Ever notice how dystopias tend to fast-forward past the part where civilized society actually devolves into joyless totalitarianism? Before you crack the book or press play on the movie, the cities are already made over in brutalist concrete chic and all of the citizens stroll the streets in the latest government-gray tunics.

The alternative, of course, is a gradual downfall, as in Doris Lessing’s aching The Memoirs of a Survivor (1974) or AMC’s trudging Walking Dead franchise, both of which use “things just keep getting grimmer” as a narrative arc, to varying degrees of success.

The world is already shot to hell at the start of Yegeny Zamyatin’s 1924 dystopian masterpiece We, which was critical of the Soviet regime that birthed it and wasn’t officially available in the author’s home country until half a century after his death. Reading the latest edition of We — newly translated by Bela Shayevich with a foreword by Margaret Atwood — the book’s themes of groupthink, intrusive surveillance, and manufactured “happiness” are recognizable from the great dystopias that came later. Orwell read an English translation of We before writing 1984, and Aldous Huxley read 1984 before writing Brave New World.

Dave Eggers’ new novel The Every, a “companion” to 2014′s The Circle, is something of slow-burn dystopia, depending on your perspective. Many of its beats are overt extrapolations of society circa right now, specifically the way we freely donate our data to companies that sell it on the downlow. We might be the frogs who don’t know the water’s about to boil.

That’s what Eggers seems to be saying; the titular Every is a tech panopticon — think Google, Amazon, and, uh, Meta, all knotted together — watching the people with a trillion cameras, assessing them with infallible algorithms. If there’s a hero here it’s Delaney, a new hire planning to destroy the company from within, but the perks of working for the Every are endlessly tempting, and seemingly all of her coworkers have bought into the culture 100%.

That’s one way in which Eggers’ vision of the future conflicts with our present: Where are the cynics? Where’s the exhaustion? Most everybody I know feels like a drop in the social media mop bucket, not a cog in a shiny Swiss watch.

Regardless, here are some new books for all us drops and cogs to check out before we’re uploaded to the cloud.

» We by Yegeny Zamyatin, translated by Bela Shayevich (Ecco, $16.99, out now) Buy it now on bookshop.org

» The Every by Dave Eggers (McSweeney’s, $28, out now) Buy it now on bookshop.org | Borrow it from the Free Library

1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows, by Ai Weiwei

In the United States, Ai Weiwei may be best known for designing that curvy, organic Beijing National Stadium, aka The Bird’s Nest, architectural star of the ‘08 Summer Olympics. In the eyes of the Chinese government, however, Weiwei is a very dangerous man. His large-scale sculptures, installations, and films are often sublime, striking, and politically charged in ways that may not seem obvious — blanketing a Munich museum in backpacks, spreading 100 million hand-painted porcelain sunflower seeds on the floor of a museum in London — but at home he’s been censored, beaten, imprisoned, and wiped off the internet. Now essentially living in exile in Europe, the 64-year-old Weiwei delivers this remarkable memoir of a life and career that have been both an adventure and a struggle. (Crown, $32, out now)

» Buy it now on bookshop.org | Borrow it from the Free Library

Our Country Friends, by Gary Shteyngart

Apparently Gary Shteyngart — author of world-dismantling satires like Absurdistan and Super Sad True Love Story — had partway written his next one when COVID-19 hit and gave him a real apocalypse to work with. Alarmed and inspired, he scrapped it and got to work on this funny, biting, and occasionally haunting story of friends who hole up on an upstate New York estate to wait things out and subsequently get a little irritated, impolite, drunk, horny, etc. It might sound a bit tame (and that book jacket is bland as an all-purpose greeting card), but Our Country Friends is the real deal. The New York Times says it’s Shteyngart’s “finest yet,” and Kirkus calls it “The Great American Pandemic Novel.” Too soon? Maybe. But it’s the one to beat. (Random House, $28, out now)

