Ten of the best thought-provoking books to read after The Handmaid’s Tale
In this post, you can find recommendations for some great books for the grown-ups. It’s time to get into some of the best thought-provoking books around. This list focusses particularly on books which delve into distorted and disturbing futures. It includes suggestions from contemporary speculative fiction to classic dystopian and science fiction. You are sure to find a gripping read.This post may contain compensated links. Read my disclaimer here
Books to read after The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Watching the Handmaid’s Tale TV show recently inspired me to re-read the 1985 novel. In The Handmaid’s Tale, the former US has taken a sinister turn in reaction to low fertility rates. I’ve compiled this list of books which share similarly striking and disturbing themes with The Handmaid’s Tale story. The books listed here are perfect for fans of literature which allow us to consider how human societies react to change and what future communities could look like as a result.
Update September 2019: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood – out now
The long awaited follow up to The Handmaids Tale book, Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments is now available. I’ve just finished reading it and I couldn’t recommend it enough. The Testaments reveals a thrilling twist deep at the heart of Gilead and is a stunning read.
Now back to the origial article…!
Introduction: books about futures too close to home
Alternate realities, fantastical worlds or other planets are often the backdrops to futuristic or science fictions. However, the setting of the particular books listed here is earth. Within familiar settings and environments, they are located in the not too distant future. Margaret Atwood has pointed out that the kind of practices she has written about have happened in human history, unsettlingly they are not impossible to imagine occurring.
But in these books significant changes have taken place, or are in the process of unfolding. Sometimes these changes happen gradually over time, their effects slowly taking hold. In other cases, a dramatic and sudden event changes everything overnight, drastically altering humanity’s way of life.
Survival, reproduction, choice and gender
These books sometimes show how individuals or a group of people attempt to survive and adapt to the changed world. Often they depict a dystopian vision of the world in which the future of humanity is bleak and unpleasant for the majority of people; with perhaps a minority of the privileged benefiting from the changed world.
Like The Handmaid’s Tale’s plot, some of these books address issues of reproduction, personal choice and gender dynamics in future societies. Just as The Handmaid’s Tale’s Offred struggles against the tyranny of Gilead’s regime, the books listed here feature strong-willed characters who come into conflict with the bleak worlds and situations they find themselves in.
These novels are not all part of the same genre and do not all fall under science fiction or dystopian genres. However they all have in common is that they are intriguing, page-turning reads. Otherwise, I wouldn’t recommend them! They are great for those of you who – like me – love to lose ourselves in worlds that are close to home but are also strikingly different from our current reality.
A quick overview of the books covered
See the table below for a quick overview of the books covered in this article. Read on past the table for detailed information about each book, including the themes they explore and why I recommend them.
Ten of the best thought-provoking books to read after The Handmaid’s Tale
The Power by Naomi Alderman
Kicking off this list of great books, The Power is unsettling and was one of the most thought-provoking books of 2016. Different characters provide their perspectives as women realise they are able to produce potentially harmful electrical currents.
The change leads to a thorough shake-up of the gender inequality that generations of women have lived with. Could this change lead to equality or will it tip the balance of power to a new oppressive reality?
The narrative explores the interweaving stories of individuals who have a key role to play. How they each react to the new-found power is both fascinating and disturbing.Forbidden Planet Abe Books Waterstones Amazon.com Amazon.co.uk
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
This story is not entirely set in the future and shifts from historic time periods through to an uncertain future. It is definitely one of my top thought-provoking books. Mitchell uses six narrative segments. Each revolves around the lives of different individuals, telling their personal stories while revealing a larger narrative slowly.
Beginning in the 1980s with teenager Holly; the first section of the book turns from a coming of age story to a horrifying and surreal nightmare. Decades later in 2043, scarcity of resources have made life a precarious struggle as Holly strives to protect her family. Mitchell’s vision of the future is sobering. The narrative structure and the intricacies of the plot make this a stunning read.
If you would like to find out more you can read my full review of The Bone Clocks here.Abe Books Waterstones Amazon.com Amazon.co.uk
The Madd Addam Trilogy by Margaret Atwood
Starting with Oryx and Crake; Atwood’s speculative fiction trilogy unfolds from the perspective of Snowman, also known as Jimmy. He is one of few people to have survived a catastrophic disease in a world where genetic modification has altered the world to an alarming degree.
The trilogy continues with The Year of the Flood and Madd Addam. The sequels expand on the narrative. Further individuals who have connections to Jimmy provide their perspective on events. We see how they experienced the changing world and were able to survive it alongside a strange new species of genetically modified people. This is an intriguing book and as a reader I found myself really rooting for the characters to survive.Abe Books Waterstones Amazon.com Amazon.co.uk
The Trees by Ali Shaw
The Trees depicts a crisis that comes out of nowhere. A sudden and dramatic event throws humanity into chaos. Alarming and mysterious, the seemingly natural disaster and the world it creates is potentially deadly to its survivors.
