Don’t think science fiction is for you? Think again. Here are all the best science fiction books to introduce you to the power of sci fi.
One of my earliest memories is sitting on my father’s lap on the rocking chair watching the opening scenes of the original Star Trek series. Whenever the starship would swoosh by, my dad would tickle us.
Being a Daddy’s girl, I naturally gravitated toward a love of science fiction like my father. I love the power of the theoretical, taking a what-if scenario and playing it out to a stunning conclusion.
If you didn’t have a love of science fiction instilled into you at a young age (or ever), it’s never too late. If you want to put your foot in and sample the genre, here are the best science fiction books out there for you to read. They cover the genre beautifully – from short stories to classics to modern.
There’s something for everyone here, so dive right in and discover the power of science fiction.
The Best Modern Science Fiction Books
Astronaut Mark Watney wakes up to find himself marooned on the planet Mars, left for dead by the crew of the Ares 3 mission. Now, he must use all his ingenuity to overcome insurmountable odds for the chance to return home to Earth. I love how Weir uses real science and technology in this captivating book. To be honest, I almost didn’t read this book because of the strong language at the beginning of the book turned me off. I’d have to say it’s one of the best science fiction books out there, and one of the most thrilling books I’ve read in recent years – which is saying a lot considering how much I read.
World War Z
Don’t let Brad Pitt’s “meh” film adaptation put you off from reading Max Brooks’ novel. The book is far and away superior in every possible way. Written as an oral history of the Zombie War, Brooks splits the book into a series of short stories, interviews of survivors of the war. Each tale focuses on a snippet of the conflict – from the discovery of Patient Zero to the complete invasion of Japan to the point where the balance shifts in favor of humans. Brooks expertly narrates each character to convey a diverse overview of a fiction world event. Don’t let the concept of zombies turn you off, the story is a five-star read for anyone. If you have the chance, be sure to pick up the full-cast audiobook.
The best science fiction books always start with what if, and Recursion plays the what-if scenario perfectly. America has fallen victim to False Memory Syndrome – a disease where victims are driven mad by memories of a life they never lived … or have they? It’s up to NYPD cop Barry Sutton and neuroscientist Helena Smith to figure out how to stop this epidemic, even as reality is shifting all around them. You’ll have a hard time putting this one down. It takes about a third of the novel to figure out what is going on, and then you buckle in for a wild ride as you deal with the shifting of reality. Probably my favorite contemporary sci fi I’ve read since The Martian. You’ll certainly want to pick up a copy before the film adaptation hits Netflix.
Emily St. John Mandel
If you like science fiction books you can’t put down, then Station Eleven will be just right for you. Just so you know, it’s not the aliens and space ship variety of science fiction, but a story set in a dystopian future. Though it’s set after an apocalypse, it’s not really about the apocalypse, either. This captivating book grabs your attention not for its plot twists but for its themes. It’s hard to adequately describe to you its power and beauty. So you’ll just have to read it for yourself.
The Forever War
Caught in an interstellar war against an unknown alien race, Earth is engaged in battle far from home. So far from home in fact that the time dilation from space travel causes soldiers to only age months while years pass on Earth. The Forever War follows Private William Mandella from his conscription to the end of the war, over a thousand years later. If you are interested in science fiction, The Forever War is a great modern starting point. It takes hard science – the theory of relativity – and envisions the real-life consequences it has on human events, which is a common theme in the best science fiction books.
Old Man’s War
I was debating whether to include The Forever War (my favorite) or Old Man’s War (my husband’s favorite) into my list of the best science fiction books. In the end, I figured I might as well include both. Similar to The Forever War, Old Man’s War is set against the backdrop of an interstellar war. However, to boost the number of soldiers, the military recruits the elderly. By joining up, you will never return to Earth, but you are given a new advanced body – a second chance at youth, though with all your knowledge and experience intact. A fascinating twist on the interstellar war concept, Scalzi plays this what-if scenario perfectly, making this a great read for budding sci fi aficionados.
