Help me find sci-fi novels set in the near future

October 9, 2010 11:43 PM   Subscribe

Help me find books like Cory Doctorow and Max Barry would write (and perhaps write them)...

I'm looking for sci-fi style books set in the near future, like Cory Doctorow's Little Brother, or Max Barry's Jennifer Government.

It doesn't have to be particularly dystopian (or utopian), but I'm especially interested in books that send a social message about the present, like "civil liberties are important" or "corporations have too much power" -- although books that rely on plot and don't particularly depend on a theme are fine.

Cyberpunk is a close description, although the books don't have to center on computer technologies, and don't have to involve hackers or punks.

I'm especially interested in contemporary authors, although classics like 1984 or Brave New World are okay, especially if the technology is plausible in our current world (i.e., telescreens, test tube babies).

For Stephenson, Snowcrash would work, but Anathem wouldn't. Burgess' Clockwork Orange is borderline -- there's not a lot of the "sci" in the "fi".

I'm not looking for: books set in alternate universes, fantasy, sci-fi that requires unlikely technological leaps, books set on other planets, books set in the past, steampunk, magic, elves, horror, post-apocalyptic novels, etc.

Also, does this genre have a name?

And are there any blogs, podcasts, books about writing this type of fiction, or other resources you might recommend for someone who would like to try a hand at writing these sorts of stories?
posted by metametababe to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
The first that came to mind were Willaim Gibson's more recent novels that were set in the 21st century starting with All Tomorrows Parties.
posted by cftarnas at 12:13 AM on October 10, 2010

Make that William Gibson
posted by cftarnas at 12:13 AM on October 10, 2010

It sounds like you're looking for Mundane Science Fiction.

Geoff Ryman, Mundane SF's chief evangelist, has written some novels you might really like. I can't recommend Air highly enough.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 12:17 AM on October 10, 2010

Daemon and Freedom by Daniel Suarez.

Various Douglas Coupland books. JPod comes to mind.
posted by zachlipton at 12:52 AM on October 10, 2010

Have you read Doctorow's new one, For The Win?

I wouldn't say there is a particular name for this sort of science fiction but lots of near future SF shares these concerns. Both Doctorow and Barry write a specific type of this, leaning towards the gonzo and satirical end of the spectrum, but I'm guessing you are more concerned with the issues they deal with than the way they are executed. Some other suggestions:

There is Kim Stanley Robinson's Science in the Capital series all about climate change and Washington politics.

Lauren Buekes is a South African writer whose Moxyland is cyberpunk novel with anti-corporatism themes from a perspective that is not usually heard.

I've not read either but Julian Comstock by Robert Charles Wilson and Liberation by Brian Francis Slattery both take place in post-collapse America and would appear to offer critiques of the way things currently are.

There are a raft of semi-satirical British novels which you might call Barleypunk, including The Heritage by Will Ashon and The Red Men by Matthew de Abaitua (these are the closed to something like Jennifer Government).

One step further into the future you have Paolo Bacigalupi whose award-winning The Windup Girl is all about the negative effects of corporate capitalism. I've not read it yet but I've read his short fiction (collected in Pump Six And Other Stories) which is similarly themed and very good.
posted by ninebelow at 12:57 AM on October 10, 2010

Though there are a lot of leaps in medical technology in it, much of the plot of Grey by Jon Armstrong is about the nature of celebrity, among other things. (It's also sort of a satire. And it's really pretty. It's available for free in audio form on his site and there's a sample chapter on there too if you want to check it out.)

I feel like Vonnegut's first novel, Player Piano, ought to be one of the great dystopian classics and sort of... isn't. It's a good, character-driven book, and it's sort of afraid of robots taking all of our jobs. Cat's Cradle might be good too; it has basically one sci-fi concept which it utilizes in order to talk about the nature of science, scientists and religion. Also very character-driven and quite funny. (Player Piano is not all that funny.)

If you aren't listening to Escape Pod, you probably should be. Most of the fiction there isn't what you're talking about, but the stories that are generally have great discussions about them going on in the forums, which may help you as a writer. Look for stories by the authors you already like in their archives. (N-Words and Eros, Philia, Agape might fit your criteria.)

