In this paranoid yet still somewhat-hopeful age, fiction of the “futuristic thriller” bent take us to places we would perhaps rather not be but which we can’t stop imagining. Unworldly space travel. Technological advancement. End of the world fears. What better way to explore our shared images of the future than through the safety of reading? Here are a few delightful books that have recently been published in this compelling vein:
The Martian by Andy Weir
This wild ride considers what could happen if a Martian wind storm scares a handful of astronauts off the red planet — but they leave one of their own behind, mistakenly believing him dead. Can he survive until eventual rescue, that is, if anybody on earth ever realizes he is alive? The book, truth be told, exercises your powers of credulity, but I think it’s still worth the roller coaster of adventure it takes you on!
The Giver is an older classic by Lois Lowry (1993) made into a promising new movie (August 2014) directed by Phillip Noyce, with screenplay by Michael Mitnick. The book “is the quintessential dystopian novel… Jonas’s world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war or fear of pain. There are no choices. Every person is assigned a role in the community. When Jonas turns 12 he is singled out to receive special training from The Giver. The Giver alone holds the memories of the true pain and pleasure of life. Now, it is time for Jonas to receive the truth. There is no turning back.”
I vividly remember the palpable tension as characters considered the risk of making choices against the tyranny in power. Looking forward to the movie!
Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer. “Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization, and the government is involved in sending secret missions to explore Area X. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer. Annihilation opens with the twelfth expedition. The group is composed of four women, including our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all of their observations, scientific and otherwise; and, above all, to avoid succumbing to the unpredictable effects of Area X itself. What they discover shocks them: first, a massive topographic anomaly that does not appear on any map; and second, life forms beyond anything they’re equipped to understand. But it’s the surprises that came across the border with them that change everything—the secrets of the expedition members themselves, including our narrator. What do they really know about Area X—and each other?”
The Omega Project by Steve Alten. “On the brink of a disaster that could end all human life on earth, tech genius Robert Eisenbraun joins a team of scientists on a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa to mine a rare ore that would provide for Earth’s long-term energy needs. But as he and the rest of the team train under the Antarctic ice shelf in preparation for the long journey, trouble erupts, and before they embark Eisenbraun is the odd man out, put into cold sleep against his will… When Robert wakes, he finds the ship deserted and not functional. He escapes to the surface of an Earth terribly changed. The plan has gone horribly wrong, but as he adapts to a hostile environment, he realizes that there is still a way to accomplish what his mission had set out to achieve. But he also discovers that he faces a new adversary of the most unlikely sort. For now, his own survival and that of the woman whose love has sustained him in his darkest hours depend on the defeat of a technological colossus partly of his own making.”
Influx by Daniel Suarez. The bestselling author of Daemon — “the cyberthriller against which all others will be measured” according to Publishers Weekly — imagines a world in which decades of technological advances have been suppressed in an effort to prevent disruptive change.
“Are smart phones really humanity’s most significant innovation since the moon landings? Or can something else explain why the bold visions of the 20th century–fusion power, genetic enhancements, artificial intelligence, cures for common disease, extended human life, and a host of other world-changing advances–have remained beyond our grasp? Why has the high-tech future that seemed imminent in the 1960’s failed to arrive?
Perhaps it did arrive…but only for a select few.”