The stuff of science fiction has become our staff of life. Mobile phones, genetic modification, 3-D printing — we’re now accustomed to these miracles, but even 10 years past the tech gold rush, stories about Silicon Valley still fascinate us.
Several 2018 novels show different approaches to life in the wired lane. Funny, sad, scary, creepy and sometimes all of the above, these books will make you think about how much of our time is devoted to the digital world.
“Sophia of Silicon Valley,” by Anna Yen (William Morrow)
Anna Yen has worked with Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, experiences that charge her fun debut novel with special insight on Silicon Valley. Sophia, her unusual hero, has some personal challenges that complicate her professional ambitions: She’s a Type 1 diabetic whose successful first-generation immigrant parents worry about her blood sugar and her game face in equal measure. A fascinating insider’s look that also succeeds as a roman à clef.
“Sociable,” by Rebecca Harrington (Doubleday)
Elinor Tomlinson, the main character in Rebecca Harrington’s extremely funny new novel, has recently been dumped by her journalism-school boyfriend. While he got a “real” gig with an online news source, she has resigned to working for Journalism.ly, creating clickbait-y lists (like this one). Harrington’s novel starts out in the “Go, girl!” vein but ultimately covers more difficult territory as Elinor negotiates the new world of content — and the content of her new world.
“The Glitch,” by Elisabeth Cohen (Doubleday, May 22)
Shelley Stone, CEO of Conch, has a doppelganger hanging around, a somewhat-younger Shelley who has access to adult Shelley’s intimate information. That’s especially scary because Conch’s behind-the-ear device provides a user’s medical, motivational, personal and social data. Cohen details Big Tech precisely, from deskside snacks and drugs (almonds, Ativan) to upstairs vs. downstairs (C-suite, shipping). But the best part of her novel is its global view on gadgetry. When Shelley decides to follow her nose — okay, her ear — from home to halfway around the world, she discovers something that not even her Conch can figure out.
“Tell the Machine Goodnight,” by Katie Williams (Riverhead, June 19)
Pearl works at Apricity, where a machine tells people what will make them happy: “Go for long walks. Take a class in book binding. Remove the color yellow from your home.” Recommendations differ for each customer, but those who take the advice seem more content. At home, though, things are less content for Pearl. Her son seems determined to be miserable, refusing to return to school after being hospitalized for an eating disorder. Maybe, just maybe, everyone (including Pearl’s boss) needs to rely less on a device and more on human relationships, especially once the Apricity machine begins handing out strangely dark commands.
“The Feed,” by Nick Clark Windo (William Morrow)
Imagine a mash-up of “Black Mirror” episodes in post-apocalyptic Britain after the breakdown of a near-universal network known as the Feed. It runs inside users’ heads, allowing them to access “mundles” (memory bundles), truly instant messaging, search capacities and more. The man who founded the Feed used his family as test subjects, and he has developed a healthy distrust of the service. But his wife and most other people use it like addicts. When it stops working? All hell breaks loose.
“The Oracle Year,” by Charles Soule (Harper Perennial)
Some will recognize Soule's name from his best-selling comic books, including “Daredevil, “She-Hulk” and “Death of Wolverine.” But anyone will enjoy this comically fast-paced tale about Will Dando, who wakes up one day with 108 wacky and world-shattering predictions. Knowing how much power this gives him, he sets up a website called Oracle.com and parcels out the forecasts. He and his best friend make billions from market manipulations, but before they can enjoy their Swiss bank accounts, world leaders and gangsters are after them.
“Mother of Invention,” by Caeli Wolfson Widger (Little A, May 22)
Would you volunteer for a clinical trial in which human gestation collapses from nine months to nine weeks? Tessa Callahan, the frazzled CEO of Seahorse Solutions, has three such volunteers at her Silicon Valley “incubator,” but the women respond in quite different ways to their not-so-delicate conditions. When one pregnancy challenges the trial’s strict norms, Tessa must choose between her blind ambition and her eyes-wide-open experiment. It’s funny, sad, scary, thoughtful and essential for anyone who has ever said of a working mother, “I don’t know how she does it.”
Bethanne Patrick is the editor, most recently, of “The Books That Changed My Life: Reflections by 100 Authors, Actors, Musicians and Other Remarkable People.”