Hide table of contents

 The Handmaid's Tale, The Testaments - Margaret Atwood 

Looks at authoritarianism. Also topical with Trump's appointment of Amy Coney Barrett. Loved both books. 

Oryx and Crake, Year of the Flood, Maddaddam  - Margaret Atwood

Looks at bioengineering, inequality, and catastrophic collapse and recovery. Really liked this trilogy - which should be read in order. 

Consider Phlebas, The Player of Games - Iain M. Banks

CP was really dreadful - a man bashes around and every woman is either working out topless or in love with him. The action scenes are really boring too. The Player of Games is much better (though it's essentially the same as Herman Hesse's The Glass Bead Game). 

Solaris - Stanislaw Lem

Some dudes hang out on a space station and are kind-of haunted by a superintelligent sea they're observing. Pretty trippy and where 'music we lack the ears to hear' is lifted from

Permutation City - Greg Egan

Pretty dense but interesting discussion of what life would be like in a world of copies. A bit blokey but a thought provoking read. Most of the technical stuff went over my head but I don't think it matters. 

The Three Body Problem, The Dark Forest, Death's End - Cixin Liu

Another fun trilogy. The physics I think is pretty wack, but it's fun anyway (collapsing dimensions, nuclear explosions to accelerate ships through hyperspace, anyone?). 

Dune - Herbert Simon

I think maybe the best book on the list. Such an engrossing world. Gotta love those fremen. 

1984 - George Orwell

Enduring classic, and seems important to me today.  

Brave New World, Island - Aldous Huxley

BNW is totally wrong and Huxley thought so later in his life. It's still fun to read though. Island atones for this with lots of speeches about the glories of civilisation. Island barely has any plot - characters just lecture each other on how the Island is set up, but it's still great and is a 180 turn on BNW. 

Zero K - Don Delillo

A negative recommendation - don't read this. It's so boring and I think his main point is to poke fun at cryo people within the veil of a fancy novel. 

Black Mirror

Ok, not a book but several episodes I thought were great, particularly San Junipero. 

Exhalation - Ted Chiang

I loved the stuff about memory, and the robots that get slower. A great read and I think cool ideas too. Also they're short stories which I think are often underrated. 




Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 12:14 AM

For a really excellent critique of the broader trope represented by the Fremen, I recommend the entertaining and informative post series The Fremen Mirage on the blog A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry. The author describes the mirage as having a few components:

  1. People in less settled or ‘civilized’ societies are made inherently ‘tougher’ by those hard conditions.
  2. Consequently, people from these less settled societies are better fighters and more militarily capable than their settled or wealthier neighboring societies.
  3. That, consequently the poorer, harder people will inevitably overrun and subjugate the richer, more prosperous communities around them.
  4. That the consequence of the previous three things is that history supposedly could be understood as an inevitable cycle, where peoples in harder, poorer places conquer their richer neighbors, become rich and ‘decadent’ themselves, lose their fighting capacity and are conquered in their turn.

I think this is a common trope that's sufficiently ahistorical as to be misleading, which seemed worth flagging on a list of fiction for people thinking about possible long-run futures.

Fascinating, thanks for sharing!

I recently read Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon after a conversation in which someone said that it inspired them to think about longtermism related ideas way before they had heard of effective altruism.

It covers a fictionalised history of the universe from the beginning to end, more like a documentary or a textbook than a novel with characters and plot. It's from the point of view of someone who is picked up from a hill in England and then moved around the galaxy and observes other civilisations in a variety of  times throughout the life of the universe.

It's written in 1937 and was said to inspire people like Arthur C. Clarke, Freeman Dyson and Jorge Luis Borges and includes speculation on civilisational unity and collapse, space exploration, metaverse, future technology, genetic engineering and existential risks.

Thanks! Did you think it was worth a read?

It's sometimes a bit of a slog but also relatively short and I was constantly impressed by the scope of the book and the variety of interesting ideas for something written in the 1930's.

Given the inclusion of space opera like Dune, I recommend including Vinge's work like A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness In the Sky. These deal with the long term consequences of intelligence explosion, albeit one in a world with slightly different physics than ours (or so it seems given our limited information; Vinge is careful to construct it in a way such that I think we can't be certain today our universe is not like the one he depicts in the books).

I'd also include Niven's Ringworld. Not obvious this is longtermist at first, but deep into the book that changes (not much more I can say without spoilers if you're hoping to read it).

Thank you very much for creating this list! 

Related, see the contributions in this thread. Books recommended there which you did not mention:

Would you mind me adding yours to this question? Or would you prefer to do it yourself?

I don't think any of the protagonists / characters in these books are "an EA" (whatever that means) in the way that question seems to be looking for. 

I think that's a typo. I think it's means to be "on EA".

Interesting. OK, I added a link to this as an answer. Thanks for suggesting!

RE: "Consider Phlebas, The Player of Games - Iain M. Banks"

I would second your ordering of PoG>CP. To add to the ordering: IMO "The Use of Weapons" is also not a really good book from a longtermist point of view, while "Excession" is a great read (so I guess: Excession>PoG>TUoW>CP).

I would be interested in what other people thought about the rest of the books of the culture series - are there some books that are much better than others?

+1 to not reading Consider Phlebas. I've been reading it because I wanted to check out the Culture series and I was compulsive about starting with the first one even though I heard others were better.

I haven't gotten much out of it and think it was a mistake. 

Yep, skip Phlebas at first - but do come back to it later, because despite being silly and railroading, it is the clearest depiction of the series' main theme, which is people's need for Taylorian strong evaluation, the dissatisfaction of unlimited pleasure and freedom, liberalism as unstoppable, unanswerable assimilator.

I wrote a longtermist critique of the Culture here.

Surface Detail is about desperately trying to prevent an s-risk. Excession is the best on most axes.

Excession, Surface Detail and The Hydrogen Sonata are the three I'd recommend from a longtermist perspective.

Consider Phlebas is (by some margin) the worst novel in the series. It's a shame it seems like the obvious place to start.

More from Ben
Curated and popular this week
Relevant opportunities