Five Great Books that Imagine the Future

Imagining the future is the best way to prepare for it, and some of the best imagineers are writers. Try these five very different visions of our future.

Neuromancer. A cool future. William Gibson took film noir and mashed it with computer culture and created a future that has dominated visions ever since, with violent and amoral characters caught in vast conspiracies. With its first sentence (‘The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel.’) future imaginings would never be the same. Tense and gritty.

Snow Crash. A corporate future. The world is owned and operated by businesses and entrepreneurs, the Internet has become the all-subsuming Metaverse and the distinction between reality and the virtual world has all but disappeared. An ancient Sumerian god reappearing as a computer virus? Why not? Neal Stephenson is eclectic, challenging and erudite. Wild and hilarious.

A Civil Campaign. A human future. Part of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga, this is a comedy of manners in a future where humanity roams the galaxy. With its plots, trysts, intrigues and misunderstandings it could be Austen in the Future, with extra politics and diplomacy. It’s sharp, witty, full of endearing and engaging characters, and with a narrative that takes in espionage, betrayal and romance. Intricate and rewarding.

The Mars Trilogy (Red Mars/Green Mars/Blue Mars). An ecological future. I sneak this in as one book, because Kim Stanley Robinson’s future is a rigorously imagined one, where the politics and ethics are as much part of the story as the nitty-gritty of colonising another planet. Gripping and thoughtful.

Always Coming Home. A blighted future. Ursula K. Le Guin gives us an almost anthropological treatise examining what humanity might become after the collapse of civilisation due to an unspecified series of disaster. Lyrical and absorbing.