29 Best Near Future Science Fiction Books

I’ve read that the most futuristic-sounding technologies tend to be ones that could be achieved in the next fifty years. Oddly, if you made that list today (flying cars, bases on the moon, self-aware AI), it’d be similar to that list made 50 years ago.

 

29
Want
by Cindy Pon – 2017

Jason Zhou survives in a divided society where the elite use their wealth to buy longer lives. The rich wear special suits, protecting them from the pollution and viruses that plague the city, while those without suffer illness and early deaths. Frustrated by his city’s corruption and still grieving the loss of his mother who died as a result of it, Zhou is determined to change things, no matter the cost.

With the help of his friends, Zhou infiltrates the lives of the wealthy in hopes of destroying the international Jin Corporation from within. Jin Corp not only manufactures the special suits the rich rely on, but they may also be manufacturing the pollution that makes them necessary.

Yet the deeper Zhou delves into this new world of excess and wealth, the more muddled his plans become. And against his better judgment, Zhou finds himself falling for Daiyu, the daughter of Jin Corp’s CEO. Can Zhou save his city without compromising who he is, or destroying his own heart?

“Vividly conjured…positively chilling.”
—The New York Times

28
The Red: First Light
by Linda Nagata – 2013

Lieutenant James Shelley, who has an uncanny knack for premeditating danger, leads a squad of advanced US Army military sent to a conflict in sub-Saharan Africa. The squad members are linked wirelessly 24/7 to themselves and a central intelligence that guides them via drone relay—and unbeknownst to Shelley and his team, they are being recorded for a reality TV show.

The conflict soon involves rogue defense contractors, corrupt US politicians, and homegrown terrorists who possess nuclear bombs. Shelley must accept that the helpful warnings in his head could be AI. But what is the cost of serving its agenda?

“This powerful military SF trilogy opener is set in a near future where defense contractors call the shots…Fans of thoughtful, cynical, and not particularly jingoistic military SF will love this book.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review and Best Summer Books 2015)

27
2001: A Space Odyssey
by Arthur C. Clarke – 1968

This allegory about humanity’s exploration of the universe—and the universe’s reaction to humanity—is a hallmark achievement in storytelling that follows the crew of the spacecraft Discovery as they embark on a mission to Saturn. Their vessel is controlled by HAL 9000, an artificially intelligent supercomputer capable of the highest level of cognitive functioning that rivals—and perhaps threatens—the human mind.

26
To Say Nothing of the Dog
by Connie Willis – 1997

To Say Nothing of the Dog is one of the funniest science fiction books I’ve ever read. It isn’t a silly, knee-slapping romp like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but a calmer story that relies more on character interactions than external craziness.

Time travel exists but is primarily a method for historical research. It’s also exhausting, and Ned Henry has done far too much of it. But instead of getting some much-needed rest, he’s sent to Victorian England to recover something called a bishop’s bird stump. He gets help from Verity Kindle, a fellow time-traveller who has shuffled a cat between timelines, an act that has the potential to completely upset all of history.

Ned and Verity are a great team as they try to patch everything up, and the eccentric Victorians they run across are hilarious.

“Willis effortlessly juggles comedy of manners, chaos theory and a wide range of literary allusions [with a] near flawlessness of plot, character and prose.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

25
Spin
by Robert Charles Wilson – 2005

One night when he was 10, Tyler stood in his backyard and watched the stars go out. They flared into brilliance, then disappeared, replaced by an empty black barrier. He and his best friends, Jason and Diane Lawton, had seen what became known as the Big Blackout. It would shape their lives.

The “sun” is now a featureless disk—a heat source, rather than an astronomical object. The moon is gone, but tides remain. The world’s artificial satellites have fallen out of orbit. Eventually, space probes reveal that the barrier is artificial, generated by huge alien artifacts. Time passes faster outside the barrier, more than a hundred million years per day on Earth. At this rate, the death of the sun is only about forty years away.

Jason, now a promising young scientist, devotes his life to working against this slow-moving apocalypse. Diane throws herself into hedonism, marrying a sinister cult leader who’s forged a religion out of the fears of the masses.

Earth sends terraforming machines, then humans, to Mars…and immediately an emissary returns with thousands of stories about the settling of Mars. Then an identical barrier appears around Mars.

Life on Earth is about to get much, much stranger.

