If you recently watched the unique choose-your-own-adventure movie Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, chances are your mind is still reeling. The 21st century's answer to The Twilight Zone, the anthology franchise Black Mirror uses a blend of science fiction and horror to tell cautionary tales about our growing dependence on technology. While the characters of Black Mirror have gadgets and gizmos aplenty, they often pay a steep price for them: The robot of a dead lover prolongs the grieving process. A memory recorder uncovers marriage-shattering secrets. A mother who uses a child-tracker eventually loses her daughter forever. All of these scenarios are not only terrifying—I hope I'm never judged by a social media rating—but they're also terrifyingly plausible. It's not hard to imagine our world turning into a real-life episode of Black Mirror.
For more spine-tingling stories about the dangers of technology, and to pass the time while you wait for the arrival of Black Mirror Season 5, check out the 10 books like Black Mirror below.
The Continent of Lies
The apple-like “cephapple” is a controversial technology that has transformed dreams into "Choose Your Own Adventure" stories. Unfortunately, someone has hijacked one of the cephapple-bearing trees, trapping its users in narratives more terrifying than the worst acid trip. This is all to the chagrin of Qianjin, who makes a living reviewing cephapple experiences, and so he embarks on a mission to destroy the tampered fruit—accompanied by his dreamweaver girlfriend, a robot, and other eccentric sidekicks. Bizarre, intelligent, and centering around the dangers of augmented realities, The Continent of Lies touches on themes examined in “Playtest,” from Black Mirror’s third season.
From the author the The Forever War comes a lost sci-fi gem about a future world enjoying the fruits of a medical miracle. The revolutionary Stileman Process—which only the very wealthy can afford—grants agelessness to its recipients. Dallas is Earth's oldest man, and just as he's scraping funds together for his next procedure, he stumbles into an old acquaintance, Maria. Together, they discover the nefarious intentions of the Process' makers and then buck against the system to save their not-so-immortal lives. Author Joe Haldeman has created a world of mind-boggling technology whose rebellious central couple may remind readers of Amy and Frank from "Hang the DJ."
Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone
As a graphic design student, Ethan invented a psychologically potent piece of art—a "fracter," or digital image that can push onlookers towards acts of kindness or violence. After an intelligence agency snapped up Ethan's masterpiece, they tattooed the most powerful images on his hands so that he might execute their master plan. Now on a redemptive trek across Japan, Ethan wrestles with his past wrongdoings, wondering if there's still an opportunity to transform something evil into something good. Get the digital edition of Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone, and you’ll also receive a bonus novella about a world in which humans gains “aspects”—or various personalities—as they encounter new life experiences.
This one will appeal to fans of “Be Right Back,” starring Star Wars’ Domhnall Gleeson and Agent Carter’s Hayley Atwell. Recruited by the powerful firm in Nunquam’s bestselling predecessor, Tunc, Felix Charlock returns to work after he's discharged from a mental institution. His latest task is to create a lifelike android in the exact image of his late movie star lover. Durrell packs his story with powerful allegories, observations about the differences between man and machine, and biting commentary on modern science—offering an intelligent, literary take on the Frankenstein trope.
Theodore Sturgeon has been hailed as “one of the greatest writers of science fiction and fantasy” by Stephen King, and his talents are on full display in this six-story collection. Standouts include the award-winning “The Man Who Lost the Sea,” whose nominal hero contemplates the nature of memory and experience while buried in sand. “Thunder and Roses” takes place after a nuclear holocaust, when a singer performs for a troop of surviving soldiers. And “Slow Scripture”—which also won a Hugo and Nebula Award—sees a breast cancer patient healed by a scientist whose creations have been poached by mega corporations. Each story uses sci-fi and horror, sometimes both, to expose the beautiful and ugly truths about humanity.
In the late 21st century, peace comes with the installation of a “micro democracy” in which political parties vie for control over territories of 100,000 people. A new election is just around the corner, and though the reigning party, Heritage, has been the perennial victor, there are whispers of an upset...At the center of it all is a Google-esque organization that not only uses data to analyze each election, but also serves as a gatekeeper for all information. One of the book’s protagonists, Mishima, is an employee here, while the others are undercover agents for Heritage’s rival party or anarchists wanting to derail the government entirely. We see the election unfold through their eyes, as each one strives to achieve their own aims in a world that has become increasingly unstable.
The Punch Escrow
The 2100s are looking pretty good: Technological advancements have stopped aging, eliminated air pollution, and given rise to advanced AIs. Teleportation is also ultra-popular, a commodity that Joel Byram—an AI trainer with a strained marriage and a penchant for 20th century music—uses with little success when he tries to go on his second honeymoon. Rather than arriving at his intended destination, the device duplicates Joel instead. This threatens to expose the damning secrets of the corporation controlling teleportation—and also places a big fat target on Joel’s back(s). While Escrow’s musings on the ethics and consequences of technology would be perfect fodder for Black Mirror, the book is already being adapted into a feature film!
Super Sad True Love Story
This New York Times bestseller falls into the same vein as the aforementioned “Hang the DJ,” or “San Junpiero,” as it explores a tech-obsessed society through the lense of a love story. Shteyngart paints a picture of a plausible future, in which everyone broadcasts and rates their lives—eliminating privacy while elevating the value of external appearance (think “Nosedive”). Because of this, Lenny Abramov is something of an outsider. He’s middle-aged, he’s ugly, and he's still a fan of print books. Things look up when he meets the much younger Eunice, whose modern know-how promises to bring Lenny out of his slump and into the present century. But in a time when the economy is collapsing and nothing is real, is there any hope for romance? Hint: Check out the title.
Wolf in White Van
Featuring a similar plot to season four’s “USS Callister,” this novel features outcast Sean Phillips, who's channeled his feelings of isolation into game design. Trace Italian is his masterpiece—a roleplaying experience reminiscent of Dungeons & Dragons. Text-based and sent through snail mail, players of Trace Italian fight for their survival in a dystopian America by making smart choices in tricky situations. But when two teenagers, Lance and Carrie, become too invested in the game—resulting in a horrific tragedy—it’s Sean who pays the price. Like “USS Callister,” Darnielle's debut explores the dark powers of fantasy, escapism, and loneliness on the human mind.
You’re probably familiar with Gibson’s magnum opus, Neuromancer, but this lesser-known technothriller is an equally fascinating entrant in the author’s canon. Cayce is a marketing consultant of the future—a woman with an uncanny ability to predict The Next Hot Thing. The firm, Blue Ant, wants her help in identifying the unique appeal and original source of a series of fragmented video clips that have become the latest underground sensation. As Cayce embarks on a globe-trotting adventure and becomes ensnared in a web of conspiracy, she’s also haunted by memories of her father’s disappearance on 9/11...Pattern Recognition seems especially relevant in 2018, when everyone is obsessed with creating the next viral hit and capturing the zeitgeist.
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Featured still from "Black Mirror" via Netflix