Okay, there isn’t much difference between this subgenre and Future Earth. In pretty much every Future Earth scenario, things aren’t so good. Maybe I just created two different sub-genres to keep the lists from getting too long. Remember that these are the best of the best. To read all reviews, be sure to click on the categories to the right.
Paolo Bacigalupi – Ship Breaker
Times are not so good in a world with no more oil and gas, rising seas caused by global warming, and a society where the rich continue to get richer and the poor have no hope at all. Nailer supports himself by wiggling into the nooks and crannies inside tankers washed ashore long ago. He scavenges for copper wiring. Soon, he will grow too big to do his job – what is his future? After a hurricane, he stumbles upon a luxury clipper beached with one lone survivor. Hmmm. He has a choice. Loot the ship and sell the goods including the girl or save the girl. Being from a very wealthy family, Nita, convinces Nailer to rescue her and help her get to safety to her father’s friends where he will be rewarded. That’s hardly an easy thing to do with Nailer’s cruel drug-addicted father after the pair. There is no sequel, and that is fine. After everything Nailer and Nita go through , enough is enough.
Suzanne Collins – Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay
Now is a good time to point teen readers to Shirley Jackson’s classic short story, The Lottery, published in 1948. The text is online as is the audio of the story. In Hunger Games, a central government keeps tight control over the 12 districts by holding an annual lottery. Two children from each district are selected to compete in a fight to the death during a live, televised event. Katniss, who has honed her hunting and survival skills, competes in place of her younger sister. Hunger Games has everything a great story should have, characters that pull at the heart, action, determination, survival and surprises at every chapter end. Catching Fire was a good follow-up. Mockingjay dragged a bit, but ended quite realistically. A magnificent trilogy that will be read and reread for years to come.
James Dashner – The Maze Runner, The Scorch Trials, The Death Cure
Just how much can a person take and keep on surviving? Thomas wakes up in the midst of an artificial environment called the Glade. Every thirty days for as long as anyone can remember, a boy arrives with no memory. The Gladers have created a well-organized community, all focused on escape by finding a way out of the maze. Every morning, the stone doors of the enclosure open, exposing an ever-changing maze. Runners go out to try and solve the maze and must race back before the maze door close. These evil chomper things called Grievers come out at night, so it is not good to be stuck in the maze. Because Thomas has no memory of his life before the maze, the reader figures things out as Thomas does. Someone is putting them through these tests. One day, a girl appears disrupting the community but perhaps has answers? This is a page-turning read with cliff hangers at every chapter. Good, that!
Brian Falkner – Brain Jack
This is an example of the perfect sci fi thriller – plenty of action, great writing, and cool characters. A young computer genius hacks into the most secure networks in this mystery action thriller. Seeking ever faster network connectivity, new technology allows users to directly interface with networks via their brain – no need to point and click. This turns out to be a very bad thing. There is plenty of computer talk here – firewalls, viruses, etc. but my little brain could handle it just fine. Love the plot twists! When I see students walking around with earphones constantly plugged in and so many people going about their day glued to the Internet, perhaps this story line is not so far off . . .
Michael Grant – Gone series: Gone, Hunger, Lies, Plague, Fear (due 4.3.12)
An isolated town in California suddenly loses anyone over the age of sixteen. Imagine riding in a car with your mother, suddenly poof, mom is gone so the car crashes. Poof! All adults are gone. How do the remaining children organize their society? Will it be a Lord of the Flies scenario? These books are thick yet they are immensely popular even among students who declare they don’t like to read! From CIP: In a small town on the coast of California, everyone over the age of fourteen suddenly disappears, setting up a battle between the remaining town residents and the students from a local private school, as well as those who have “The Power” and are able to perform supernatural feats and those who do not.
Marie Lu – Legend
Legend is receiving a great deal of publisher publicity and deservedly so. The formula is the same as in so many young adult dystopian novels: oppressive government creating a bleak existence for the masses and teens are the catalyst for change. Legend succeeds in delivering a pulse-pounding story with two complex and likeable teen heroes. Set so far into the future that the country now known as The United States is the stuff of myth and legend. The western half of the continent is the Republic with the story’s action taking place in a flooded Los Angeles. They have been at war with the Colonies for many years. The novel tells the story in the alternating voices of two teen catalysts. Day is a Robin Hood of sorts desperate to save his plague-stricken younger brother. June is the genius military protégé assigned to capture Day after he attempts to steal the plague cure for his brother. I was emotionally invested in Legend after the first few chapters when the author cruelly murdered a character I decided I would really like. Gritty and intense with a tightly written plot, this book will be a hit. I hope the young author has a long and productive writing career.
Caragh M. O’Brien – Birthmarked, Prized
The setting is future Earth where we have so messed up our environment that giving birth to a healthy baby is increasingly against the odds. Gaia is sixteen and has completed her midwife training with her mother. She is charged with delivering three babies per month to the Enclave, the city within the walls. The Enclave places these babies with families within the wall because their own children have a genetic mutation similar to hemophilia and have a high mortality rate. They are hoping to strengthen their bloodlines using healthy babies outside the wall. When Gaia’s two older brothers were born, they were delivered to the Enclave. When Gaia was born, her parents were desperate to keep her. They burned her face when she was a young child so the Enclave would see her as defective and not take her. Gaia’s parents are taken captive by the Enclave and Gaia embarks on a rescue mission.
