In my second epic fantasy novel, Violya (In the Heart of the Mountains #2), we learn more about the nation of Troglo and the Trogrs, or cave creatures. The Trogrs are desperate, as for years their fertility has been in trouble, with a slow decline in the birth of females and then a drop off altogether, with only male babies being conceived and born.
This concept of fertility evolving or failing is an interesting one to think about – what would we do? What would happen if suddenly the fertility rate dropped off, or only male or female babies were being born, or if only a select few were fertile? For the survival of the race, would we force fertile people to procreate? Would we have to find other animals or alien lifeforms close to humans to attempt to breed with? Would we turn to cloning ourselves to keep the race going? Desperate times call for desperate measures… how far would we go?
What would happen if we had to deal with infertility is such an open question, and I find it fascinating, so I thought I’d have a look for dystopian, fantasy and science fiction novels that explore this theme in more detail to add to my tbr list.
I hit the internet to come up with this list of 20 speculative fiction books with a focus on infertility that I’d like to read – in no particular order.
(Blurbs and front cover images from Goodreads/Amazon).
1) The Handmaid's Tale (The Handmaid's Tale #1) by Margaret Atwood
Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read.
She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable.
Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge.
But all of that is gone now…
My note: This is a classic that everyone should read! I read it years ago and loved it. I’ve been meaning to re-read it, especially now with the TV series and second book out…
2) The Testaments (The Handmaid's Tale #2) by Margaret Atwood
In this brilliant sequel to The Handmaid's Tale, acclaimed author Margaret Atwood answers the questions that have tantalized readers for decades.
When the van door slammed on Offred's future at the end of The Handmaid's Tale, readers had no way of telling what lay ahead for her--freedom, prison or death.
With The Testaments, the wait is over.
Margaret Atwood's sequel picks up the story more than fifteen years after Offred stepped into the unknown, with the explosive testaments of three female narrators from Gilead.
3) The Women's War (The Women's War #1) by Jenna Glass
In a high fantasy feminist epic, a revolutionary spell gives women the ability to control their own fertility—with consequences that rock their patriarchal society to its core.
When a nobleman’s first duty is to produce a male heir, women are treated like possessions and bargaining chips. But as the aftereffects of a world-altering spell ripple out physically and culturally, women at last have a bargaining chip of their own. And two women in particular find themselves at the crossroads of change.
Alys is the widowed mother of two teenage children, and the disinherited daughter of a king. Her existence has been carefully proscribed, but now she discovers a fierce talent not only for politics but also for magic—once deemed solely the domain of men. Meanwhile, in a neighboring kingdom, young Ellin finds herself unexpectedly on the throne after the sudden death of her grandfather the king and everyone else who stood ahead of her in the line of succession. Conventional wisdom holds that she will marry quickly, then quietly surrender the throne to her new husband…. Only, Ellin has other ideas.
The tensions building in the two kingdoms grow abruptly worse when a caravan of exiled women and their escort of disgraced soldiers stumbles upon a new source of magic in what was once uninhabitable desert. This new and revolutionary magic—which only women can wield—threatens to tear down what is left of the patriarchy. And the men who currently hold power will do anything to fight back.
4) The Shore of Women by Pamela Sargent
After a nuclear holocaust, women rule the world. Using advanced technology, they’ve expelled men from their vast walled cities to roam the countryside in primitive bands, bringing them back only for the purpose of loveless reproduction under the guise of powerful goddesses.
When one young woman, Birana, questions her society’s deception, she finds herself exiled among the very men she has been taught to scorn. She crosses paths with a hunter, Arvil, and the two grow close as they evade the ever-threatening female forces and the savage wilderness men. Their love just might mend their fractured world—if they manage to survive.
My note: This novel also appears in my 20 SFF books with a matriarchal society round-up - I really should read it soon!
5) The Children of Men by P.D. James
The Children of Men is a story of a world with no children and no future. The human race has become infertile, and the last generation to be born is now adult. Civilization itself is crumbling as suicide and despair become commonplace.
Oxford historian Theodore Faron, apathetic toward a future without a future, spends most of his time reminiscing. Then he is approached by Julian, a bright, attractive woman who wants him to help get her an audience with his cousin, the powerful Warden of England.
She and her band of unlikely revolutionaries may just awaken his desire to live... and they may also hold the key to survival for the human race.
6) The Quiet at the End of the World by Lauren James
How far would you go to save those you love?
Lowrie and Shen are the youngest people on the planet after a virus caused global infertility. Closeted in a pocket of London and doted upon by a small, ageing community, the pair spend their days mudlarking for artefacts from history and looking for treasure in their once-opulent mansion.
