The Help Desk: How about some dystopia to go along with your dystopia?

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

Everybody is always complaining about post-apocalyptic fiction, but just look at where we are now? Kind of prescient, aren’t they?

Do you have any good recommendations for someone who's gone through the most popular YA versions of the genre? What are the deep cuts, here?

J.T., Seward Park

Dear J.T.,

What a topical question. Given that our doomsday clock just ticked closer to global catastrophe, and our new climate of alternative facts suggest global warming is God's blushing pride in our Dear Leader and rape whistles are dinner bells for hot plates of pussy, we're about one loaded sneeze from the post apocalypse.

What do you read to prepare for that?

I don't have the stomach for post-apocalyptic fiction right now – it seems like an unnecessary bummer, like learning that the imprisoned killer whales at Sea World have developed body dysmorphia from working with dolphins for so long – so I've been reading a lot of old Far Side cartoons.

But I do have recommendations for you. First, if you'd like another reason to thank toga-wearing Christ you're not a woman, try reading José Saramago's Blindness. The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi is pretty damn fascinating and much closer than post-apocalyptic – it covers what happens when the southwest runs out of water. I've never read Megan Abbott's The Fever but I've heard really good things and finally, Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling is a rustic survival guide set in the northwest and punctuated with tolerable levels of romance and gore that I enjoyed.

But before you read any of those, I would recommend reading The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. This is the era we live in, this is the true horror that many of our citizens live out, and it's everyone's civic duty to understand how our penal system persecutes people of color. Especially now.