Comprehensive and detailed recommendation list of the top science fiction novels from classic sc-fi to more contemporary works.
For fantasy books, see The Ultimate Fantasy Reading List
🌟 means that it’s a classic.
🔥 means that it has more than 100 000 ratings on Goodreads.
The [number] at the end is the rounded version of the rating on Goodreads.
Accelerando (2005) by Charles Stross [3.9]
Accelerando is an excellent exploration of Posthumanism. It’s my go to recommendation for people wanting to read about that stuff. — @erbridge
The Singularity. It is the era of the posthuman. Artificial intelligences have surpassed the limits of human intellect. Biotechnological beings have rendered people all but extinct. Molecular nanotechnology runs rampant, replicating and reprogramming at will. Contact with extraterrestrial life grows more imminent with each new day.
Struggling to survive and thrive in this accelerated world are three generations of the Macx clan: Manfred, an entrepreneur dealing in intelligence amplification technology whose mind is divided between his physical environment and the Internet; his daughter, Amber, on the run from her domineering mother, seeking her fortune in the outer system as an indentured astronaut; and Sirhan, Amber’s son, who finds his destiny linked to the fate of all of humanity.
For something is systemically dismantling the nine planets of the solar system. Something beyond human comprehension. Something that has no use for biological life in any form.
Babel-17 (1966) by Samuel R. Delany [3.8]
This intense linguistic thriller will change the way you think about language. — @helderroem
Babel-17 is all about the power of language. Humanity, which has spread throughout the universe, is involved in a war with the Invaders, who have been covertly assassinating officials and sabotaging spaceships. The only clues humanity has to go on are strange alien messages that have been intercepted in space. Poet and linguist Rydra Wong is determined to understand the language and stop the alien threat.
Barsoom series (1912–1927) by Edgar Rice Burroughs [3.8] 🌟
Now more than a century old, has that unique writing style you can only find in adventure classics. — @uraimo
- A Princess of Mars [3.8]
- The Gods of Mars [3.8]
- The Warlord of Mars [3.8]
- Thuvia, Maid of Mars [3.7]
- The Chessmen of Mars [3.7]
- The Master Mind of Mars [3.8]
- A Fighting Man of Mars [3.8]
- Swords of Mars [4.0]
- Synthetic Men of Mars [3.8]
- Llana of Gathol [3.7]
- John Carter of Mars [3.8]
Barsoom is planet Mars from American Edgar Rice Burroughs. First serialized as Under the Moons of Mars in 1912, published as A Princess of Mars in 1917. Dying Mars was based on outdated scientific ideas of canals. The savage, frontier world has honor, noble sacrifice and constant struggle, where martial prowess is paramount and races fight over dwindling resources.
Childhood’s End (1953) by Arthur C. Clarke [4.0]
This book is interesting for its view of what a golden age of mankind would look like, and what would the shortcomings of that be. It also has a very interesting take on mass psychology — I don’t want to give away too much, but the Overlords are a nifty bunch. This is a good early Clarke, and has two of his favorite themes; the first that remote work will be possible with technology, and the second that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. — @RichardLitt
Without warning, giant silver ships from deep space appear in the skies above every major city on Earth. Manned by the Overlords, in fifty years, they eliminate ignorance, disease, and poverty. Then this golden age ends — and then the age of Mankind begins…
Cities in Flight (1970) by James Blish [4.0]
This is a long book, but absolutely fantastic. It redefined for me the scale at which science fiction was possible, especially given the human elements are very fleshed out (as opposed to other massive space epics, like Olaf Stapledon’s ‘Last and First Men’). A brilliant look at the future, going off of only two small changes — what if we had drugs to defeat death, and cities could fly. — @RichardLitt
Originally published in four volumes nearly fifty years ago, Cities in Flight brings together the famed “Okie novels” of science fiction master James Blish. Named after the migrant workers of America’s Dust Bowl, these novels convey Blish’s “history of the future,” a brilliant and bleak look at a world where cities roam the Galaxy looking for work and a sustainable way of life.
In the first novel, They Shall Have Stars, man has thoroughly explored the Solar System, yet the dream of going even further seems to have died in all but one man. His battle to realize his dream results in two momentous discoveries anti-gravity and the secret of immortality. In A Life for the Stars, it is centuries later and antigravity generations have enabled whole cities to lift off the surface of the earth to become galactic wanderers. In Earthman, Come Home, the nomadic cities revert to barbarism and marauding rogue cities begin to pose a threat to all civilized worlds. In the final novel, The Triumph of Time, history repeats itself as the cities once again journey back in to space making a terrifying discovery which could destroy the entire Universe. A serious and haunting vision of our world and its limits, Cities in Flight marks the return to print of one of science fiction’s most inimitable writers.
Doorways in the Sand (1976) by Roger Zelazny [4.0]
What a weird, funny and lovely little book. — @RichardLitt
Fred Cassidy, a perpetual student, scrounger, and acrophile, is the last known person to have seen an important stone that his friend had. Various criminals, Anglophile zealots, government agents and aliens torture, shoot, beat, trick, chase, terrorize, assault telepathically, stalk, and importune Fred in attempts to get him to tell them the location of the stone. He denies any knowledge of its whereabouts, and decides to make his own investigation.
Dune Chronicles (1963–1994) by Frank Herbert [4.1] 🌟 🔥
I think what is most fascinating about Dune isn’t that it is so commonly read, but the ubiquity with which it is referenced. Once you read this, you start seeing Dune quotes everywhere. Dune is monumental in scope, and the cautionary tone in which it was written — this is what happens when you put faith in a single person trained scientifically — almost completely backfires in an amazing story of heroism, revenge, and reconciliation. A book worth reading multiple times. Of course, it is also a series — the first stands alone, and I haven’t read beyond the first two. There almost isn’t a need. Dune alone is that good. — @RichardLitt
Set in the far future amidst a sprawling feudal interstellar empire where planetary dynasties are controlled by noble houses that owe an allegiance to the imperial House Corrino, Dune tells the story of young Paul Atreides (the heir apparent to Duke Leto Atreides and heir of House Atreides) as he and his family accept control of the desert planet Arrakis, the only source of the “spice” melange, the most important and valuable substance in the cosmos. The story explores the complex, multilayered interactions of politics, religion, ecology, technology and human emotion, as the forces of the empire confront each other for control of Arrakis.
Published in 1965, it won the Hugo Award in 1966 and the inaugural Nebula Award for Best Novel. Dune is frequently cited as the world’s best-selling SF novel.
Embassytown (2011) by China Miéville [3.8]
In the far future, humans have colonized a distant planet, home to the enigmatic Ariekei, sentient beings famed for a language unique in the universe, one that only a few altered human ambassadors can speak.
Avice Benner Cho, a human colonist, has returned to Embassytown after years of deep-space adventure. She cannot speak the Ariekei tongue, but she is an indelible part of it, having long ago been made a figure of speech, a living simile in their language.
When distant political machinations deliver a new ambassador to Arieka, the fragile equilibrium between humans and aliens is violently upset. Catastrophe looms, and Avice is torn between competing loyalties — to a husband she no longer loves, to a system she no longer trusts, and to her place in a language she cannot speak yet speaks through her.
Expanse (2011–2015) by James S.A. Corey [4.17 (avg)]
A series comprised (as of late 2015) of five full-length novels with a sixth one in the works and a total of nine entries planned. Several shorts not relevant to the main plot also exist. Notable for this series is the attention to detail regarding the actual physics involved in space travel and the challenges of daily life outside a friendly biosphere. The narrative, which is told from the changing perspectives of a cast of diverse characters, offers a healthy mix of humor and suspension, making it an entertaining read. — @jpkempf
Humanity has colonized the solar system — Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond — but the stars are still out of our reach.
Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, “The Scopuli,” they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for — and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why.
Flatland (1884) by Edwin A. Abbott [3.8] 🌟
This book will teach you to stretch your imagination and see things in a different way. — @elssar
This masterpiece of science (and mathematical) fiction is a delightfully unique and highly entertaining satire that has charmed readers for more than 100 years. The work of English clergyman, educator and Shakespearean scholar Edwin A. Abbott (1838–1926), it describes the journeys of A. Square, a mathematician and resident of the two-dimensional Flatland, where women — thin, straight lines — are the lowliest of shapes, and where men may have any number of sides, depending on their social status.
Through strange occurrences that bring him into contact with a host of geometric forms, Square has adventures in Spaceland (three dimensions), Lineland (one dimension) and Pointland (no dimensions) and ultimately entertains thoughts of visiting a land of four dimensions — a revolutionary idea for which he is returned to his two-dimensional world. Charmingly illustrated by the author, Flatland is not only fascinating reading, it is still a first-rate fictional introduction to the concept of the multiple dimensions of space. “Instructive, entertaining, and stimulating to the imagination.” — Mathematics Teacher
Flowers for Algernon (1959) by Daniel Keyes [4.0] 🌟 🔥
This book is often given to high school students, but stands up well as an adult read. I think the best part about it is what Charlie does once he starts being intelligent; he suddenly likes art and making things and scientific theory. I think the altruism and openness of that time shows that the experiment, such as it was, didn’t change everything. It’s fun to think about. Also, this book made me cry the first time I read it. I was 25. — @RichardLitt
With more than five million copies sold, Flowers for Algernon is the beloved, classic story of a mentally disabled man whose experimental quest for intelligence mirrors that of Algernon, an extraordinary lab mouse. In poignant diary entries, Charlie tells how a brain operation increases his IQ and changes his life. As the experimental procedure takes effect, Charlie’s intelligence expands until it surpasses that of the doctors who engineered his metamorphosis. The experiment seems to be a scientific breakthrough of paramount importance — until Algernon begins his sudden, unexpected deterioration. Will the same happen to Charlie?
Foundation (1951) by Isaac Asimov [4.0] 🌟 🔥
For twelve thousand years the Galactic Empire has ruled supreme. Now it is dying. But only Hari Sheldon, creator of the revolutionary science of psychohistory, can see into the future — to a dark age of ignorance, barbarism, and warfare that will last thirty thousand years. To preserve knowledge and save mankind, Seldon gathers the best minds in the Empire — both scientists and scholars — and brings them to a bleak planet at the edge of the Galaxy to serve as a beacon of hope for a future generations. He calls his sanctuary the Foundation.
But soon the fledgling Foundation finds itself at the mercy of corrupt warlords rising in the wake of the receding Empire. Mankind’s last best hope is faced with an agonizing choice: submit to the barbarians and be overrun — or fight them and be destroyed.
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley [3.7] 🌟 🔥
Archetypal tale of mad science with the theme of ‘how far can Science go’ that arguably spawned the modern genre of Science Fiction. — @katamaritaco
Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein when she was only eighteen. At once a Gothic thriller, a passionate romance, and a cautionary tale about the dangers of science, Frankenstein tells the story of committed science student Victor Frankenstein. Obsessed with discovering the cause of generation and life and bestowing animation upon lifeless matter, Frankenstein assembles a human being from stolen body parts but; upon bringing it to life, he recoils in horror at the creature’s hideousness. Tormented by isolation and loneliness, the once-innocent creature turns to evil and unleashes a campaign of murderous revenge against his creator, Frankenstein.
Frankenstein, an instant bestseller and an important ancestor of both the horror and science fiction genres, not only tells a terrifying story, but also raises profound, disturbing questions about the very nature of life and the place of humankind within the cosmos: What does it mean to be human? What responsibilities do we have to each other? How far can we go in tampering with Nature? In our age, filled with news of organ donation genetic engineering, and bioterrorism, these questions are more relevant than ever.
