SF CORE Best Lists
- Best Modern Science Fiction Books
- Best Science Fiction Series
- Best Stand Alone Science Fiction Books
- Top 25 Underrated Science Fiction Books
- Best Science Fiction by Women
- Best Science Fiction Books for Young Adults
- Best Science Fiction Books for Children
- The Alternative Top 25 Best Science Fiction List
- Top 25 Science Fiction Books
- Top 100 Best Science Fiction Books
- Top 50 Best Science Fiction Movies of All Time
- Best Sci-Fi Movies of the 21st Century
- Best Sci-Fi TV Shows of All Time
- Best Science Fiction Graphic Novels
SF ERA Best Lists
- Best Science Fiction Books of 2014
- Best Contemporary Science Fiction Books
- Best New Wave Science Fiction Books
- Best Classic Science Fiction Books
- Best Early Science Fiction Books
- Best Proto-Science Fiction
- Best Modern Science Fiction Classics
SF GENRE Best Lists
- Best Hard Science Fiction Books
- Best Cyberpunk Books
- Best Space Opera Books (OLD AND MERGED WITH NEW)
- Best Dystopian Science Fiction Books
- Best Post Apocalyptic Science Fiction Books
- Best Alternate History Books
- Best Time Travel Science Fiction Books
- Best Robot Science Fiction
- Best Artificial Intelligence Science Fiction
- Top 25 Best Mars Science Fiction Books
- Best Literary Science Fiction Books
- Best Books About Science Fiction
- Best Space Opera Books
- Top 25 Post Human Science Fiction Books
- Top 25 Best Science Fiction Mystery Books
- Top 25 Best Science Fiction Books About the Moon
- Best Non-English Science Fiction Books
- Best Science Fiction Games of All Time
- Best Science Fiction Comic Books
- Best Science Fiction Anime
- Top 25 Military SciFi Books
OTHER Best Lists
Best Hard Science Fiction Books
Are you the type of person that likes your science fiction heavy on the science? Get annoyed by the hand-waving attempts to allow for faster-than-light travel or inter-species breeding? We've got a run-down of the top twenty five hard science fiction books that are exactly what you're looking for.
For those who don't recognize the term, hard sci fi is a subgenre of science fiction that puts the focus on the science - lots of technical detail, realistic explanations and maybe if you're lucky, one or two equations!
Now that's not to say it doesn't invent anything new, and it certainly doesn't mean you have to reject anything that might conceivably throw a spanner in the works (speed of light constant, I'm looking at you) but whatever it does, it has to be theoretically possible and make sense given known constraints. Sound like your sort of thing? Right, on with our list!
Books in Rama Series (3)
And if you like Rendezvous with Rama, check out some more of his work â?? we recommend 2001: A Space Odyssey and Childhood's End for starters
Books in Foundation Series (9)
Forty years after the first of the stories that became Foundation was published in Astounding, Asimov returned to the series with a sequel, Foundation's Edge, followed by a further sequel, Foundation and Earth. After this he wrote two prequels to the trilogy, Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation. To be honest, they're not a patch on the original trilogy, despite the fact that Foundation's Edge won both a Hugo and a Locus Award.
If you LOVE hard science fiction, there's been a lot that stands out since Foundation. For hard science fiction that's highly regarded, check out the Ringworld series by Larry Niven. For space opera science fiction with grand ideas about alien civilizations, read A Fire Upon the Deep.
You might also want to check out the Revelation Space series by Alastair Reynolds. Both of these are not 'hard' science fiction, but some of the ideas are certainly realistic about space travel, alien civilizations, and contact.
If you like Tau Zero, try Timescape by Gregory Benford and The Haertel Scholium by James Blish
Books in Marstrilogy Series (2)
Kim Stanley Robinson has been one of the best and most consistent writers of science fiction, and practically everything he's written is worth checking out.
