From the io9 Archives, 10 Pieces of Dystopian Fiction You Can Read Right Now

Cover image from The Apex Book of World SF: Volume 4, edited by Mahvesh Murad, a spec fiction collection that includes Nene Ormes’ “The Good Matter.”
Cover image from The Apex Book of World SF: Volume 4, edited by Mahvesh Murad, a spec fiction collection that includes Nene Ormes’ “The Good Matter.”
Image: Apex Book Company

Given the current state of the world, certain sci-fi stories have begun to feel like they contain eerie predictions rather than speculation. Over the years, io9 has shared a diverse variety of book excerpts and short stories exploring dystopian futures and altered realities. Here are 10 worth revisiting now.

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In this excerpt from Blake Crouch’s Recursion, a police detective has his first encounter with a person suffering from “False Memory Syndrome”—a mysterious and devastating affliction that sees its victims haunted by incredibly real memories of lives that never existed.

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Chuck Wendig’s Wanderers imagines another unusual epidemic, a phenomenon almost like sleepwalking except it has affected masses of people, all of whom begin walking toward an unknown destination. In this piece from early in the book, a scientist learns that an “outbreak” has been predicted by a sophisticated AI designed to make such forecasts—and that he’s been specifically requested by said AI to join the response team.

This excerpt from Jayinee Basu’s novella The City of Folding Faces introduces us to the Roulette, gaming technology that requires the user to upload his or her consciousness in order to expand it beyond normal human capabilities. It’s an exhilarating but ultimately confusing experience, as we see in this vignette featuring Mara, the young woman at the center of the story.

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Terry Brooks is probably best-known for his Shannara novels, but in 2018 he released Street Freaks, a sci-fi thriller about a kid who must go on the run in futuristic Los Angeles, a place filled with killer robots and quite a few not-very-nice humans, too. You can read the first chapter below.

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The multitalented Warren Ellis released techno-thriller Normal in 2016; it follows a “foresight strategist” who suffers a not-uncommon side effect of his job: a mental breakdown after spending too much time pondering humanity’s doomed future. This excerpt offers us a glimpse at his intake interview.

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Laurie Penny’s 2016 novella takes place in a world where only the elite have access to a drug that allows humans to live for hundreds of years. In this piece, a quartet of have-nots infiltrate a ritzy party looking for “the fix”—and they have a surprising encounter with its perpetually adolescent inventor.

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Nene Ormes’ “The Good Matter” is a short story, rather than a book excerpt. It’s about a man and a woman who meet for an exchange of artifacts at an antiques shop—a transaction that’s complicated by the fact that they both feel strong psychic connections to particular objects.

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Jake Kerr’s short story, “Wedding Day,” imagines that an asteroid that will kill millions wherever it hits is hurtling toward the Earth—and what the lead-up to its arrival might be like, especially when it’s announced that America will bear the brunt of the impact.

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This post actually contains two short stories: “Rounding Corrections” by Sandra Haynes, and “The Floor” by Melissa Fall, both standout entries in a sci-fi short story contest that asked writers to “envision a world with financial security through unconditional cash.”

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Finally, Gizmodo’s own Hudson Hongo penned “Terminal Blues,” a short story about a lonely worker posted in an isolated, frozen corner of the world. Things are bad, and then things...get worse.

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DISCUSSION

If we’re doing dystopian novels, everyone should drop what they’re doing and reread 1984. It’s a still-relevant cautionary tale, but the real payoff is the book within the book, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism. It explains that “Ignorance is strength” and “War is peace”. It also introduces the concept of doublethink, the simultaneously holding and believing of contradictory thoughts without noticing the contradiction:

. . . but by the exercise of doublethink he also satisfies himself that reality is not violated . . . To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies – all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink.

If this sound familiar to you, well... it should.