Glasshouse (2006) by Charles Stross [3.8]
When Robin wakes up in a clinic with most of his memories missing, it doesn’t take him long to discover that someone is trying to kill him. It’s the twenty-seventh century, when interstellar travel is by teleport gate and conflicts are fought by network worms that censor refugees’ personalities and target historians. The civil war is over and Robin has been demobilized, but someone wants him out of the picture because of something his earlier self knew.
On the run from a ruthless pursuer and searching for a place to hide, he volunteers to participate in a unique experimental polity, the Glasshouse, constructed to simulate a pre-accelerated culture. Participants are assigned anonymized identities: It looks like the ideal hiding place for a posthuman on the run. But in this escape-proof environment, Robin will undergo an even more radical change, placing him at the mercy of the experimenters — and at the mercy of his own unbalanced psyche…
Home Fires (2011) by Gene Wolfe [3.3]
This is a pretty good book. Like later Gene Wolfe books, it reads a bit dry, and the main character is sometimes one sided. But the context and the fleshed out world entirely make up for it, as does Gene Wolfe’s standard of never mentioning an important detail more than once as a foreshadowing. — @RichardLitt
Gene Wolfe takes us to a future North America at once familiar and utterly strange. A young man and woman, Skip and Chelle, fall in love in college and marry, but she is enlisted in the military, there is a war on, and she must serve her tour of duty before they can settle down. But the military is fighting a war with aliens in distant solar systems, and her months in the service will be years in relative time on Earth. Chelle returns to recuperate from severe injuries, after months of service, still a young woman but not necessarily the same person — while Skip is in his forties and a wealthy businessman, but eager for her return.
Still in love (somewhat to his surprise and delight), they go on a Caribbean cruise to resume their marriage. Their vacation rapidly becomes a complex series of challenges, not the least of which are spies, aliens, and battles with pirates who capture the ship for ransom. There is no writer in SF like Gene Wolfe and no SF novel like Home Fires.
The Ice People (1968) by René Barjavel [4.1]
A really good book. Many people have described it as “the best book of Sci-Fi / romance”. I would like to see it, one day, as a movie. — @Gibet
When a French expedition in Antarctica reveals ruins of a 900,000 year old civilization, scientists from all over the world flock to the site to help explore & understand. The entire planet watches via global satellite tv, mesmerized, as they uncover a chamber in which a man & a woman have been in suspended animation since, as the French title suggests, ‘the night of time’. The woman, Eléa, is awakened. Thru a translating machine she tells the story of her world, herself & her husband Paikan & how war destroyed her civilization. She also hints at an incredibly advanced knowledge her still-dormant companion possesses, knowledge that could give energy & food to all humans at no cost. But the superpowers of the world are not ready to let Eléa’s secrets spread, & show that, 900,000 years & an apocalypse later, humankind has not grown up & is ready to make the same mistakes again.
Jean le Flambeur Series (2010, 2012, 2014) by Hannu Rajaniemi [4.0 (avg)]
Jean le Flambeur gets up in the morning and has to kill himself before his other self can kill him first. Just another day in the Dilemma Prison. Rescued by the mysterious Mieli and her flirtatious spacecraft, Jean is taken to the Oubliette, the Moving City of Mars, where time is a currency, memories are treasures, and a moon-turned-singularity lights the night. Meanwhile, investigator Isidore Beautrelet, called in to investigate the murder of a chocolatier, finds himself on the trail of an arch-criminal, a man named le Flambeur…
Jem (1979) by Frederik Pohl [3.6]
This book has a few beautiful passages. It deals mainly with the ethics of using alien species for nationalistic purposes, and for that alone was an interesting read. Like a lot of science fiction, I found it a bit hard to empathize with any particular characters, but it’s a short read and worth it anyway. The politics are a bit dated. — @RichardLitt
The discovery of another habitable world might spell salvation to the three bitterly competing power blocs of the resource-starved 21st century; but when their representatives arrive on Jem, with its multiple intelligent species, they discover instead the perfect situation into which to export their rivalries. Subtitled, with savage irony, “The Making of a Utopia”, Jem is one of Frederik Pohl’s most powerful novels.
Lord of Light (1967) by Roger Zelazny [4.1]
This was like if Hermann Hesse decided he was tired of writing Steppenwolf and Siddhartha and wanted to do something interesting for a change. What a weird book. — @RichardLitt
Earth is long since dead. On a colony planet, a band of men has gained control of technology, made themselves immortal, and now rule their world as the gods of the Hindu pantheon. Only one dares oppose them: he who was once Siddhartha and is now Mahasamatman. Binder of Demons, Lord of Light.
Rendezvous with Rama (1973) by Arthur C. Clarke [4.0]
This book is filled with a quiet suspense that is almost palpable; in that, it does an extraordinary job of showing how humans respond to alien encounters. The otherworldliness of Rama isn’t always interesting, but the reaction of the reader to it is. — @RichardLitt
At first, only a few things are known about the celestial object that astronomers dub Rama. It is huge, weighing more than ten trillion tons. And it is hurtling through the solar system at an inconceivable speed. Then a space probe confirms the unthinkable: Rama is no natural object. It is, incredibly, an interstellar spacecraft. Space explorers and planet-bound scientists alike prepare for mankind’s first encounter with alien intelligence. It will kindle their wildest dreams… and fan their darkest fears. For no one knows who the Ramans are or why they have come. And now the moment of rendezvous awaits — just behind a Raman airlock door.
Roadside Picnic (1972) by Arkady Strugatsky & Boris Strugatsky [4.2]
Twitter user: One of the best books I have ever read.
Red Schuhart is a stalker, one of those strange misfits compelled to venture illegally into the Zone and collect the strange artifacts that the alien visitors left scattered there. His whole life, even the nature of his daughter, is determined by the Zone.
Solaris (1961) by Stanisław Lem [3.9] 🌟
A classic work of science fiction by renowned Polish novelist and satirist Stanisław Lem.
When Kris Kelvin arrives at the planet Solaris to study the ocean that covers its surface, he finds a painful, hitherto unconscious memory embodied in the living physical likeness of a long-dead lover. Others examining the planet, Kelvin learns, are plagued with their own repressed and newly corporeal memories. The Solaris ocean may be a massive brain that creates these incarnate memories, though its purpose in doing so is unknown, forcing the scientists to shift the focus of their quest and wonder if they can truly understand the universe without first understanding what lies within their hearts.
Out of the Silent Planet (1938) by C. S. Lewis [3.9]
A fairly well-wrapped first book in a trilogy, that has some very imaginative and well worked through takes on what Martian life may have looked like at the time. I love the imagery, and the theology isn’t as worked through everything as the other books. — @RichardLitt
In the first novel of C. S. Lewis’s classic science fiction trilogy, Dr. Ransom, a Cambridge academic, is abducted and taken on a spaceship to the red planet of Malacandra, which he knows as Mars. His captors are plotting to plunder the planet’s treasures and plan to offer Ransom as a sacrifice to the creatures who live there. Ransom discovers he has come from the “silent planet”–Earth–whose tragic story is known throughout the universe…
Perelandra (1944) by C. S. Lewis [4.0]
This book has a wonderful look at non-technological space travel and what paradise might look like on another planet. Lots of good philosophy, too. — @RichardLitt
The second novel in Lewis’s science fiction trilogy tells of Dr. Ransom’s voyage to the planet of Perelandra (Venus). Dr. Ransom is sent by the Elida to Perelandra (Venus) to battle against evil incarnate and preserve a second Eden from the evil forces present in the possessed body of his enemy, Weston. Through these works, Lewis explores issues of good and evil, and his remarkable and vividly imaginative descriptions of other worlds cements his place as a first-class author of science fiction adventure.
That Hideous Strength (1945) by C. S. Lewis [3.9]
One of the weirdest books I have read and enjoyed. — @RichardLitt
The third novel in the science-fiction trilogy by C. S. Lewis. This final story is set on Earth, and tells of a terrifying conspiracy against humanity. The story surrounds Mark and Jane Studdock, a newly married couple. Mark is a sociologist who is enticed to join an organization called N.I.C.E. which aims to control all human life. His wife, meanwhile, has bizarre prophetic dreams about a decapitated scientist, Alcasan. As Mark is drawn inextricably into the sinister organization, he discovers the truth of his wife’s dreams when he meets the literal head of Alcasan which is being kept alive by infusions of blood. Jane seeks help concerning her dreams at a community called St. Anne’s, where she meets their leader — Dr. Ransom (the main character of the previous two titles in the trilogy). The story ends in a final spectacular scene at the N.I.C.E. headquarters where Merlin appears to confront the powers of Hell.
Speaker for the Dead (1994) by Orson Scott Card [4.0]
I had been putting off reading this book for years, after reading Ender’s Game and not knowing wanting to belittle it with a bad sequel (like I thought Ender’s Shadow had been). I regret that immensely, having now read this book; it is deep, insightful, and brilliantly written. — @RichardLitt
In the aftermath of his terrible war, Ender Wiggin disappeared, and a powerful voice arose: the Speaker for the Dead, who told of the true story of the Bugger War.
Now long years later, a second alien race has been discovered, but again the aliens’ ways are strange and frightening…again, humans die. And it is only the Speaker for the Dead, who is also Ender Wiggin the Xenocide, who has the courage to confront the mystery…and the truth.
Spin (2005) by Robert Charles Wilson [4.0]
One night in October when he was ten years old, Tyler Dupree stood in his back yard and watched the stars go out. They all flared into brilliance at once, then disappeared, replaced by a flat, empty black barrier. He and his best friends, Jason and Diane Lawton, had seen what became known as the Big Blackout. It would shape their lives.
Life on Earth is about to get much, much stranger.
Stand on Zanzibar (1968) by John Brunner [4.0]
This book was written about 2010, and what the world would be like when the world is over populated. It is still very pertinent today, especially given the style of writing, which seems to have too much information packed in than needed. ‘Muckers’, the idea of people who go crazy without reason due to overcrowdedness, are a really interesting concept given the rise in anti-terrorist rhetoric in recent years. — @RichardLitt
Norman Niblock House is a rising executive at General Technics, one of a few all-powerful corporations. His work is leading General Technics to the forefront of global domination, both in the marketplace and politically — it’s about to take over a country in Africa. Donald Hogan is his roommate, a seemingly sheepish bookworm. But Hogan is a spy, and he’s about to discover a breakthrough in genetic engineering that will change the world… and kill him. These two men’s lives weave through one of science fiction’s most praised novels. Written in a way that echoes John Dos Passos’ U.S.A. trilogy, Stand on Zanzibar is a cross-section of a world overpopulated by the billions. Where society is squeezed into hive-living madness by god-like mega computers, mass-marketed psychedelic drugs, and mundane uses of genetic engineering. Though written in 1968, it speaks of 2010, and is frighteningly prescient and intensely powerful.
Star Maker (1937) by Olaf Stapledon [3.9] 🌟
If you’re going to read one Science Fiction book to get a broader perspective on what it means to be human and the size of space and time, read this one. It blew me away. — @RichardLitt
Star Maker is a science fiction novel by Olaf Stapledon, published in 1937. The book describes a history of life in the universe, dwarfing in scale Stapledon’s previous book, Last and First Men (1930), a history of the human species over two billion years. Star Maker tackles philosophical themes such as the essence of life, of birth, decay and death, and the relationship between creation and creator. A pervading theme is that of progressive unity within and between different civilizations. Some of the elements and themes briefly discussed prefigure later fiction concerning genetic engineering and alien life forms. Arthur C. Clarke considered Star Maker to be one of the finest works of science fiction ever written.