Travelling into the unknown, the narrative focuses on survivor Adrien and those he meets along the way. Hannah, who loves nature and forests is at first excited by the new world of endless trees. Adrien sets off to find his wife and confront his fears in this gripping fiction book.Abe Books Waterstones Amazon.com Amazon.co.uk
In Ark: A Promise of Survival by Lisa Devaney
CliFi is a genre of fiction focusing on climate change and its impacts on humanity. In this novel “The Change” causes extreme heat and food scarcity in a future American society. Mya persists in her work as an archivist in New York and copes with increasingly tough conditions before a survivalist group kidnaps her.
Living in the Ark community appears to promise advantages and hope for those chosen to join them. In Ark: A Promise of Survival touches on issues of reproductive control and self-determination in an uncertain future.Abe Books Amazon.com Amazon.co.uk
The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood strikes again with another thought-provoking read. She hits us with a brutal vision of the future in The Heart Goes Last. Austerity has hit the public hard and like many people, Charmaine and Stan have no choice but to live in their car.
They take up the offer of a better life, stability and safety from the increasingly lawless world in a new town. Positron – twinned with Consilience – has a novel approach to maintaining order and employment.
Settling into their new life, the couple begins to find out the truth at the corporate heart of Positron. Their experiences raise questions of choice and test the couple to discover how far they are willing to go to have their needs and desires met. The book is surprisingly beautiful and touching despite the grim vision of the future which it portrays.Abe Books Waterstones Amazon.com Amazon.co.uk
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
Orwell’s classic dystopian novel envisages a stark and horrific regime under Big Brother. Even if you haven’t read Nineteen Eighty-Four you have probably heard its iconic language like thoughtcrime, doublethink, 2+2 = 5 and Big Brother is Watching You. The phrases permeate the totaliarian regime ruling over Airstrip One (England), a province of Oceania.
The manipulative power of the regime is revealed through the eyes of Winston Smith who works for The Ministry of Truth. Winston acts in defiance, starting with small but significant illegal acts such as writing in a diary and evenually embarking on a relationship with a woman called Julia.
The novel was first published in 1949 and was almost certainly a warning against the totalitarianism of the Stalinist regime of the then Soviet Union. Today we live in a world of fake news, a doublethink if ever there was one. This novel remains relevant as well as a gripping and thought-provoking read. It’s a must-read classic if you haven’t read it already.Forbidden Planet Abe Books Waterstones Amazon.com Amazon.co.uk
Broken Sky by L.A. Weatherly
Weatherly’s Broken Sky presents a society thousands of years into humanity’s future, but which has eerie similarities to our own. This YA dystopian novel draws parallels to the tumultuous history of the 20th century.
The World for Peace has wiped out warfare. Instead young fighter pilots are pitched against each other in dangerous battles in the skies to resolve international disputes. The term Peacefighter hints at a drop of Orwell’s doublethink, and it is no surprise that this system hides a disturbing truth. Amity Vancour is proud to be a Peacefighter pilot for the Western Seaboard but she suspects corruption.
Meanwhile a tyrannical leadership controls the Central States which neighbours the Western Seaboard. The regime persecutes those whose horoscopes are deemed discordant to its harmony. Fear and intolerance threatens to grow beyond the Central States border and destroy everything Amity has fought for.Abe Books Waterstones Amazon.com Amazon.co.uk
The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham
This classic read was one of the first science-fiction books I remember reading as a young person, it really gave me the taste for books which served as grim warnings for humanity! Wyndham’s novel was first published in 1951 and touched on themes of humanity’s use of natural resources which could backfire.
Bill Masen recovers in hospital from an injury sustained while working on a farm where aggressive Triffid plants are kept for their oil. Bill’s eyes are protected by bandages from a meteor shower which blinds the majority of the population.
The book explores how survivors could attempt to rebuild communities after such a disaster and how issues of control, conflict and power could be addressed. The Day of the Triffids is a terrifying classic. If you haven’t read it yet, you really should!Forbidden Planet Abe Books Waterstones Amazon.com Amazon.co.uk
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Never Let Me Go centres on the relationships between Kathy, Ruth and Tommy who are students at Hailsham boarding school. The students are intrigued when a visitor selects their best art pieces for unknown purposes.
A teacher reveals to the students that they are not ordinary children. They have been cloned for their organs. It is their destiny to donate their organs which will result in death at a young age.
Kathy, Ruth and Tommy’s relationships evolve and change as they become adolescents and reach adulthood. Kathy takes on a role of a carer, postponing donating her organs. Tommy investigates his theory about the signficance of their childhood drawings and painting.
Never Let Me Go is a heartbreakingly beautiful and moving dystopian novel about love and cruelty.Abe Books Waterstones Amazon.com Amazon.co.uk
Over to you
What are your favourite thought-provoking books set in future societies? Let us know in the comments below.
For more great books for the grown-ups check out our reviews and recommendations here. If you enjoy speculative or dystopian fiction you may also like The History of Bees by Maja Lunde, check out my full review of it here.
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