Sci-Fi worth consuming
I asked on Twitter for recommendations as I want to get into reading Sci-Fi novels. The below is the result. Thanks everyone for recommending your favorites! :)
For fantasy books, see awesome-fantasy.
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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
Books: * 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.
The Three Body Problem (2014) by Liu Cixin [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 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.
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 Destination is 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.