The Deep Range (1957) by Arthur C. Clarke [3.7]
This is one of Arthur C. Clarke’s novels that is less about space and more about humanity, and the oceans. Clarke lived for a large part of his later life in Sri Lanka, and always loved the sea; in this book, that sentiment really comes out. I love it for that. It also has a nice view of ocean management, which is rare for books set in the future. — @RichardLitt
A century into the future, humanity lives mostly on the sea. Gigantic whale herds are tended by submariners, and vast plankton farms feed the world.
Walter Franklin, once a space engineer, now works on a submarine patrol. This novel tells the story of his adventures, including Franklin’s capture of an enormous kraken at 12,000 feet under the sea; his search for a monstrous sea serpent; and the thrilling rescue of a sunken submarine-all set against the backdrop of a futuristic world that’s both imaginative and believable.
The Fifth Head of Cerberus (1972) by Gene Wolfe [4.0]
This is an incredible book. Absolutely incredible. The first section, about a son of a scientist, is a great example of Wolfe’s ability to make the future sound like the Victorian past, and to add decay to what, to our eyes, seems incredibly futuristic. The story about the traveler and the aborigines on Saint Croix is something I think about a lot — “old men think long thoughts”, in particular, is a thought that I love, especially given its context. Gene Wolfe also uses the epistolary novel technique incredibly well in the third story. But the best part is how you come to realize that each of these stories is intertwined with the others, subtly. Amazing storytelling. — @RichardLitt
Gene Wolfe’s The Fifth Head of Cerberus is a universally acknowledged masterpiece of science fiction by one of the field’s most brilliant writers. Far out from Earth, two sister planets, Saint Anne and Saint Croix, circle each other in an eternal dance. It is said a race of shapeshifters once lived here, only to perish when men came. But one man believes they can still be found, somewhere in the back of the beyond.
In The Fifth Head of Cerberus, Wolfe skillfully interweaves three bizarre tales to create a mesmerizing pattern: the harrowing account of the son of a mad genius who discovers his hideous heritage; a young man’s mythic dreamquest for his darker half; the bizarre chronicle of a scientists’ nightmarish imprisonment. Like an intricate, braided knot, the pattern at last unfolds to reveal astonishing truths about this strange and savage alien landscape.
The Gods Themselves (1972) by Isaac Asimov [4.1]
In the twenty-second century Earth obtains limitless, free energy from a source science little understands: an exchange between Earth and a parallel universe, using a process devised by the aliens. But even free energy has a price. The transference process itself will eventually lead to the destruction of Earth’s Sun — and of Earth itself.
Only a few know the terrifying truth — an outcast Earth scientist, a rebellious alien inhabitant who senses the imminent annihilation of the Sun. They know the truth — but who will listen? They have foreseen the cost of abundant energy — but who will believe? These few beings, human and alien, hold the key to Earth’s survival.
The Golden Age (2002, 2003) by John C. Wright [4.1]
The Golden Age is 10,000 years in the future in our solar system, an interplanetary utopian society filled with immortal humans.
Phaethon, of Radamanthus House, is attending a glorious party at his family mansion celebrating the thousand-year anniversary of the High Transcendence. There he meets an old man who accuses him of being an imposter, and then a being from Neptune who claims to be an old friend. The Neptunian tells him that essential parts of his memory were removed and stored by the very government that Phaethon believes to be wholly honorable. It shakes his faith. Is he indeed an exile from himself? He can’t resist investigating, even though to do so could mean the loss of his inheritance, his very place in society. His quest must be to regain his true identity and fulfill the destiny he chose for himself.
The Golden Age is just the beginning of Phaethon’s story, which continues in The Phoenix Exultant.
The Invisible Man (1897) by H. G. Wells [3.6] 🌟 🔥
This is more of a read about what happens when you are outside the law than anything else. Fascinating, and kind of reads like Sherlock Holmes at times. — @RichardLitt
This masterpiece of science fiction is the fascinating story of Griffin, a scientist who creates a serum to render himself invisible, and his descent into madness that follows.
The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) by Ursula Le Guin [4.1]
Ursula Le Guin is an amazing writer, and this is one of her seminal works. It explores sexuality and humanity in ways that I didn’t know were possible. I loved it. — @RichardLitt
A groundbreaking work of science fiction, The Left Hand of Darkness tells the story of a lone human emissary to Winter, an alien world whose inhabitants can choose -and change — their gender. His goal is to facilitate Winter’s inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the completely dissimilar culture that he encounters.
Embracing the aspects of psychology, society, and human emotion on an alien world, The Left Hand of Darkness stands as a landmark achievement in the annals of intellectual science fiction.
Remembrance of Earth’s Past Trilogy (2014–2016) by Liu Cixin
Although each part can be read independently, the whole trilogy has a consistent story line which happens in a very huge time-space context and the first just a beginning. The later two are especially much more hardcore and dramatical, however, gloomy as well. While the first one got the Hugo Award, I’d like to say that it really worth a try for the whole trilogy, don’t miss the later two. — @cp4
The Three Body Problem (2014) [4.0]
This book is not just filled to the brim with interesting and novel ideas about technology and civilization, it also offers some really great insights into China and its recent history. The follow-up book: “The Dark Forest”, is great as well. — @sylvarant
Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.
The Dark Forest (2015) [4.4]
In The Dark Forest, Earth is reeling from the revelation of a coming alien invasion — four centuries in the future. The aliens’ human collaborators have been defeated but the presence of the sophons, the subatomic particles that allow Trisolaris instant access to all human information, means that Earth’s defense plans are exposed to the enemy. Only the human mind remains a secret.
Death’s End (2016) [4.5]
Now this epic trilogy concludes with Death’s End. Half a century after the Doomsday Battle, the uneasy balance of Dark Forest Deterrence keeps the Trisolaran invaders at bay. Earth enjoys unprecedented prosperity due to the infusion of Trisolaran knowledge. With human science advancing daily and the Trisolarans adopting Earth culture, it seems that the two civilizations will soon be able to co-exist peacefully as equals without the terrible threat of mutually assured annihilation. But the peace has also made humanity complacent.
The War of the Worlds (1898) by H. G. Wells [3.8] 🌟 🔥
This is always fun; it’s a classic, and it is fun remembering what science fiction was like before there were tropes. — @RichardLitt
Man had not yet learned to fly when H. G. Wells conceived this story of a Martian attack on England. Giant cylinders crash to Earth, disgorging huge, unearthly creatures armed with heat-rays and fighting machines. Amid the boundless destruction they cause, it looks as if the end of the world has come.
Hard Science Fiction
Novels which place an emphasis on scientific accuracy and/or technical detail; where the science itself is a central topic.
A Fire Upon the Deep (1992) by Vernor Vinge [4.1]
A Fire upon the Deep is the big, breakout book that fulfills the promise of Vinge’s career to date: a gripping tale of galactic war told on a cosmic scale.
Thousands of years hence, many races inhabit a universe where a mind’s potential is determined by its location in space, from superintelligent entities in the Transcend, to the limited minds of the Unthinking Depths, where only simple creatures and technology can function. Nobody knows what strange force partitioned space into these “regions of thought,” but when the warring Straumli realm use an ancient Transcendent artifact as a weapon, they unwittingly unleash an awesome power that destroys thousands of worlds and enslaves all natural and artificial intelligence.
Fleeing the threat, a family of scientists, including two children, are taken captive by the Tines, an alien race with a harsh medieval culture, and used as pawns in a ruthless power struggle. A rescue mission, not entirely composed of humans, must rescue the children — and a secret that may save the rest of interstellar civilization.
Blindsight (Firefall #1) (2006) by Peter Watts [4.0]
A cast of strange and wonderful characters. Overarching themes on consciousness, transhumanism, humanity and first contact. This book has everything. — @davidmerrique
It’s been two months since a myriad of alien objects clenched about the Earth, screaming as they burned. The heavens have been silent since — until a derelict space probe hears whispers from a distant comet. Something talks out there: but not to us. Who to send to meet the alien, when the alien doesn’t want to meet? Send a linguist with multiple-personality disorder, and a biologist so spliced to machinery he can’t feel his own flesh. Send a pacifist warrior, and a vampire recalled from the grave by the voodoo of paleogenetics. Send a man with half his mind gone since childhood. Send them to the edge of the solar system, praying you can trust such freaks and monsters with the fate of a world. You fear they may be more alien than the thing they’ve been sent to find — but you’d give anything for that to be true, if you knew what was waiting for them.
Echopraxia (Firefall #2) (2014) by Peter Watts [3.8]
Prepare for a different kind of singularity in this follow-up to the Hugo-nominated novel Blindsight
It’s the eve of the twenty-second century: a world where the dearly departed send postcards back from Heaven and evangelicals make scientific breakthroughs by speaking in tongues; where genetically engineered vampires solve problems intractable to baseline humans and soldiers come with zombie switches that shut off self-awareness during combat. And it’s all under surveillance by an alien presence that refuses to show itself.
Daniel Bruks is a living fossil: a field biologist in a world where biology has turned computational, a cat’s-paw used by terrorists to kill thousands. Taking refuge in the Oregon desert, he’s turned his back on a humanity that shatters into strange new subspecies with every heartbeat. But he awakens one night to find himself at the center of a storm that will turn all of history inside-out.
Now he’s trapped on a ship bound for the center of the solar system. To his left is a grief-stricken soldier, obsessed by whispered messages from a dead son. To his right is a pilot who hasn’t yet found the man she’s sworn to kill on sight. A vampire and its entourage of zombie bodyguards lurk in the shadows behind. And dead ahead, a handful of rapture-stricken monks takes them all to a meeting with something they will only call “The Angels of the Asteroids.”
Their pilgrimage brings Dan Bruks, the fossil man, face-to-face with the biggest evolutionary breakpoint since the origin of thought itself.
By the end of the 30th century humanity has the capability to travel the universe, to journey beyond earth and beyond the confines of the vulnerable human frame.
The descendants of centuries of scientific, cultural and physical development divide into three: fleshers — true Homo sapiens; Gleisner robots — embodying human minds within machines that interact with the physical world; and polises — supercomputers teeming with intelligent software, containing the direct copies of billions of human personalities now existing only in the virtual reality of the polis.
Diaspora is the story of Yatima — a polis being created from random mutations of the Konishi polis base mind seed — and of humankind, Of an astrophysical accident that spurs the thousandfold cloning of the polises. Of the discovery of an alien race and of a kink in time that means humanity — whatever form it takes — will never again be threatened by acts of God.
Dragon’s Egg (1980) by Robert L. Forward [4.1]
In a moving story of sacrifice and triumph, human scientists establish a relationship with intelligent life forms — the cheela — living on Dragon’s Egg, a neutron star where one Earth hour is equivalent to hundreds of their years. The cheela culturally evolve from savagery to the discovery of science, and for a brief time men are their diligent teachers.
Nexus (2012) by Ramez Naam [4.1]
In the near future, the experimental nano-drug Nexus can link humans together, mind to mind. There are some who want to improve it. There are some who want to eradicate it. And there are others who just want to exploit it.
When a young scientist is caught improving Nexus, he’s thrust over his head into a world of danger and international espionage — for there is far more at stake than anyone realizes.
From the halls of academe to the halls of power; from the headquarters of an elite agency in Washington, D.C. to a secret lab beneath Shanghai; from the underground parties of San Francisco to the illegal biotech markets of Bangkok; from an international neuroscience conference to a remote monastery in the mountains of Thailand — Nexus is a thrill ride through a future on the brink of explosion.
Permutation City (1994) by Greg Egan [4.1]
With all the ideas contained in Permutation City, a typical Sci-Fi author would have written at least 5 separate books. — @uraimo
In the not-too-distant future, technology has given birth to a form of immortality. The human mind can be scanned and uploaded into a virtual reality program to become a perfect electronic “Copy,” aware of itself. A new Copy finds himself forced to cooperate in scientific experiments with the flesh-and-blood man he was copied from.