Susan Beth Pfeffer – Life As We Knew It, The Dead and the Gone, This World We Live In
A meteor hitting the moon is little more than a science assignment, but the effects are catastrophic. Worldwide tsunamis, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions ensue. Miranda’s life and how her family copes in the suburbs during the catastrophes are the focus of the first book. Miranda’s mother is the smart thinking hero for me. She high-tailed it to the store and stocked up on everything seconds before widespread panic hit. Good thinking! It’s a bit unrealistic to think just staying in your home is relatively safe. The struggles, mentally and physically are all well described. The second book is the parallel story, same event, but how things fared in the big cities. Alex is a teen living in New York City, responsible for his sisters when his mother doesn’t arrive home following a tsunami. The rich desert the city, leaving the poor to struggle. This book is a tad more realistic with the brutality and overall bleakness following a major cataclysmic event. The third book unites Miranda’s story with Alex’s story and provides a satisfying ending to the popular series.
Lissa Price – Starters
We’ve got another bleak future in store. This time, civilization has been ravaged by germ warfare. Only the youth and the elderly are vaccinated and survive. The elderly have been surviving quite nicely, living well into their 100s. But there is nothing like a young body to truly live. Now where to rent a body? There are hundreds of youth struggling to survive on their own since all the parents died. Callie is desperate to earn money so she can provide for her sickly little brother. She hears of an illegal procedure that involves a chip implanted in her brain. An elderly person is hooked up to a computer and their thoughts and brain waves take over the young body for a day or a week or however long the rental contract is for. Quite dangerous, but the money is so good. Something goes horribly wrong when Callie become conscious during her rental. Her renter plans to use Callie’s body to commit murder. Callie is a spot-on believable character making mistakes, but doing her best to figure everything out. This is an interesting premise and extremely well written. The story moves along at a brisk pace with plenty of twists and an ending that is riddled with surprises. This should be a huge hit with everyone clamoring for the sequel.
My favorite quote from a 2012 book so far: “The truly self-absorbed recorded their entire day and played it in straight airscreen or in holo mode. The really crazy kids never shut them off.” Hmmm, perhaps the future is here.
Philip Reeve – Hungry City Chronicles: Mortal Engines, Preditor’s Gold, Infernal Devices, A Darkling Plain Prequels: Fever Crumb, A Web of Air, Scrivener’s Moon
I’ve put Mortal Engines on my school reading list twice now. Each time, the novel has been eagerly read with many students going forward to read the entire series. The series has brilliant characters, fast pace, action, adventure and plot twists galore. In the future, cities move about on humongous tank-like platforms raging war with other moving cities. The losing city is gobbled up by the victorious city, the parts are recycled and the citizens killed or enslaved. The prequels explain the beginnings of the roving cities. The first prequel, Fever Crumb, explains how Striker came into being. Tragic Striker is my favorite character. Looking for an epic sci fi series? Mortal Engines fits the ticket. (Note: Each book is published in UK before US.)
Veronica Rossi – Under the Never Sky, Through the Ever Night
Ahhh, this is a good dystopian novel! I finished it days ago and the story continues to linger with me. The premise is familiar: Earth as we know it has undergone change, the evolved humans (Dwellers) live in an oppressively controlled society, protected from the elements while sporadic tribes live a more savage existence fighting the elements for survival. Dangerous Aether is ever present, swirling amidst the clouds, gathering energy to strike. The description of Aether leaves me with images of the northern lights turning into tornadic lightening. Aria lives a carefree existence in the protective pods, living in the virtual worlds created for the society. An incident leads to her cruelly being dumped into the outside world, exiled, with no survival skills. An outsider, Perry, comes to her aide somewhat reluctantly. His nephew was abducted by the Dwellers and he intends to use Aria’s knowledge to get his nephew back. The novel alternates between Aria’s and Perry’s point of view. The story is well conceived and executed with an even pace punctuated with bursts of danger. The dialogue is crisp, the descriptions are vivid, and the characters are vulnerable yet strong. I approve of the ending and am looking forward to the sequel in January 2013.
Neal Shusterman – Unwind, UnWholly
Everything that the author writes is witty and brilliant and quite popular on campus. Unwind is my favorite Shusterman book. Between the ages of 13 and 18, if things just aren’t working out, the parent or guardian can have their child unwound. They aren’t killed, ummm, not exactly. Their body parts will live on in others. Perhaps the best term is harvested. Three teens, from different backgrounds and for vastly different reasons, have been tagged for harvesting. They make a run for it. Superb! The year this was on my school’s reading list, it was the landslide winner. The book has a heck of an ending . . . UnWholly,the next book in the trilogy doesn’t disappoint. Search this site for my review of this book.
Will Weaver – Memory Boy
Two years after a chain of cataclysmic volcanic explosions causes deadly ash to rain down across the United States, society continues to degrade. As food and fuel become increasingly scarce, teenaged Will and his family realize they need to get out of their suburban home and escape to their cabin in the woods. The journey isn’t easy with the roving gangs of looters and thugs. This reminds me a bit of some John Christopher novels I read back in the 1970s. Will society break down so quickly following a catastrophe? Probably so.
Andrea White – Surviving Antarctica: Reality TV 2083
In 2083, students learn by watching TV. It’s okay, because it is government run TV. They educate by incorporating factoids into reality shows. This go around, they select five teens to reenact Scott’s 1910-1913 expedition to the South Pole. The government employees do not expect the teens to actually survive. Harsh! Lots of action and adventure in this story featuring teens who will do anything to better their chances in life, including taking on this dangerous assignment.
Gabrielle Zevin – All These Things I’ve Done
Another future gone wonkers type of book. Chocolate and coffee are illegal and crime is rampant. The setting is New York City in 2083 and Anya is a chocolate mafia princess. Her father and mother were killed by rival families. It falls to Anya to keep her brother and sister safe. But when she is accused of attempted murder via poisoned chocolate things escalate out of control. Danger is everywhere. Anya is a strong character that I enjoyed getting to know. The story was quite hard to put down. I am a huge fan of Zevin’s work and this is her best yet. Looking forward to the sequel!