There are a lot of people out there right now who are pretty scared and angry about what’s going on in the world, with reason. Our imaginings about the future can be pretty terrifying. Luckily, fiction gives us futures that, while they may be bleak, also leave us with a ray of hope for humanity. And, since they are fiction, we are only visitors there (and thank goodness). In this world, we still have libraries to help us escape and offer refuge. More than ever, I encourage you to use yours to find whatever stories or resources you need to keep your hope alive.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Twenty years ago, the great actor Arthur Leander had a heart attack and died onstage, the same night that a flu pandemic that quickly decimated civilization began to spread. Now a small band of survivors, calling themselves The Traveling Symphony, move from one tiny community to another, playing classical music and performing Shakespeare in a effort to keep the arts alive, as survival alone is not enough to keep us human. Station Eleven shifts back and forth between the pre-apocalypse storyline about Arthur Leander and his odd artist wife, and the post-apocalypse story of The Traveling Symphony and its often grim and dangerous path. It might sound like this is “literary”, and the jumping-back-and-forth does slow things down and keep you flipping pages, but it is a fascinating story about the power of the arts even in apocalyptic times.
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller
After a nuclear holocaust that led to desolation, death, and mutations, the scientists were executed, and technology and knowledge were destroyed. There is one tiny order of monks that has dedicated itself to preserving any possible scrap remaining: the Order of Leibowitz, named after a Jewish scientist. The book is actually a set of three novellas, all involving the Order of Leibowitz, at different times. The first novella tells the story of Brother Francis, who is convinced he has met Leibowitz in the desert, and discovers a cache of documents that belonged to him in a previously undiscovered fallout shelter. The second novella takes place as a secular scholar, Thom Taddeo comes to examine the collection of scientific knowledge assembled at the abbey, at the beginning of a new age of enlightenment. The third novella takes place another six hundred years in the future, when advanced technology is easily available and humanity is on the brink of nuclear war once again. It’s a brilliant, if dense, novel, well worth reading.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
I’m pretty sure we all have basic knowledge about Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury’s cautionary tale about the evils of trusting (and preferring) the trivialities we see on screens to the knowledge we can find within the pages of books. Guy Montag is a fireman, and his job is to burn books, but a neighbor’s distress on having her books burned causes him to have a crisis of faith. Spoiler: there are people out there trying to preserve literary culture in spite of society’s, and the government’s, dictates.
Article 5 by Kristen Simmons
Article 5 is the first book in a YA series that takes place after a terrible war has decimated most of the former United States. The government is now run by religious fundamentalists who have declared certain moral offenses punishable by death. Article 5 is the name of the provision condemning any woman who has sex outside of marriage. Teenage Ember is evidence of her unmarried mother’s transgression, and when the Moral Militia come for her, they take Ember to a “reform school” for girls in the same situation, to be educated into moral women, where they are punished if they violate any rules. Ember’s ex-boyfriend Chase, drafted into the Moral Militia years ago, breaks his training, and the rules, to get her out. While Ember is not particularly likable, and Chase’s character isn’t well developed (probably because Ember is the narrator, and she doesn’t seem to have any idea what’s going on), and the plot doesn’t make much sense, the bleak world that Simmons has drawn resonates eerily with what is going on in the world today. She’s built a terrifying near-future, but not one completely without hope.