A Book Set in the Future: Picks for the TPL Reading Challenge 2021

January 25, 2021 | Ames

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We've all spent time wondering what the future may bring, or what it may look like. It could be on a personal or professional level, or perhaps on the global scale. These books are just some of the many, many books out there that depict what the future could be – good, bad, ugly or anything in-between.

Battle royale

For my personal pick for this category, I'm going to recommend the novel Battle Royale by Kōshun Takami. Originally rejected by publishers, the novel has since been turned into a movie and a manga series. It has developed something of a cult classic status.

In Battle Royale, students are pit against each other and forced to kill off their classmates until there is a sole survivor. All in the name of peace and prosperity, of course. This novel has been compared to both The Lord of the Flies and The Hunger Games. In fact, Suzanne Collins stated that she was unaware of Battle Royale when she wrote The Hunger Games, since the comparison came up so often. Battle Royale is far more visceral and graphic than even The Hunger Games and it is told from multiple perspectives – both killers and victims. There's a particularly memorable scene, to me, where part of a boy's anatomy is compared to "squirming rats". It's the sort of thing that sticks with you! There are also a lot of truly human, touching moments in the book as the students find different ways to push back against the system.

It may seem an odd fit for this category because it was written and set in 1997. However, it's based on an alternate history dating back to 1947 so it's set in Japan in a future that, thankfully, didn't happen. The regular print book is over 600 pages long. If that sounds a little daunting, you could definitely try the manga.

It would also fit for the categories:

  • A book about someone unlike yourself (for me, anyway!)
  • A book by or about someone you'd like to meet (by, not about. I'd be terrified to meet most of these kids)
  • A debut book
  • A book of speculative fiction by a BIPOC author
  • A book about love (not just the romantic kind)
  • A book in a genre you've never read before (if you're not normally a reader of science/speculative fiction or graphic novels)


Staff Recommendations

Here are suggestions from our staff for "a book set in the future".

Parable of the Sower

I just finished reading Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. She wrote it in the 90s, but it reads like it's set about 11 months into the future now, if the next few weeks go badly. (This was by design – she wrote with an eye to trends at the time, including income inequality and climate change.) The solution her protagonist proposes is to form a cult and go to space; let's hope it doesn't come to that.

Could also be used for the category of the first in a series (is two books a series?), or "a book of speculative fiction by a BIPOC author."

– Wendy, Digital Content Lead


Crosshairs by Catherine Hernandez. I'm reading this right now, and whoa! I feel like this future is near (but hopefully it isn't). Massive floods and homelessness is the excuse for the government of a future Toronto to set up concentration camps for "others". The Boots, the government sanctioned regime, gathers up people of colour, the disabled, and the LGBTQ2S+ community and puts them into camps. Kay, a queer Black performer, joins the resistance and pushes back along with a few friends.

Other categories it would work for: a book about someone unlike yourself, speculative fiction by a BIPOC author, book with a one-word title

– Nalini, Branch Head

An ocean of minutes

This Giller Prize nominee got me hooked within the first few pages... An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim. A dystopian love story set during a flu pandemic and what one would do for love. So it fits "a book about love" too.

The chrysalids

I also want to recommend The Chrysalids by John Wyndham. I read this classic in secondary school and aspects of it still stay with me to this day. It got me into the science fiction and dystopian genres.

– Elsa, Senior Services Specialist

All systems red

All Systems Red by Martha Wells is a novella about "Murderbot", a security android who protects scientists while they do research on an unoccupied planet. Murderbot just wants to watch soap operas and not have to talk about feelings. Unfortunately, someone is trying to murder their crew and making it very difficult for them to do either of those things. There are unlimited eAudiobook copies on OverDrive and it's only three hours long!

It is also a first in a series (The Murderbot Diaries) and a book where the main character is not human (sort of).

– Lucas, Librarian


I'm going to recommend the Small Change Trilogy by Jo Walton, which starts with Farthing. It's alt history set in the 1930-40s in a world where the Germans won WW2. So my theory here is that it's a book about a future that could have happened but didn't. The first book in the series is Farthing which is a wonderful homage to country house mystery novels – with all sorts of political complications making the investigation of a murder very challenging. It's a haunting read.

– Margaret, Librarian

On the beach

On the Beach by Nevil Shute. Written in the 1950's and once again very timely.

All our wrong todays

And All our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai. Time travel at its best.

