed read that drags the cyberpunk subgenre firmly into the 21st century. Set in near-future Berlin against the backdrop of runaway climate change, the story centers on Mara Kinzig, a blue-collar who awakens from a short-term neural-chain program with a body on her hands, an extra voice in her head, and the law on her tail. Her only shot at clearing her name is the Vanguard, a legion of outcasts scratching out a living in the no-man’s land between the city states. First, though, she’ll have to escape the seething streets of Berlin alive.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Dark Forest

Grant Price Why did I love this book?

What was Cixin thinking when he plotted the second and third novels in his Three-Body series? “Juggling six different narratives isn’t enough of a challenge. I know: I’ll jump forward in time by 200 years and have a stab at describing what life on Earth could be like.” The result, in The Dark Forest, is a world where hedonism reigns supreme and human beings live in plant-like high-rise structures underground to avoid the scouring sunshine. Death’s End goes one better, imagining a future in which four-dimensional existence is possible….and two-dimensional space is weaponized. In terms of imagination, these two novels sit at the very top of the tree.

By Cixin Liu, Joel Martinsen (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Dark Forest 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.

Imagine the universe as a forest, patrolled by numberless and nameless predators. In this forest, stealth is survival - any civilisation that reveals its location is prey.

Earth has. Now the predators are coming.

Crossing light years, the Trisolarians will reach Earth in four centuries' time. But the sophons, their extra-dimensional agents and saboteurs, are already here. Only the individual human mind remains immune to their influence.

This is the motivation for the Wallfacer Project, a last-ditch…


Book cover of The Space Merchants

Grant Price Why did I love this book?

The world is a playground for advertisers. Human beings are assigned jobs based on their worth to society, which is determined externally. Factory farming simultaneously causes undue amounts of human, animal, and environmental suffering while keeping people fed. The climate crisis is in full swing. Overpopulation threatens to overwhelm key infrastructure. Greed rules all.

Sound familiar? Perhaps it didn’t all the way back in 1952, when The Space Merchants, penned by an ad man and a Futurian in collaboration, first appeared. Smart, quick, and incisive (though unfortunately more than a little sexist), this novel paved the way for the cyberpunk heavyweights of the 1980s and 1990s.

By Frederik Pohl, C.M. Kornbluth,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Space Merchants as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In a vastly overpopulated near-future world, businesses have taken the place of governments and now hold all political power. States exist merely to ensure the survival of huge transnational corporations. Advertising has become hugely aggressive and boasts some of the world's most powerful executives.

Through advertising, the public is constantly deluded into thinking that all the products on the market improve the quality of life. However, the most basic elements are incredibly scarce, including water and fuel.

The planet Venus has just been visited and judged fit for human settlement, despite its inhospitable surface and climate; colonists would have to…


Book cover of Fahrenheit 451

Grant Price Why did I love this book?

The firemen are coming. As the inspiration behind everything from Rush’s Grace Under Pressure to the gunkata-toting Equilibrium, Fahrenheit 451 presents us with a hellish vision of 2049, where outlawed books are burned without remorse, suicide is a job hazard, and television is God. Bradbury himself was careful to state that he saw himself as “a preventor of futures, not a predictor of them,” which is nice and all, but the guy did happen to predict earbuds, 24-hour ATMs, flatscreen TVs, cancel culture, and the depersonalization of war, so at this stage he has a better batting average than Nostradamus.

By Ray Bradbury,

Why should I read it?

16 authors picked Fahrenheit 451 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The hauntingly prophetic classic novel set in a not-too-distant future where books are burned by a special task force of firemen.

Over 1 million copies sold in the UK.

Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to burn books, which are forbidden, being the source of all discord and unhappiness. Even so, Montag is unhappy; there is discord in his marriage. Are books hidden in his house? The Mechanical Hound of the Fire Department, armed with a lethal hypodermic, escorted by helicopters, is ready to track down those dissidents who defy society to preserve and read books.

The classic…


Book cover of The Dispossessed

Grant Price Why did I love this book?