“Robert Charles Wilson is a hell of a storyteller.”
—Stephen King

24
The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
by Robert A. Heinlein – 1966

Widely acknowledged as one of Robert A. Heinlein’s strongest works, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress rose from the golden age of science fiction to become an undisputed classic, and a touchstone for the philosophy of personal responsibility and political freedom.

A revolution on a lunar penal colony, aided by a self-aware supercomputer, provides the framework for a story of a diverse group of men and women grappling with the ever-changing definitions of humanity, technology, and free will.

23
Roadside Picnic
by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky – 1972

Roadside Picnic is short, bleak, and fantastic. It has a typical Russian life-is-a-meaningless-struggle-against-absurdity vibe, but there’s enough going on to make it an interesting read.

Aliens have visited Earth, but then left, leaving behind a zone where commonplace things are sometimes instantly deadly. But in the zone are also artifacts of alien technology, which you can sell for decent money, if you survive trips into the zone. The main character travels to the zone, despite the effects it has on his life and family.

The basic premise is very similar to Annihilation (also a good book), but predates it by over forty years. They’re different enough that you can happily read both, but maybe not one right after the other.

“The story is carried out with a controlled fierceness that doesn’t waver for a minute.”
—Kirkus Reviews

22
Starfish
by Peter Watts – 1999

Being a lapsed marine biologist, Starfish is one of my favorite books.

A huge international corporation has developed a facility along the Juan de Fuca Ridge at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean to exploit geothermal power. They send a bio-engineered crew—people who have been altered to withstand the pressure and breathe the seawater—down to live and work in this weird, fertile undersea darkness.

Unfortunately the only people suitable for long-term employment in these experimental power stations are crazy, some of them in unpleasant ways. How many of them can survive, or will be allowed to survive, while worldwide disaster approaches from below?

“[P]art undersea adventure, part psychological thriller, and wholly original.”
—Booklist

21
The Dervish House
by Ian McDonald – 2010

The Dervish House refers to the great, ancient, paradoxical city of Istanbul, divided like a human brain, in the great, ancient, equally paradoxical nation of Turkey.

In the year 2025, with a population pushing one hundred million, and Istanbul alone swollen to fifteen million, Turkey is the largest, most populous, and most diverse nation in the new Europe, but also one of the poorest and most socially divided. It’s a boom economy, the sweatshop of Europe, the bazaar of central Asia, the key to the immense gas wealth of Russia and central Asia.

The Dervish House is seven days, six characters, and three interconnected story strands all woven around the common core of the old dervish house of Aden Dede. A terror attack, a vision of djinn, a commodities scam, a hunt for half a miniature Koran that holds the key to new technology, and a quest for a creature from Arabic legend—that may not be so legendary after all.

“To read McDonald is to fall in love with a place and to become drunk with it.”
—Boing Boing

20
Nexus
by Ramez Naam – 2012

An NPR Best Book of the Year

In the near future, the nano-drug Nexus can link mind to mind. There are some who want to improve it. There are some who want to eradicate it. And there are others who just want to exploit it. When a young scientist is caught improving Nexus, he’s thrust over his head into a world of danger and international espionage, with far more at stake than anyone realizes.

“Good. Scary good.”
—Wired

19
Halting State
by Charles Stross – 2007

In the year 2018 (this book was published in 2007), Sergeant Sue Smith of the Edinburgh constabulary is called in on a special case. A daring bank robbery has taken place at Hayek Associates—a dot-com start-up company that’s just floated onto the London stock exchange. But this crime may be a bit beyond Smith’s expertise.

The prime suspects are a band of marauding orcs with a dragon in tow for fire support. The bank is located within the virtual reality land of Avalon Four, and the robbery was supposed to be impossible. When word gets out, Hayek Associates and all its virtual “economies” are going to crash hard.

For Smith, the investigation seems pointless. But the deeper she digs, the bigger the case gets. There are powerful players—both real and pixelated—who are watching her every move. Because there is far more at stake than just some game-head’s fantasy financial security.

“Brilliantly conceived techno-crime thriller.”
—Publishers Weekly

18
Dark Matter
by Blake Crouch – 2016

Dark Matter is one of those books that I stayed up way too late reading. The science is perhaps a little iffy, and dark matter itself plays very little part in the book, but the book grabs you by the eyeballs early on and doesn’t let go.

A man with a decent life is knocked unconscious by a masked abductor and wakes up to find his life is entirely different. Instead of a family, he has the career of his dreams: instead of a college professor, he’s a famous, rich creator of something incredible. But he’s unmarried and his son was never born.