The Orange County Trilogy offers three separate visions of the future of California. The Wild Shore is a post-apocalypse story in which the survivors start again in small rural communities. The Gold Coast is a dystopia in which California's love affair with the car has run to excess. While Pacific Edge is a utopia in which ecological ideas are put in place to create a better world.
The Years of Rice and Salt is a striking alternate history in which most of Europe was wiped out by the Black Death. The novel traces the social, political and scientific developments in a world in which Middle Eastern, Asian and Native American cultures dominate.
If you want more books about mars, check out The Martian by Andy Weir which is a near-future novel about a man who gets stranded on mars for a couple years. If you want an old school space opera about mars, check out Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles. And finally, if you want a pulpy science fantasy about mars, read the Barsoom novels by Burroughs starting with The Princess of Mars.
Books in The Color Of Distance Series (1)
Books in Ringworld Series (4)
Niven wrote three sequels to Ringworld, The Ringworld Engineers, which is the best of them, The Ringworld Throne and Ringworld's Children, but as usual none of them have the thrill or the sense of wonder that the original generated. There's also a bunch of related novels that Niven co-wrote with Edward M. Lerner, but unless you're a completist you can probably leave these alone.
However, some of the earlier Known Space works, such as The World of Ptaavs, Protector and the collection Neutron Star are well worth reading.
However, our Alternative Choice is the first novel Niven co-wrote with Jerry Pournelle, The Mote in God's Eye. This is one of the great stories of first contact, a big, rambling space opera full of twists and sudden discoveries that will keep you on the edge of your seat all the way through a long book. An encounter with an alien craft sends a human expedition to the sun known as the Mote, where they discover a curious race of technologically advanced aliens who, at first, seem very peaceful. Slowly, however, we discover the devastatingly violent secret that lies behind this faÃ?Â§ade.
If you love the idea of the Ringworld, you should also try Orbitsville by Bob Shaw. The Ringworld is essentially a slice taken out of a Dyson Sphere, but Orbitsville is a full Dyson Sphere. The story, which won the BSFA Award, and its two sequels, Orbitsville Departure and Orbitsville Judgement, concern the mystery of a habitable shell completely surrounding a star, and what it might mean for the humans who discover it.
Books in Revelation Space Series (4)
House of Suns is another epic, set six million years in the future, with long-lived clones who regularly circumnavigate the entire galaxy and a race of sentient robots, there are ambushes and betrayals, and a high-speed chase that lasts thousands of years and takes us as far as the Andromeda Galaxy. If that's not enough to excite your sense of wonder, you really shouldn't be reading science fiction.
Reynolds's most recent work is also on a grand scale. The Poseidon's Children trilogy starts, in Blue Remembered Earth, in a near future when Africa is the world's leading technological power, and two members of a powerful African clan gather cryptic clues that lead them to the outer reaches of the solar system. By the time of the second volume, On the Steel Breeze, it is 200 years later and a fleet of generation starships are approaching a world where mysterious signals have been observed, but there's treachery afoot, while the legacy of events from the first volume still linger. The third volume, Poseidon's Wake, takes us yet further into the future and out to other stars to encounter the mysterious aliens hinted at in the first two books.
If you're in to space opera, don't forget the granddaddy of them all, E.E. "Doc" Smith, whose seven volume Lensman series begins with two galaxies colliding, and just gets bigger. By the end of the series suns and planets are being tossed about as weapons in a massive interstellar war.
If you liked Rainbows End, check out William Gibson's Neuromancer and Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology, edited by Bruce Sterling
Neal Stephenson's novels have got bigger and bigger as his career has gone on. It's like he's trying to squeeze an entire world between the covers of a book. But however much detail you'll find in there, there's always a strong story that just keeps you turning the pages. There are several books that could equally well command a place in our Top 100 list.
Make sure you look at our 'Top 25 Best Cyberpunk Books list' and our Guide to the Cyberpunk Genre.
For similar recommendations, you should look at other cyberpunk works that have proved influential.
