Best Science Fiction Books of 2021Best Science Fiction Books of 2021

The 13 Best Science Fiction Books of 2021

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…

NEW! Check out the best Science Fiction of 2023!

Best New Science Fiction Books | 2021

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.

1. Project Hail Mary

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:

  • Hard Science Fiction (very similar to The Martian, but more fun)
  • Anti-social best friends who are hilariously mismatched
  • Using real science to solve the puzzles that threaten the everyday life of an astronaut 

2. A Psalm for the Wild-Built

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. 

Get This if You Love:

  • Optimistic Science Fiction with dry, clever humor
  • A world so cozy, you wish you could live in it
  • Very unlikely friendships and philosophical conversations about the meaning of life

3. Remote Control

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.

Get This if You Love:

  • Reluctant, badass heroes who refuse to succumb to their dark history
  • Cultures and villages that are shaped by the technology they adopt
  • Beautiful, simple prose that swallows you whole

4. Shards of Earth

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.

Get This if You Love:

  • Dune (specifically the insanity of the Guild Navigators)
  • Deeply intriguing alien species (this is where Tchaikovsky always excels)
  • Complex, intricately crafted Space Operas with astronomical Lovecraftian elements

5. The Last Watch

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.

Get This if You Love:

  • The Night’s Watch from Game of Thrones, but in Space
  • Realistic space action, like Battlestar Galactica or The Expanse
  • Tense, interpersonal relationships in cramped space ships (also like Battlestar Galactica)


6. Butler Collected Stories

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…

Get This if You Are:

  • A Human Being
  • Seriously.
  • Go read Octavia E. Butler


Get Parable of the Sower Here

7. Firebreak

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…

Get This if You Love:

  • Dangerous twists and turns with “ride-or-die” Platonic friendships
  • Anti-Corporate science fiction with a heavy dose of “virtual soldier power fantasy”
  • Everything Ready Player One could’ve been, without the constant 80s references

8. The Past is Red

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. 

Get This if You Love:

  • Apocalypse-ravaged worlds, where the people are oblivious to “how things used to be”
  • Broken-yet-ruthlessly-optimistic main characters
  • Beautifully bizarre “slice of life” storytelling, rich with heartbreaking optimism and sarcastic humor

9. Iron Widow

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.

Get This if You Love:

  • An underdog feminist hero in a Pacific Rim world
  • Young Adult (YA) Science Fiction with tons of societal conflict
  • High-energy, anti-mysogynistic warfare, fought via a beautiful variety of mech suits

Best Science Fiction Series Continuations | 2021

10. Fugitive Telemetry (Murderbot Diaries #6)

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.

Get This if You Love:

  • Lovable curmudgeon androids who can kill with the slightest touch (but they don’t want to)
  • Everything that Star Trek’s Data could have been, if he were born a reluctant killing machine. And even that might be underselling it.
  • Beautifully precise writing that is easy to devour, and makes the story just flow


Try the Series Here

11. Leviathan Falls (The Expanse #9)

It’s time. 

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.

Start This Series if You Love:

  • Realistic space travel (right now, this might be the pinnacle series for space enthusiasts)
  • Thrilling action, unexpected twists that are also very SF-y (read book 1 and you’ll know what I mean), and a great cast of characters – both good and bad
  • Game of Thrones in space, except this series actually has an ending


Start the Series Here

12. Cytonic (Skyward #3)

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.

Start This Series if You Love:

  • High-speed space battles and heroes who always go the extra mile
  • Underdog fighter pilots, who discover powers that make them so much more
  • Brandon Sanderson’s massive world building (think Mass Effect-style cultures) and extremely well-plotted series


Start the Series Here

13. A Desolation Called Peace (Teixcalaan #2)

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.

  • Love across cultures
  • Desperate last attempts to preserve identity
  • And how the “powers that be” can use peace to disguise cultural warfare

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.

Try This Series if You Love:

  • Rich relationship dynamics and tons of interpersonal conflict
  • Science Fiction focused on building and revealing cultures, and the people they produce
  • Thought-provoking exploration of empires and cultures, at an astronomical scale (similar or deeper than C. J. Cherryh)

More Great Science Fiction + Fantasy Reads

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!

9 thoughts on “The 13 Best Science Fiction Books of 2021”

  1. Sigh. Not one looks interesting to me. Just finished Robert Sawyer’s “Factoring Humanity” (yeah, took me a long time to get around to it) — it’s exactly the kind of “shift your paradigm right into another reality” SF I love.

    Where are the Phillip K. Dicks of today? Where are the people writing about something other that A. space opera (usually with a female commander doing things that most females have no interest in doing or B. cultural fantasy involving village girls who discover themselves. Doesn’t anyone want the sort of “wow, reality is not what I thought it was — there’s so much more” stuff anymore? (As in Sawyer’s “We’re all really part of a single, four-dimensional being — and no one had to blast into space to find it out.)

    I’m a female, psychonaut type who is bewildered and disgusted with the one extreme or another — hard sci-fi or multi- cultural folk tales. There’s so much MORE possible. And not even ONE time travel— past or future? Meh.

    1. Hey, thanks for the comment!

      The Philip K Dicks of today are getting the professional mental help they need, I imagine 🙂

      You can’t get the #1 book in a genre every single year. This year, a ton of fantastic cultural space operas landed all at once, and it just so happens to be the year that everyone wishes they could travel to far off places.

      You might check out #6, #7, or #8 on this list. If you’re looking for more mind-bending or philosophical science fiction, I would suggest something like Accelerando, Blindsight, or The Three Body Problem. Or better yet, check out last years list here:

      #1 and #7 might fit your interests better.

      As for why no time travel – it’s because I’m not a fan of time travel. It always feels more fantasy than anything else to me (which is fine), but it usually ends with one of three tropes. So, a time travel novel needs to be really scientific AND really good to make it on this list.

  2. Also a female, understand and agree, particularly the PC stereotypes of women in these stories. I would, however, suggest u give the Murderbot option a try: really well written by Martha Wells and a rare case of good audiobook narration as well (I’d start with the first one, though).

  3. I appreciate the sincerity of this write-up of yours, Science fictions are stifled just when prone to offer more information and opportunity than the protective orthodoxies they challenge,

  4. Hello Hofman,
    I just found your site and I am looking for recommendations that you are giving.
    Reading the comments I found one of your answers
    ” I would suggest something like Accelerando, Blindsight, or The Three Body Problem ”
    I have read those books and they are exactly the kind of books I like.
    Could you recommend some recent novels in that style?

    1. Hey Gojko!

      Sounds like you’re a big fan of cerebral concepts in Science Fiction, played out in thriller-style plots (especially toward the second half). I’d recommend anything by Philip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is one of my favorites), Solaris by Stanislaw Lem, A Canticle for Leibowitz, or anything by Greg Egan or Neal Stephenson (his books are enormous and can get complex). Enjoy 🙂

  5. Thanks for your reply, Hoffman.
    But you missed something important in my request for a recommendation and that is “some recent novels ”
    I read Solaris in 1972 and I am an old fan of science fiction.

    1. Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves came out in 2015 and … oh, that’s already seven years ago. I haven’t had a chance to read Termination shock from him yet.

      He’s the closest to those other conceptual SF stories we talked about, where the emphasis is on the effects of a few intense scientific differences.

      Have you tried Alastair Reynold’s House of Suns? Or Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time? They’re not quite so conceptual, but they are stunning and break the mold of thriller/adventure in space.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top