Red Mars (1993) by Kim Stanley Robinson [3.8]
An interesting take on the near-future colonization of Mars by one hundred of the world’s greatest scientists, filled with political intrigue and “hard science” alike. Admittedly some parts can be a slog, think A Song of Ice and Fire: awesome narrative in the grand scheme, with perhaps a bit too much description of Martian landscape/house sigils. — @rubzo
For eons, sandstorms have swept the barren desolate landscape of the red planet. For centuries, Mars has beckoned to mankind to come and conquer its hostile climate. Now, in the year 2026, a group of one hundred colonists is about to fulfill that destiny. John Boone, Maya Toitavna, Frank Chalmers, and Arkady Bogdanov lead a mission whose ultimate goal is the terraforming of Mars. For some, Mars will become a passion driving them to daring acts of courage and madness; for others it offers and opportunity to strip the planet of its riches. And for the genetic “alchemists,” Mars presents a chance to create a biomedical miracle, a breakthrough that could change all we know about life… and death.
Schild’s Ladder (2002) by Greg Egan [3.9]
Twenty thousand years into the future, an experiment in quantum physics has had a catastrophic result, creating an enormous, rapidly expanding vacuum that devours everything it comes in contact with. Now humans must confront this deadly expansion. Tchicaya, aboard a starship trawling the border of the vacuum, has allied himself with the Yielders — those determined to study the vacuum while allowing it to grow unchecked. But when his fiery first love, Mariama, reenters his life on the side of the Preservationists — those working to halt and destroy the vacuum — Tchicaya finds himself struggling with an inner turmoil he has known since childhood.
However, in the center of the vacuum, something is developing that neither Tchicaya and the Yielders nor Mariama and the Preservationists could ever have imagined possible: life.
The Martian (2012) by Andy Weir [4.4]
This is a fun read; Weir manages to write an evocative techno-thriller without having his characters stoop to constant navel gazing and lonesome pining. This could be described as Robinson Crusoe — in Space. The characters on the earth side aren’t the greatest, but the humor throughout the book really pulls it together, and watching a master at work as far as mechanical engineering goes was fascinating. Loved it. — @RichardLitt
Apollo 13 meets Cast Away in this grippingly detailed, brilliantly ingenious man-vs-nature survival thriller, set on the surface of Mars. Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first men to walk on the surface of Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first man to die there.
It started with the dust storm that holed his suit and nearly killed him, and that forced his crew to leave him behind, sure he was already dead. Now he’s stranded millions of miles from the nearest human being, with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive — and even if he could get word out, his food would be gone years before a rescue mission could arrive. Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to get him first.
But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills — and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit — he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?
The Sands of Mars (1951) by Arthur C. Clarke [3.7]
This book is most interesting for its pretty cool take on terraforming a planet, and how that goes both for the inhabitants and what it means for nationalism (or planetism, as it were). — @RichardLitt
Space writers holiday. When a celebrated science fiction writer takes to space on his first trip to Mars, he’s sure to be in for some heckling from the spaceship crew. But Martin Gibson, man about space, takes it all in his stride. That is, until he lands on the red planet. Once there the intrepid author causes one problem after another as he stumbles upon Mars’ most carefully hidden secrets and threatens the future of an entire planet
Aurora (2015) by Kim Stanley Robinson [3.7]
This was, I thought, an emotional read. I really connected with the characters and their struggle. It was interesting seeing the ways they overcame each obstacle despite overwhelming odds. It also shows what could happen when desperate people are left to fend for themselves without a governing force. — @davidmerrique
A major new novel from one of science fiction’s most powerful voices, AURORA tells the incredible story of our first voyage beyond the solar system.
Brilliantly imagined and beautifully told, it is the work of a writer at the height of his powers.
Our voyage from Earth began generations ago.
Now, we approach our new home.
Future-based novels with advanced science and technology coupled with a disrupted social order.
Altered Carbon (2002) by Richard K. Morgan [4.1]
A fun and fast-paced hard-boiled cyberpunk noir, almost impossible to put down. — @helderroem
It’s the twenty-fifth century, and advances in technology have redefined life itself. A person’s consciousness can now be stored in the brain and downloaded into a new body (or “sleeve”,) making death nothing more than a minor blip on a screen. Onetime U.N. Envoy Takeshi Kovacs has been killed before, but his last death was particularly painful. Resleeved into a body in Bay City (formerly San Francisco,) Kovacs is thrown into the dark heart of a shady, far-reaching conspiracy that is vicious even by the standards of a society that treats existence as something that can be bought and sold. For Kovacs, the shell that blew a hole in his chest was only the beginning.
Greg Mandel Series (1993, 1994, 1995) by Peter F. Hamilton [3.9]
Greg Mandel, late of the Mindstar Battalion, has been many things in his life. Commando. Freedom fighter. Assassin. Now he’s a freelance operative with a very special edge: telepathy.
In the high-tech, hard-edged world of computer crime, zero-gravity smuggling, and artificial intelligence, Greg Mandel is the man to call when things get rough. But when an elusive saboteur plagues a powerful organization known as Event Horizon, Mandel must cut his way through a maze of corporate intrigue and startling new scientific discoveries.
And nothing less than the future is at stake.
Neuromancer (1984) by William Gibson [3.9] 🌟 🔥
The Matrix is a world within the world, a global consensus hallucination, the representation of every byte of data in cyberspace…
Case had been the sharpest data-thief in the business, until vengeful former employers crippled his nervous system. But now a new and very mysterious employer recruits him for a last-chance run. The target: an unthinkably powerful artificial intelligence orbiting Earth in service of the sinister Tessier-Ashpool business clan. With a dead man riding shotgun and Molly, mirror-eyed street-samurai, to watch his back, Case embarks on an adventure that ups the ante on an entire genre of fiction.
Hotwired to the leading edges of art and technology, Neuromancer ranks with 1984 and Brave New World as one of the century’s most potent visions of the future.
Snow Crash (1992) by Neal Stephenson [4.0] 🔥
In reality, Hiro Protagonist delivers pizza for Uncle Enzo’s CosoNostra Pizza Inc., but in the Metaverse he’s a warrior prince. Plunging headlong into the enigma of a new computer virus that’s striking down hackers everywhere, he races along the neon-lit streets on a search-and-destroy mission for the shadowy virtual villain threatening to bring about infocalypse. Snow Crash is a mind-altering romp through a future America so bizarre, so outrageous… you’ll recognize it immediately.
The Demolished Man (1951) by Alfred Bester [4.0]
I think of this book often, even though initially I had consigned it as a cheap paperback crime thriller set in space. The main part of this book that is interesting is the implications regarding policed thoughts, especially given recent advances in government surveillance. The other part of this book I think about a lot is the advertising jingle — Tenser, Tenser, said the tensor — which plays a major role. I’ve still got no idea what it is meant to mean. — @RichardLitt
In a world in which the police have telepathic powers, how do you get away with murder? Ben Reichs heads a huge 24th century business empire, spanning the solar system. He is also an obsessed, driven man determined to murder a rival. To avoid capture, in a society where murderers can be detected even before they commit their crime, is the greatest challenge of his life.
This book had me looking up more words than any book had me do for a long time. A mildly interesting story, with cunning turns and twists, in a very interesting world. What suprised me most was that the book already foresaw cryptocurrencies, 3d-printers and fleets of UAV’s while already being 20+ years old. — @fritzvd
The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer is a postcyberpunk novel by Neal Stephenson. It is to some extent a science fiction coming-of-age story, focused on a young girl named Nell, and set in a future world in which nanotechnology affects all aspects of life. The novel deals with themes of education, social class, ethnicity, and the nature of artificial intelligence.
The Stars My Destination (1955) by Alfred Bester [4.2]
This book is fantastic not for the novelty of non-technological teleportation, but because of the main character. What happens when someone who has been ignored by society finds himself in a position of power? This book reminds me a tiny bit of Ender’s Game — imagine what would happen if Mazer Rackham, another tattooed Maori hero, wanted more than to be a military genius. I loved it. I quote the poem to myself all the time, and have set a variant of it as my twitter bio for years now. — @RichardLitt
In this pulse-quickening novel, Alfred Bester imagines a future in which people “jaunte” a thousand miles with a single thought, where the rich barricade themselves in labyrinths and protect themselves with radioactive hit men — and where an inarticulate outcast is the most valuable and dangerous man alive. The Stars My Destinationis a classic of technological prophecy and timeless narrative enchantment by an acknowledged master of science fiction.
Ware (1982–2000) by Rudy Rucker [3.7]
Cobb Anderson created the “boppers,” sentient robots that overthrew their human overlords. But now Cobb is just an aging alcoholic waiting to die, and the big boppers are threatening to absorb all of the little boppers — and eventually every human — into a giant, melded consciousness. Some of the little boppers aren’t too keen on the idea, and a full-scale robot revolt is underway on the moon (where the boppers live). Meanwhile, bopper Ralph Numbers wants to give Cobb immortality by letting a big bopper slice up his brain and tape his “software.” It seems like a good idea to Cobb.
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (1985) by Haruki Murakami [4.2]
My favorite of Murakami’s. Great mix of quirky, mundane, and fascinating ideas. Short read too. — @desandro
A narrative particle accelerator that zooms between Wild Turkey Whiskey and Bob Dylan, unicorn skulls and voracious librarians, John Coltrane and Lord Jim. Science fiction, detective story and post-modern manifesto all rolled into one rip-roaring novel, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is the tour de force that expanded Haruki Murakami’s international following. Tracking one man’s descent into the Kafkaesque underworld of contemporary Tokyo, Murakami unites East and West, tragedy and farce, compassion and detachment, slang and philosophy.
Dystopian novels deal with imaginary communities or societies that are undesirable or frightening.
1984 (1949) by George Orwell [4.1] 🌟 🔥
Written in 1948, 1984 was George Orwell’s chilling prophecy about the future.
While 1984 has come and gone, Orwell’s narrative is more timely that ever. 1984 presents a “negative utopia,” that is at once a startling and haunting vision of the world — so powerful that it’s completely convincing from start to finish. No one can deny the power of this novel, its hold on the imaginations of entire generations of readers, or the resiliency of its admonitions — a legacy that seems to grow, not lessen, with the passage of time.
Brave New World (1932) by Aldous Huxley [3.9] 🌟 🔥
Far in the future, the World Controllers have created the ideal society. Through clever use of genetic engineering, brainwashing and recreational sex and drugs, all its members are happy consumers. Bernard Marx seems alone harbouring an ill-defined longing to break free. A visit to one of the few remaining Savage Reservations, where the old, imperfect life still continues, may be the cure for his distress…
Huxley’s ingenious fantasy of the future sheds a blazing light on the present and is considered to be his most enduring masterpiece.
Fahrenheit 451 (1953) by Ray Bradbury [4.0] 🌟 🔥
A classic, beautiful book. A short read that does a good job of making the reader think about the ramifications of censorship, and is still entertaining and beautiful in its own way. — @RichardLitt
The terrifyingly prophetic novel of a post-literate future.
Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to burn books, which are forbidden, being the source of all discord and unhappiness. Even so, Montag is unhappy; there is discord in his marriage. Are books hidden in his house? The Mechanical Hound of the Fire Department, armed with a lethal hypodermic, escorted by helicopters, is ready to track down those dissidents who defy society to preserve and read books.
The classic dystopian novel of a post-literate future, Fahrenheit 451 stands alongside Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World as a prophetic account of Western civilization’s enslavement by the media, drugs and conformity.
