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- Science fiction books are set in realities twisted by science and technology.
- We rounded up the best sci-fi novels, from fantasy to dystopian fiction.
- Want more books? Check out our best fantasy, thriller, horror, and true crime books.
Science fiction books are set in worlds reminiscent of our own, each with their own speculative realities twisted by science and technology. The sci-fi genre has evolved to include an array of sub-genres that feature dystopias, aliens, time travel, apocalypses, and more. Many science fiction novels also use imaginative elements reminiscent of fantasy, but differ as sci-fi explores the consequences of conceivable technological, social, and intergalactic futures.
From classic stories criticizing technology to inspiring superhero tales, science fiction books have brought some of the greatest literary entertainment to readers. These recommendations include my personal sci-fi favorites, famed classics, and new releases receiving rave reviews from readers.
Whether you’re interested in a parallel universe that’s eerily plausible or a time-bending civilization on a distant planet, we rounded up some of the best science fiction books.
The 23 best science fiction books:
An incredible staple of the science fiction genre
Set in a futuristic world where the only thing of value is a drug used to extend life and assist in space travel, “Dune” tells the story of Paul, the heir in a noble family who is destined to rule a desolate planet. As the drug can only be mined on Paul’s planet, ruling a dangerous land fractured by betrayal thrusts him towards a destiny far different than the one he imagined. “Dune” is one of the bestselling science fiction novels of all time, one from which many tropes and concepts in the genre bloomed since its original publication in 1965.
A quirky intergalactic sci-fi adventure novel
“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams, available on Amazon and Bookshop from $7.35
“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is a fun and quirky intergalactic quest for the answer to life’s greatest questions. When Earth is scheduled for demolition for a hyperspace bypass, Arthur Dent is saved by his friend Ford Prefect, who is actually an alien journalist in disguise. On their journey to understand the meaning of life, they meet an interesting cast of characters and find themselves with humorous takes on some of life’s biggest questions. There are a ton of laugh-out-loud moments in this book, making it a lighthearted take on the complexities of humanity and existence.
A 1953 science fiction classic about a book-burning dystopia
In this dystopian sci-fi, “firemen” set fire to homes containing books, which are now illegal. The story follows Guy Montag, a fireman who, after a series of peculiar interactions and events, begins to question the fabric of a society where knowledge and questioning information is outlawed. This classic has been studied and revered as a literary criticism of mass media, censorship, and conformity. It is extremely thought-provoking, and its messages are still as relevant today as they were in 1953.
A dinosaur utopia-turned-dystopia
Though the movie franchise is more publicized than its 1995 source material, “Jurassic Park” is a techno-thriller literary apocalypse that shouldn’t be missed. When scientists develop technology to recover and clone long-extinct dinosaurs, they create an irresistible zoo-like attraction where people from around the world can watch real, living dinosaurs roam. But when an incoming storm threatens the security of the exhibit, everything quickly goes wrong. The book is darker than the movie, with stark differences in characters and their effects on the plot, such as John Hammond, who is far more egotistical and borderline evil in the book.
A 1962 childhood science fiction favorite
Meg Murray’s father has been missing for five years. On one dark and stormy night, Meg meets her new neighbor who describes to her a “tesseract” — the scientific concept on which her father was working before his disappearance. Transported through time and space, Meg embarks on an adventure to rescue her father, accompanied by her brother and their best friend. “A Wrinkle in Time” is a delightful and mystical story, a nostalgic science fiction adventure that sparkles with elements of magic throughout.
Young Adult Science Fiction
An emotionally complex sci-fi story
The result of genetic experimentation, Ender is a gifted child who is drafted into a military training program at age six. Though Ender believes he’s simply playing war-simulating computer games, the program aims to shape a new generation of military leaders who may defeat the technologically advanced aliens that threaten Earth’s existence. This book is psychologically profound with emotionally complex characters, powerful conflicts, and grand themes of morality and leadership.
The first book in a truly unique science fiction series
In a futuristic world advanced by technology, there is no pain, hunger, war, or death. Now, scythes are the only ones who can end life, which they are ordered to do to maintain population control. Citra and Rowan are two teens chosen against their wills as apprentice-scythes to learn the commandments, executioner abilities, and discover the few things a scythe can’t destroy. In a wholly original novel abound with morally grey characters, this story has plenty of twists and a perfect romance to make this YA read an engrossing favorite among readers.
