Photo: Sam Cole
P.W. Singer ’97 has written several nonfiction books about national security and the military and has been called “the premier futurist in the national-security environment,” by The Wall Street Journal. In May, Singer and co-author August Cole published Burn-In: A Novel of the Real Robotic Revolution, a book that uses the techno-thriller format to explain AI and the future. Singer, who is also a senior fellow at the New America think tank, provided PAW with three other works of fiction that he believes speak to our real world today and tomorrow. 

It Can’t Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis Published in 1935, Lewis’ novel was written as both satire and warning. In the midst of hard times, the United States elects a populist wrapping himself in a combination of fear, false promises, and faux values. Once in power, the leader undermines each of the bedrock institutions of a democracy, from rule of law to an apolitical military, and uses paramilitary forces to go after minorities and domestic protesters. And soon, what was thought impossible to happen in the U.S. has happened. 

The Three Body Problem, by Cixin Liu (translation by Ken Liu) COVID-19 may have started in China, but China has come out of it more influential and more assertive on the global stage. The repercussions will shape everything from the next decade of geopolitics to the technology you use at work and home. Cixin Liu’s bestselling science-fiction trilogy of the world after an alien invasion captures this vision. Though it was first published in China in 2008, today’s reader will find many telling echoes in the tale of China confidently taking advantage of a crisis, while the U.S. bungles its response. 

 Agency, by William Gibson Gibson envisioned cyberspace and cyberpunk culture in the ’80s and ’90s, and his latest novel may be just as prescient. Agency tells a heist-type story of a group of techies, publicists, hipsters, and hackers all racing to shape the future of a digital-assistant AI that you access through your glasses. Yet the real driver is “the Jackpot,” a slow-moving ecological disaster that has remade the world. A character in this future asks about (our) life before a global environmental collapse from the accumulated effects of pollution and climate change: “‘Did we ever come to terms with the sheer cluelessness of it?”