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What to Read Next (No. 239): The Future Is Bleak . . . Or Is It?
Happy Friday, readers!
There’s no shortage of books about our bleak future. Climate change and political fracturing are the biggies, but it’s generally pretty easy to find a number of pessimistic outlooks about what’s in store for humanity.
The novels I’m featuring today lean into this bleakness early on, but then offer enough glimpses of hope and optimism to keep you from mentally spiraling down a path of complete gloom and doom.
Yes, our world is changing in a lot of ways. But humans are remarkable creatures with an incredible ability to adapt. The world has changed before and we’ve always found a way forward; I’m confident we’ll continue to do so.
Before getting into the books, I have a fun announcement about a pop-up newsletter that I get to be part of in the lead-up to Louise Penny’s new Gamache novel.
As always, I’d love to hear what you’re reading!
I only recently discovered Louise Penny’s world of Three Pines, but her Gamache detective series has long had a cult following. Dedicated readers Elizabeth Held and Aya Martin-Seaver have created a free, short-run newsletter celebrating all things Three Pines.
From mid-September through the late November release of A World of Curiosities, this newsletter will explore all sorts of fun topics, from the science of the murders, to the delectable Canadian food featured in the books, and plenty more — including a piece from yours truly about being a new reader of this long-running series.
The Displacements by Bruce Holsinger
In the near future, the world’s first Category 6 hurricane, Luna, has redrawn much of the coastline of the American Southeast. Millions of people are suddenly homeless and in need of shelter and food. These people aren’t refugees, exactly, so they get termed IDPs: Internally Displaced People, or the displacements.
Included in this group is Daphne, trophy wife of star surgeon Brantley Hall (who’s had to stay behind to tend the wounded), and the three kiddos in her care. She has to quickly adjust to life in a megashelter in pursuit of basic needs rather than luxury.
In this tent city, racial factions spring up, an opioid trade begins to flourish, and FEMA agents struggle to keep order.
Stories about privileged people being brought down a peg are not rare in today’s publishing world. What Holsinger does so well is to write these characters with empathy and then nudge them, convincingly, to either genuinely change or self-destruct.
This kind of approach makes for a narrative that’s both eye-rolling and dramatic (in a fun way), but also authentic and even hopeful.
In the midst of all the relational drama, Holsinger powerfully writes about climate change, too — our warming planet is coming for everyone, including the wealthy scions of Miami Beach.
Overall, I really enjoyed The Displacements for both its entertainment value and its multiple thought-provoking narratives. I enjoyed Holsinger’s previous novel, The Gifted School, a little more (read my review here), but I’m happy to recommend this one to nearly everybody.
RMB Rating: 4
Upgrade by Blake Crouch
Reading Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter in 2020 was a revelation. I hadn’t encountered that type of gripping high-tech thriller since Michael Crichton (RIP), who remains in my pantheon of personal favorites. Crouch quickly entered the must-read realm and I snatched his new Upgrade from my local library as soon as it was available.
The gist is actually pretty simple:
Logan’s genome has been hacked and he’s now basically Superman-lite. He doesn’t need as much sleep, he can speed read (and retain it all!), he can even functionally slow down time because his senses are operating at a new level of perception.
He has to figure out who did it, why they did it, and what they’re planning next. It’s not an understatement to say that the fate of humanity rests in what Logan finds and does.
As with all of Crouch’s books, he gets deep into the science and makes you believe that something a bit outlandish is actually right around the corner in the real world — this is what reminds me of Crichton.
There’s also a lot of ethical discussion in this one: What does gene editing mean for humanity? Is there something essential in our flawed selves that would get lost in trying to make some DNA-level improvements?
That all said, I didn’t enjoy this one as much as Crouch’s previous two books. I remember the plot more than the characters, which always bums me out a little bit. Jason and Barry, in Dark Matter and Recursion respectively, had more depth than Logan.
The ending and overall message also felt a little heavy-handed. Even if humanity needs a bit of a slap in the face, I don’t necessarily want such an obvious, global message in my thrillers. I prefer more of a personal meaning that lies a bit under the surface and more open to interpretation — which I found to be the case with his other books.
Ultimately, though, I was plenty entertained and have no problem recommending it if you’re someone who enjoys that techno-thriller genre.
RMB Rating: 3.5
That’s all for me this week! Thanks so much for the time and inbox space — I really appreciate it!