Project Hail Mary
In a last-ditch effort to save Earth from an extinction-level event, a group of astronauts is sent on a desperate mission in a cobbled-together spacecraft. But when Ryland Grace wakes up, he has no memory of his mission or why the rest of the crew is dead. The sole survivor, he must take on an impossible task with no margin for failure.
The Best Science Fiction Books for Teens
Orson Scott Card
In a future where humanity is at war with an alien enemy determined to destroy life on Earth, Ender Wiggin is a third child in a family of extraordinarily gifted children. Sent off to battle school at only six years of age, Ender – with his perfect mix of compassion and ruthlessness – is forced to become the military genius humanity so desperately needs. Ender’s Game is an amazing novel – not only thrilling enough to intrigue teenage boys who never read but also so packed with complex themes and deeper meanings you’ll want to read it again and again.
While technically an adult series, Red Rising is one of the best science fiction books to get teens who love the Hunger Games into sci fi. Living in a highly segregated society on Mars, Darrow belongs to the Red caste, the lowest of the low. Darrow is happy with his lot in life knowing that the Reds’ hard labor is getting Mars ready for future generations. Until Darrow realizes it’s all a sham. The elite Gold caste is simply using the Reds as slave labor. Can Darrow overthrow the Golds and restore freedom for the Reds?
The Best Classic Science Fiction Books
If you want to get a taste of the best science fiction books, Foundation is considered the epitome of classic sci fi. In a far distant future, psychohistorian Hari Seldon has analyzed the cycle of history and realizes that after twelve thousand years in power, the Galactic Empire is headed toward collapse. A collapse that will spawn 30,000 years of Dark Ages. To prevent complete disaster and shorten this dark period, Seldon sets up Foundation – a planet on the edge of the galaxy to contain the best minds with the knowledge of humanity. At crucial junctures in history, Seldon has set up steps to sway the course of events to protect the fledgling Foundation. Isaac Asimov is at his best when he writes short stories, which is reflected in the format of the original Foundation trilogy. Unfortunately, he later came back and wrote four more sequels/prequels, all in full novel format, none of which come close to the brilliance of the originals.
What list of the best science fiction books would be complete without Dune, the novel that took sci fi to a whole new level? Meet Paul Atreides, the heir apparent to the House of Atreides. At the beginning of the novel, his family takes control of the desert planet Arrakis, the source of the most sought after commodity in the galaxy. But power like that breeds many enemies who will stop at nothing to take over Arrakis. Combining politics, religion, and mysticism with a whole lot of adventure, Herbert sends you on an epic journey worthy of any science fiction reader.
The Handmaid’s Tale
Between the Hulu tv series and the recent sequel, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is experiencing a surge in popularity. After the fall of the United States, the theocratic patriarchal society Gilead is now in power. Due to an epidemic of infertility, most of the elite women cannot have children. Instead, they use handmaids, women of the lower caste forced to submit to men to bear a child for the upper class. The Handmaid’s Tale is written as the diary of one such handmaiden, Offred, as she struggles to survive in a brutal society, hoping to one day escape. A modern classic, The Handmaid’s Tale is the perfect book if you want a taste of the dystopian side of science fiction.
Best Science Fiction Short Stories
The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One
Edited by Robert Silverberg
The best science fiction books are just novels. If you are curious about science fiction, but not ready to commit to a full-length novel, you should try reading science fiction short stories. The absolute best collection out there is The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One. All the biggest names in science fiction got together and voted on the best of the best. Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury, Clarke. Ordered chronologically, you get to see the evolution of sci fi from the ’30s to the ’60s. A great introduction to classic science fiction.
What are the Best Science Fiction Books?
What do you think? What are the best science fiction books you would recommend for sci fi newbies? Do you agree or disagree with my list of sci fi books? As always, let me know in the comments!
More Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Lists:
Great recommendations! Have read most of them. World War Z is one of my favorite books ever. Recursion is right up there too. The entire Foundation series is also quite good as is The Forever War. Many of these books, like all good science fiction, explore interesting concepts. Two more I’d recommend are Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein and The Ship That Sang by Anne McCaffrey.
Starship Troopers is a great book. I really ought to read it again. I had never heard of The Ship That Sang. I’ll have to add it to my tbr. Thanks for the recommendation.