These Smart, Funny Sci-Fi Books Use the World of Tomorrow to Discuss the Problems of Today

They should be on every science fiction fan's radar.

There are a lot of book critics out there who won’t give science fiction the time of day. They insist that only realistic high-brow literary novels can contribute to our understanding of the human condition. But that’s obviously a load of hot garbage. Just take a look around! It’s the year 2019. The polar ice caps are melting at an alarming rate. There are semi-sentient robots in our homes listening to everything we say. Multinational corporations track our every move through apps on our handheld mobile computers. Cars are driving themselves. An angry Twitter guy is President of the United States. We’re basically living in a dystopian future. What genre of literature could possibly speak to our time better than science fiction?

That’s a rhetorical question, of course. We don’t need to be reductionists like the snooty book critics. There are plenty of genres of literature that speak to our time. But science fiction is especially good at it. And it just so happens that there is a ton of original, innovative science fiction out there right now.

If one of your New Year’s resolutions was to read more, below are some exciting new sci-fi titles that combine humor, action, and adventure, while using the tried and true approach of looking to the future to provide insights into the present.

Arena

The first novel in a series, as well as the first novel period by author Logan Jacobs, Arena tells the story of a small-town truck driver named Marc Havak. By all accounts Marc is a completely ordinary blue-collar guy, so when a race of aliens comes to earth and threatens to enslave humanity if they don’t send their greatest warrior to participate in an intergalactic gladiator tournament called the “Crucible of Carnage,” Marc is a little surprised when they choose him. Packed with action, comedy, sex, and violence—and featuring a bloviating POTUS who will sound awfully familiar to contemporaneous readers—Arena has a Guardians of the Galaxy vibe that will leave you eagerly awaiting the sequel.

Terminal Alliance: Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse

Terminal Alliance: Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse from author Jim C. Hines begins with an alien spaceship called the Krakau traveling to earth to invite humanity to join a growing intergalactic alliance of sentient species (yes, kind of like Star Trek), only to discover that a mutant plague has brought on a zombie apocalypse, decimating earth civilization. The good news for humanity is that, rather than simply turning around and going home, the crew of the Krakau decided to stick around and try to fix us. The bad news is that, a century later, the Krakau itself falls victim to a bioweapons attack, leaving behind a ragtag crew of space janitors to save humanity and uncover the conspiracy that could bring down the alliance.

Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom: A Novel of Retropolis

The publisher blurb for Bradley W. Schenck’s Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom: A Novel of Retropolis describes the book as “the mutant offspring” you’d get “if Fritz Lang’s Metropolis somehow mated with Futurama.” The book is a kind of homage to pulp science fiction heroes of the 1940s and 50s—characters like Buck Rogers who inspired George Lucas to create Star Wars. Featuring a whimsically retro future world brought to life by 24 full-color illustrations, Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom tells the madcap story of Dash Kent, a ray-gun-slinging “freelance adventurer” (with a robot sidekick, obviously) who uncovers an evil plot by an insane civil engineer turned supervillain. It’s incredibly campy and wildly entertaining.

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