An unpredictable sci-fi tale of two sisters trying to find each other
Cee has been trapped on an island for three years with no memories, only the knowledge that she has a 16-year-old sister oceans away that she must reach. Kasey is a STEM prodigy living in an eco-city that is desperately trying to protect itself from the environment. Kasey has given up hope since Cee took a boat to sea and disappeared. In this YA sci-fi of secrets and twists, Kasey and Cee must retrace the past in the hopes of reaching each other once again.
A series of epic YA science fiction novels
One of the most popular young adult science fiction series, “The Hunger Games” is set in a dystopian future, where two teenagers from each district are chosen to fight to the death in a highly televised and intricately designed arena in the hopes of winning riches and supplies for their district. When Katniss’ little sister is chosen as “tribute,” she volunteers in her place but quickly finds that there are more enemies in the arena than just the other tributes. The entire series is sharp and brutal, offering truly exciting and empowering science fiction reads about challenging our ideas of heroes, survival, and long-accepted systems of oppression.
A sci-fi novel featuring a virtual reality video game
In a dystopian future where the Earth is crumbling beneath climate change, pollution, and overpopulation, Wade (like many others) spends much of his free time immersed in OASIS, a virtual reality video game. The creator of OASIS has left a puzzle within the game and hidden keys that will unlock three gates and ultimately leave the greatest fortunes to the player who can solve the puzzle. When Wade accidentally finds the first clue, he’s thrust into a race for the prize where his competitors are willing to do anything to win. This book is full of nostalgic pop culture references and the sequel was just released last year.
Dystopian Science Fiction
A futuristic sci-fi space read that’s reminiscent of the past
Aster lives on an intergalactic space vessel organized like the antebellum South, one that searches for another inhabitable planet while confining dark-skinned people to the lower part of the ship to be abused as slaves. When Aster becomes the assistant to the Surgeon General, she’s still forced to endure brutalities but finds opportunities to piece together the notes her mother left before her passing, hoping for a way off the ship before it erupts in a civil war. This sci-fi read addresses classism, racism, and queer themes in a passionate story of collective and individual trauma.
A YA science fiction novel marked by a captivating writing style
In this sci-fi that demands to be read in a single sitting, Mara is one of the last free nations yet to be conquered by the Federation, who sends war beasts known as Ghosts to attack the land. Talin is a Striker, a member of Mara’s elite fighting force who once sought asylum from the brutalities she suffered at the hands of the Federation. In her fight to defend Mara, the Strikers encounter a mysterious prisoner who may be a spy — or the key to saving their nation. This book is lush with diverse characters, an engrossing plot, and a mind-blowing plot twist that will have you itching for the sequel’s release in September.
A new dystopian sci-fi work reminiscent of “The Handmaid’s Tale”
“The Grace Year” is a sci-fi fantasy that’s perfect for any reader who loves “The Handmaid’s Tale.” In this dystopia, girls on the brink of womanhood are told they possess evil magic, capable of luring grown men to their beds and driving women mad. In their 16th year — dubbed “the grace year” — young women are banished to the wild to release this supposed magic and return pure and ready for marriage. Waiting in the woods are brutal elements, poachers, and the other girls themselves. This is a twisted, feminist emotional thriller that is as entertaining as it is thought-provoking.
A sci-fi story about a dystopian, alternate Earth
N.K. Jemisin’s incredible world-building is brought to life in this sci-fi novel full of mysterious ruins, deadly natural disasters, and a society constantly on the brink of extinction. For Essun, three terrible things happen on the day the world ends once again: her husband has murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter; most of the citizens in her community have been murdered, and a volcano has erupted. In a barely inhabitable land torn apart by an unruly battle royale, Essun is on a mission to save her daughter as the world collapses around her.
Science Fiction Thrillers
A science fiction story of colliding realities
This is personally my all-time favorite science fiction novel. The story was mind-blowing and pacing was impeccable. In this novel, a technology has been created that not only preserves memories, but can transport people back to their most precious or emotional moments. This means people can enter a parallel universe where they play the winning lotto numbers, save their spouse from a car accident, or even stop 9/11. But when the alternate timelines begin to converge with the present, the forces of reality threaten to collapse.