William Gibson's Neuromancer is the gold standard in cyberpunk and pretty much the founding father of the movement in science fiction.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep -- a highly influential work by PKD that's touched literature and film. The futuristic noir dystopian metropolis setting of the film has inspired generations of sci fi movies and video games. Truth be told, there have been few science fiction books as influential on pop culture as THIS work. As such, you absolutely should read it.
For a modern violent take on the cyberpunk genre, Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan. It's brutal, violent, dark, and has a mystery-detective tale that keeps you hooked from start to finish. This is one of the most exciting cyberpunk thrillers in the genre.
Books in The Company Wars Series (10)
Books in Culture Series (11)
Basically, anything with Iain M. Banks's name on it is going to be action on a massive scale, great ideas, laugh out loud humour, and soul-searching darkness, all rolled into one. You're not going to go wrong picking up any of his books. But these are some you'll really want to pay attention to.
The Player of Games stars the Culture's top games player, Gurgeh, who is blackmailed to go on a secret mission for Special Circumstances, taking on a brutal alien empire at their own particular game, and the stakes are far higher than he could ever imagine. This is a novel where you just have to take a deep breath every so often before plunging back into the action, because it really will screw with your mind. This is recommended as a good introduction to the series -- it's action packed, it's faced paced, and it's a rewarding story.
Excession mostly concerns the ships who are called on to investigate a strange intrusion into Culture space, and which gradually reveals a whole level of reality they weren't even aware of before. This won the BSFA Award.
Look to Windward describes an attempt to blow up an Orbital, an artificial world where millions of people live, as revenge for the Culture's interference in a long-ago war. It's the novel where you realise that the Culture isn't a static society but is actually evolving, growing older, maybe beginning to contemplate its own death.
The novels of Iain M. Banks helped to kick start the British Renaissance of the 1990s and also the New Space Opera, so if you love his books you're also advised to look out for some of the other books that emerged out of those movements.
The Fall Revolution Quartet by Ken MacLeod, Banks's childhood friend, is an obvious place to start; each volume takes a different version of Trotskyist politics as an underlying theme in a story that starts in a near future Britain and ends with a war against uploaded beings around Jupiter.
The Quiet War Quartet by Paul McAuley covers thousands of years of human habitation across the solar system, starting in the relatively near future when energy and enthusiasm are driving people ever further out but their efforts have to be directed towards trying to prevent a war between the colonists in the outer system and the authoritarian regimes left behind. But by the end of the series humanity is retreating as the various human habitats crumble and decay, but a mysterious message from the stars could reinvigorate things.
The Xeelee Sequence by Stephen Baxter, one of the most consistently reliable of hard sf authors, whose monumental series of novels and stories range from the present day to five billion years in the future when the solar system collides with the Andromeda nebula, during which time humanity becomes one of the most powerful races in space.
For big space opera with grand ideas and exiting action, give Alastair Reynold's Revelation Space series a read. It's got it's own thing going on -- a different sort of story than the Culture, but in my opinion, just as exciting.
Books in Blindsight & Sequel Series (1)
Echopraxia is a kind of sequel to Blindsight, though it shifts our attention to characters who played little or no part in the first book. What we get is one of the biologists who unleashed the zombie plague is on a field trip in a remote wilderness when intruders force him to retreat to a strange monastery. Then, when the monastery is attacked, he finds himself aboard a spaceship heading towards a spacestation near the Sun. When we discover that this, too, has been infected with an alien slime mold, we start to question how much of the first novel we can really believe. (Incidentally, Blindsight and Echopraxia have now been published together in one book under the title Firefall.)
Science fiction is crowded with stories about first contact with aliens, but from The War of theWorlds by H.G. Wells onwards, they've mostly been about which side can most effectively destroy the other side. Stories about learning to understand the alien are much rarer.
You might, however, want to check out Stories of My Life by Ted Chiang. It's a collection of short stories, all of which are excellent, but the title story, "Story of My Life", is about a language specialist brought in to learn to communicate with aliens. The aliens have two languages, one spoken and one written, and when the specialist finally learns to understand the written language it actually affects the way she perceives time. The story won both a Nebula Award for Best Novella and a Sturgeon Award.
