Wednesday, February 4, 2015

T5W: Futuristic Books

A few years back, I had the opportunity to take a science fiction class at university. It was amazing because a) the professor soon became one of my favorite professors and b) it introduced me to a genre I really wanted to explore but had no clue where to start. Since futuristic speculation and extrapolation are really prevalent themes in science fiction, it’s hardly a surprise that the entirety of my list this week comes from the required reading list for that class.

  1. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. First off, I feel like whenever anyone mentions this book, they always preface it with “it’s the book that inspired Blade Runner.” While that is absolutely true, they completely feel like two different texts. I won’t talk much about Blade Runner here but it’s very dark, gritty, cramped cyberpunk feel is so different from the abandoned desolate feel in Androids. Despite its setting in the future (which, for the most part, has been relocated off-planet) and the presence of androids, Androids seems a bit like a film noir version of the future — when I read it, I tend to imagine everything in sepia. Still, it’s an interesting scenario, a look at a future where, for the most part, Earth has been abandoned as mankind has reached for the stars and never turned back.
  2. Neuromancer by William Gibson. An absolute contrast to Androids and falling perfectly into line with Blade Runner, Neuromancer is a crazy look into the chaos of the Cyberpunk genre. Cramped metropolises, abandoned rural sites, physical cybernetic implants, cyberspace, massive evil corporations, violence, hacking, sexy times, more violence — it’s a pretty wild ride. Gibson’s writing, not to mention all the hacker lingo, makes for a really convoluted read, but as we put more of our lives online and give corporations more and more power, it’s a really interesting look into our relationship both with technology and with capitalism.
  3. Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand by Samuel R. Delany. Before I read Neuromancer, I thought it was the most difficult and weirdest book I had ever read, probably less than 20 pages into Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand and that notion was completely erased. I’m not going to lie: Stars in My Pocket is a super difficult book to read. But, oh man, even though it gets absolutely crazy at times, the discourse it presents on so many topics, from gender studies to queer studies to postmodern lit theory to race and ethnic studies, is on another level. Just like Neuromancer, this is a novel I’m looking forward to digging back into and really grappling with again.
  4. Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler. Parable of the Sower is one of those books that really hit you hard because, even though it’s set in the future, it’s a not-so-distant future that is so easily extrapolated from the current realities and tensions of today. The environmental and economic crises that have laid the government to waste and how the communities and people react to that dissolution of government seem so real and, quite frankly, terrifying. Butler’s prose is simple, but what she covers can sometimes be very hard to digest, though the protagonist weaves her story with glimmers of hope. Honestly, the vibe of it reminds me of early issues of The Walking Dead, sans zombies.
  5. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margret Atwood. The Hanmaid’s Tale is another book that completely hits you hard. In this speculative fiction, the patriarchy has been ramped up to the extreme. What makes it incredibly haunting is the ending, which alludes to the events taking place in the future and the absolute isolation and disparity of the United States as it has been cut off from the rest of the world, that has seemingly been running fine, during that time.
  6. Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick, art by Valentine De Landro. And now for an honorable mention because what would my lists be if they didn’t mention a comic. Much like The Handmaid’s Tale, Bitch Planet takes place in a not-so-distant future where the patriarchy has been ramped up a few notches. Against the word of men, who have the final say, women can be deemed “non-compliant” and are sent to an off-world prison, the titular "Bitch Planet.” The book has just started (issue 2 came out last week), but it has amazing promise, and I’m eagerly looking forward to watch DeConnick has in store for the series.
What are some of your favorite futuristic books? I'm always meaning to delve more into science fiction, so let me know what I should definitely put at the top of my reading list!

The Goodreads group for T5W (as well as the topics and the book bloggers and booktubers who participate) can be found here.

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