The clue’s in the title of this one: in Le Guin’s high-concept future (set on the moon of Anarres, though it’s effectively a stand-in for what Earth could one day be like), human beings are…free. Free from materialism, the wage system, resource hoarding, political one-upmanship, rampant industrialism and all those fantastically capitalist things that have turned our planet into a dystopian factory. The anarcho-syndicalism of Anarres may not appeal to everyone’s tastes, but The Dispossessed offers a fascinating look at how a society that puts the collective ahead of personal desires could work in practice.

By Ursula K. Le Guin,

Why should I read it?

15 authors picked The Dispossessed as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the very best must-read novels of all time - with a new introduction by Roddy Doyle

'A well told tale signifying a good deal; one to be read again and again' THE TIMES

'The book I wish I had written ... It's so far away from my own imagination, I'd love to sit at my desk one day and discover that I could think and write like Ursula Le Guin' Roddy Doyle

'Le Guin is a writer of phenomenal power' OBSERVER

The Principle of Simultaneity is a scientific breakthrough which will revolutionize interstellar civilization by making possible instantaneous…


Book cover of Burning Chrome

Grant Price Why did I love this book?

While Neuromancer presents one of the most well realized examples of a lived-in future ever committed to ink, the origins of William Gibson’s Sprawl – a metastasizing concrete-and-neon megalopolis that has consumed the US eastern seaboard – can be found in the short stories he published between 1977 and 1984. Later collected in the anthology Burning Chrome, four of the stories – “Fragments of a Hologram Rose”, “Johnny Mnemonic”, “Burning Chrome” and “New Rose Hotel” – create the skeleton of a post-World-War-III future where corporations rule, life is cheap and technology is God. There’s actually a movie version of New Rose Hotel, and despite starring Willem Dafoe and Christopher Walken it’s even worse than Keanu Reeves’s Mnemonic.

By William Gibson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Best-known for his seminal sf novel NEUROMANCER, William Gibson is also a master of short fiction. Tautly-written and suspenseful, BURNING CHROME collects 10 of his best short stories with a preface from Bruce Sterling, co-Cyberpunk and editor of the seminal anthology MIRRORSHADES. These brilliant, high-resolution stories show Gibson's characters and intensely-realized worlds at his absolute best. Contains 'Johnny Mnemonic' (filmed starring Keanu Reeves) and title story 'Burning Chrome' - both nominated for the Nebula Award - as well as the Hugo-and-Nebula-nominated stories 'Dogfight' and 'The Winter Market'.


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Shahrazad's Gift

By Gretchen McCullough,

Book cover of Shahrazad's Gift

Gretchen McCullough Author Of Shahrazad's Gift

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a fiction writer and currently live in Cairo, where I have lived for over twenty years. I noticed that the way I started telling stories was influenced by learning Arabic and by listening to the stories of the people in the city. My interest in Arabic also led me to read Arabic literature, like A Thousand and One Nights.   

Gretchen's book list on books influenced by Thousand and One Nights

What is my book about?

Shahrazad’s Gift is a collection of linked short stories set in contemporary Cairo — magical, absurd, and humorous.

The author focuses on the off-beat, little-known stories, far from CNN news: a Swedish belly dancer who taps into the Oriental fantasies of her clientele; a Japanese woman studying Arabic, driven mad by the noise and chaos of the city; a frustrated Egyptian housewife who becomes obsessed by the activities of her Western gay neighbor; an American journalist who covered the civil war in Beirut who finds friendship with her Egyptian dentist. We also meet the two protagonists of McCullough's Confessions of a Knight Errant, before their escapades in that story.

These stories are told in the tradition of A Thousand and One Nights.

Shahrazad's Gift

By Gretchen McCullough,

What is this book about?

Shahrazad's Gift is a collection of linked short stories set in contemporary Cairo-magical, absurd and humorous. The author focuses on the off-beat, little-known stories, far from CNN news: a Swedish belly dancer who taps into the Oriental fantasies of her clientele; a Japanese woman studying Arabic, driven mad by the noise and chaos of the city; a frustrated Egyptian housewife who becomes obsessed by the activities of her Western gay neighbor; an American journalist who covered the civil war in Beirut who finds friendship with her Egyptian dentist. We also meet the two protagonists of McCullough's Confessions of a Knight…


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