Bradbury’s powerful and poetic prose combines with uncanny insight into the potential of technology to create a novel which, decades on from first publication, still has the power to dazzle and shock.
Oryx and Crake (2003, 2009, 2013) by Margaret Atwood [4.0] 🔥
This book is a wonderfully constructed tale that can be seen as warning for an age where genetic engineering is up and coming and we haven’t the faintest clue where this might lead us. I loved it to bits and only found out there was a sequel by reading about the final episode coming out when I was well done with the first part and devoured the other two as eagerly as the first. That said, I find the first the best of the three books. — @fritzvd
Oryx and Crake is at once an unforgettable love story and a compelling vision of the future. Snowman, known as Jimmy before mankind was overwhelmed by a plague, is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the last human, and mourning the loss of his best friend, Crake, and the beautiful and elusive Oryx whom they both loved. In search of answers, Snowman embarks on a journey–with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake–through the lush wilderness that was so recently a great city, until powerful corporations took mankind on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride. Margaret Atwood projects us into a near future that is both all too familiar and beyond our imagining.
Ready Player One (2011) by Ernest Cline [4.3] 🔥
This is easily in one of my top 5 favorite books I’ve ever read. It’s SO fun to read, and every single person I’ve recommended it to has loved it. Even if you don’t understand every single reference, it’s still a great story to follow. It has an excellent amount of humor, adventure, and nostalgia. It also has one of the best endings I’ve ever read, which any reader knows is a hard thing to nail. Ernest Cline really hit it out of the park with this one. Highly recommend it. — cassidoo
This book is AWESOME. It’s so AWESOME that it makes me want to go back and play arcade games and rewatch all of the Macross saga. The plot is great, the writing is great, it makes you laugh out loud if you’re a geek and know the references, and the story is kickass. Warning: Might be a good idea to brush up on your old school fantasy and scifi before reading this. Just don’t go rewatch Krull, OK? — RichardLitt
It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.
Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.
And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune — and remarkable power — to whoever can unlock them.
For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved — that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.
And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.
Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt — among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life — and love — in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.
A world at stake. A quest for the ultimate prize. Are you ready?
The Dispossessed (1974) by Ursula K. Le Guin [4.2]
Sci-Fi, sociology and philosophy. — @NaxYoMizmo
Shevek, a brilliant physicist, decides to take action. He will seek answers, question the unquestionable, and attempt to tear down the walls of hatred that have isolated his planet of anarchists from the rest of the civilized universe. To do this dangerous task will mean giving up his family and possibly his life — Shevek must make the unprecedented journey to the utopian mother planet, Urras, to challenge the complex structures of life and living, and ignite the fires of change.
The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect (2002) by Roger Williams [4.2]
An interesting take on the possibly negative consequences of the singularity. A little more vulgar than the average Sci-Fi novel. — @sylvarant
In a time not far from our own, Lawrence sets out simply to build an artifical intelligence that can pass as human, and finds himself instead with one that can pass as a god. Taking the Three Laws of Robotics literally, Prime Intellect makes every human immortal and provides instantly for every stated human desire. Caroline finds no meaning in this life of purposeless ease, and forgets her emptiness only in moments of violent and profane exhibitionism. At turns shocking and humorous, Prime Intellect looks unflinchingly at extremes of human behavior that might emerge when all limits are removed.
Wool Omnibus (2011) by Hugh Howey [4.3]
Set in the near future, the story follows a number of characters as their lives unfold living in an underground silo. Life underground seems quite grim, people have obviously been down there quite a while, and even though they seem to have quite advanced technology, it’s old and decaying. The engineers and mechanics do their best to keep the electricity throughout the 100 levels of the silo, it’s a lottery to see who gets to start a family as the population needs to be strictly controlled.
It’s set close enough to the present that you can see how things could end up the way they are in the silo, the political structures, the way the silo is organized, the rivalry between the various levels and departments; but what happened to lead to humanity living this way in the first place? Why are they all down there, and what’s wrong with the surface?
This series of books is well worth a read, I couldn’t put it down once I got into the first few chapters. I think this series will be recognized as a sci-fi classic in the coming years.
Also, the first book is available free on Kindle, so it won’t cost you anything to check it out — except maybe a Kindle. — @elektrovert
This Omnibus Edition collects the five Wool books into a single volume. It is for those who arrived late to the party and who wish to save a dollar or two while picking up the same stories in a single package.
This is the story of mankind clawing for survival, of mankind on the edge. The world outside has grown unkind, the view of it limited, talk of it forbidden. But there are always those who hope, who dream. These are the dangerous people, the residents who infect others with their optimism. Their punishment is simple. They are given the very thing they profess to want: They are allowed outside.
Dad’s Nuke (1985) by Marc Laidlaw [3.6]
The debut novel from the guy who would go on to write Half-Life and Portal. A dizzyingly funny dystopia straight from the heart of the 80s. Deftly manages the tightrope walk of absurdity without the world crumbling underneath it. Philip K. Dick would be proud. — @jackflips
The US is divided into independent, heavily defended neighborhoods; Cobblestone Hill is a planned, self-sufficient community, dreamed up and secretly controlled by the mysterious Doc Edison; here Dad Johnson struggles to raise his oddball family and defend his house against potentially hostile neighbors.
One-upmanship is still alive, though, and when Jock Smith plants a rocket launcher in his backyard, Dad responds with a nuclear reactor in his garage. (Doc Edison thoughtfully gene-splices the new Johnson baby so that she eats nuclear waste.)
Dad’s son P.J., discovering that he’s been programmed to be gay (as part of Doc Edison’s notions of a “balanced family”), flees the enclave, only to be captured, drugged, and brainwashed by Christian Soldiers. Dad’s wife Connie runs off with a salesman from the ubiquitous Cartel; a bunch of Doc Edison clones show up, all quite mad; the Christian Soldiers attempt a computerized invasion; and the feud between Dad and Jock Smith comes to a head.
The Man in the High Castle (1962) by Philip K. Dick [3.8]
My favourite of all Philip K. Dick’s novels, the I Ching and the alternate history within an alternate history novel being interesting elements. — @roryrjb
An alternate history novel set in 1962, fifteen years after an alternate ending to World War II which in the novel lasted until 1947, the novel concerns intrigues between the victorious Axis Powers — Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany — as they rule over the former United States, as well as daily life under the resulting totalitarian rule.
Novels which emphasize adventure, set mainly or entirely in outer space, usually involving conflict between opponents possessing advanced abilities, weapons, and other technology.
Ancillary Justice (2013) by Ann Leckie [4.0]
(And all the following Ancillary Sword)
On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest.
Once, she was the Justice of Toren — a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy.
Now, an act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with one fragile human body, unanswered questions, and a burning desire for vengeance.
Battlefield Earth (1982) by L. Ron Hubbard [3.4]
Earth has been dominated for 1,000 years by an alien invader — and man is an endangered species. From the handful of surviving humans a courageous leader emerges — Jonnie Goodboy Tyler, who challenges the invincible might of the alien Psychlo empire in a battle of epic scale, danger and intrigue with the fate of the Earth and of the universe in the tenuous balance.
Commonwealth Saga (2004, 2005) by Peter F. Hamilton [4.2]
(And the sequels in the Void Trilogy)
The year is 2380. The Intersolar Commonwealth, a sphere of stars some four hundred light-years in diameter, contains more than six hundred worlds, interconnected by a web of transport “tunnels” known as wormholes. At the farthest edge of the Commonwealth, astronomer Dudley Bose observes the impossible: Over one thousand light-years away, a star… vanishes. It does not go supernova. It does not collapse into a black hole. It simply disappears. Since the location is too distant to reach by wormhole, a faster-than-light starship, the Second Chance, is dispatched to learn what has occurred and whether it represents a threat. In command is Wilson Kime, a five-time rejuvenated ex-NASA pilot whose glory days are centuries behind him.
Opposed to the mission are the Guardians of Selfhood, a cult that believes the human race is being manipulated by an alien entity they call the Starflyer. Bradley Johansson, leader of the Guardians, warns of sabotage, fearing the Starflyer means to use the starship’s mission for its own ends.
Pursued by a Commonwealth special agent convinced the Guardians are crazy but dangerous, Johansson flees. But the danger is not averted. Aboard the Second Chance, Kime wonders if his crew has been infiltrated. Soon enough, he will have other worries. A thousand light-years away, something truly incredible is waiting: a deadly discovery whose unleashing will threaten to destroy the Commonwealth… and humanity itself. Could it be that Johansson was right?
The Culture Series (1987–2012) by Iain M. Banks [4.5 (avg)]
The war raged across the galaxy. Billions had died, billions more were doomed. Moons, planets, the very stars themselves, faced destruction, cold-blooded, brutal, and worse, random. The Idirans fought for their Faith; the Culture for its moral right to exist. Principles were at stake. There could be no surrender.
Fallen Dragon (2001) by Peter F. Hamilton [4.0]
Deploying invulnerable twenty-fifth-century soldiers called Skins, Zantiu-Braun’s corporate starships loot entire planets. But as the Skins invade bucolic Thallspring, Z-B’s strategy is about to go awry, all because of: Sgt. Lawrence Newton, a dreamer whose twenty years as a Skin have destroyed his hopes and desires; Denise Ebourn, a school teacher and resistance leader whose guerrilla tactics rival those of Che Guevara and George Washington and Simon Roderick, the director who serves Z-B with a dedication that not even he himself can understand. Grimly determined to steal, or protect, a mysterious treasure, the three players engage in a private war that will explode into unimaginable quests for personal grace… or galactic domination.
House of Suns (2008) by Alastair Reynolds [4.1]
Six million years ago, at the dawn of the star-faring era, Abigail Gentian fractured herself into a thousand male and female clones, which she called shatterlings. But now, someone is eliminating the Gentian line. Campion and Purslane — two shatterlings who have fallen in love and shared forbidden experiences — must determine exactly who, or what, their enemy is, before they are wiped out of existence.
Hyperion (1989) by Dan Simmons [4.2] 🌟
On the world called Hyperion, beyond the law of the Hegemony of Man, there waits the creature called the Shrike. There are those who worship it. There are those who fear it. And there are those who have vowed to destroy it. In the Valley of the Time Tombs, where huge, brooding structures move backward through time, the Shrike waits for them all. On the eve of Armageddon, with the entire galaxy at war, seven pilgrims set forth on a final voyage to Hyperion seeking the answers to the unsolved riddles of their lives. Each carries a desperate hope — and a terrible secret. And one may hold the fate of humanity in his hands.
A stunning tour de force filled with transcendent awe and wonder, Hyperion is a masterwork of science fiction that resonates with excitement and invention, the first volume in a remarkable new science fiction epic by the multiple-award-winning author of The Hollow Man.
Night’s Dawn Trilogy (1996, 1997, 1999) by Peter F. Hamilton [4.1]
The trilogy is set in a universe with a wealth of worlds and artificial orbiting colonies. The plot is centered on the souls of the dead coming back from a hellish “beyond” to possess the living, and the latter fighting back. It was followed by a companion to the series, The Confederation Handbook, an informational book containing data about the universe of the Night’s Dawn trilogy. Hamilton re-set several earlier short stories in the Confederation timeline, published as the collection A Second Chance at Eden, including the newly written title novella.
Novels concerning the end of civilization, usually based in a future resulting from a catastrophe of some sort, where only scattered elements of technology remain.
A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959) by Walter M. Miller, Jr. [4.0]
This has a particularly arid and inspired view of humanity after a nuclear holocaust. The discovery of small things and their new importance down the line is well done here. — @RichardLitt
Winner of the 1961 Hugo Award for Best Novel and widely considered one of the most accomplished, powerful, and enduring classics of modern speculative fiction, Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz is a true landmark of twentieth-century literature — a chilling and still provocative look at a post-apocalyptic future.
