Best Science Fiction Books of 2020 - Featured ImageBest Science Fiction Books of 2020 - Featured Image

The 13 Best Science Fiction Books of 2020

If you’re reading this after 2020, check out the Best Science Fiction Books of 2022 here.

From a human perspective, 2020 was insane. It can be hard to feel balanced right now. The news, the divisiveness, maybe even events in the nearest city…

If you need to escape for a few hours, reading Science Fiction is a great way to go. Fortunately, there are some really great Science Fiction books out this year.

I’ve curated my favorite science fiction reads into three categories:

  • Best New Books
  • Best Series Continuations
  • Honorable Mentions

In no particular order, here are the 12 best science fiction books of 2020… 

The Best New Science Fiction Books | 2020The Vanished Birds - Book Cover1. The Vanished Birds

There are two ways to describe this gorgeously-crafted book: Plot vs. Feeling.

The Vanished Birds follows Nia, a ship captain who travels from planet to planet, never to settle down. One day, Nia becomes the guardian of a mute boy who, it is believed, can travel the stars in the blink of an eye. How? Nobody knows because nobody has seen it happen.

But the true experience of this novel is something special to behold. Because Nia must fly vast distances, all of her planet-bound friends and lovers age much faster than her. This forces her to adapt, to live a transient lifestyle with few companions who, ultimately, she may have to leave behind.

Read This if You Love:

  • Science fiction focused on “meaning” rather than scientific explanations
  • Nomads who prefer not to fit in with the rest of society
  • The painful ennui of nostalgia and the hope of redemption

At its heart, The Vanished Birds is a story about love and regret. It’s equal parts cozy and alienating as you begin to feel the vast weight of time and distance between characters.

Get the book here.

The Book of Koli - Book Cover

2. The Book of Koli

An apocalyptic event has transformed much of the world into an overgrown forest filled with exquisitely dangerous plants. Grasping vines, murderous trees… and worse.

The only safe place is inside the walls. Unfortunately for a young boy named Koli, he is forced outside of those walls – and must start an adventure that will unravel his understanding of the world around him.

Who Should Read This?

This is a great setup for a trilogy – so if you’re looking for a new apocalyptic adventure with several more books on the way, this is your best shot. 

The Book of Koli shines the most in its narrative style. If you love that “campfire storytelling” feel, you will enjoy this immensely. 

Get the book here.

Qualityland Book Cover

3. Qualityland

In the future, the algorithms determine almost every facet of your life. They know what you like, what you want, they anticipate your needs before you even think about it. 

The algorithms are always right.

But one man disagrees. Unfortunately for him, he may be the most powerless human being on the planet. That is until the algorithms purchase one ridiculous gift for him… giving him no choice but to fight back.

Who Should Read This?

You will love this book if you:

  • Spend too much time on social media
  • Love Semi-defunct robots and people who are just trying their best
  • Want humorous science fiction that starts off as absurd… and slowly gets closer to the truth

Despite its light-hearted tone, Qualityland will make you think long and hard about your future.

Get the book here.

Goldilocks Book Cover

4. Goldilocks

Earth is overpopulated. Society has taken too many steps backward.

Five female astronauts take on the ultimate challenge: find a new home for humanity. But the longer they stay in the ship – close, cramped, claustrophobic – the more secrets come to light. And some of them are dark.

Read This Book if You Love:

  •  The Handmaid’s Tale 
  • Deeply-flawed main characters that you still care about
  • Hard, almost dry narration interspersed with scientific details (botany, space flight, etc.)

Get the book here.

Devolution - Book Cover

5. Devolution

The author of the incredible World War Z  is back with a novel about the origins – and denial – of a certain kind of superpredator.

Katie and her family were the newest members of a surprisingly high-tech, off-the-grid community in Washington.

But when their community got cut off from the rest of the world by lava flows from Mt. Rainier, the survivors started to turn against each other. And as Katie’s new world fell to pieces, there were reports… 

Strange sightings in the woods…

Something happened out there.

Who Should Read This?