Their idyllic life is torn apart when a secret is uncovered that threatens not only their family but humanity’s entire existence. Lowrie and Shen face an impossible choice: in the quiet at the end of the world, they must decide who to save and who to sacrifice…
7) The Price of Spring (Long Price Quartet #4) by Daniel Abraham
Fifteen years have passed since the devastating war between the Galt Empire and the cities of the Khaiem in which the Khaiem’s poets and their magical power known as “andat” were destroyed, leaving the women of the Khaiem and the men of Galt infertile.
The emperor of the Khaiem tries to form a marriage alliance between his son and the daughter of a Galtic lord, hoping the Khaiem men and Galtic women will produce a new generation to help create a peaceful future.
But Maati, a poet who has been in hiding for years, driven by guilt over his part in the disastrous end of the war, defies tradition and begins training female poets. With Eiah, the emperor’s daughter, helping him, he intends to create andat, to restore the world as it was before the war.
Vanjit, a woman haunted by her family’s death in the war, creates a new andat. But hope turns to ashes as her creation unleashes a power that cripples all she touches.
As the prospect of peace dims under the lash of Vanjit’s creation, Maati and Eiah try to end her reign of terror. But time is running out for both the Galts and the Khaiem.
My note: Yep, this is the fourth book in a series, but does sound like a pretty cool fantasy! Perhaps skip the first three and just read this one? (I won't tell if you don't!)
8) The Farm by Joanne Ramos
Nestled in the Hudson Valley is a sumptuous retreat boasting every amenity: organic meals, private fitness trainers, daily massages—and all of it for free. In fact, you get paid big money—more than you've ever dreamed of—to spend a few seasons in this luxurious locale. The catch? For nine months, you belong to the Farm. You cannot leave the grounds; your every move is monitored. Your former life will seem a world away as you dedicate yourself to the all-consuming task of producing the perfect baby for your überwealthy clients.
Jane, an immigrant from the Philippines and a struggling single mother, is thrilled to make it through the highly competitive Host selection process at the Farm. But now pregnant, fragile, consumed with worry for her own young daughter's well-being, Jane grows desperate to reconnect with her life outside. Yet she cannot leave the Farm or she will lose the life-changing fee she'll receive on delivery—or worse.
Heartbreaking, suspenseful, provocative, The Farm pushes our thinking on motherhood, money, and merit to the extremes, and raises crucial questions about the trade-offs women will make to fortify their futures and the futures of those they love.
My note: When fertility meets capitalism... what could go wrong?!
9) When the Floods Came by Clare Morrall
A taut, gripping novel set in the future, when the lives of a family existing on the margins of a dramatically changed society are upset by a mysterious stranger.
In a world prone to violent flooding, Britain, ravaged 20 years earlier by a deadly virus, has been largely cut off from the rest of the world. Survivors are few and far between, most of them infertile. Children, the only hope for the future, are a rare commodity.
For 22-year-old Roza Polanski, life with her family in their isolated tower block is relatively comfortable. She's safe, happy enough. But when a stranger called Aashay Kent arrives, everything changes. At first he's a welcome addition, his magnetism drawing the Polanskis out of their shells, promising an alternative to a lonely existence. But Roza can't shake the feeling that there's more to Aashay than he's letting on. Is there more to life beyond their isolated bubble? Is it true that children are being kidnapped? And what will it cost to find out?
10) Dawn (Xenogenesis #1) by Octavia E. Butler
Lilith Iyapo has just lost her husband and son when atomic fire consumes Earth—the last stage of the planet’s final war. Hundreds of years later Lilith awakes, deep in the hold of a massive alien spacecraft piloted by the Oankali—who arrived just in time to save humanity from extinction. They have kept Lilith and other survivors asleep for centuries, as they learned whatever they could about Earth. Now it is time for Lilith to lead them back to her home world, but life among the Oankali on the newly resettled planet will be nothing like it was before.
The Oankali survive by genetically merging with primitive civilizations—whether their new hosts like it or not. For the first time since the nuclear holocaust, Earth will be inhabited. Grass will grow, animals will run, and people will learn to survive the planet’s untamed wilderness. But their children will not be human. Not exactly.
My note: Octavia E. Butler also features on my blog: 25 SFF books with interesting takes on gender and this series sounds awesome, especially the second book...
11) Adulthood Rites (Xenogenesis #2) by Octavia E. Butler
In this sequel to Dawn, Lilith Iyapo has given birth to what looks like a normal human boy named Akin. But Akin actually has five parents: a male and female human, a male and female Oankali, and a sexless Ooloi. The Oankali and Ooloi are part of an alien race that rescued humanity from a devastating nuclear war, but the price they exact is a high one the aliens are compelled to genetically merge their species with other races, drastically altering both in the process.
On a rehabilitated Earth, this "new" race is emerging through human/Oankali/Ooloi mating, but there are also "pure" humans who choose to resist the aliens and the salvation they offer.These resisters are sterilized by the Ooloi so that they cannot reproduce the genetic defect that drives humanity to destroy itself, but otherwise they are left alone (unless they become violent).