In a nightmarish ruined world slowly awakening to the light after sleeping in darkness, the infant rediscoveries of science are secretly nourished by cloistered monks dedicated to the study and preservation of the relics and writings of the blessed Saint Isaac Leibowitz. From here the story spans centuries of ignorance, violence, and barbarism, viewing through a sharp, satirical eye the relentless progression of a human race damned by its inherent humanness to recelebrate its grand foibles and repeat its grievous mistakes. Seriously funny, stunning, and tragic, eternally fresh, imaginative, and altogether remarkable, A Canticle for Leibowitz retains its ability to enthrall and amaze. It is now, as it always has been, a masterpiece.
Borne (2017) by Jeff VanderMeer [4.0]
A weird, beautiful book, reminiscent of Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Brautigan’s Watermelon Sugar all wrapped up in a post-apocalyptic landscape populated by poisonous fire-breathing bears and deprecated biotech. This book is a survival story — how to hang on to the edges of civilization, and what that means for humanity. It also questions identity, love, mothering, and meaning itself. Some of the passages were astoundingly beautiful, and as much as the world would be an awful place to live in, I found myself missing it when I finished. — @RichardLitt
In the ruins of a nameless city of the future, ruled by a giant grizzly called Mord, a woman named Rachel lives as a scavenger, collecting genetically engineered organisms and experiments created by the biotech firm the Company. Hidden in Mord’s fur, she finds a sea anemone shaped creature she calls Borne.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) by Philip K. Dick [4.1] 🌟 🔥
A final, apocalyptic, world war has killed millions, driving entire species into extinction and sending the majority of mankind off-planet. Those who remain, venerate all remaining examples of life, and owning an animal of your own is both a symbol of status and a necessity. For those who can’t afford an authentic animal, companies build incredibly realistic simulacrae: horses, birds, cats, sheep… even humans.
Earth Abides (1949) by George R. Stewart [3.9]
Highly plausible outcome after a near-extinction event, the human race will hopelessly go down the path of least resistance. Great and somewhat disheartening ending. — @uraimo
A disease of unparalleled destructive force has sprung up almost simultaneously in every corner of the globe, all but destroying the human race. One survivor, strangely immune to the effects of the epidemic, ventures forward to experience a world without man. What he ultimately discovers will prove far more astonishing than anything he’d either dreaded or hoped for.
Riddley Walker (1980) by Russell Hoban [4.1]
I traveled 500 miles from Edinburgh to Kent just to go to the Canterbury Cathedral to see the painting that inspired this book. It is that good. It was hard for me to read as I normally speed read, and the invented language makes it slow going, but it sticks with you and the imagination of Hoban is uniquely vivid. — @RichardLitt
Riddley Walker is a brilliant, unique, completely realized work of fiction. One reads it again and again, discovering new wonders every time through. Set in a remote future in a post-nuclear holocaust England (Inland), Hoban has imagined a humanity regressed to an iron-age, semi-literate state — and invented a language to represent it. Riddley is at once the Huck Finn and the Stephen Dedalus of his culture — rebel, change agent, and artist. Read again or for the first time this masterpiece of 20th-century literature with new material by the author.
The City and the Stars (1956) by Arthur C. Clarke [4.1]
One of Arthur C. Clarke’s best novels. It makes Childhood’s End seem a bit immature in comparison, and evokes that strange concept of deep space that was prevalent in the 50s and in the early Star Trek series which seems to be out of fashion more recently. — @RichardLitt
Clarke’s masterful evocation of the far future of humanity, considered his finest novel. The City and the Starstakes place one billion years in the future, in the city of Diaspar. By this time, the Earth is so old that the oceans have gone and humanity has all but left. As far as the people of Diaspar know, they are the only city left on the planet. The city of Diaspar is completely enclosed. Nobody has come in or left the city for as long as anybody can remember, and everybody in Diaspar has an instinctive insular conservatism. The story behind this fear of venturing outside the city tells of a race of ruthless invaders which beat humanity back from the stars to Earth, and then made a deal that humanity could live — if they never left the planet.
The Drowned World (1963) by J. G. Ballard [3.6]
This had some very haunting scenes. The last pages, in particular, will stick with me for a while. — @RichardLitt
First published in 1962, J. G. Ballard’s mesmerizing and ferociously prescient novel imagines a terrifying future in which solar radiation and global warming have melted the ice caps and Triassic-era jungles have overrun a submerged and tropical London. Set during the year 2145, the novel follows biologist Dr. Robert Kerans and his team of scientists as they confront a surreal cityscape populated by giant iguanas, albino alligators, and endless swarms of malarial insects. Nature has swallowed all but a few remnants of human civilization, and, slowly, Kerans and his companions are transformed — both physically and psychologically — by this prehistoric environment. Echoing Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness — complete with a mad white hunter and his hordes of native soldiers — this “powerful and beautifully clear” (Brian Aldiss) work becomes a thrilling adventure and a haunting examination of the effects of environmental collapse on the human mind.
The Machine Stops (1909) by Edward Morgan Forster [4.0] 🌟
A short and rather old post-apocalyptic story which remained stuck in my mind like a ROM data. Being under strong impressions after consuming it in an instant, I described this rare pearl of a story to a Norwegian NTNU professor. To my surprise it ended as a further recommendation to his students or/and an actual part of their course reading materials. You’ll definitely want to read about this machine out of wedlock between ‘Facebook’ and ‘Google’ from the beginning of 20th century. I have yet to see other such power of prediction as to where the world is now or might go. Advice to readers: Keep in mind while reading that the text has been coined about 100 years ago — it’s part of the magic. — @zarko-tg
The story, set in a post-apocalyptic world where humanity lives underground and relies on a giant machine to provide their needs, predicted new technologies such as instant messaging, and the Internet. It describes a world in which most of the human population has lost the ability to live on the surface of the Earth. Each individual now lives in isolation below ground in a standard ‘cell’, with all bodily and spiritual needs met by the omnipotent, global Machine. Travel is permitted but unpopular and rarely necessary. Communication is made via a kind of instant messaging/video conferencing machine with which people conduct their only activity: the sharing of ideas and what passes for knowledge.
The Stand (1978) by Stephen King [4.3] 🔥
This is the way the world ends: with a nanosecond of computer error in a Defense Department laboratory and a million casual contacts that form the links in a chain letter of death.
And here is the bleak new world of the day after: a world stripped of its institutions and emptied of 99 percent of its people. A world in which a handful of panicky survivors choose sides — or are chosen. A world in which good rides on the frail shoulders of the 108-year-old Mother Abagail — and the worst nightmares of evil are embodied in a man with a lethal smile and unspeakable powers: Randall Flagg, the dark man.
In 1978 Stephen King published The Stand, the novel that is now considered to be one of his finest works. But as it was first published, The Stand was incomplete, since more than 150,000 words had been cut from the original manuscript
Now Stephen King’s apocalyptic vision of a world blasted by plague and embroiled in an elemental struggle between good and evil has been restored to its entirety. The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition includes more than five hundred pages of material previously deleted, along with new material that King added as he reworked the manuscript for a new generation. It gives us new characters and endows familiar ones with new depths. It has a new beginning and a new ending. What emerges is a gripping work with the scope and moral complexity of a true epic.
Timestorm (1977) by Gordon R. Dickson [3.7]
A time storm has devastated the Earth, and only a small fraction of humankind remains. From the rubble, three survivors form an unlikely alliance: a young man, a young woman, and a leopard.
Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang (1974) by Kate Wilhelm [3.9]
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 and hard SF, winning SF’s Hugo Award and Locus Award on its first publication.
Military Science Fiction
Novels featuring the use use of technology, mainly weapons, for military purposes and principal characters that are members of a military organization involved in military activity; sometimes occurring in outer space or other planets.
Armor (1984) by John Steakley [4.12]
Steakley puts his readers inside the mind of an armored soldier who lives in constant fear of being torn apart by the enemy he was sent to fight. The book plays brilliantly on our innate fear of bugs and describes the visceral terror of fighting a nearly unstoppable enemy. — @phmullins
Felix is an Earth soldier, encased in special body armor designed to withstand Earth’s most implacable enemy-a bioengineered, insectoid alien horde. But Felix is also equipped with internal mechanisms that enable him, and his fellow soldiers, to survive battle situations that would destroy a man’s mind. This is a remarkable novel of the horror, the courage, and the aftermath of combat — and how the strength of the human spirit can be the greatest armor of all.
Ender’s Game (1985) by Orson Scott Card [4.3] 🌟 🔥
This is a quick read, but it has a slow burn; the more times I read this book, and the more I think of it, the better it becomes. This book is one of the most strategically interesting books I have read. At every turn, you can feel Orson Scott Card manipulating you into seeing how brilliant Ender is. A masterpiece. — @RichardLitt
I’ve lost count of the amount of times I have read Ender’s Game. I generally read it around once a year, at least. It is part of a larger series, including Speaker for the Dead, and Xenocide — follow-ups which build on Ender’s Game and which are, in their own right, great books. EG was originally just a short story, a kind of prequel to the themes spoken of in Speaker for the Dead. It shows Card’s talent that he was able to so fluently make it a stand-alone book.
I love Ender’s Game. All things considered, this is not a book about emotional development, or about coming of age. It’s not about taking on the weight of the world. Rather, this is a book about strategy. More happens in the gaps between the pages than in the chapters themselves — taking the time to figure out how Ender worked out an advantage in a game room, and how you would have done it, is an incredibly rewarding experience. Every now and then, there is a wonderful feeling of ‘Damn, I wish I had done that! So smart.’ And, as Card notes in the prologue:
Fiction, because it is not about somebody who actually lived in the real world, always has the possibility of being about ourself.
So, you’re able to share in Ender’s cleverness, too. That’s what makes this book a fun read. — @RichardLitt
In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race’s next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy — Andrew “Ender” Wiggin — lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn’t make the cut — young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.
Ender’s skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister.
Is Ender the general Earth needs? But Ender is not the only result of the genetic experiments. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender’s two older siblings are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If, that is, the world survives.
Old Man’s War (2005–2015) by John Scalzi [4.2]
Old Man’s War, The Last Colony and Zoe’s Tale were each nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel in their respective years. Zoe’s Tale was additionally nominated for the Andre Norton Award for Best Young Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy. The Ghost Brigades was nominated for the Prometheus Award. Old Man’s War was the winner of the Geffen Award in Israel; The Last Colony the recipient of the Seiun Award in Japan.
Starship Troopers (1959) by Robert A. Heinlein [4.0]
In one of Robert Heinlein’s most controversial bestsellers, a recruit of the future goes through the toughest boot camp in the Universe — and into battle with the Terran Mobile Infantry against mankind’s most frightening enemy.
The Forever War (1974) by Joe Haldeman [4.1]
The Earth’s leaders have drawn a line in the interstellar sand — despite the fact that the fierce alien enemy that they would oppose is inscrutable, unconquerable, and very far away. A reluctant conscript drafted into an elite Military unit, Private William Mandella has been propelled through space and time to fight in the distant thousand-year conflict; to perform his duties without rancor and even rise up through military ranks. Pvt. Mandella is willing to do whatever it takes to survive the ordeal and return home. But “home” may be even more terrifying than battle, because, thanks to the time dilation caused by space travel, Mandella is aging months while the Earth he left behind is aging centuries.
Police Procedural Science Fiction
Lock In (2014) by John Scalzi [3.8]
A novel of our near future, from one of the most popular authors in modern SF.
Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. 95% of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever and headaches. Four percent suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history. And one percent find themselves “locked in” — fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus.
