Reading material suggestions based on Black Mirror
February 11, 2017 11:04 AM   Subscribe

I was never a fan of science fiction, especially that of the "Star Wars" variety, but lately I have been really liking the show Black Mirror on Netflix and I'm looking for books / stories / novellas in a similar sci fi vein.

What I tend to dislike about some sci fi is that its too futuristic / into space / removed from ordinary everyday life as it is right now. I can't get into the story because the premise doesn't seem possible or at least doesn't seem like a possible organic development in my lifetime. I'm referring to things like spaceship battles, normalized intermingling with alien species, teleportation, I just can't suspend my disbelief to get into stories with these sorts of elements.

What I like about Black Mirror is the exploration of dystopian possibilities in society and technologies but still on a recognizable earth and with technologies that aren't too much of a stretch from what we have today. I really like how the "human" or "emotional" element of the story is just as emphasized as any science or technology contributor. I'm looking for reading material of a similar nature. I'd prefer suggestions that look slightly forward from about where we are now, but if there's some classics you think I'd really like based on this please do recommend those also. Thanks!
posted by WeekendJen to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
 
Connie Willis has some aliens and their spaceships now and then, but mostly her stories are humans having human problems in a familiar earth.

You might not dig her most famous works, which involve university history departments that possess time machines (which, it turns out, don't let you alter the past, and some they aren't useful to anyone except those who study the past), but which are also set partly or substantially in medieval times, or Edwardian England, or WWII London. Let me emphasize, though, that it's historians going back in time-- they aren't besieging castles or killing Nazis. They're trying to find missing artifacts while pretending to fit in, or trying to save St. Paul's Cathedral from burning down, that sort of thing. Historians getting to know history by living there and engaging with people who lived there.

Many of her books are "manners comedies," like Jane Austen, in which the conflicts arise, in part, from the particular requirements of social behavior getting in the way of the characters. "Bellweather" is set in academia, for example.

Changing tack here, "Existence" by David Brin is set a few decades hence. Technology is a bit more advanced, but the space program is on the verge of extinction because of disinterest, surveillance and sousveillance are rampant. The economic inequality is worse, but a bargain has been set in place which establishes and codifies the noblesse obligé of the 1% and the 10% and so on. But there is an alien thing that comes into the picture, and that leads to the search for other alien things which were already here, but never seen for what they were, and the last 10% of the book is an unfamiliar future. But it's also a very thought-provoking book. Brin's current book of short stories also takes on ideas about sur- and sousveillance and privacy. Not all of Brin's catalog will fit-- he has 6 books set in an epic spaceships-and-aliens universe.
posted by Sunburnt at 11:29 AM on February 11 [3 favorites]


Philip K Dick may be right up your alley.

Also: the new Syfy series Incorporated may also be of interest. The first season just ended, but it looks like you can watch the full season online.
posted by General Malaise at 11:32 AM on February 11 [3 favorites]


A term that may help when Googling is "near-future". Also, try Cory Doctorow -- most of his stuff he makes freely available at craphound.com.
posted by WCityMike at 11:43 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]


Some of what Brian Evenson writes might scratch this itch. His collection Windeye would be a good starting point, I think.
posted by augustimagination at 11:50 AM on February 11


You might enjoy the movie Ex Machina.

At a stretch, you might like the Expanse series. Although it is set in space, it is limited (mostly) to our solar system, and I found the physics very believable and "real" feeling.
posted by OrangeDisk at 11:50 AM on February 11


Ooh, abother short story writer in this vein who I think isn't super well known is Douglas Lain. Try Last Week's Apocalypse! Also in general you may have good luck searching "speculative fiction" rather than more traditional Sci fi.
posted by augustimagination at 11:54 AM on February 11


Ballard, perhaps starting with Super-Cannes because it's the most near-future from a 2017 perspective, then back to his older "enclosed societies go batshit" writing.
posted by holgate at 12:47 PM on February 11 [3 favorites]


As well as "near future" it might well be worth googling for stuff that's been classified as Slipstream in its time. Thinking Ballard (as above), certain Iain (no M) Banks, Ken MacLeod, Doris Lessing. Maybe some Brunner too? Some stuff will be more defamiliarised contemporary settings though, so you'll probably have to pick and choose for sci-fi concepts. Sorry no specific recommendations, but well worth looking into.
posted by comealongpole at 2:01 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


Hell, you might well get on with the cosy catastrophe of The Day Of The Triffids if you've never read that.
posted by comealongpole at 2:04 PM on February 11 [3 favorites]


One of the best short-story collections I read in 2016 was "Children of the New World" by Alexander Weinstein. I think of it as a kinder, gentler version of "Black Mirror." All of the stories are speculative fiction dealing with technology.

