Will today’s research into bionics lead to tomorrow’s marauding army of Cybermen or Cylons? Sounds far-fetched, until you read that Stephen Hawking recently said artificial intelligence will lead to mankind’s destruction. But writers of dystopian fiction have known that for a long time. A good dystopian novel takes a kernel of current technology and dreams up a future of unintended or evil consequences. Dystopian fiction—like The Hunger Games, The Giver, Divergent, and, of course, 1984—tells us what could happen to our society if we don’t change our ways. But for every fictional peek into the future there is a nonfiction look at how the problem affects the present. Below, I’ve compiled fourteen books that can be read in pairs—one dystopian novel and one scientific nonfiction title—and can show the promise of humanity and the peril of failing to heed warnings.
Cold Earth Wanderers by Peter Wortsman (Pelekinesis)
A mother and son’s parallel journey and serious social commentary elevate this novel above other Orwellian dystopian books.
Technocreep: The Surrender of Privacy and the Capitalization of Intimacy by Thomas P. Keenan (Greystone Books)
A technologist discusses the “creepiness” of technology in this engaging, fast-paced book.
Solomon the Peacemaker by Hunter Welles (Cowcatcher Press)
Strong writing transforms terrorists and freedom fighters into complex, believable characters in this powerful dystopian nightmare.
Transcendence: The Disinformation Encyclopedia of Transhumanism and the Singularity by R. U. Sirius and Jay Cornell (Disinformation Books)
The human-machine interface is coming, and this book takes us on a wild tour of our possible future.
Nature’s Confession by J. L. Morin (Harvard Square Editions)
Adventure, satire, dystopia, all in one well-written speculative-fiction package.
A Case for Climate Engineering by David Keith (MIT Press)
A climate-science expert discusses a dramatic potential solution to climate change in a book written for the layman.
Chimpanzee by Darin Bradley (Resurrection House)
Both heart-pounding and intelligent, this dystopian thriller has the best of both worlds.
What Makes You Clever by Derek Partridge (World Scientific Publishing)
This celebration of the complexity and mystery of the human mind respects readers’ intelligence while it examines that mystery.
The Birthday Problem by Caren Gussoff (Pink Narcissus Press)
Not your everyday nanobot zombie apocalypse tale, The Birthday Problem has character-driven depth.
The Visioneers by W. Patrick McCray (Princeton University Press)
This extremely edifying and well-researched history is recommended for technology buffs, doomsayers, and anyone with an interest in the intersection of science, technology, and society.
Calling Days by Jeff Christopher Leonard (CreateSpace)
A dystopian Colorado offers insight into human conflict in an engaging, complex world.
To Make and Keep Peace by Angelo M. Codevilla (Hoover Institution Press)
Wisdom from history pairs with knowledge of human nature to equip people with the motivation to incite peace.
Class and Status
Meritropolis by Joel Ohman (CreateSpace)
Ohman’s dystopian vision is well-paced, imaginative, and suspenseful to the very end.
Billionaires: Reflections on the Upper Crust by Darrell M. West (Brookings Institution Press)
West’s book is the canary in the coal mine, as far as keeping democracy sustainable in the United States.
Aimee Jodoin is deputy editor at Foreword Reviews. You can follow her on Twitter @aimeebeajo.