One per cent doesn’t seem like a lot. But in the United States, that’s 1.7 million people “locked in”… including the President’s wife and daughter.
Spurred by grief and the sheer magnitude of the suffering, America undertakes a massive scientific initiative. Nothing can restore the ability to control their own bodies to the locked in. But then two new technologies emerge. One is a virtual-reality environment, “The Agora,” in which the locked-in can interact with other humans, both locked-in and not. The other is the discovery that a few rare individuals have brains that are receptive to being controlled by others, meaning that from time to time, those who are locked in can “ride” these people and use their bodies as if they were their own.
This skill is quickly regulated, licensed, bonded, and controlled. Nothing can go wrong. Certainly nobody would be tempted to misuse it, for murder, for political power, or worse…
Novels which draw from sci-fi, thrillers, spying, action and wars. Include lots of technical detail regarding the subject matter.
Cryptonomicon (1999) by Neal Stephenson [4.2]
Cryptonomicon zooms all over the world, careening conspiratorially back and forth between two time periods — World War II and the present. Our 1940s heroes are the brilliant mathematician Lawrence Waterhouse, cryptanalyst extraordinaire, and gung-ho, morphine-addicted marine Bobby Shaftoe. They’re part of Detachment 2702, an Allied group trying to break Axis communication codes while simultaneously preventing the enemy from figuring out that their codes have been broken. Their job boils down to layer upon layer of deception. Dr. Alan Turing is also a member of 2702, and he explains the unit’s strange workings to Waterhouse. “When we want to sink a convoy, we send out an observation plane first… Of course, to observe is not its real duty — we already know exactly where the convoy is. Its real duty is to be observed… Then, when we come round and sink them, the Germans will not find it suspicious.”
All of this secrecy resonates in the present-day story line, in which the grandchildren of the WWII heroes — inimitable programming geek Randy Waterhouse and the lovely and powerful Amy Shaftoe — team up to help create an offshore data haven in Southeast Asia and maybe uncover some gold once destined for Nazi coffers. To top off the paranoiac tone of the book, the mysterious Enoch Root, key member of Detachment 2702 and the Societas Eruditorum, pops up with an unbreakable encryption scheme left over from WWII to befuddle the 1990s protagonists with conspiratorial ties.
Daemon (2006, 2010) by Daniel Suárez [4.2]
Already an underground sensation, a high-tech thriller for the wireless age that explores the unthinkable consequences of a computer program running without human control — a daemon — designed to dismantle society and bring about a new world order.
Technology controls almost everything in our modern-day world, from remote entry on our cars to access to our homes, from the flight controls of our airplanes to the movements of the entire world economy. Thousands of autonomous computer programs, or daemons, make our networked world possible, running constantly in the background of our lives, trafficking e-mail, transferring money, and monitoring power grids. For the most part, daemons are benign, but the same can’t always be said for the people who design them.
Matthew Sobol was a legendary computer game designer — the architect behind half-a-dozen popular online games. His premature death depressed both gamers and his company’s stock price. But Sobol’s fans aren’t the only ones to note his passing. When his obituary is posted online, a previously dormant daemon activates, initiating a chain of events intended to unravel the fabric of our hyper-efficient, interconnected world. With Sobol’s secrets buried along with him, and as new layers of his daemon are unleashed at every turn, it’s up to an unlikely alliance to decipher his intricate plans and wrest the world from the grasp of a nameless, faceless enemy — or learn to live in a society in which we are no longer in control…
Computer technology expert Daniel Suarez blends haunting high-tech realism with gripping suspense in an authentic, complex thriller in the tradition of Michael Crichton, Neal Stephenson, and William Gibson.
Sphere (1987) by Michael Crichton [3.7] 🌟 🔥
Twitter user: My favorite novel. Movie was worse than terrible.
A group of American scientists are rushed to a huge vessel that has been discovered resting on the ocean floor in the middle of the South Pacific. What they find defines their imaginations and mocks their attempts at logical explanation. It is a spaceship of phenomenal dimensions, apparently, undamaged by its fall from the sky. And, most startling, it appears to be at least three hundred years old…
Fantasy books which contain elements of science fiction. For pure fantasy, see this list.
The Book of the Long Sun (1993, 1994, 1996) by Gene Wolfe [4.0]
Set aboard a vast starship traveling for generations, The Book of the Long Sun is a masterpiece of science fiction. The series follows the story of Patera Silk, a priest who becomes a prophet as he learns about the nature of his world and the gods he serves.
The Book of the New Sun (1980–1987) by Gene Wolfe [3.9]
This is my favorite book. It is science fiction and, to a certain extent, fantasy, but at places reads more like a philosophical tract of a collection of stories. The plot is minimal, but the character of Severian is fascinating; he forgets nothing, but lies to you. As you read along, it becomes clear that earlier chapters were wrong or lacked important details, which heavily contributes to a sense of wonder and enchantment. Or, in my case, aw at Gene Wolfe’s writing abilities. Highly suggested. — @RichardLitt
The Book of the New Sun is unanimously acclaimed as Gene Wolfe’s most remarkable work, hailed as “a masterpiece of science fantasy comparable in importance to the major works of Tolkien and Lewis” by Publishers Weekly, and “one of the most ambitious works of speculative fiction in the twentieth century” by The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
Young Severian, an apprentice in the Guild of Torturers on the world called Urth, has been exiled for committing the ultimate sin of his profession — showing mercy toward his victim.
There Are Doors (1988) by Gene Wolfe [3.6]
This is debatably science fiction. I mention it here because certain elements, like a lot of Gene Wolfe’s works, are science fiction — for instance, the android-esque doll. This book is much more of a fantasy. I love it, but it’s a bit weird in places. If you like Gene Wolfe, read it. — @RichardLitt
There Are Doors is the story of a man who falls in love with a goddess from an alternate universe. She flees him, but he pursues her through doorways — interdimensional gateways — to the other place, determined to sacrifice his life, if necessary, for her love.
The Bone Clocks (2014) by David Mitchell [3.9]
If you liked Cloud Atlas this is a good read.
Following a scalding row with her mother, fifteen-year-old Holly Sykes slams the door on her old life. But Holly is no typical teenage runaway: a sensitive child once contacted by voices she knew only as “the radio people,” Holly is a lightning rod for psychic phenomena. Now, as she wanders deeper into the English countryside, visions and coincidences reorder her reality until they assume the aura of a nightmare brought to life.
For Holly has caught the attention of a cabal of dangerous mystics — and their enemies. But her lost weekend is merely the prelude to a shocking disappearance that leaves her family irrevocably scarred. This unsolved mystery will echo through every decade of Holly’s life, affecting all the people Holly loves — even the ones who are not yet born.
A Cambridge scholarship boy grooming himself for wealth and influence, a conflicted father who feels alive only while reporting from occupied Iraq, a middle-aged writer mourning his exile from the bestseller list — all have a part to play in this surreal, invisible war on the margins of our world. From the medieval Swiss Alps to the nineteenth-century Australian bush, from a hotel in Shanghai to a Manhattan townhouse in the near future, their stories come together in moments of everyday grace and extraordinary wonder.
Novels which focus on the near-future unintended consequences of biotechnology revolutions.
The Windup Girl (2009) by Paolo Bacigalupi [3.7]
Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen’s Calorie Man in Thailand. Under cover as a factory manager, Anderson combs Bangkok’s street markets in search of foodstuffs thought to be extinct, hoping to reap the bounty of history’s lost calories. There, he encounters Emiko…
Emiko is the Windup Girl, a strange and beautiful creature. One of the New People, Emiko is not human; instead, she is an engineered being, creche-grown and programmed to satisfy the decadent whims of a Kyoto businessman, but now abandoned to the streets of Bangkok. Regarded as soulless beings by some, devils by others, New People are slaves, soldiers, and toys of the rich in a chilling near future in which calorie companies rule the world, the oil age has passed, and the side effects of bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe.
What happens when calories become currency? What happens when bio-terrorism becomes a tool for corporate profits, when said bio-terrorism’s genetic drift forces mankind to the cusp of post-human evolution? Award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi delivers one of the most highly acclaimed science fiction novels of the twenty-first century.
Anathem (2008) by Neal Stephenson [4.2]
Fraa Erasmas is a young avout living in the Concent of Saunt Edhar, a sanctuary for mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers, protected from the corrupting influences of the outside “saecular” world by ancient stone, honored traditions, and complex rituals. Over the centuries, cities and governments have risen and fallen beyond the concent’s walls. Three times during history’s darkest epochs violence born of superstition and ignorance has invaded and devastated the cloistered mathic community. Yet the avout have always managed to adapt in the wake of catastrophe, becoming out of necessity even more austere and less dependent on technology and material things. And Erasmas has no fear of the outside — the Extramuros — for the last of the terrible times was long, long ago.
Now, in celebration of the week-long, once-in-a-decade rite of Apert, the fraas and suurs prepare to venture beyond the concent’s gates — at the same time opening them wide to welcome the curious “extras” in. During his first Apert as a fraa, Erasmas eagerly anticipates reconnecting with the landmarks and family he hasn’t seen since he was “collected.” But before the week is out, both the existence he abandoned and the one he embraced will stand poised on the brink of cataclysmic change.
Powerful unforeseen forces jeopardize the peaceful stability of mathic life and the established ennui of the Extramuros — a threat that only an unsteady alliance of saecular and avout can oppose — as, one by one, Erasmas and his colleagues, teachers, and friends are summoned forth from the safety of the concent in hopes of warding off global disaster. Suddenly burdened with a staggering responsibility, Erasmas finds himself a major player in a drama that will determine the future of his world — as he sets out on an extraordinary odyssey that will carry him to the most dangerous, inhospitable corners of the planet… and beyond.
Never Let Me Go (2005) by Kazuo Ishiguro [3.8] 🔥
A heartbreaking coming of age novel with a speculative, mysterious twist. Definitely a character-driven story. — @sunrein
As children, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules where teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were. Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her life, and for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared past and understand just what it is that makes them special — and how that gift will shape the rest of their time together.
Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) by Robert A. Heinlein [3.9] 🌟 🔥
NAME: Valentine Michael Smith ANCESTRY: Human ORIGIN: Mars
Here is Heinlein’s masterpiece — the brilliant spectacular and incredibly popular novel that grew from a cult favorite to a bestseller to a classic in a few short years. It is the story of Valentine Michael Smith, the man from Mars who taught humankind grokking and water-sharing. And love.
The Shrinking Man (1956) by Richard Matheson [3.8] 🔥
This was pretty good; it’s pretty obvious what it is about, and it reads predictably, but the ending is strong enough to make the entire book worth reading. — @RichardLitt
While on holiday, Scott Carey is exposed to a cloud of radioactive spray shortly after he accidentally ingests insecticide. The radioactivity acts as a catalyst for the bug spray, causing his body to shrink at a rate of approximately 1/7 of an inch per day. A few weeks later, Carey can no longer deny the truth: not only is he losing weight, he is also shorter than he was and deduces, to his dismay, that his body will continue to shrink.
The End of Eternity (1955) by Isaac Asimov [4.2]
Andrew Harlan is an Eternal, a man whose job it is to range through past and present Centuries, monitoring and, where necessary, altering Time’s myriad cause-and-effect relationships. But when Harlan meets and falls for a non-Eternal woman, he seeks to use the awesome powers and techniques of the Eternals to twist time for his own purposes, so that he and his love can survive together.