– Vivien, Branch Head

Why fish don't exist

Why Fish Don't Exist by Lulu Miller. This book I may just have to purchase. It's about future proofing after a disaster and resilience, hence the current demand. It starts off with a major earthquake and the loss of one's life work of cataloging fish and then literally picking up the pieces and sewing them back together based on memory. I have a feeling something goes wrong, but times being hectic it's debatable if I finish reading anything of length these days. It would also be a good fit for STEM.

– Jennifer, Library Assistant


We by Evgeniĭ Ivanovich Zami͡atin. This is an amazing book written in the Soviet Union, published in 1921 and banned that same year. It was the first book to be banned by the communists. Zamyatin arranged for it to be smuggled to the West for further publication. This got Zamyatin blacklisted even though he had fought in the pre-revolutionary underground. The book is set in the far future in a totalitarian state where there is no individuality, creativity or passion. The protagonist dreams in numbers. Through a dalliance with a young woman he comes to realize that he is an individual with an indivisible soul all his own.

– Linda, Librarian

Fahrenheit 451

A definite must-read: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. This classic novel is set in a nightmarish future where firemen burn houses that contain outlawed books. I'm a big fan of this book because it makes me appreciate the world I live in, where books and knowledge are honoured and loved and free thinking isn't discouraged.

– Lisa, Library Assistant

Paper Girls

For a slightly different interpretation of this category, Paper Girls is a really excellent comic book series. If you liked Saga (same author) and Stranger Things (eighties nostalgia/monsters), this is for you. Although technically set in the past, the series travels to the future and back again. It's fast-paced, with beautiful artwork and smart, relatable, complex characters. Also, I think there's a TV show scheduled to come out later in 2021.

– Kate, Librarian


Trigun by Yasuhiro Nightow. There's also an anime by the same title, inspired by this manga.

On an arid planet in the future, in a Wild West-like society, Vash the Stampede has a tremendous bounty on his head: 60 billion double dollars. Destruction follows him everywhere, as do a pair of insurance investigators, Meryl Strife and Minnie Thompson. Though Vash is an expert marksman, his reputation seems unearned by his actions: he's taken a vow never to kill, and he acts to help those who are threatened by villains.

– Jennifer, Librarian

Woman world

Woman World by Aminder Dhaliwal. Sorry men, in this future world a birth defect has killed you all off and women are thriving under the flag of Beyonce’s thighs. This hilarious graphic novel is the ode to feminism we can all revel in. Poking fun at nudity, menstruation, romantic love, buttons being on the wrong side and things from the past. No, high heels are not uncomfortable construction boots for making tiny holes in the earth, but they could be! My favourite character is the grandmother/sage who is the only one who has lived in the time of men and describes it to her granddaughter through “that’s what she said” jokes, Die Hard references and reinterpretations of baseball. Fast-paced and ready to be devoured, this future world is yours for the taking in print or ebook. You could also use it for the following categories:

  • A book that made you feel comforted or hopeful
  • A book about love (not just the romantic kind)
  • A book about someone who is living your dream (apologies to my husband lol)
  • A book in a genre you've never read before (for those who don't read graphic novels)

– Reagan, Librarian

The road

The Road by Cormac McCarthy. This is the very opposite of a feel good novel – in fact, it’s one of the most depressing novels I’ve ever read! A boy and his dad trudge through a bleak and terrifying post-apocalyptic landscape, heading south to the coast. How terrifying you may ask? Think starvation, bands of creeps roaming about looking to enslave and exploit, cannibalism. Some catastrophic event has laid waste to civilization, but the reader doesn’t know what it is. Why read it? Bloody fantastic writing! Plus, we can take it as a cautionary tale for whatever human extinction events we are facing and try to get our act together.

– Maureen, Librarian


French Recommendations

If you like to read in French, we also have a French list for this category, "un roman d'anticipation" on Cantook Station. There's a mix of ebooks and digital audiobooks to try!


Recommendations from the Facebook Group

This is just a few of the recommendations we received from Reading Challenge participants on Facebook. There are dozens more in the Facebook thread. You do not need a Facebook account to read the thread.


Join the Conversation

What would you recommend for "a book set in the future"? Share in the comments below or join the conversation in the TPL Reading Challenge Facebook group.

We'll be hosting an online discussion for this Challenge category along with "a book of speculative fiction by a BIPOC author" on Wednesday, February 24 from 4-5 pm. Everyone is welcome! If you miss the live event you can also watch the video replay on CrowdCast or on Facebook.




Edited April 19, 10:50am. Added link to French recommendations and to event replay on CrowdCast and Facebook.