How can he make it back to the family he loves when he’s not sure what’s real and what isn’t?

“A fast, tasty read with a killer twist. It’s a whole bag of barbecue chips… just sitting there waiting for you to devour in one long rush.”
—NPR

17
The Girl With All the Gifts
by M.R. Carey – 2014

The Girl with All the Gifts is a wonderful book, which is odd praise for a story about zombies. But it’s surprisingly thoughtful, and at times, even tender, all while managing to be a fast-paced thriller. Every day I looked forward to reading it.

In a post-apocalyptic England, Melanie, along with other children, is imprisoned in a windowless bunker. They are all strapped down and muzzled whenever they leave their cells. No adult is allowed to touch them under any circumstances. Given who these children are, these are reasonable precautions. Then the installation is attacked, and Melanie is freed along with several adults, some who want her alive, some who want her dead, and others who want her dissected.

“One of the more imaginative and ingenious additions to the dystopian canon.”
―Kirkus

16
Fahrenheit 451
by Ray Bradbury – 1953

Guy Montag was a fireman whose job it was to start fires…

The system was simple. Everyone understood it. Books were for burning, along with the houses in which they were hidden.

Guy Montag enjoyed his job. He had been a fireman for ten years, and he had never questioned the pleasure of the midnight runs nor the joy of watching pages consumed by flames. He never questioned anything, until he met a seventeen-year-old girl who told him of a past when people were not afraid.

15
Parable of the Sower
by Octavia E. Butler – 1993

Lauren Olamina and her family live in one of the only safe neighborhoods remaining on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Behind the walls of their defended enclave, Lauren’s father, a preacher, and a handful of other citizens try to salvage what remains of a culture that has been destroyed by drugs, disease, war, and chronic water shortages.

While her father tries to lead people on the righteous path, Lauren struggles with hyperempathy, a condition that makes her extraordinarily sensitive to the pain of others.

When fire destroys their compound, Lauren’s family is killed and she is forced out into a world that is fraught with danger. With a handful of other refugees, Lauren must make her way north to safety, along the way conceiving a revolutionary idea that may mean salvation for all mankind.

“A real gut-wrencher… What makes Butler’s fiction compelling is that it is as crisply detailed as journalism… Often the smallest details are the most revelatory.”
―Washington Post

14
Red Mars
by Kim Stanley Robinson – 1992

Winner of the Nebula Award

For centuries, the barren, desolate landscape of the red planet has beckoned to humankind. Now a group of one hundred colonists begins a mission whose ultimate goal is to transform Mars into a more Earthlike planet. They will place giant satellite mirrors in Martian orbit to reflect light to the surface. Black dust sprinkled on the polar caps will capture warmth and melt the ice. And massive tunnels drilled into the mantle will create stupendous vents of hot gases.

But despite these ambitious goals, there are some who would fight to the death to prevent Mars from ever being changed.

“A staggering book… the best novel on the colonization of Mars that has ever been written.”
—Arthur C. Clarke

13
Influx
by Daniel Suarez – 2014

Physicist Jon Grady and his team have discovered a device that can reflect gravity—a triumph that will revolutionize the field of physics and change the future. But instead of acclaim, Grady’s lab is locked down by a covert organization known as the Bureau of Technology Control.

The bureau’s mission: suppress the truth of sudden technological progress and prevent the social upheaval it would trigger. Because the future is already here. And its rewards are only for a select few.

When Grady refuses to join the BTC, he’s thrown into a nightmarish high-tech prison housing other doomed rebel intellects. Now, as the only hope to usher humanity out of its artificial dark age, Grady and his fellow prisoners must try to expose the secrets of an unimaginable enemy—one that wields a technological advantage half a century in the making.

“[N]ail-biting suspense with accessible science.”
—Publishers Weekly

12
World War Z
by Max Brooks – 2006

This book is nothing like (and significantly better than) the movie.

We survived the zombie apocalypse, but how many of us are still haunted by that terrible time? We have (temporarily?) defeated the living dead, but at what cost? Told in the haunting and riveting voices of the men and women who witnessed the horror firsthand, World War Z is the only record of the pandemic.