This novel takes Bigfoot (Bigfeet?) very seriously. 

This book is not just about the legend, it’s also about the human ability to deny and blur the truth when it lurks at the corners of your vision.

You will love this book if you love:

  • Cryptozoology
  • The multiple, “reporter narrative” style of World War Z
  • Brutal action, suspense, and questions that start with “What if…?” 

Get the book here.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Book Cover

6. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (42nd Anniversary)

Desperately funny. And filled with that incisive, understated British humor, this book is a great read for anyone ages 10 to 100.

Though it was first published 42 years ago, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is as fresh as the day it was first inked. 

This book is a cornerstone of classic Science Fiction. 

Read This if You Love:

  • Absurd situations and hilarious prose
  • Neil Gaiman or Terry Pratchett
  • Or wrestling with the existential nightmare of suddenly realizing life is probably meaningless and certainly random

…you will love this book.

Get the book here.

The Loop - Book Cover

7. The Loop

This is no ordinary prison. Instead of death row, Luka Kane must pay his time in an unending loop of purgatory. He can only dream of escape…

But there are rumors. Outside of the walls, chaos has erupted. Is it war? What happened to the government? 

And now, this chaos threatens to break in

Luka must reckon with a new reality. Is prison still the worst place to be? 

Read This if You Love:

  • The Maze Runner, The Hunger Games, or even the Matrix
  • Young adult thrillers with a dark twist
  • Futuristic zombies

Get the book here.

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars - Book Cover

8. To Sleep in a Sea of Stars

Christopher Paolini, the author of Eragon, is finally moving beyond dragons, and into space opera. 

On a journey to another planet, a xenobiologist discovers the first alien artifact.

The evidence is clear: once, there must have existed an ancient alien civilization. 

But when the artifact fuses with her, the xenobiologist learns the truth about why that ancient civilization disappeared… which leads her on a world-shaking path of conflict.

Who Should Read This?

People who love Space Operas, giant ship battles, or who will devour anything with aliens and alien history. 

The world-building is supposed to be especially satisfying. 

Order the book here.

The Best Science Fiction Series Continuations | 2020

Looking to start your next Science Fiction series? These are the best new sequels coming out in 2020.

The Last Emperox - Book Cover

9. The Last Emperox (The Interdependency #3)

The final novel in John Scalzi’s latest space opera thunders to a climax. If you haven’t started this yet, here’s my pitch: 

In a future where all humanity lives under a single empire…

…where space travel is possible only through a complex and slowly-changing series of flow-points…

…what happens when a woman who never wanted power is thrust into the Emperox’s throne?

Death plots. Inter-planetary power-struggles. And, in the face of a disaster that will almost certainly send this Empire back to the dark ages, she might even find love and warmth from new-found friends.

Read This if You Love:

  • Intrigue and plots that never stop unraveling
  • Fans of faster-than-light travel with detailed but easy-to-understand explanations
  • Warm, cozy interpersonal relationships between the main character and their allies

Get the book here.

Network Effect - Book Cover

10. Network Effect (The Murderbot Diaries #5)

Murderbot FINALLY gets a full-length novel.

What if you were purpose-built to kill?

…and then, one day, one of your controls jiggles loose, and you realize you don’t actually like killing?

Murderbot is about a death machine … gone rogue. This is a series about a machine learning to redefine itself. Murderbot is equal parts action, humor, and finding out what it means to be a person (but not necessarily a human).

Read This if You Love:

  • Grumpy curmudgeon characters with hearts of gold
  • A strong character voice: both snarky and pessimistic (but almost always right)
  • Watching a very effective assassin droid get to work – more like Deadpool than Dexter

Get the book here.

The Relentless Moon - Book Cover

11. The Relentless Moon (Lady Astronaut #3)

In an alternate 1960s, an earth-wide catastrophic event propels space exploration to global priority #1. Colonizing Mars becomes their only hope.

Intrigue, sabotage, and horribly misguided groups of people do everything in their power to destroy the Astronauts’ painstaking success. 

