4 Books That Will Make You Glad You’re Alive Right Now

Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction

It can be easy to wish you lived in a more innocent, pre-Snapchatting/live-tweeting/reality TV–watching time, and even easier to find a book that will take you there. But once you’re hanging with the Bennets, or working with the peasants alongside Levin, you’ve got to deal with a marked lack of mass communication, contact lenses, and a decent burrito place. You can try the opposite tactic, by delving into a futuristic tale, where jetpacks and cultural homogenization make everyone’s lives a little easier—but whoops, wait, here come the Hunger Games. These dark visions of other times will make you glad you’re alive right now:

The Tenth of December, by George Saunders
A handful of stories in Saunders’ latest brilliant collection take place in an unspecified corporate future, where convicts are farmed out as test subjects to prescription drug companies, and middle-class bliss is incomplete without a “Semplica Girl” hanging over your front lawn—a tethered girl from a third-world country, transformed into a decorative element for the American rich. The collection’s penultimate tale, “My Chivalric Fiasco,” offers an ideal Saundersy blend of science fiction and botched heroism, following a medieval theme park employee who, after ingesting a drug that makes its users fancy themselves chivalrous knights, attempts to rescue a fellow park employee and sexual assault victim who doesn’t want to be saved.

The Kill Order (The Maze Runner. #.5), by James Dashner
The Maze Runner movie adaptation is hitting the big screen later this year; get ready by reading the prequel to the YA dystopian mega-hit. Find out what happened before protagonist Thomas awoke, his memories wiped, in a lift in a stone-walled Glade. No spoilers here, but expect a packed, spiky portrayal of a planet-wide societal breakdown.

The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Colbert
The disappearance of the dinosaurs was just one of five mass extinctions that took place over the last half a billion years, and Colbert gives us an account of each…then convincingly discusses the likely conditions of the sixth, which is already beginning to unfold, and which centers on the wipeout of mankind. While making us fearful of a very real, demonstrably advancing tomorrow, this one will hopefully also inspire us to appreciate today (and, though it might be a bit late for it, to maybe turn the lights off when we leave a room).

A Highly Unlikely Scenario, by Rachel Cantor
Leonard is what you’d call a highly devoted employee, having created a special whitewashed room for contemplation and customer complaints, the two tasks he’s charged with as an employee of delivery chain Neetsa Pizza. In Cantor’s future America, religion, food supply, and the ruling class have amalgamated into one odd entity, an array of fast food chains that are at war with each other and ripe for subordination. Though he wants nothing more than to keep his job and be a good uncle to his nephew, Felix, Leonard becomes an unlikely hero, trading his whitewashed room for the unfriendly outside world, and traveling through time to an even more dangerous past.

What are you reading this week?