The Books Briefing: The Techno-Future Is Now

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The pandemic has made many of us more reliant on technology. As this dependence has combined with a heightened anxiety over what comes next, readers have been drawn to books that imagine dystopian techno-futures. Some are turning to works of speculative nonfiction, such as Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock. Others are finding unsettling reflections of their experiences in fictional works, such as Mary South’s short-story collection, You Will Never Be Forgotten, which melds discussions of technology and grief.

Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series once dominated future-focused science-fiction writing, imagining a coming world in which technology guides us rather than leading us astray. But today his vision has grown to feel discordant. To more presciently understand the future, writers can look to the past. Novels such as Pola Oloixarac’s Dark Constellations and Namwali Serpell’s The Old Drift focus on how future technologies might create a surveillance state—and situate such dangers in the context of past colonization. N. K. Jemisin, the author of The Fifth Season, also grounds her work in history, raising questions about oppression, race, gender, class, and sexuality that carry present-day relevance.

Recommended Reading

Still, some have hope for what’s to come. The anthology Iraq + 100 collected stories from Iraqi writers about what the country might look like in 100 years. While many reflected on the country’s turmoil, others harkened back to Iraq’s history of technological innovation and imagined a future in which such discoveries could define the country once more.

Every Friday in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas.

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What We’re Reading

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SHAWNA X.

The library of possible futures

“Though their contents have varied over time, refracted through the concerns of each era, the appeal of pop-futurist books remains the same: We all want to know what’s coming next.”

📚 Future Shock, by Alvin Toffler


face covered with emojis

TIM MACPHERSON / GETTY / ARSH RAZIUDDIN / THE ATLANTIC

You Will Never Be Forgotten explores grief in a near-future world

“[Mary] South’s stories explore tragedy as it flits uncomfortably between the digital and physical worlds. And at a time when the hunger for in-person connection is enormous, they also double as aching reminders of forms of human coping that aren’t currently possible.”

📚 You Will Never Be Forgotten, by Mary South


Isaac Asimov

ALEX GOTFRYD / CORBIS / GETTY

Isaac Asimov’s throwback vision of the future

“His writing is striking for its optimism, betraying a faith in technology and humanity that seems especially naive and out of place today.”

📚 Foundation series, by Isaac Asimov


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SOHO PRESS

Science fiction’s preoccupation with privacy

“Both [Oloixarac’s and Serpell’s] works highlight how easily surveillance can masquerade as progress, and expose the subtle ways colonialism persists in contemporary political life.”

📚 Dark Constellations, by Pola Oloixarac
📚 The Old Drift, by Namwali Serpell


photo of N.K. Jemisin in front of "The Fifth Season"

LAURA HANIFIN / HACHETTE / ZACHARY BICKEL / THE ATLANTIC

N. K. Jemisin and the politics of prose

“A rich tale of earth-moving superhumans set in a dystopian world of regular disasters, The Fifth Season manages to incorporate the deep internal cosmologies, mythologies, and complex magic systems that genre readers have come to expect, in a framework that also asks thoroughly modern questions about oppression, race, gender, class, and sexuality.”

📚 The Fifth Season, by N. K. Jemisin


The editor of 'Iraq + 100,' Hassan Blasim

KATJA BOHM / KATIE MARTIN / THE ATLANTIC

How sci-fi writers imagine Iraq’s future

“Dazzling and disorienting, these stories are not just reflections of turmoil, but also yearnings for peace and a connection with Iraq’s past grandeur.”

📚 Iraq + 100, edited by Hassan Blasim
📚 Frankenstein in Baghdad, by Ahmed Saadawi


About us: This week’s newsletter is written by Kate Cray. The book she’s reading next is Minor Feelings, by Cathy Park Hong.

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