Books in Cheela Series (1)
Books in The Forever War Series (2)
Some years later, Haldeman wrote two other novels linked to The Forever War, though only one is a direct sequel.
The sequel is Forever Free, in which Mandella, with his wife and children, is now a colonist on the icy world of Middle Finger. When they try to use time dilation effects to escape the post-human hive mind known as Man, things go wrong, and they end up returning to a depopulated planet, meet an alien shapeshifter that has coexisted on Earth throughout history, and end up in a face to face meeting with God. It is nowhere near as good as the original, but it is interesting as a sequel.
Much better, but only tangentially connected to the original, is Forever Peace, which also won the Hugo, Nebula and John W. Campbell Memorial Awards. This is another novel which argues that war is an aberration, but in this case it is a war here on Earth fought by armies of robotic "soldier boys" who are controlled by plugged in operators. However, it is discovered that being plugged in like this cures all warlike impulses, so that the very act of fighting the war ends war.
If you love the military action (and suit to suit combat) of Forever War, read the classic Starship Troopers by Heinlein. While Forever War is an argument against war (and specifically, the Vietnam War), Starship Troopers is the celebration of all things war. Both have a shit load of action. And if you want a novel that straddles the middle between Starship Troopers and Forever War, then give John Steakley's Armor a good read.
For a somewhat different take on future wars, you should also check out Old Man's War by John Scalzi in which it is old people who have already lived productive lives who are recruited to fight and are then given enhanced bodies. But this is still an anti-war novel, the characters are psychologically damaged by their experiences and it is far from clear that the humans are fighting on the right side.
Pat Cadigan is one of the most important science fiction writers of the last 30-odd years, so it is, frankly, a disgrace and a mystery that she didn't win a Hugo Award until she picked one up for her novelette, "The Girl Who Went Out For Sushi", in 2013. But at least she made up for this oversight by being the first person to win two Arthur C. Clarke Awards. Which brings us to our Alternative Choice.
Fools was the novel that Cadigan wrote after Synners, and it is filled with the same dense detail, the same confident handling of its digital future, and the same ability to whip up a gripping adventure plot. It's set in a world in which memories can be bought and sold. When one woman wakes up with a memory of a murder that she didn't commit, she has to find out who's memory she has, while trying to dodge the assassins who are now chasing her. But in this world everyone can have several different personalities lodged in the brain and it's not easy even for Marva to know who she is.
Books in Spin Series (2)
Julian Comstock is a post-catastrophe story in which America has become rigidly hierarchical, with an hereditary president and fundamentalist Christianity ruling the land. Julian is the nephew of the President who is spirited away as a child to escape assassination. Raised in a rural community, he becomes a war hero and, following a coup, is declared President. In that position he immediately starts to ease censorship, reintroduce the ideas of Darwin, and downgrade the influence of the Church, all of which raises powerful forces against him, which become even more powerful when he comes out as gay. It's a fable about illiberality in Aerica that is one of the best things he has written.
Burning Paradise is yet another very different story. In this instance it is an alternate history in which the discovery of a "radiosphere" has resulted in a less technologically oriented but more peaceful world. But the radiosphere turns out to be a kind of alien hive mind.
Books in Jean Le Flambeur Series (2)
Following on from World War Z, the idea of a zombie apocalypse has become common, and a number of writers from both genre and non-genre backgrounds have written well received novels on the theme.
One of the most interesting is Zone One, by Pulitzer Prize nominated novelist Colson Whitehead. It is set after the apocalypse, when the zombie threat has been contained, and tells the story of the people patrolling New York, eliminating any remaining zombies and making the city inhabitable again.
The Girl with all the Gifts by M.R. Carey is the story of a 10-year-old girl who has been infected with the zombie virus but who has retained her genius-level IQ. When the base where she is kept is attacked, she and her teachers have to escape across country, learning devastating details about the infection along the way.