When the resisters kidnap young Akin, the Oankali choose to leave the child with his captors, for he the most "human" of the Oankali children will decide whether the resisters should be given back their fertility and freedom, even though they will only destroy themselves again.
12) Y The Last Man Book One (Y: The Last Man 1) by Brian K. Vaughan
"Y" is none other than unemployed escape artist Yorick Brown (his father was a Shakespeare buff), and he's seemingly the only male human left alive after a mysterious plague kills all Y-chromosome carriers on earth.
But why are he and his faithful companion, the often testy male monkey Ampersand, still alive? He sets out to find the answer (and his girlfriend), while running from angry female Republicans (now running the government), Amazon wannabes that include his own sister (seemingly brainwashed), and other threats.
My note: this graphic novel looks suuuper fun.
13) High Couch of Silistra (Silistra #1) by Janet E. Morris
Dystopian. Biology shapes reality... One woman's mythic search for self-realization in a distant tomorrow... Her sensuality was at the core of her world, her quest beyond the civilized stars. Aristocrat. Outcast. Picara. Slave. Ruler.
My note: yep, so the blurb is pretty vague, but one Goodreads reviewer thankfully makes things a lot clearer - "The men and women living on Silistra are governed by a hierarchy of sexual desire and fertility. Infertility is a widespread issue that allows the most sexually appealing women the greatest power."
14) The Johnson Project by Maggie Spence
In 2017 every woman on the planet is barren. No more babies. No more human race unless someone can cure the virus and jump start the population. Priorities change drastically as people realize they are the last generation on earth.
Renowned fertility specialist, Ted Johnson, comes up with a cure but he’s not so sure he wants to go back to the old reproductive ways. His family initiates The Johnson Project in order to weed out potentially bad parents so that all future children are born to loving and prepared mommies and daddies. Interested applicants have to qualify and prove they are fit to raise a child.
The project practically guarantees a brighter future for everyone, except, of course, those who don’t make the cut.
15) Something Down There by Nancy Widrew
Horror erupts when newlyweds, Karen and Jeremy, cross paths with members of a diabolical cult inside a West Virginia cave.
Living below the earth’s surface has triggered mutations, rendering the cult members nearly infertile. Their leader, a wild-eyed, cunning brute, refuses to let the couple leave, believing they and their potential offspring hold the key to surviving underground.
Are Karen and Jeremy doomed to spend their lives inside this sunless, subterranean wasteland, or do they escape before their minds shatter and their bodies betray them?
My note: So this one caught my eye because it's a group of people living in caves and they 'capture' healthy breeders... similar in a way to the Troglo nation in my novel Violya!
16) Who Runs the World? by Virginia Bergin
In a society where women rule and men are almost extinct, River discovers a dark secret that will change her world as she knows it…
Sixty years ago, a virus wiped out almost all men on Earth. Now women run the world, and men are kept in repopulation facilities, safe from the deadly virus. At least, that's what everyone has been led to believe…until River discovers a young man on a country road—injured but alive. Mason has been outside for five days since escaping from his facility, and no one can understand how he has survived.
Hiding the boy violates the rules of their world, but as the women of the town band together to try to save him, River begins to suspect that the truth behind Mason's existence is darker than she could have imagined.
17) Bumped (Bumped #1) by Megan McCafferty
When a virus makes everyone over the age of eighteen infertile, would-be parents pay teen girls to conceive and give birth to their children, making teens the most prized members of society. Girls sport fake baby bumps and the school cafeteria stocks folic-acid-infused food.
Sixteen-year-old identical twins Melody and Harmony were separated at birth and have never met until the day Harmony shows up on Melody’s doorstep. Up to now, the twins have followed completely opposite paths. Melody has scored an enviable conception contract with a couple called the Jaydens. While they are searching for the perfect partner for Melody to bump with, she is fighting her attraction to her best friend, Zen, who is way too short for the job.
Harmony has spent her whole life in Goodside, a religious community, preparing to be a wife and mother. She believes her calling is to convince Melody that pregging for profit is a sin. But Harmony has secrets of her own that she is running from.
When Melody is finally matched with the world-famous, genetically flawless Jondoe, both girls’ lives are changed forever. A case of mistaken identity takes them on a journey neither could have ever imagined, one that makes Melody and Harmony realize they have so much more than just DNA in common.
18) Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm
The spellbinding story of an isolated post-holocaust community determined to preserve itself, through a perilous experiment in cloning. Sweeping, dramatic, rich with humanity, and rigorous in its science, Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang is widely regarded as a high point of both humanistic & hard SF.
My note: Another vague description, but thank goodness for Goodreads reviewers, one helpfully explains - “This book starts with an environmental apocalypse. Due to radiation and other environmental issues, humanity and animals are becoming infertile and crop failures are causing famines. The rest of the book is about how a group of survivors try to ensure humanity’s survival, and the consequences of their chosen method.”