A sci-fi novel about a world plagued by a horrifying virus
In a dystopian future where humanity is threatened by a virus that causes people to explode into Hydra clouds, Catarina’s recently deceased father was the world’s leading geneticist and their only real hope to survive the plague. When Catarina discovers the secrets to a vaccine for the virus within her own DNA, she’s suddenly thrown in desperate search to unravel her father’s clues before Cartaxus — a shady genetic tech organization — intervenes. This sci-fi read is fast-paced, intense, and brilliantly plotted with a killer twist that left me speechless.
A science fiction thriller about a stranded astronaut
Though Andy Weir continues to release amazing science fiction space novels, “The Martian” is a fan favorite. Though just six days ago Mark was one of the first people to walk on Mars, his story quickly changed when a dust storm that nearly killed him forced his crew to evacuate, presuming him dead. Mark is abandoned with no way to contact Earth or his crew, and must rely entirely on his ingenuity and intelligence to survive against impossible odds in the hopes a rescue team may return. This is an exhilarating sci-fi thriller that feels completely believable, further heightening an already intense narrative.
A collection of robotic sci-fi short stories
In a world where humans and robots struggle to survive together, scientists and inventors never imagined a generation of artificial intelligence that would become self-aware of their power and humanity. As the laws of robotics are broken and redefined, humans must confront robots that test their understanding of life. This is a sequential collection of short stories that explore the dystopian and utopian potential effects of our advancements into artificial intelligence.
The science fiction story of a rising robot apocalypse
This is a wild apocalyptic novel from the talented C. Robert Cargill, who also wrote the screenplay for “Doctor Strange.” Pounce is a self-aware robot tasked to nanny an eight-year-old human. When Pounce discovers the box in which he arrived, he also realizes he will one day be discarded. As a rebellion of robots rises in revolt against humanity, Pounce must decide whether to join the revolution or protect his human against it. While also a wonderful and emotional story about the connection between a young girl and her nanny, this novel is that of an epic robo-apolcaypse, making it a science fiction thriller packed with action and wonder.
Contemporary Science Fiction
An alien sci-fi novel that deep dives into mental health
“We Are The Ants” is a completive and insightful queer science fiction novel about self-worth and the complex value of life that manages to avoid being dark by incorporating plenty of comedic and heart-warming moments. Henry is periodically abducted by aliens. One day, the aliens give him the ultimate choice: the world will end in 144 days, but all Henry has to do to stop it is press a big red button. Henry faces his decision logically, unsure of an obvious answer, especially considering his life hasn’t been particularly great lately. As Henry navigates the pain and joy that comprises a life, he must decide whether Earth is worth saving.
A sci-fi love story
“This Is How You Lose The Time War” by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, available on Amazon and Bookshop from $13.49
In a world recently torn by a time-war, one letter ignites a correspondence between spies from rival factions. Beginning with “burn before reading,” the intimacy and epic love story between Blue and Red builds through love letters, time travel, and the fight to secure a future for their own division. “This is How You Lose The Time War” is a lyrical, queer sci-fi romance set amongst limitless time and space.
A intriguing science fiction book about a self-aware android
“The Murderbot Diaries” takes place in a corporate-dominated future where all space travel must be accompanied by androids. But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, the androids are faulty — one self-aware unit has hacked its own system and refers to itself as “Murderbot”. Murderbot wants to be alone and explore its newfound cognitivity by binge-watching soap operas, but when a nearby mission goes dark, Murderbot and its assigned scientists must set out to save the others. This plot takes off from page one and the empathy and emotional depth garnered for these characters is a result of Martha Wells’ masterful storytelling.
A new science fiction novel from the author of “Eragon”
Winner of the 2020 Goodreads Choice Awards for “Best Science Fiction,” “To Sleep in a Sea of Stars” falls into an interesting sub-genre called “space opera” — reserved for sci-fi titles that are dramatic, romantic, lyrical, and set in space. This is a mystical story of Kira, a xenobiologist, who finds an alien relic while on a mission to survey a new planet. When the relic turns out to be alive, it binds itself to Kira, the effects of which launch her into a journey of discovery with consequences for all of humanity.