Good science fiction makes you think about where society is headed, and how advancing technology might affect our lives. Great science fiction makes you hurl your phone across the room while screaming, because you don't want nanobots hacking into your subconscious. If you enjoy the sheer terror of truly great science fiction, then you've probably already binged the new season of the Netflix series Black Mirror. Don't worry, though: you won't have to wait until next season to get your fix of techno-horror. Here are a few books to read while you wait for Black Mirror to come back (because a book is the one piece of technology that can't secretly surveil you... I hope)
Black Mirror doesn't rely on alien invasions or wacky space adventures for their storylines (not that there's anything wrong with wacky space adventures). Each episode is different, but Black Mirror always manages to take one aspect of modern technology, and dial it up to eleven. Or, as Mallory Ortberg once put it, "what if phones, but too much."
These science fiction novels and short story collections are also wildly different, but they manage to capture the speculation, thrills, and mind-bending twists of a great Black Mirror episode. Read on for some excellent sci-fi (but maybe keep your phone in the other room while you do):
'Stories of Your Life and Others' by Ted Chiang
Ted Chiang's short story, "Story of Your Life," was adapted into the movie Arrival, so you know that he has a few mind-blowing tricks up his sleeve. The other stories in this brilliant collection explore language, math, technology, and open pits of fire swallowing up sinners on the sidewalk.
'The Island Will Sink' by Briohny Doyle
In a future decimated by climate change, natural disasters are a chief form of entertainment. Cartoon pandas and viral-marketing children enforce strict "EcoLaw," while an audience watches Pitcairn Island sink into the Pacific. Through all of this, the anxious filmmaker Max Galleon is trying to hold his family together while living a life he can't remember.
'Ink' by Sabrina Vourvoulias
It's the not-so-distant future, and the immigration "problem" is being solved with tattoos. Biometric tattoos, to be exact, that will mark temporary workers, permanent residents, and citizens who've recently immigrated. Four characters watch as the rise of "Inks" start to change the shape of society around them. It's a disturbingly relevant story that shows the grisly extremism of xenophobia when it's mixed with technology.
'The Dark Net' by Benjamin Percy
Twelve-year-old Hannah is seeing strange shadows with her prosthetic eyes. Along with a techno-phobic journalist, a former child evangelist, and a dedicated hacker, she's going to have to stop these strange forces from the Dark Net from spreading virally into the real world. The Dark Net is an imaginative cyber-thriller for anyone who've ever felt a dark presence somewhere online.
'On Such a Full Sea' by Chang-rae Lee
Fan is a female fish-tank diver, living in the B-Mor settlement that used to be known as Baltimore. She's the descendant of laborers brought over from environmentally ruined provincial China years ago, to produce fish for elite, satellite villages. But when the love of her life goes missing, Fan must venture out of her labor colony and into the chaos of the Open Counties that used to be America.
'From These Ashes' by Fredric Brown
Most of Fredric Brown's stories are only a page or so long. But, even though he was writing back in the '40s and '50s, his speculations on the future of technology are simply chilling. Here you'll find omnipotent supercomputers, immortality pills, and nightmarish experiments with time and space.
'Version Control' by Dexter Palmer
Rebecca Wright works at the dating website where she first met her husband... but something is off. She can't quite put a finger on why she feels so off-kilter, but she knows that this isn't reality as it's meant to be. Meanwhile, her husband has been working on a time machine for years that might finally be nearing completion...
'Never Let Me Go' by Kazuo Ishiguro
Three children are growing up at a boarding school in the idyllic English countryside. At first, they just seem to be normal children, getting into fights and developing crushes on each other. But as Ishiguro's heart-wrenching story goes on, we begin to realize that these are no ordinary children: they were commissioned with a purpose, and there is no escape from their eventual fate.
'Children of the New World' by Alexander Weinstein
Children of the New World collects tales of social media implants, artificial memories, robotic children, and dangerously immersive virtual reality. Each story pulls at the thread of a real technology, following it to its horrific (or sometimes utopian) end. Alexander Weinstein's predictions feel just a bit too plausible for comfort, and his writing will force you to rethink some of your technological assumptions.