We sometimes think of technology as separate from artistic pursuits like art and literature, but some authors are not only interested in the technological advances going on around them, they incorporate and mold them to add to their work. Here are a few examples, in both fiction and non-fiction, of technology playing a big part in excellent works of writing.
The Candy House, by Jennifer Egan
When an author returns to the world of a previous book, fans of the original work could be concerned that their memory of that work might be tarnished or changed. Jennifer Egan takes that chance with this title, which is a sort-of-sequel to her Pulizer Prize-winning novel A Visit from the Goon Squad. Utilizing both new and returning characters, The Candy House revolves around entrepreneur Bix Bouton, and his technological breakthrough “Own Your Unconsciousness”, a service which allows the user to access all of their own memories (as well as other peoples’ memories), through a shared database across the world. This technology and others form the basis of the narrative, but Egan is such an empathetic and creative writer that the characters shine through brightest of all. It’s hard to go wrong with a Jennifer Egan book, and The Candy House is just another example of that.
The Immortal King Rao, by Vauhini Vara
This excellent newer book looks at technology from several different perspectives. For King Rao, his technological development and supreme intelligence leads to mobility and a better life. For much of the world, these technologies, and the subsequent geopolitical changes signal a new dawn for our overburdened and unequal world. For others, however, this technology is seen only as a lack of privacy and a prison from which it is very hard to escape. And for Athena, technology represents a way to get to know her father, for better and for worse. A globetrotting story that both asks hard questions and provides real and unique characters to struggle with those questions.
I’ll Be Gone In The Dark, by Michele McNamara
This is one of the more fascinating and human true crime books I’ve ever read, and the story itself would not be possible without the technological advances of the last few decades. The writer, Michelle McNamara, became somewhat obsessed with a serial killer who committed horrific crimes for about 10 years in the 1970s and 1980s. McNamara dubbed him the “Golden State Killer”, and she utilized the online resources unavailable just years before, to both investigate the cases and to connect with like-minded individuals from all across the country to pool their expertise and resources. McNamara died tragically before the book was totally completed, but her hard work and indefatigable spirit led the way for even more secrets to be uncovered after her death. It’s a real example of an online community working together towards a common good.
Seven Games, by Oliver Roeder
A fascinating look at the intersection of board games and technology, Seven Games focuses on some of the most well-loved and influential games in history, and how rapidly improving technology and artificial intelligence are changing the way that human beings view the possibilities within those games. Most people are familiar with the advent of AI in the world of chess, with the first machine victory over a Chess World Champion occurring in 1997, but even in games like Scrabble and bridge, we see a similar pattern. First, the machine slowly improves at the game, and then it often improves at an incredible rate and becomes a far more formidable opponent, even against the best players in the world. This title is concerned with much more than the technological element, as Roeder goes deep into the histories and cultures of each of these games, but the interaction of ancient games with modern technology is an important and fascinating piece of this puzzle.
A Song for a New Day, by Sarah Pinsker
To be transparent, the author of this title is an old friend of mine, but the book is also an award-winning work of speculative fiction, and a great fit for this list. It tells the story of life after an awful pandemic, and much of society has drastically limited their in-person interactions. It focuses on two women, one a musician trying to find her way in a world where live music is no longer legal, and the other tasked with finding stars for the virtual reality concerts that have become the norm. Is this technology helping musicians reach an audience, or controlling the message? This book is deeply felt and I would highly recommend it, especially if you share a passion for music.
About The Author
Walter is the Assistant Manager at the Bellevue/William O. Lockridge Neighborhood Library. He enjoys reading fiction including spy novels and classics, and non-fiction including history, music history, and cookbooks.