Dystopian Pasts, Presents and Futures

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Dystopian Pasts, Presents and Futures

The word is scary right now. But honestly, reading about other pandemics and disasters has made me feel a little bit better right now because it could be so even worse! I read The Hot Zone, a book about Ebola, in elementary school and was terrified but re-reading it recently I felt almost comforted that the world isn't completely aflame. Here are some other books you might enjoy if you're in the same headspace as me right now. All of these books are available through Overdrive as e-books, e-audio or both.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

2025 America is unrecognizable. Water shortages, drugs and weather changes have made much of the country uninhabitable. Lauren lives with her family in a walled enclave but knows that they’re just treading water – they must change the way they live in order to survive. She has hyperempathy, a condition she was born with that forces her to suffer from the visible pain of those around her, which makes it exceedingly important to be careful. While studying the world around her, she develops principles of a new religion, and when tragedy strikes and she hits the road, she brings it with her. This Afrofuturist classic isn’t exactly reassuring, but it’s a thoughtful and interesting examination of what future climate change could bring.

We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach
An asteroid is approaching Earth, and may or may not destroy the atmosphere and life as we know it before the end of the school year. This is the impetus for several teenagers to change their lives: golden boy jock Peter, slacker Andy, overachiever Anita, and outcast with a bad reputation Eliza. They start asking questions about the point of life and chasing after what they really want instead of what they’re supposed to want. An asteroid hitting the Earth is actually a common catalyst for dystopic fiction, and another great book starting with that event is Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer, the first book in a series written as diary entries by Miranda, a teenager whose family is trying to survive during such a catastrophic environmental disaster.

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
When the days suddenly start getting longer, everything is different. This luminous and poetic debut novel is the account of Julia, a middle schooler, and how slow time affects her family and her California town. As everyone adjusts to the laws of science no longer applying, Julia also struggles with growing up, friendships changing, first love and difficulties in her parent’s marriage. While the story obviously has its roots in science fiction, this novel feels realistic and emotionally honest. Her second book, The Dreamers, is about a town under virus-related quarantine, if you want to read a lyrical literary science-fiction novel that hits a little closer to home.

Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn
Enid lives in a future, post-Fall society where birthrates and other requirements of a functioning society like crop amounts are strictly controlled. Most people live in group households in larger communities, but Enid has a special job – she’s an investigator, charged with looking into crimes like children born without permission or a household growing too many crops. When she is sent to investigate a possible wrongful death, she is confronted with a face from her past and the reader learns more about her post-apocalyptic society.

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
In an alternate future Oxford where history students do field work through time travel, Kivrin wants to go to the Middle Ages, which have always been off-limits because it's too dangerous. Finally, she gets her chance. Narrated alternately by her in the past and one of her professors in the future, dealing with a possible pandemic, this story accentuates the universality of the human experience, even across time.