Behold the Man (1969) by Michael Moorcock [3.8]
Easily one of the most disrespectful, sacrilegious, memorable and funny books I have read. — @RichardLitt
Karl Glogauer is a disaffected modern professional casting about for meaning in a series of half-hearted relationships, a dead-end job, and a personal struggle. His questions of faith surrounding his father’s run-of-the-mill Christianity and his mother’s suppressed Judaism lead him to a bizarre obsession with the idea of the messiah. After the collapse of his latest affair and his introduction to a reclusive physics professor, Karl is given the opportunity to confront his obsession and take a journey that no man has taken before, and from which he knows he cannot return.
Upon arriving in Palestine, A.D. 29, Glogauer finds that Jesus Christ is not the man that history and faith would like to believe, but that there is an opportunity for someone to change the course of history by making the ultimate sacrifice.
First published in 1969, Behold the Man broke through science fiction’s genre boundaries to create a poignant reflection on faith, disillusion and self-sacrifice. This is the classic novel that established the career of perhaps contemporary science fiction’s most cerebral and innovative author.
The Dancers at the End of Time (1977) by Michael Moorcock [4.0]
I liked this series so much I got a tattoo partially inspired by it. — @RichardLitt
The Dancers at the End of Time is a series of science fiction novels and short stories, the setting of which is the End of Time, an era “where entropy is king and the universe has begun collapsing upon itself.” The inhabitants of this era are immortal decadents, who create flights of fancy using power rings which draw on energy devised and stored by their ancestors millions of years prior. Time travel is possible, and throughout the series various points in time are visited and revisited. Space travellers are also common, but most residents of the End of Time find leaving the planet distasteful and clichéd.
The Door Into Summer (1957) by Robert A. Heinlein [4.0]
It is 1970, and electronics engineer Dan Davis has finally made the invention of a lifetime: a household robot with extraordinary abilities, destined to dramatically change the landscape of everyday routine. Then, with wild success just within reach, Dan’s greedy partner and even greedier fiancée steal his work and leave him penniless, and trick him into taking the long sleep — suspended animation for thirty years.
They never imagine that the future time in which Dan awakens has a very limited form of time travel, just enough that Davis can travel back and recover his research. He then again undergoes suspended animation, and awakens again in the high-tech future of the year 2000, with his reputation, fortune, and his sweetheart.
Future Times Three (1968) by René Barjavel [3.8]
Here is a fantastic journey that takes you from the past into the near-future — then to the year 300,000 A.D. into a world where a single female creature, the size of a mountain, gives birth to all of society!
The Time Machine (1895) by H. G. Wells [3.8] 🌟 🔥
Worth the read, mostly because it is the first time the words ‘time machine’ were used, and because the story, while a bit cliched to modern ears, is still good and gripping. — @RichardLitt
“I’ve had a most amazing time…”
So begins the Time Traveller’s astonishing firsthand account of his journey 800,000 years beyond his own era — and the story that launched H. G. Wells’s successful career and earned him his reputation as the father of science fiction. With a speculative leap that still fires the imagination, Wells sends his brave explorer to face a future burdened with our greatest hopes… and our darkest fears. A pull of the Time Machine’s lever propels him to the age of a slowly dying Earth. There he discovers two bizarre races — the ethereal Eloi and the subterranean Morlocks — who not only symbolize the duality of human nature, but offer a terrifying portrait of the men of tomorrow as well. Published in 1895, this masterpiece of invention captivated readers on the threshold of a new century. Thanks to Wells’s expert storytelling and provocative insight, The Time Machine will continue to enthrall readers for generations to come.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979) by Douglas Adams [4.20] 🌟 🔥
One of the funniest series I have ever read. I laugh to myself and think about this all of the time. Changed how I view the galaxy and lost pens irreversibly. I also celebrate International Towel Day every year now. — @RichardLitt
Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor.
Together this dynamic pair begin a journey through space aided by quotes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide (“A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have”) and a galaxy-full of fellow travelers: Zaphod Beeblebrox — the two-headed, three-armed ex-hippie and totally out-to-lunch president of the galaxy; Trillian, Zaphod’s girlfriend (formally Tricia McMillan), whom Arthur tried to pick up at a cocktail party once upon a time zone; Marvin, a paranoid, brilliant, and chronically depressed robot; Veet Voojagig, a former graduate student who is obsessed with the disappearance of all the ballpoint pens he bought over the years.
Short Story Collections
Hard-as-nails science fiction, but wonderfully fresh and imaginative (especially if you haven’t had a chance to read anything written by Greg Egan before.) The stories have aged surprisingly well — which only underlines Egan’s penchant for sounding out the shape of the future. — @mihailim
Axiomatic is a collection of Greg Egan’s short stories that appeared in various science fiction magazines (mostly Interzone and Asimov’s) between 1989 and 1992. Like most of Egan’s work, the stories focus on science and ideas, sometimes at the expense of the writing. But although Egan may lack a certain stylistic flair, he more than makes up for it with his wonderful visions of the future. Some of the more interesting stories include Into Darkness, the tale of a rescue worker whose territory is a runaway wormhole, and the title story Axiomatic, which is about a man looking to find meaning in the senseless death of his wife.
Contents: The Infinite Assassin (1991), The Hundred Light-Year Diary (1992), Eugene (1990), The Caress (1990), Blood Sisters (1991), Axiomatic (1990), The Safe-Deposit Box (1990), Seeing (1995), A Kidnapping (1995), Learning to Be Me (1990), The Moat (1991), The Walk (1992), The Cutie (1989), Into Darkness (1992), Appropriate Love (1991), The Moral Virologist (1990), Closer (1992), Unstable Orbits in the Space of Lies (1992)
City (1952) by Clifford D. Simak [4.1]
You will never think about ants the same way again. — @uraimo
Simak’s “City” is a series of connected stories, a series of legends, myths, and campfire stories told by Dogs about the end of human civilization, centering on the Webster family, who, among their other accomplishments, designed the ships that took Men to the stars and gave Dogs the gift of speech and robots to be their hands.
I, Robot (1950) by Isaac Asimov [4.1] 🌟 🔥
The three laws of Robotics:
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
With these three, simple directives, Isaac Asimov changed our perception of robots forever when he formulated the laws governing their behavior. In I, Robot, Asimov chronicles the development of the robot through a series of interlinked stories: from its primitive origins in the present to its ultimate perfection in the not-so-distant future — a future in which humanity itself may be rendered obsolete.
Here are stories of robots gone mad, of mind-read robots, and robots with a sense of humor. Of robot politicians, and robots who secretly run the world — all told with the dramatic blend of science fact and science fiction that has become Asimov’s trademark.
Manhattan in Reverse (2011) by Peter F. Hamilton [3.9]
This is a collection of short stories from the master of space opera. Peter F. Hamilton takes us on a journey from a murder mystery in an alternative Oxford in the 1800s to a story featuring Paula Mayo, deputy director of the Intersolar Commonwealth’s Serious Crimes Directorate.
Contents: Watching Trees Grow (2000), Footvote (2004), If at First… (2007), The Forever Kitten (2005), Blessed by an Angel (2007), The Demon Trap (2008), Manhattan in Reverse (2011)
Of Time and Stars (1972) by Arthur C. Clarke [4.1]
I can’t praise this book enough. The Nine Billion Names of God is brilliantly done; well written, executed, and frisson-inducing. If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth is also a stark reminder that we only have one planet. One of the most memorable Science Fiction stories I have ever read. — @RichardLitt
Of Time and Stars is a collection of short stories by science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke. The stories all originally appeared in a number of different publications including the periodicals Dude, The Evening Standard, Lilliput, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Future, New Worlds, Startling Stories, Astounding, Fantasy, King’s College Review, Satellite, Amazing Stories, London Evening News, Infinity Science Fiction and Ten Story Fantasy as well as the anthologies Star Science Fiction Stories №1 edited by Frederik Pohl and Time to Comeedited by August Derleth.
Contents: The Nine Billion Names of God (1953), An Ape About the House (1962), Green Fingers (1956), Trouble with the Natives (1951), Into the Comet (1960), No Morning After (1954), ‘If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth…’ (1951), Who’s There? (1958), All the Time in the World (1952), Hide and Seek (1949), Robin Hood, F.R.S. (1956), The Fires Within (1949), The Forgotten Enemy (1953), The Reluctant Orchid (1956), Encounter at Dawn (1953), Security Check (1957), Feathered Friend (1957), The Sentinel (1951)
Stories of Your Life and Others (2002) by Ted Chiang [4.4]
What amazes me most about Ted Chiang’s stories is their richness — the level of detail which the author managed to weave into the stories without having them turn into fluff. Artfully executed, uniformly good through excellent — which is by no means par for the course in single-author collections! Reminds me the most of Greg Egan’s Axiomaticcollection, except Chiang manages to keep his characters optimistic. — @mihailim
Ted Chiang’s first published story, “Tower of Babylon,” won the Nebula Award in 1990. Subsequent stories have won the Asimov’s SF Magazine reader poll, a second Nebula Award, the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, and the Sidewise Award for alternate history. He won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1992. Story for story, he is the most honored young writer in modern SF.
What if men built a tower from Earth to Heaven — and broke through to Heaven’s other side? What if we discovered that the fundamentals of mathematics were arbitrary and inconsistent? What if there were a science of naming things that calls life into being from inanimate matter? What if exposure to an alien language forever changed our perception of time? What if all the beliefs of fundamentalist Christianity were literally true, and the sight of sinners being swallowed into fiery pits were a routine event on city streets? These are the kinds of outrageous questions posed by the stories of Ted Chiang. Stories of your life… and others.
Contents: Tower of Babylon (1990), Understand (1991), Division by Zero (1991), Story of Your Life (1998), Seventy-Two Letters (2000), The Evolution of Human Science (2000), Hell Is the Absence of God (2001), Liking What You See: A Documentary (2002)
The Illustrated Man (1951) by Ray Bradbury [4.1] 🌟
That The Illustrated Man has remained in print since being published in 1951 is fair testimony to the universal appeal of Ray Bradbury’s work. Only his second collection (the first was Dark Carnival, later reworked into The October Country), it is a marvelous, if mostly dark, quilt of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. In an ingenious framework to open and close the book, Bradbury presents himself as a nameless narrator who meets the Illustrated Man — a wanderer whose entire body is a living canvas of exotic tattoos. What’s even more remarkable, and increasingly disturbing, is that the illustrations are themselves magically alive, and each proceeds to unfold its own story, such as “The Veldt,” wherein rowdy children take a game of virtual reality way over the edge. Or “Kaleidoscope,” a heartbreaking portrait of stranded astronauts about to reenter our atmosphere — without the benefit of a spaceship. Or “Zero Hour,” in which invading aliens have discovered a most logical ally — our own children. Even though most were written in the 1940s and 1950s, these 18 classic stories will be just as chillingly effective 50 years from now. — Stanley Wiater
I think of these stories often; The Death of Dr. Island won a Nebula and offers a startling view into the rehabilitation and justice system we currently deal with and what we might have. The Doctor of Death Island is the same — I often think of him taking off the book cover, “like Mephistopholes”. It takes an amazing talent to make three beautiful short stories out of permutations on a title. Also, Feather Tigers made me view the jungles in South East Asia a bit differently than I would have, and I think about Nashwonk a lot more than I should. I highly suggest this book. — @RichardLitt
A superb collection of science fiction and fantasy stories, The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories is a book that transcends all genre definitions. The stories within are mined with depth charges, explosions of meaning and illumination that will keep you thinking and feeling long after you have finished reading.
Contents: The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories (1970), Alien Stones (1972), La Befana (1973), The Hero as Werwolf (1975), Three Fingers (1976), The Death of Dr. Island (1973), Feather Tigers (1973), Hour of Trust(1973), Tracking Song (1975), The Toy Theater (1971), The Doctor of Death Island (1978), Cues (1974), The Eyeflash Miracles (1976), Seven American Nights (1978)