9 Sci-Fi Books, Movies, and Video Games with Ties to Detroit

Experience stories of the future with local connections
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Detroit Become Human is a 2018 narrative-driven video game. // Image courtesy of Quantic Dream

Futuristic concepts like time travel, robots, near future dystopias, cybernetic cityscapes, aliens, and much more make up many of the different themes and tropes present in the science-fiction genre. The city of Detroit and its surrounding areas is also home to plenty of talented creators in the genre, and local spots often serve as the backdrop sci-fi stories. Here are nine different science-fiction stories with Detroit connections.

Detroit: Become Human

Set in a futuristic version of Detroit where androids are made to help assist humanity, video game developer Quantic Dream’s 2018 narrative-driven video game experience, Detroit: Become Human, follows the stories of three different androids. Inspired by films like Blade Runner, Detroit: Become Human explores the implications and blurry lines of what happens when machines made to serve mankind gain sentience and free will of their own. The game is extremely approachable, even to those not familiar with video games, as it is more akin to a movie in which the player has control of the decisions and can affect the outcome of the narrative.

Bird Box

Originally a 2014 novel Josh Malerman, Bird Box was adapted to a Netflix film in 2018 and became the No. 1 most-watched film on the platform until being beat by Red Notice in 2021. Bird Box is a post-apocalyptic thriller in a world ravaged by unseen entities — or rather, all those who have seen the entities no longer live to tell the tale as anyone who does see them is instantly compelled to take their own life. The plot follows a woman who blindfolds herself and her two children as they set out on a journey down river to try and find safety.

Minimum Wage Magic

Minimum Wage Magic by Rachel Aaron blends both fantasy and science fiction into its unique setting of the Detroit Free Zone (DFZ), a magical and futuristic cyberpunk version of the city that is bursting with fantasy creatures, mechanical body augments, and magic spells. The series follows a woman named Opal looking to make a big score working as a cleaner in the seedy and lawless DFZ when her latest job leads her on a wild chase through the city. The DFZ series is a spin-off of Aaron’s previous series Heartstrikers, set 20 years in the future. However, no previous knowledge of Heartstrikers is needed to enjoy this adventure.

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Aerial_Knight’s Never Yield is a video game by Detroit native Neil Jones. // Image courtesy of Neil Jones

Aerial_Knight’s Never Yield

Detroit native, video game developer, and 3D artist Neil Jones, also known as “Aerial_Knight,” released Aerial_Knight’s Never Yield in 2021. The game is a celebration of Black culture and Black creators. It stars a young man named Wally as he survives in a futuristic, hyper-neon Detroit after finding evidence that could dramatically impact the city. The game has simple-to-learn controls that make it good for beginners as well as lots of room for challenges that will keep players of all skill levels engaged.

Robocop

The 1987 film is set in a dystopian future of Detroit ruled by the sinister mega-corporation Omni Consumer Products and its privatized Detroit police force. Detroit Police Officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) dies in a violent takedown operation of the crime lord known as Boddicker and is brought back to life as a powerful cyborg. The movie is considered among many diehard sci-fi fans to be a certified sci-fi classic. It’s also been very influential in the science-fiction genre, setting the bar for themes like man vs. machine, capitalist corporate control, and robotic action.

Real Steel

A 2011 giant robot boxing spectacle starring Hugh Jackman, Real Steel was filmed exclusively in Detroit and the surrounding area. It features spots like the Renaissance Center, Cobo Arena (now Huntington Place), the Detroit Fire Department headquarters, the Russell Industrial Center, the Ingham County Courthouse, the Leslie Michigan Railroad Depot, the former Belle Isle Zoo, and the Highland Park Ford Plant. The film is about a former pro boxer, Charlie Kenton (Jackman), who connects with his son, Max (Dakota Goyo), after the death of Max’s mother. The father and son train a robot named Atom to fight in a futuristic version of boxing featuring robots instead of humans.

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Grievers is the 2011 dystopian novella by Adrienne Maree Brown. // Photograph courtesy of Juan Carlos Barquet

Grievers

Detroit writer and activist Adrienne Maree Brown’s debut dystopian — the sci-fi thriller novella Grievers — was published in 2021. The plot of Grievers is about a future Detroit suffering from a mysterious disease that leaves everyone it infects in an unresponsive catatonic state. The book tells the story of a young woman named Dune. She investigates the disease using research notes from her late father and searches for a cure as the quarantined city begins to wither and die. 

The Butterfly Effect 3: Revelations

The Butterfly Effect, the idea that an act as small as killing a butterfly in the past can upset the entire future, is a story so well known that the concept is considered a cliché in the time travel sub-genre and is constantly referenced. The term was originally used by meteorologist Edward Lorenz to describe how tiny changes could lead to large scale effects, and later became known as one of the many important rules to follow when leaping back to the past. The Butterfly Effect 3: Revelations hit movie theaters in 2009 and was both shot and set in Detroit. The plot follows Sam Reide (Chris Carmack), who goes back in time to prevent his sister, Jenna Reide (Rachel Miner), from dying in a fire, an act that creates a vastly different timeline and leads to an innocent man being charged for murder.

One If

Fans of the Hunger Games and Maze Runner series would likely find Detroit native Carol B. Allen’s young adult series, Virago Fantasy, to be right up their ally. Published in 2020, the first book in the series, One If, is about three teenagers being transported to an alien planet that has succumbed to the ramifications of climate change and is teetering on the brink of war. Eddie, one of the three main characters, hails from Detroit as the author’s way to represent her hometown.

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