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! :)
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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.
Blindsight (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.
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.
Childhood’s End (1987) by Arthur C Clarke [4.0]
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 (2005) 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, historyrepeats itself as the cities once again journey back in to space making a terrifying discovery which could destroy the entire Universe. A serious andhaunting 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 (1991) by Robert 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.
Foundation (2004) 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.
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…
I, Robot (2004) by Isaac Asimov [4.1]
The three laws of Robotics:
1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2) A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3) 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 Asmiov’s trademark.
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 (2004) 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 (2010) 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.
Roadside Picnic (2000) 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 artefacts that the alien visitors left scattered there. His whole life, even the nature of his daughter, is determined by the Zone.
Solaris (2002) 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.
Space Trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis [4.1]
Out of the Silent Planet (2005) 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 (2005) 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 (2005) 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 organisation 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 organisation, 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.
Spin (2006) 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.
Indeed, in his many lives, the entity called Jean le Flambeur has been a thief, a confidence artist, a posthuman mind-burgler, and more. His origins are shrouded in mystery, but his deeds are known throughout the Heterarchy, from breaking into the vast Zeusbrains of the Inner System to stealing rare Earth antiques from the aristocrats of Mars. In his last exploit, he managed the supreme feat of hiding the truth about himself from the one person in the solar system hardest to hide from: himself. Now he has the chance to regain himself in all his power—in exchange for finishing the one heist he never quite managed.
The Quantum Thief is a breathtaking joyride through the solar system several centuries hence, a world of marching cities, ubiquitous public-key encryption, people who communicate via shared memory, and a race of hyper-advanced humans who originated as an MMORPG guild. But for all its wonders, The Quantum Thief is also a story powered by very human motives of betrayal, jealousy, and revenge.
Stand on Zanzibar (1999) 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 (1999) 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 Fifth Head of Cerberus (1994) by Gene Wolfe [4.0]
This is an incredible book. Absolutely incredible. The first section, about a son of a scientist, is a great exposé 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 traveller 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 it’s context. Gene Wolfe also uses the epistolary novel technique incredibly well in the third story. But the best part is how you come to realise 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 (2000) 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 Illustrated Man (2002) 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
The Invisible Man (2002) 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 War of the Worlds (2002) 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 (1993) 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.
Diaspora (2000) by Greg Egan [4.1]
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 (2000) 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.
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.
The Sands of Mars (1991) by Arthur C. Clarke [3.7]
This book is most interesting for it’s 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’s most carefully hidden secrets and threatens the future of an entire planet
Soft Science Fiction
Novels where the science elements from the backdrop of the story rather than the central topic.
Dune Chronicles (1963-1994) by Frank Herbert [4.1]
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 & heir of House Atreides) as he & his family accept control of the desert planet Arrakis, the only source of the “spice” melange, the most important & valuable substance in the cosmos. The story explores the complex, multilayered interactions of politics, religion, ecology, technology & 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 & the inaugural Nebula Award for Best Novel. Dune is frequently cited as the world’s best-selling sf novel.
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.
Permutation City (1995) by Greg Egan [4.1]
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. (From the author of Quarantine.)
Rendezvous with Rama (2000) by Arthur C. Clark [4.0]
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.
Schild’s Ladder (2004) 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 Deep Range (2012) 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.
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 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 will continue in The Phoenix Exultant, forthcoming from Tor.
The Martian (2014) by Andy Weir [4.4]
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?
Future-based novels with advanced science and technology coupled with a disrupted social order.
Greg Mandel (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 (2000) 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 (1999) 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 (2000) by Neal Stephenson [4.2]
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 (1996) 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.
1984 (1950) 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 (1998) 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 (2013) by Ray Bradbury [4.0]
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]
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]
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 (1994) by Ursula K. Le Guin. [4.2]
Sci-fi, sociology and philosophy.
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, Anarres, to challenge the complex structures of life and living, and ignite the fires of change.
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 (2001) 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 all the following trilogy of the void)
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?
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 (2002) 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 (2010) 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 (1990) 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
Within the cosmic conflict, an individual crusade. Deep within a fabled labyrinth on a barren world, a Planet of the Dead proscribed to mortals, lay a fugitive Mind. Both the Culture and the Idirans sought it. It was the fate of Horza, the Changer, and his motley crew of unpredictable mercenaries, human and machine, actually to find it, and with it their own destruction.
Night’s Dawn Trilogy (1996, 1997, 1999) by Peter 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 civilisation, usually based in a future resulting from a catastrophe of some sort, where only scattered elements of technology remain.
A Canticle for Leibowitz (2006) 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.
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.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (2001) 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.
Riddley Walker (1998) by Russell Hoban [4.1]
I travelled 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.
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 (2001) 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 Stars takes 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 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.