Many of these books are decorated with Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick awards for outstanding science fiction. Some of these are recognizable and indelible sci-fi classics that you certainly know (but maybe need the extra nudge to go ahead and read) while others are hopefully some surprising books that just missed your deep space scanners (there are many huge planets in this area of space) or were just a little too far away from the soft neon glow of your favorite space cantina for you to check out.
Here, then, are the best science fiction books!
Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan
Gritty as the criminal, shifty carbon life forms that it follows, Altered Carbon is an unmistakably great work of science fiction. In the 25th century human consciousness can be downloaded into a body (called a sleeve) making death a trivial affair. When Takeshi Kovacs is resleeved as a detective and recruited by ultra-wealthy and near-immortal Laurens Bancroft to help solve a brutal murder, he could have never guessed the horrors he would need to surmount or the how deep the seedy lairs of Bay City plunge. Morgan weaves a complex plot with complex characters which will keep your head spinning with intrigue until the end.
Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey
There is so much to love about Leviathan Wakes. It has everything that makes for great science fiction: clashing factions, wily politicians, giant scheming corporate behemoths, and a few reluctant people just trying to get by in the middle of it all.
This is the first book of the Expanse series, where we are introduced to Captain James Holden and the wonderfully noirist Detective Miller who both end up looking for a missing girl only to find that she is a crucial piece to a massive conspiracy that has put the entire human race in dire peril. You’ll want to read this one right away.
The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu
A secret military project in China sends signals into space hoping to make contact with an alien life form. When an alien civilization on the verge of destruction captures the signal it makes plans to visit our planet—and of course invade it. Back on Earth two camps form: those who want to believe our world has been completely corrupted and want to help the alien invasion and those who are determined to fight against it.
The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters
This is one of my all time favorites as far as Science Fiction goes. The Last Policeman takes place as the end of the Earth nears and one man, a detective named Hank Palace (what a great name that is) is bent on solving a murder. Everyone else believes it was a suicide and anyways, who cares since there is a giant meteor careening through space about to destroy Earth? It crystalizes a dark and eternal question: why do we do things knowing their ultimate unimportance?
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
When not saving people from their own time-travel travesties, Charles Yu tries to find his father who invented time travel and then mysteriously disappeared. This is an enjoyably clever book filled with many smirking riddles and paradoxes. For example, there is a non-existent but ontologically valid dog named Ed, and an operating system with low self-esteem who accompanies the protagonist Yu on his adventure. Charmingly meta, Yu discovers that they key to finding his father might just be in a book that his future self wrote and gave to him, called How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe.
Do your future self a favor and get this book!
The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch
The Gone World is gripping science fiction you might have easily missed. It follows special agent Shannon Moss as she tries to solve a gruesome murder of a Navy Seal’s entire family and locate his missing daughter in what is hailed as a smart and dark fusion of Inception and True Detective. In a universe where time travel has become possible for a select few, Moss uses this rare technology to uncover a devastating discovery: that this murder is actually part of the Terminus—the complete destruction and end of humanity. She just has to figure out how to stop it.
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
She used to coordinate massive strikes directing thousands of soldiers and hundreds of planets. That was when she was the AI on the Justice of Toren, a massive starship in the fleet of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy. Now she is just a soldier named Breq. But even as Breq she is going to find a way to get what she wants—revenge.
This top rated sci-fi book features a bold female protagonist and is just what your reading list needs.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
With plenty of 80s nostalgia, a plot as quick as Mario Cart, and clever winks and nods towards video game culture that only true geeks will catch, Ready Player One quickly made itself the fun video game you always return to with your friends on Friday night. An instant sci-fi-classic.
Neuromancer by William Gibson
An iconic opening line launched this futuristic novel into sci-fi history. In Neuromancer, we follow Case, a hacker who has been banned from cyberspace because he stole from his previous employers, as he makes a deal with some new nefarious ne’r-do-wells to pull off an unthinkable heist against a powerful AI known as Winter Mute. Composed in a radical, techno-noir punk voice that fellow cyberpunk troubadour Stephenson would draw on for Snow Crash, this is easily one of the best science fiction books ever written.