19) Before She Sleeps by Bina Shah
In modern, beautiful Green City, the capital of South West Asia, gender selection, war and disease have brought the ratio of men to women to alarmingly low levels. The government uses terror and technology to control its people, and women must take multiple husbands to have children as quickly as possible.
Yet there are women who resist, women who live in an underground collective and refuse to be part of the system. Secretly protected by the highest echelons of power, they emerge only at night, to provide to the rich and elite of Green City a type of commodity that nobody can buy: intimacy without sex. As it turns out, not even the most influential men can shield them from discovery and the dangers of ruthless punishment.
This dystopian novel from one of Pakistan’s most talented writers is a modern-day parable about women’s lives in repressive Muslim countries everywhere. It takes the patriarchal practices of female seclusion and veiling, gender selection, and control over women’s bodies, amplifies and distorts them in a truly terrifying way to imagine a world of post-religious authoritarianism.
20) Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich
A startling portrait of a young woman fighting for her life and her unborn child against oppressive forces that manifest in the wake of a cataclysmic event.
The world as we know it is ending. Evolution has reversed itself, affecting every living creature on earth. Science cannot stop the world from running backwards, as woman after woman gives birth to infants that appear to be primitive species of humans. Twenty-six-year-old Cedar Hawk Songmaker, adopted daughter of a pair of big-hearted, open-minded Minneapolis liberals, is as disturbed and uncertain as the rest of America around her. But for Cedar, this change is profound and deeply personal. She is four months pregnant.
Though she wants to tell the adoptive parents who raised her from infancy, Cedar first feels compelled to find her birth mother, Mary Potts, an Ojibwe living on the reservation, to understand both her and her baby’s origins. As Cedar goes back to her own biological beginnings, society around her begins to disintegrate, fueled by a swelling panic about the end of humanity.
There are rumors of martial law, of Congress confining pregnant women. Of a registry, and rewards for those who turn these wanted women in. Flickering through the chaos are signs of increasing repression: a shaken Cedar witnesses a family wrenched apart when police violently drag a mother from her husband and child in a parking lot. The streets of her neighborhood have been renamed with Bible verses. A stranger answers the phone when she calls her adoptive parents, who have vanished without a trace. It will take all Cedar has to avoid the prying eyes of potential informants and keep her baby safe.
A chilling dystopian novel both provocative and prescient, Future Home of the Living God is a startlingly original work from one of our most acclaimed writers: a moving meditation on female agency, self-determination, biology, and natural rights that speaks to the troubling changes of our time.
Bonus Non-Fiction: Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline by Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson
From the authors of the bestselling The Big Shift, a provocative argument that the global population will soon begin to decline, dramatically reshaping the social, political, and economic landscape.
For half a century, statisticians, pundits, and politicians have warned that a burgeoning planetary population will soon overwhelm the earth's resources. But a growing number of experts are sounding a different kind of alarm. Rather than growing exponentially, they argue, the global population is headed for a steep decline.
Throughout history, depopulation was the product of catastrophe: ice ages, plagues, the collapse of civilizations. This time, however, we're thinning ourselves deliberately, by choosing to have fewer babies than we need to replace ourselves. In much of the developed and developing world, that decline is already underway, as urbanization, women's empowerment, and waning religiosity lead to smaller and smaller families. In Empty Planet, Ibbitson and Bricker travel from South Florida to Sao Paulo, Seoul to Nairobi, Brussels to Delhi to Beijing, drawing on a wealth of research and firsthand reporting to illustrate the dramatic consequences of this population decline--and to show us why the rest of the developing world will soon join in.
They find that a smaller global population will bring with it a number of benefits: fewer workers will command higher wages; good jobs will prompt innovation; the environment will improve; the risk of famine will wane; and falling birthrates in the developing world will bring greater affluence and autonomy for women. But enormous disruption lies ahead, too. We can already see the effects in Europe and parts of Asia, as ageing populations and worker shortages weaken the economy and impose crippling demands on healthcare and social security. The United States is well-positioned to successfully navigate these coming demographic shifts--that is, unless growing isolationism and anti-immigrant backlash lead us to close ourselves off just as openness becomes more critical to our survival than ever before.
Rigorously researched and deeply compelling, Empty Planet offers a vision of a future that we can no longer prevent--but one that we can shape, if we choose.
My note: This non-fiction books sounds fascinating... not specifically about infertility but about what would happen if the global population declined.
There you go! Twenty speculative fiction reads that explore the concept of fertility. Have you read any of these, what did you think? Or if you have any other suggestions, please drop a comment below.
>>My second novel, a grimdark epic fantasy called VIOLYA, includes a nation struggling with infertility. Available from Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Google Play Books, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. Read more about my books here.<<
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