Pack your rations, turn off your devices, and hold on tight: our 2019 Summer Reading List is loaded with dystopian futures, post-apocalyptic worlds, survivalist stories, technology running amok, climate breakdowns, gender biases, and misuse of power.
Heavy stuff for the beach. But maybe not. The interesting thing about apocalypse stories is not so much what’s been destroyed, but what can be created when people are forced to start anew. As much as they trade in loss and horror, they also offer journeys of hope and resilience.
I just finished My Absolute Darling and it is awesome. I think I read it in 3-4 days. It’s a story about 14-year-old Turtle Alveston, her abusive father, their survivalist lifestyle, and two neighboring boys that give her a window into what a normal life could look like. An NPR review worded it perfectly— it’s “hard to read, harder to put down.” – Sam Watson
A pitch-perfect debut novel from K Chess about displacement and immigration, but with a great sci-fi twist. After a terrorist attack, 156,000 New Yorkers escape through an experimental, one-way portal and arrive here, in an alternate timeline. They now live in a city that’s so familiar but completely alien. Chess’ reorientation of NYC’s neighborhoods, customs, and transit systems is particularly inspired. – Matt Brown
A beach read! With substance! And deadly zapping powers! The Power imagines a future where women gain the ability to emit electrical charges through the palms of their hands. Traditional gender roles are upended as women gain the proverbial upper hand. So follows a foray into the intoxicating effects of power. It’s a quick, exciting, and thought-provoking read for a vacation afternoon or three. – Caitlin Chase
A company NOT named Apple invents a portal that takes you to any place or time your heart desires … and almost every human on earth uses it. A small group of remainders band together in the empty, haunted remains of the world, trying to resist the urge to join their families and friends. It’s riveting reading, and feels almost too prescient. – Aaron Vegh
Urban snow removal? Couldn’t possibly be a gender-related issue. Yeah, it really is. Annoyed by long lines at women’s restrooms during theatre intermissions? They’re comical compared with women literally dying because senseless gaps in medical data collection ignore differences in women’s physiology vs. men’s. Every page is a gut punch focusing on the gender-biased data collection failures across basically every field. Best read in small doses, but there’s hope born in taking them because it provides actionable ways of helping. – Quinn McHenry
I love a good pandemic book … what people’s lives look like before and after a collapse. What does hope look like when the world falls apart? In Station 11 the world has suffered just such a devastating pandemic, wiping out the majority of the population. While watching the disease unfold, we jump forward 20 years later and follow a Traveling Symphony performing Shakespeare through the wastelands of what was once the United States. – Stephanie Casper
Ok, I love a good dystopian-future book too. In the not-too-distant future, body-tech has evolved dramatically and people are connected to devices (and each other) in unprecedented ways. Evolutionary science researcher Francine receives a grant to study a primate colony of bonobos, and Theory of Bastards incorporates a lot of real-life behavioral research to document our changing attitudes toward pain, sex, climate, and evolution. – Stephanie Casper
A genuine sci-fi/fantasy novel that successfully combines elements of both genres. Laurence grows up a techno-genius, building a two-second timepiece, and a chatbot that becomes sentient. Patricia talks to birds and teaches herself witchcraft. As kids they become friends, but live in their own worlds as adults — until the inevitable war between magic and technology erupts. A challenging but really terrific bit of world-building. – Aaron Vegh
This falls a little more into the “pre-apocalypse” category, but it’s good to be prepared. Some fantastic insight into human behavior, bolstered by some really interesting historical facts. Author Robert Greene’s take-no-prisoners approach depicts a law (in both observance and transgression) as a true story in history while getting his point across. – Jasmine Floyd
The post-apocalyptic zombie premise is only the hook. Severance is really about pattern recognition, gentrification, and the global economy. Even the “zombie” part of it is a misnomer – a fever wipes out pretty much everybody, but before dying people deteriorate into the routine behaviors that defined their lives. An emptying New York City is trying to hold onto its own patterns, as Severance’s protagonist Candace figures out her new ones. – Matt Brown