Here's Jennifer Senior's "New York Times" review. NYT included it on their year-end list of the Most Notable Books of 2016. I can't recommend it highly enough.

And thirding Ballard, especially his "The Complete Short Stories of J.G. Ballard." I tend to prefer short stories over novels so bear that in mind.
posted by DougieGee at 2:22 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


"The Entire History of You" reminded me strongly of Ted Chiang's novella "The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling," particularly the theme of how perfect tech-enabled memory can transform our perceptions of ourselves and others. His "Division by Zero" about a coma patient bestowed with superintelligence is also very good, and would make an effective, if abstract, thriller.

If you want an antidote to this season's "Shut Up and Dance," try Bruce Sterling's short story "Maneki Neko," where a near-future Japan runs on an anonymous gift economy run by benevolent AIs.

Other recommendations:

David Langford's diverse collection of stories on the idea of killer fractals that fatally crash the human mind on sight.

Spider Robinson's "Melancholy Elephants," about a disciplined operative's mission to convince a powerful senator to preserve humanity's most important resource.

The Light of Other Days by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter, which explores the societal effects of a new technology that allows direct observation of any location in the past.
posted by Rhaomi at 4:05 PM on February 11 [3 favorites]


"The Entire History of You" reminded me strongly of Ted Chiang's novella "The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling," particularly the theme of how perfect tech-enabled memory can transform our perceptions of ourselves and others. His "Division by Zero" about a coma patient bestowed with superintelligence is also very good, and would make an effective, if abstract, thriller.

You really want to read Chiang's entire collection, "Stories of Your Life, and Others." (N.b., the story about the coma patient bestowed with superintelligence is "Understand"; "Division by Zero" is something else, equally terrific.) His entire m.o. is taking a high concept along the lines of what animates most "Black Mirror" episodes, thinking them through with almost unbelievable thoroughness, and fashioning them into a top-notch narrative.
posted by eugenen at 5:34 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


"Understand".
posted by WCityMike at 6:37 PM on February 11


Further to Ted Chiang, here's a radio interview with him that I produced a few years ago. He talks about "Story of Your Life" (which the new -ish film, "Arrival," is based on) and "Hell is the Absence of God." He also reads excerpts from both stories.
posted by DougieGee at 7:17 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


William Gibson's last 3 or 4 novels are in this "near future" realm, though they are a bit more positive than I remember black mirror being.
posted by miles at 7:56 PM on February 11


eugenen: "(N.b., the story about the coma patient bestowed with superintelligence is "Understand"; "Division by Zero" is something else, equally terrific.)"

WCityMike: ""Understand"."

Thanks! Brain fart.
posted by Rhaomi at 10:17 PM on February 11


nth-ing Ted Chiang.

Greg Egan writes hard (i.e. realistic) sci-fi- some of it spacey, some more earth bound. I really liked his short story 'reasons to be cheerful' which I think this fits your theme.

Kurt Vonnegut might also be up your street. I think his 'player piano' has a kind of 'black mirror' style. You could also try his collection 'welcome to the monkey house'.
posted by leibniz at 1:26 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


METATropolis, a short story anthology series of near-future speculative SF, speculating out a couple of social trends and tech that would support them. I read the first volume, but haven't gotten to the second or third. Not 100% winners, but pretty good. Looks like the second and third volumes are expanding on one or more of the stories from the first.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:50 AM on February 12


William Gibson's last 3 or 4 novels are in this "near future" realm, though they are a bit more positive than I remember black mirror being.

I came in to make the same suggestion - especially the Blue Ant trilogy and the Bridge trilogy (his other stuff is a bit more explicitly sci-fi). The tone is different from Black Mirror but Gibson has the same basic concerns - the near-future possibilities of currently possible or plausible tech, and what it means for humanity.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 11:06 PM on February 13


Rhaomi: "Thanks! Brain fart."

Oh, no, I didn't mean it that way -- I was offering a link to the story. It used to be online, they took it down, but it's still available via an archive.org link.
posted by WCityMike at 11:20 AM on February 14


I've just read The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 by Lionel Shriver. I think you might enjoy it!
posted by drunkonthemoon at 4:44 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


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