» Buy it now on bookshop.org | Borrow it from the Free Library

Cosmogramma, by Courttia Newland

It’s been quite a year for Black British author Courttia Newland. In April he released the marvelous novel A River Called Time — part bleak speculative fiction set in a ruined London, part alt-history in which Europe never planted a flag on African soil — and now he’s followed it up with a collection that pushes the edges of sci-fi and Africanfuturism. The stories in Cosmogramma deal with class, race, and power imbalance, and more than one of them ends in regime change and/or mass casualties at the hands of renegade robots and/or mutant children. Sound grim? It can be, but Newland’s cinematic storytelling and sense for justice often leave you feeling like things turned out the way they should. (Akashic Books, $25.95, out now)

» Buy it now on bookshop.org | Borrow it from the Free Library

Lemon, by Kwon Yeo-Sun

Like a lot of crime stories, “true” and otherwise, this one starts with the death of the prettiest girl in town. But after the initial frenzy of eulogizing and speculating — who saw Hae-on last, who coveted her, who resented her, etc. — the case goes cold but we’re left with an interesting cast of characters: the sketchy dude with an alibi, the homely sibling, the classmate who acts like they knew her better than they did, and so on. In her English-language debut, longtime Korean novelist Kwon Yeo-Sun has crafted both a head-scratching whodunit and a shrewd, swift comment on privilege, justice, and the ripple effects of trauma. (Other Press, $20, out now)

» Buy it now on bookshop.org | Borrow it from the Free Library

The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story, edited by Nikole Hannah-Jones

Ambitious, enlightening, controversial, and sometimes deeply triggering, the New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project aims to reinsert Black people into U.S. history — a narrative from which their contributions and stories have often been diminished or ignored. “At school, I searched desperately to find myself in the American story we were taught,” writes editor Nikole Hannah-Jones in the preface to this collection of essays, fiction and poetry. “We appeared only where unavoidable.” The 600-page A New Origin Story features an impressive list of contributors, including Jamelle Bouie, Ibram X. Kendi, Honoree Fanone Jeffers, Jesmyn Ward, Kiese Laymon, and Sonia Sanchez. Hannah-Jones will discuss the book at the Parkway Central Library on Nov. 17. (One World, $38, Nov. 16)

» Buy it now on bookshop.org | Borrow it from the Free Library

Others to consider

Music Is History, by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson

A lifetime of music-making and crate-digging informs The Roots bandleader/filmmaker/author’s joyful examination of music from 1971 to the present. (Pro-tip: The audiobook’s got the music built into the experience). (Abrams, $29.99, out now) Buy it now on bookshop.org | Borrow it from the Free Library

Chasing Homer, by László Krasznahorkai

Each chapter of this slim, haunting manhunt novel comes with a QR code connecting readers to art and music that enhances the experience. There’s some weird, intense energy here. (New Directions, $19.95, out now) Buy it now on bookshop.org | Borrow it from the Free Library

Will, by Will Smith

There are no advance copies of the hometown hero’s memoir but it probably starts with “West Philadelphia, born and raised” and then gets into all the rap star/TV star/movie star stuff. Smith will celebrate the book release with an “evening of stories with friends” at The Met on Nov. 8. (Penguin Press, $30, Nov. 9) Buy it now on bookshop.org

The Perishing, by Natashia Deón

Using lush sentences and dexterous mythmaking, the L.A.-based author tells a story of love and justice in this time-skipping historical novel set in her hometown. (Counterpoint, $26, Nov. 9) Buy it now on bookshop.org | Borrow it from the Free Library

Termination Shock, by Neal Stephenson

The author of Snowcrash, Cryptonomicon, et al., delivers another wild sci-fi epic, this one about a world ravaged by climate upheaval and a “billionaire restaurant chain magnate” who thinks he can fix it. (William Morrow, $35, Nov. 16) Buy it now on bookshop.org | Borrow it from the Free Library

More books to come

Look for Patrick Rapa’s monthly roundup of great reads on Inquirer.com and in the Sunday Inquirer.