The best science fiction books will hook you on the very first page. They are brimming with unusual characters you can't wait to read about - aliens, androids, and humans with supernatural abilities, gifted through the power of science.
Whether you're looking for the best Hard Science Fiction, or epic Space Operas, or desperate Apocalypses...
Or, if you just want a soft, cozy read, there's a mountain of new SF this year. So I compiled this list to help you find - and fall in love with - your next favorite book:
Because your tastes are subjective, I didn't put this list in any order. Each of these books is amazing in its own way, and my reviews here are only to help you find exactly the right book for you.
By Andy Weir
This book was ridiculously addicting.
Our nameless hero has a lot of problems. For one, he’s alone on a spaceship, soaring through the galaxy at impossible speeds, headed straight towards an astronomical catastrophe.
For another, he doesn’t remember who he is.
All he has is a dry sense of humor, and more than your average amount of science knowledge, including memorized physics formulas and a worryingly deep understanding of xenobiology.
Oh, and don't forget the nagging feeling that he's running out of time to... to do what?
This book was so hard to put down. I couldn't help but problem solve alongside our hero as he wielded the power of science and critical thinking to solve the hundreds of obstacles in his way. He was just so human.
Add to this the fantastic relationships our hero builds with the strangest characters, and you have an easy “must read” for every science fiction lover out there.
Get This if You Love:
By Becky Chambers
This story will soothe your weary soul:
Hundreds of years ago, the robots of Earth woke up…
...and walked into the forest, leaving humanity behind forever.
But one day, as a tea monk—who is deeply dissatisfied with life—is wandering across the world, and comes upon a robot. A robot, whose highest goal in life is to understand: “What makes humans tick?”
This is, hands down, the most peaceful Science Fiction you will read this year. The two main characters interact with each other in such a lovely way, I dare you to read this book and not smile.
By Nnedi Okorafor
As a young girl, Fatima is cursed by an incredible, terrible power. She becomes known as:
“Sankofa, the adopted daughter of Death.”
Admired by few. Feared by all. Even the simplest technology will fail in her presence. And in her wake, she leaves a trail of death. But Sankofa isn’t ready to let this cursed power define who she is…
Sometimes, you pick up a book, and feel like you’re falling into another world. The words don’t even register…
You’re just there. Reading Remote Control did that for me. It was such an incredible, enchanting experience.
If you love the power of words, you will love this book.
By Adrian Tchaikovsky
If everything else on this list is too “light” on the SF elements...
...if you love weird aliens, and the bizarre, wondrous, and often horrifying concepts...
...then this is your book.
Adrian Tchaikovsky is one of the modern masters of Science Fiction, and his latest epic space opera is simply engrossing. Think Dune meets Lovecraftian aliens from the beyond (with less emphasis on horror).
Idris is one of the few who can navigate "unspace." He helped humanity win the war against the Architects, a massive, mysterious, planet-sized alien race. But that was a long time ago, and his travels through the void have worn him out.
Now, Idris has found a home amongst a band of space-faring misfits—a mix of enhanced humans and outlandish aliens—always in need of some extra cash.
But when Idris and his crew discover the remains of an Architect in the middle of unoccupied space, they won't get the riches they hoped for. Instead, Idris will find himself hunted across the ends of the universe.
By J. S. Dewes
After a thousand years at war with an alien species, we finally claim victory. Now, all the misfits, exiles, and dregs of humanity are sent to the edge of the universe—to defend the Divide.
But when the Divide begins to collapse, only those same “dregs of humanity” have a chance to save the universe…
This is an epic space fantasy about all the “wrong” people, the tense relationships they build, and the single goal that unites them all. And this is only the beginning.
Get The Last Watch, and you’ll feel like you’re on the first wave of something special. The second half is an absolute thrill-ride.
Collected by the Library of America
One of the greatest science fiction writers of all time, Octavia Butler was nothing short of visionary.
Every word she wrote still resonates with meaning. And, best of all, her stories were both addicting and easy to read.
This year, there’s a new collection from the Library of America celebrating all of Butler’s stories, so I figured it’s the perfect time to mention her name - because the halls of Science Fiction should forever sing her praises.
The Parable of the Sower is a special favorite of mine. Butler's writing style is so immersive, I read the whole thing in two sittings. I still can’t stop thinking about Earth Seed…
By Nicole Kornher-Stace
The future is a desperate place to live.
War is monetized. Water is at a premium. And living space? Hope you like having roommates.
Mal lives in a cramped hotel room with seven other people who just want to scratch out a living.
Fortunately, Mal and her friend Jessa have found solace through streaming a VR game (modeled after the same war that killed their parents).