The Zombie War came unthinkably close to eradicating humanity. Max Brooks, driven by the urgency of preserving the acid-etched first-hand experiences of the survivors, traveled across the United States of America and throughout the world, from decimated cities that once teemed with upwards of thirty million souls to the most remote and inhospitable areas of the planet. He recorded the testimony of men, women, and sometimes children who came face-to-face with the living, or at least the undead, hell of that dreadful time. World War Z is the result. Never before have we had access to a document that so powerfully conveys the depth of fear and horror, and also the ineradicable spirit of resistance, that gripped human society through the plague years.

“Will spook you for real.”
—The New York Times Book Review

11
Little Brother
by Cory Doctorow – 2008

Marcus, a.k.a “w1n5t0n,” is only seventeen years old, but he figures he already knows how the system works—and how to work the system. Smart, fast, and wise to the ways of the networked world, he has no trouble outwitting his high school’s intrusive but clumsy surveillance systems.

But his whole world changes when he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison where they’re mercilessly interrogated for days.

When the DHS finally releases them, Marcus discovers that his city has become a police state where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist. He knows that no one will believe his story, which leaves him only one option: to take down the DHS himself.

“A believable and frightening tale of a near-future San Francisco… Filled with sharp dialogue.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

10
We are Legion (We are Bob)
by Dennis E. Taylor – 2016

We Are Legion (We Are Bob) is ridiculously fun. If a nerd got three wishes from a genie, experiencing what happens in this book would be one of them.

Bob Johannson sells his software company for a mint and steps off a curb to start spending his money and is hit by a truck. Fortunately, his head is being preserved cryogenically.

Unfortunately, 117 years later, his brain was scanned into a computer and now he’s an AI controlled by a theocratic regime.

Fortunately, he is uploaded to a space probe with the ability to replicate himself.

Unfortunately, plenty of people want him dead.

The point of view shifts regularly, there isn’t a single storyline to follow, and while the ending is good, it’s clear you need to read the rest of the books in the trilogy (this is book one), but none of that matters. It’s a seriously fun ride.

9
Neuromancer
by William Gibson – 1984

The book that defined an entire genre (cyberpunk). And Gibson almost didn’t get it published because he was afraid it was too similar to the movie Blade Runner.

Case was the sharpest data-thief in the matrix—until he crossed the wrong people and they crippled his nervous system, banishing him from cyberspace. Now a mysterious new employer has recruited him for a last-chance run at an unthinkably powerful artificial intelligence. With a dead man riding shotgun and Molly, a mirror-eyed street-samurai, to watch his back, Case is ready for the adventure that upped the ante on an entire genre of fiction.

“A revolutionary novel.”
—Publishers Weekly

8
Station Eleven
by Emily St. John Mandel – 2014

I’m not usually a big fan of post-apocalyptic stories, but Station Eleven is a great story and exceptionally well-written.

A virus sweeps through the world and quickly kills off 95% of humanity, ending all comforts of civilization. The book’s protagonist is Kirsten, a young woman traveling with a band of musicians and actors who move from town to town, playing music and putting on Shakespeare plays. They hunt for food and tread carefully in a dangerous world, but even they can’t avoid a deadly and insane prophet.

Author Emily St. John Mandel flings the reader back and forth in time, examining characters both before and after the pandemic by jumping from thirty years before the virus to twenty years after and back again. But she does so with such a deft touch that these transitions feel natural and illuminating.

“Darkly lyrical… A truly haunting book, one that is hard to put down.”
—The Seattle Times

7
Lock In
by John Scalzi – 2014

Not too long from today, a new, highly contagious virus makes its way across the globe. Most who get sick experience nothing worse than flu, fever, and headaches. But for the unlucky one percent—and nearly five million souls in the United States alone—the disease causes “Lock In”: Victims fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus. The disease affects young, old, rich, poor, people of every color and creed. The world changes to meet the challenge.

A quarter of a century later, in a world shaped by what’s now known as “Haden’s syndrome,” rookie FBI agent Chris Shane is paired with veteran agent Leslie Vann. The two of them are assigned what appears to be a Haden-related murder at the Watergate Hotel, with a suspect who is an “integrator”: someone who can let the locked in borrow their bodies for a time. If the integrator was carrying a Haden client, then naming the suspect for the murder becomes that much more complicated.

But “complicated” doesn’t begin to describe it. As Shane and Vann began to unravel the threads of the murder, it becomes clear that the real mystery—and the real crime—is bigger than anyone could have imagined. The world of the locked in is changing, and with the change comes opportunities that the ambitious will seize at any cost. The investigation that began as a murder case takes Shane and Vann from the halls of corporate power to the virtual spaces of the locked in, and to the very heart of an emerging, surprising new human culture. It’s nothing you could have expected.