Fortunately for humans everywhere, one woman steps up to the plate. But she does not go bravely alone – she enlists the help of the talented women (and a few men) in her field.

Read This if You Love:

  • An alternate history of the Space Race… on steroids
  • Warm interpersonal relationships between main characters
  • The empowerment of historically disenfranchised groups

I think it’s fair to say that, with this series, Mary Robinette Kowal has finally found her stride in the novel-writing world. If you think you might enjoy science fiction, you will not regret picking up this series.

Get the book here.

Children of Ruin - Book Cover

12. Children of Ruin (Children of Time #2)

Brilliant. A sequel to one of the most original series I’ve read in a long time. Children of Time is a series that explores the concept of Uplifting: using technology to rapidly improve the intelligence of other lifeforms. 

If you’re tired of spaceships and lasers and chosen ones…

If you want something that laughs in the face of the Prime Directive (i.e., do not interfere with the natural development of aliens)…

If you love science fiction with actual science in it…

The Children of Time series is for you. 

In the first novel, Adrian Tchaikovsky spins a tale that spans hundreds of years. A race of alien “spiders” are bombed by a virus that slowly rearranges their genes, and helps them reach human-levels of sentience. Unfortunately, some of their ancient natural enemies receive the very same blessing.

This next book takes this concept to the next level: what happens when you intentionally alter the genes of a lowly species? How much faster can you accelerate the uplift cycle? 

…and how will a society born of this rapid change develop? 

You Will Love This Series if You Love:

  • Twists, turns, and fast-paced science fiction that thrills
  • A cast of characters that cooperates beautifully. Humans and aliens alike. 
  • Rich, science-driven stories that illustrate the numerous paths of evolutionary biology

Get the book here.
The Human - Book Cover

13. The Human (Rise of the Jain #3)

I like to think of this series as Dragon Ball Z meets hard Science Fiction. 

Take a weapons-grade cyborg engineered to be one of the most powerful supersoldiers in the human arsenal…

Pit him against a newly awakened Artificial Super Intelligence that can reach across the planets…

Throw in some pirates, some aliens,  and stolen powerful, ancient technology…

…and this is what you get.

Read This if You Love:

  • War. In Space.
  • Hard Science Fiction focused on Super Weapons
  • Hyper-complex storylines rich with technical details

Get the book here.

Honorable Mentions

Can’t get enough science fiction? These picks are for you.

Driving the Deep (Finder, #2): A fantastic series about a Scavenger who finds himself caught in the middle of a civil war… and other solar-system spanning “capers.”

Picard: The Last Best Hope: A prequel to the new Star Trek show. This book is wonderful at showing you the mind of Jean Luc Picard, one of the best Star Trek characters ever created.

War of the Maps: On a supermassive world, a peacekeeper-gone-rogue must traverse this ancient world, hunting after his quarry while fleeing his would-be-captors.

Finna: It turns out IKEA (or something like it) is filled with portals to other dimensions. Who knows? When a dear, old customer falls into one of these portals, two department store employees (and ex-lovers) must go after her.

Mazes of Power: In an ancient cavern city, two noble-born brothers fight for power amidst this plague-wracked, crumbling kingdom.

Repo Virtual: A smart city, veiled in augmented reality. What lies beneath this shiny, digital exterior? A whole layer of filth, poverty, and crime. Enter our thief, who accidentally steals the first-ever sentient AI.

Want More Science Fiction Reads?

Thank you for reading!

If you’re looking for more great SF reads, here are my previous years’ creations:

For Fantasy Readers:

5 thoughts on “The 13 Best Science Fiction Books of 2020”

  1. I feel like I’ve been out of touch with sci-fi releases this year. Looking forward to working through the ones on this list that stick out to me.
    Thanks for writing!

    1. Yes! Most of the big publishers were pretty quiet the first half of the year, so lots of great science fiction books flew under the radar.

      But it was actually a fantastic year for SF. Some of these books are EERILY prescient.

  2. I hoped to see Tales of a phoenix: odyssey to the underverse in that list. Unique and outstanding story. Still underrated.

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