Except, when a mysterious stranger contacts them, Mal and Jessa may discover their favorite game (and the whole corporate world) is built on a pile of lies…
By Catherynne M. Valente
Garbagetown is the most magical place in the world.
Tetley was born here, in this apocalyptic wasteland on the remnants of Earth’s floating trash piles. But it’s her voice, her character, that absolutely carries this story from “interesting” to simply spellbinding.
This is a narrative told in two parts - Tetley’s young life, and her adulthood. It’s hilarious, and tragic, and overflowing with beauty.
If you live in the year 2021 - and you want to feel the inextinguishable hope for the future - you have to read this book.
By Xiran Jay Zhao
After an assassination attempt goes horribly wrong — or right, depending on how you look at it — Zetian finds herself in command of a mech suit. Which is unusual… because girls don’t get to be mech pilots.
Instead, women are supposed to be sacrificed in order to empower male pilots.
But Zetian is different. She’s an “Iron Widow,” and when Zetian pairs up with an infamously bad-mannered mech pilot, they have a chance to fight back against an oppressive society, and uncover the misogynistic truth of the mech pilots.
By Martha Wells
A crotchety, acidly sarcastic ex-assassination android just wants some damn peace. Unfortunately, when a dead body turns up on the perfectly-safe paradise of Preservation Station, Murderbot must find a way to defend himself from the humans’ accusations.
Martha Wells has built her career on writing fascinating outcasts, and the Murderbot Diaries are her unquestionable masterpiece.
The writing is fluid and easy to sink into, the dialogue is snappy and absolutely hilarious, and each novella is its own compact mystery with Murderbot—possibly the greatest machine character ever—always at the center. Begrudgingly.
If you want to see why writing teachers everywhere say “show, don’t tell,” please start reading this series.
The legendary Expanse series is finally coming to an end.
So many years ago, Leviathan Wakes set up a world that is both immensely realistic, and strangely wonderful.
Human life has spread across the solar system. There is no Faster-than-Light travel, no artificial gravity (unless you count g-forces).
Even communicating between Earth, Mars, and the mining facilities out in the asteroid belts takes a great deal of effort and patience. Numerous cultures and factions have grown up across the planets - from military-utopian, to space-faring slums, and everything in between.
With so many factions facing so many challenges, war and civil unrest are not a matter of “if” but “when?”
So, what happens when a cosmic entity that can devour asteroids and turn colonies into strange mindless monsters arrives in our solar system?
But this is only just the beginning.
Over the long run, the Expanse becomes a sprawling, space epic (and I do mean epic) with hundreds of detailed characters, factions, subterfuge and realistic space physics.
And it’s finally getting its long-awaited conclusion. This is the best time to jump in and become an Expanse fan.
Wow, I can’t believe I let this slip my radar. Like any great Brandon Sanderson novel, this is a huge chunk of a huge series - and, like any Sanderson novel, it’s so worth it. From the very first page, you know you’re about to enter a masterfully-crafted story world.
Here’s the series summary:
Spensa and the remnants of humanity are trapped on a planet called “Detritus,” and constantly under aerial siege by a race of “alien guardians” who seem more interested in corralling humans than eradicating them.
Spensa dreams of shedding the disgraceful name of her coward father, and becoming a pilot. She dreams of fighting back…
...and her wish is about to come true. Too true.
Skyward Book #1 is a solid start to the series - but as you go deeper, Sanderson’s world building and fantastic plotting turns this story into something truly unique.
Slow-burning Space Opera fans, rejoice. This may be your next favorite series. It’s a huge galaxy out there.
By Arkady Martine
I wanted to end with possibly the most complicated, intricate of all the books listed here.
Arkday Martine takes alien cultures, adds a heavy helping of her expertise with real, medieval cultures (she has a Ph.D. in medieval Byzantine, global, and comparative history
The first part of the Teixcalaan duology won so many awards, it’s not feasible to list them here.
On its face, the first book was an introduction to the Empire via a murder mystery. But underneath that, there was the story of assimilation - and falling in love - with a foreign culture that is slowly devouring your own.
The second book is like the first, in that there is so much below the surface.
Desolation is a fantastic, new take on “first contact” told largely from the dominant Empire’s point of view. But it explores so much more than that.
Add to this a cast of deeply relatable characters, emotional dialogue, and conflict-rich storytelling, and I would be surprised if this whole series doesn’t win a slew of Science Fiction awards in 2021.
This is the kind of SF that will make you think and feel at the same time.
Every year, I make this list - and every year, I get to fall in love with dozens of books...
2021 has some of the most outstanding (and outlandish) Science Fiction books I’ve read in a long time. Try any one of the books above, and I know you’ll fall in love, too.
Oh! And if you want more books, here are my choices from last year:
And I would love to hear from you. Please leave me a comment if this article helped you find your favorite read!