“A smart, thoughtful near-future thriller… This powerful novel will intrigue and entertain both fans and newcomers.”
―Publishers Weekly (starred review)

6
The Martian
by Andy Weir – 2011

The Martian is one of the most enjoyable science fiction books I’ve ever read. An astronaut is left behind on Mars, and must survive by himself for over a year, using only his wits and what was left behind by a few previous missions.

Author Weir does a masterful job in creating his highly likable, intelligent, and deeply human protagonist Mark Watney. The science in The Martian is hard and feels as real as stone.

This book is a great combination of man vs. nature à la Jack London, with the inventiveness of MacGyver, moments of laugh-out-loud humor, page-turning pacing, and plot twists that are surprising but in hindsight feel inevitable.

“Sharp, funny and thrilling, with just the right amount of geekery.”
—Kirkus

5
Ready Player One
by Ernest Cline – 2011

If you’re a child of the 80s, reading Ready Player One is like mainlining heroin-strength nostalgia. It’s so ridiculously fun that I frequently imagined author Ernest Cline giggling and saying to himself, “I can’t believe I’m getting away with this!”

In the dystopian future, teenage Wade Watts searches for a mysterious Easter egg in a worldwide video game called the OASIS. Finding the Easter egg will cause him to inherit the ownership of the OASIS and billions upon billions of dollars. Of course, he’s not the only one looking for it.

I listened to the audiobook version of Ready Player One, and loved it. Narrator Wil Wheaton nailed it.

4
Snow Crash
by Neal Stephenson – 1992

In reality, Hiro Protagonist delivers pizza for Uncle Enzo’s Cosa Nostra Inc., but in the Metaverse he’s a warrior prince. Plunging headlong into the enigma of a new computer virus that’s striking down hackers everywhere, he races along the neon-lit streets on a search-and-destroy mission for the shadowy virtual villain threatening to bring about infocalypse.

“Brilliantly realized… Stephenson turns out to be an engaging guide to an onrushing tomorrow.”
—The New York Times Book Review

3
The Handmaid's Tale
by Margaret Atwood – 1985

In Margaret Atwood’s dystopian future, environmental disasters and declining birthrates have led to a Second American Civil War. The result is the rise of the Republic of Gilead, a totalitarian regime that enforces rigid social roles and enslaves the few remaining fertile women. Offred is one of these, a Handmaid bound to produce children for one of Gilead’s commanders. Deprived of her husband, her child, her freedom, and even her own name, Offred clings to her memories and her will to survive.

“Atwood takes many trends which exist today and stretches them to their logical and chilling conclusions… An excellent novel about the directions our lives are taking… Read it while it’s still allowed.”
—Houston Chronicle

2
The Windup Girl
by Paolo Bacigalupi – 2009

Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen’s Calorie Man in Thailand. Under cover as a factory manager, Anderson combs Bangkok’s street markets in search of foodstuffs thought to be extinct, hoping to reap the bounty of history’s lost calories.

There, he encounters Emiko… Emiko is the Windup Girl, a strange and beautiful creature. One of the New People, Emiko is not human; instead, she is an engineered being, creche-grown and programmed to satisfy the decadent whims of a Kyoto businessman, but now abandoned to the streets of Bangkok. Regarded as soulless beings by some, devils by others, New People are slaves, soldiers, and toys of the rich in a chilling near future in which calorie companies rule the world, the oil age has passed, and the side effects of bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe.

What happens when calories become currency? What happens when bio-terrorism becomes a tool for corporate profits, when said bio-terrorism’s genetic drift forces mankind to the cusp of post-human evolution?

“A captivating look at a dystopic future that seems all too possible. East meets West in a clash of cultures brilliantly portrayed in razor-sharp images, tension-building pacing, and sharply etched characters.”
—Library Journal (starred review)

1
The Three-Body Problem
by Cixin Liu – 2008

I strongly recommend this entire trilogy.

Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.

“Remarkable, revelatory and not to be missed.”
―Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

2 thoughts on “29 Best Near Future Science Fiction Books

  1. Paolo Bacigalupi’s ‘The Windup Girl’, is on the list but I think another of his ‘The Water Knife’ is a more near futuristic book. The premise is plausible (water scarcity) and it seems very real and is an extremely scary and thrilling read.

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