The literary tradition of writing about dystopian futures is well established, with authors imagining the future and giving alarming answers to the question of what the world is coming to. They don’t always get it right, but often they are startlingly accurate. We see this in George Orwell’s 1984, and in the eight novels listed below.
It Can’t Happen Here, Sinclair Lewis, 1935
This book is set in the time it was written, but it has interesting parallels with Trump’s USA administration. A populist figure named Buzz Windrip beats Roosevelt in the 1936 election. There are several similarities between Trump and Windrip, such as championing the white working class.
Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner 1968
Set 40 years after it was written, in 2010, Brunner’s work predicts Detroit’s economic decline, increased global terrorism, the European Union’s formation, wider acceptance of gay marriage and the decriminalisation of marijuana, among other things.
White Noise, Don DeLillo, 1985
Like every book on this list, this one is chillingly accurate. White Noise imagines living in a world with a background of disastrous ecological threats, whose inhabitants are defined by their consumerism and their reliance on technology. The main protagonist and his family consume news constantly, inducing the same kind of mental and emotional fatigue that hyperactivity has caused many people in the real world to experience.
Earth, David Brin, 1990
So many of the predictions in Brin’s novel have already come true that it has become a kind of terrible but seemingly accurate barometer for climate change. Set in 2038, the book alluded to social media and other technological developments, as well as broken levees in the USA Deep South and a Fukushima power plant meltdown.
Parable Series, Octavia E. Butler, 1993-98
Parable of the Sower and its successor, Parable of the Talents, touch on the rise of fascism and corporate influence, huge inequality among people, and global warming, among other dystopian ills. Perhaps most alarming is that in the second book, a Texan evangelist runs for presidency with the same slogan as Trump; “Make American Great Again”.
Debt of Honour, Tom Clancy, 1994
In this instalment of Clancy’s popular Jack Ryan series, a hijacked plane is crashed into the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. Though the novel is based on a fictional Japanese-USA conflict, the use of a weaponised commercial plane is exactly what happened in the 9/11 attacks.
Clancy didn’t write a story imagining self-driving cars on normal roads, about how mobile phones have taken over the tech world, or how online slots have become the preferred option to land based gambling. But the world he describes is so familiar that if he had, it’s likely that nobody would be surprised now.
Feed, M.T. Anderson, 2002
Aimed at young adults, this book was published as the world was still trying to understand how the Internet would change daily life and the fabric of society. Anderson imagined a world where chips were implanted into everyone’s brains, giving them access to a digital network called the Feed.
Here, people could interact and share media. Their personal data could also be used to determine what kind of highly personalised advertising they should see. Both of these things are happening online right now, although not in our actual brains – yet. Many great minds are working on it right now, including Elon Musk.
Super Sad True Love Story, Gary Shteyngart, 2010
Shteyngart’s satire anticipated the S&P downgrading of the USA’s credit rating in 2011, owing to its huge debt to China, and a dating service very similar to Tinder. In this world reading has declined in popularity, so physical books are considered novelty items. Recent studies suggest that a third of young people don’t read for pleasure, so perhaps like all of Shteyngart’s other visions this disinterest is a more extreme version of what is already reality.