Science fiction has a bit of a reputation for predicting the future. Think of Jules Verne’s depictions of spacecraft, Fahrenheit 451‘s earbud-like music technology, or any one of these other remarkably prescient science fiction novels. The term robot was even invented by Czech author Karel Čapek in his 1920 play, “R.U.R (Rossum’s Universal Robots).” Science fiction and science are, after all, fundamentally entwined. But are all those examples really a bit of science fiction fortune-telling, or is it talented authors following the latest scientific breakthroughs and their own logic and creativity to connect the dots on what will happen next? And, maybe an even better question, is there even really a difference? That’s one of the thing I love about near-future science fiction books. The stories feel so timely and relevant. Whether it’s predicting advances in technology or the problems of the future, near-future science fiction books explore what is likely be our reality in years to come.
Many contemporary science fiction books explore topics like climate change, cloning, space travel, and virtual reality — things that are already familiar to us and with the potential to profoundly impact the course of the future. These 12 near-future science fiction books explore those topics and more. The stories are thought-provoking and sometimes horrifying (if that’s not your thing, you might want to check out solarpunk or hopepunk), considering the good and bad. History shows up that it’s not too late to make a change; but it also shows us that fiction sometimes gets it right. So let’s dive into these 12 near-future science fiction books to see what may be in store for us in our own not-too-distant future.
The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey
One of my favorite near-future themes is cloning, and in this science fiction novel a scientist must confront a clone of herself — and all the implications of her experiments therein — after her ex-husband steals her research. Mixing elements of sci-fi and thrillers, Gailey creates a not altogether implausible thought experiment probing not only into the humanity of clones, but the humanity of the people creating them. It’s a gem of science fiction.
Tell the Machine Goodnight by Katie Williams
In a near future obsessed with positive psychology, Pearl’s job is to make personalized recommendations on how people can find greater contentment in their lives. Her son Rhett, on the other hand, seems to find perverse joy in being unhappy. And it’s not her job — as mother or as a happiness technician — to change that. Tell the Machine Goodnight asks the question: in a society where quick fixes and technology can fulfill humanity’s obsession with positivity, what does it mean to find happiness? And it it even possible to measure emotion in the first place?
The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
In a world remade by the climate crisis, cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas skirmish over the dwindling remains of water in the Colorado River. It’s Las Vegas’s water knives — assassins, terrorists, and spies — who ensure their city has the resources it needs to survive. When rumors of a new water source emerge, a water knife, a reporter, and others set out to find answers. And they’ll do whatever it takes to get them.
Goldilocks by Laura Lam
As climate catastrophe draws ever nearer, influential scientist Valerie Black has spearheaded an all-female mission to a planet in the Goldilocks zone — one with the potential to provide a new home for human life. The only problem? The mission has been stolen from them, and the crack team of astronauts, engineers, doctors, and scientists Valerie put together is no longer authorized to leave the planet. That isn’t about to stop them, though, not when they’re this close. But losing the mission isn’t the only secret Valerie has been keeping, and when the crew is alone in space with only each other to rely upon, her ulterior motives could spell disaster for everyone.
Want by Cindy Pon
Pollution and viruses fill the air, but only the poor suffer for it. The rich use their money to buy special suits that protect them, while everyone else suffers from endless illnesses and early death. After his mother becomes another such death, Zhou manages to infiltrate the elite, hoping to take down from the inside the corrupt Jin Corporation that produces the filtration suits. The deeper he gets, the more he begins to wonder if that’s all they’re producing. After all, the pollution and viruses have to come from somewhere.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Nobel prize winning author Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel is about an English boarding school where children are given the best possible education but taught nothing about the outside world. Once Kathy and her friends grow old enough to leave the school, they learn the truth about their education and their purpose. I can’t say too much more without giving away important plot spoilers, but this book is a masterpiece.
Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice
When the lights go out in a northern Anishinaabe community, cutting them off from the outside world, panic grows. The supply chain is dwindling and oil supplies might not get them through the stormy winter. It’s not until the outsiders begin showing up that people really start to worry. People from down south, the same people who pushed the Anishinaabe up north to begin with, inform them the the entirety of Canada — and maybe even the world — has gone dark. This book is a story of isolation and climate change, but also humanity’s dependence on technology.
To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers
What if, instead of modifying planets to fit our needs, we modified ourselves? That’s the premise at the heart of Chambers’s sci-fi novella about a crew exploring four extrasolar planets several light-years away from Earth. Like all of Chambers’s science fiction, it explores and proposes intriguing scientific possibilities for the future.
Infomocracy by Malka Older
A powerful search engine has led humanity out of a state of warring nations to a global micro-democracy, but keeping the peace is still a constant struggle. It’s the biggest political experiment in human history, with dangerous Information operatives trying to keep the wheels spinning and political party members vying for power.
Noor by Nnedi Okorafor
AO requires numerous body augmentations to live. That’s why she prefers to be called AO, short for Artificial Organism. She’s never viewed herself as natural, but that’s not a bad thing. Not to her at least. But after a violent incident in the marketplace, she is forced to go on the run along with a Fulani herdsman called DNA. In a world where everything is streamed, everyone is watching to see what this “murderer” and “terrorist” will do next.
Firebreak by Nicole Kornher-Stace
The corporate wars took everything from Mallory, but that’s true of most people. Now, she finds solace and work in steaming a popular VR war game. But when she makes a horrifying discovery about the celebrity supersoldiers owned by Stellaxis, the corporation that runs America, she puts everything on the line to stand up to the most powerful company in the world.
The City Inside by Samit Basu (June 7, 2022)
In a near-future surveillance capitalist Dehli, a woman working as a Reality Controller for her celebrity ex’s multi-reality livestreams becomes enmeshed in a series of conspiracies alongside a wealthy recluse. The end of the world is here, and it’s multiple choice.
Once you find a genre you love, it’s always fun to explore books of a similar theme. Lists like this one can be a great place to start, especially if you’re up for the research. But if you’re not — or you don’t have the time or patience — there are other options. In fact, finding the perfect read-alike or book on a certain theme is exactly what our customized book recommendation service, TBR, is for. Short for Tailored Book Recommendations, TBR is a book subscription service where our highly experienced (e.g. like, really, super well read, you wouldn’t even believe) team of bibliologists recommend books just for you.
Unlike other book subscriptions, this isn’t a one-size-fits-all book box. Our bibliologists know everyone loves different books and wants to read different things, and we can help you find just the book to stay in your comfort zone or expand your literary horizons. Whether you want a read-alike for Casey McQuiston’s One Last Stop or slow and thoughtful sci-fi a la Becky Chambers, we’ve got the recs for you. Just check out Book Riot’s TBR service and sign up to find your next favorite read!