In 2016, Naomi Alderman’s novel The Power, a radical vision of what could happen if women became the physically dominant sex, offered transformative ideas about gender and supremacy. Now, Alderman offers readers a plausible world-to-come in The Future, a daring, sexy, thrilling novel that may be the most wryly funny book about the end of civilization you’ll ever read.
As a teenager, Martha Einkorn left her father’s back-to-nature cult on the Northwest coast to become the personal assistant to a powerful social media entrepreneur. Lai Zhen survived the destruction of Hong Kong and a year in a refugee camp to become a survivalist influencer. When these two women meet, the attraction is immediate, but their romance is put on hold as news reports stream in of an impending apocalypse.
The Future is awash with tech billionaires, preppers and an anxious population easily swayed by algorithms. It follows executives Lenk Sketlish, founder of the social network Fantail; Zimri Nommik, who runs the largest online retailer Anvil; and Ellen Bywater, who heads Medlar, a leading PC company. These powerful techies have spared no expense to create safe havens for themselves and are ready to leave the rest of the world to face destruction.
The billionaires’ plan is thwarted by a band of rebels led by Martha and Zhen, including Ellen’s nonbinary child Badger Bywater and Zimri’s soon-to-be kicked to the curb wife Selah Nommik, who also happens to be a genius coder. With their combined expertise and shared conviction of bettering our world rather than manipulating it for their own ends, this group may just save civilization after all.
That Alderman keeps the plot moving forward despite constant shifts in perspective and time is a testament to her creative skills as a writer and a game developer. The novel never slides into parody, despite the three rather clever parallels to some of our real-life billionaires and tech leaders. Clearly, Alderman cares deeply about our future and believes that we already have the skills in place to course-correct. By the end of the novel, you might too.