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
Written in a gleeful cyberpunky style this novel follows Hiro Protagonist and Yours Truly as they rush through the Metaverse and try to figure out who’s behind a malicious virus that is taking down hackers and leading to some deadly apocalypse.
Hyperion by Dan Simmons
This impressively imbricated tome is like the sci-fi equivalent of the Canterbury Tales, if the fate of the human race also hung in the balance in that clever book. In a future where humanity has expanded its empire across the stars, one planet, Hyperion, has become the focal point of a burgeoning war. A group of pilgrims trade tales of love, loss, and everything inbetween on their way to visit the mysterious Time Tombs and a being called the Shrike who is both worshipped and feared. Celebrated for its imaginative and wild lyrical texture, Hyperion is an enduringly popular book of science fiction you have to read.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid’s Tale is an interesting and intense look into what a serious theocracy in the United States might look like. We witness a literal application of the Book of Genesis through the eyes of Offred as she struggles to exist in the Republic of Gilead (formerly the United States).
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
There are many gory and grim books in science fiction, but the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a bright and cheerful and yet still excellently critical masterpiece. A classic worth adding to your TBR list just in case you haven’t read it yet.
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
To this day, Ender’s Game has the best ending of any book I have ever read. Nothing else even comes close. He is a relatable, bullied young hero who somehow manages not only to survive but to thrive in an environment designed to crush and destroy him.
With humanity under attack by an alien menace known as the Buggers, earth has turned towards creating and training military prodigies to help win the war. Andrew “Ender” Wiggins makes the cut to join the orbiting Battle School, but there he is beset by isolation, abuse, and fear that he is becoming his deranged older brother. Ender might be able to beat the aliens, but first he will have to beat humanity.
Dune by Frank Herbert
Dune is almost synonymous with science fiction. It takes place in a harsh and unhospitable world where the only thing of value is “spice” which both extends mortality and enhances perception and consciousness. The ruling house Atreides manages to keep this world as civil as it can be all things considered, until a brutal betrayal kills all the family members and forces its youngest son, Paul Atreides to flee into hiding. Dune chronicles his transformative rise into a mysterious being known as Muad’Dib—which will morph him into something even more unimaginable than a potent regent of House Atreides could have ever hoped to be.
The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
The Forever War is an excellent and deservingly popular work of science fiction. Private William Mandella is recruited to help fight in an interstellar war on far away planets with high-tech weaponry. He begins training at the edge of our solar system and is then sent to battle fronts against a mysterious enemy about which humanity knows very little.
The real magic of this novel is its exploration of aging and what it is like to grow old, to grow up a certain way embracing certain values, and be alive as a culture changes and embraces new and very different values. Due to the effects of space travel and the phenomenon known as “time dilation,” (turns out Einstein was right!) Private Mandella ages months while the earth he leaves behind while fighting ages centuries. This is a stimulating way to grapple with epochal change in contrast to an individual subjectivity, and no doubt one of the main reasons why it won all the Hugo, Locus, and Nebula Awards.
Both piquant and ponderous, this is a classic you definitely want to read.
Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein
A controversial entry for many reasons, not least of which seem to be the celebration of a certain militaristic way of life. Heinlein takes us deep into military life via the first person narration of Johnny Rico. Rico, in turn, guides us through an intense bootcamp, the day-to-day drudgery of life in the infantry, and even some nasty fights with the Bugs.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick
Yes, this is the novel that inspired Blade Runner. Written by legendary science fiction author Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep finds humanity in a dark place. After the World War has killed millions most of mankind has been forced to flee the planet. The ones who stayed behind covet the living so the government creates extremely realistic versions of humans, then bans them when they realize how dangerous they might become. This forces them into hiding and it falls upon people like Rick Deckard to find the rouge androids and “retire” them.