As for wanting to write this sort of fiction, I don't think there are any specific resources, but Doctorow has a lot of essays and blog entries and the like living online and it's quite possible to sort of trace his thinking about the issues he's writing about as it's developed over the years. You'll see this in his fiction, to an extent, as well. (If you haven't read Eastern Standard Tribe yet, do so. It's cool.)

(Also, to deviate a bit from your question, The Curfew, which had a metatalk thread a while ago, fits your criteria except it's a flash game instead of a novel. There might be some cool ideas in there, though.)
posted by NoraReed at 1:32 AM on October 10, 2010

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart kind of fits your bill.

You might also enjoy The City and the City by China Mieville. Like A Clockwork Orange there isn't a whole lot of science in it, but it does explore a really cool dystopian premise.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 2:24 AM on October 10, 2010

Some ideas that haven't been mentioned yet:
posted by robertc at 3:41 AM on October 10, 2010

Pretty shocked nobody's yet mentioned David Foster Wallace's magnificent Infinite Jest. As Wikipedia describes it [WARNING: Full wiki has loads of spoilers]:

In the novel's future world, North America is one state comprising the United States, Canada, and Mexico, known as the Organization of North American Nations (O.N.A.N.). Corporations purchase naming rights to each calendar year, eliminating traditional numerical designations, with most of the book's action taking place in The Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment (Y.D.A.U). Much of what used to be the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada has become a hazardous waste dump known as the "Great Concavity" to Americans and as the "Great Convexity" to Canadians.
posted by surewouldoutlaw at 6:05 AM on October 10, 2010

Strongly seconding Daniel Suarez's "Daemon" and "Freedom". "Empire" by Orson Scott Card. Stephenson's "The Diamond Age" if you haven't read it yet. John Brunner's "Shockwave Rider" (shows its age a bit but still has lots to offer). In the dystopian category I would put "World Made by Hand" by Kunstler, various Atwood novels, and "The Road" by McCarthy. Frank Herbert's "The White Plague", if you can find it.

You didn't mention Philip K. Dick. If you liked Blade Runner, check out his other works.
posted by PickeringPete at 7:02 AM on October 10, 2010

Adding on to my previous post.

I forgot Robert Sawyer's latest novels on emergent intelligence. Really excellent.

I am stretching your guidelines a bit but if you have not read Asimov's Foundation Series, you really don't want to miss the concept of psychohistory.

And although dated, add Heinlein's "The Moon is A Harsh Mistress". Heinlein missed the computer revolution but his ideas about the earth, his vision of a colony world, and his notions of the emergence of Adam Selene are not to be missed.

Kim Stanley Robinson: just about all his books, even "The Years of Rice and Salt". Although you would classify that as alternate history, it is not far-fetched and is really stimulating. One of my favorite books.
posted by PickeringPete at 7:29 AM on October 10, 2010

Looking at your prime point (civil liberties), if you are willing to relax your requirements a bit to allow books set further out in the future, looks at Iain Banks, especially his books about The Culture.
posted by PickeringPete at 7:34 AM on October 10, 2010

Well, if "post-apocalyptic" doesn't include peak oil and climate change, I'll nominate Paolo Bacigalupi's (nominally Young Adult but excellent) new novel Ship Breaker.
posted by nicwolff at 9:04 AM on October 10, 2010

Metafilter's own Charles Stross: Halting State (near-future, an investigation of a crime committed in a MMORPG); possibly Accelerando too, at least the first bits.

Ken MacLeod: The Star Fraction (politics and technology, oppression, revolution). Possibly set a bit too far in the future (Wikipedia says mid-21st century, I would have placed it more like 2020-30); The Execution Channel (very near future, considers terrorism and technology; however it is slightly alt-history - Gore won the 2000 election and there are other changes).

Stephen Baxter could be worth a look.
posted by Infinite Jest at 10:40 AM on October 10, 2010

Jack Womack.
posted by judith at 11:32 AM on October 10, 2010

Cory Doctorow reviews books on BoingBoing that often share similar themes with his own works. His latest review, for example, is a YA book about a dystopian future, "a thrilling, engaging polemic about the corporatization of kids' lives in the guise of a mystery story".
posted by pavane at 12:50 PM on October 10, 2010

Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge.
posted by namewithoutwords at 6:06 PM on October 10, 2010

Sewer, Gas and Electric by Matt Ruff (this might have some

Shelter, by Susan Palwick
posted by Gorgik at 10:25 PM on October 10, 2010

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