29 Best Alien Invasion Science Fiction Books

Alien Invasion

Alien invasions usually involve extraterrestrials arriving at Earth to destroy, enslave, or eat humans. It’s always humans, too—I’ve never read a story where the aliens were bent on destroying all squirrels.

Invasions usually fall into one of these categories:

  • Classic invasion
  • We’re the aliens doing the invading
  • Alien infiltration
  • Retaliation (book starts with humans already enslaved)

 

1
Ender's Game
by Orson Scott Card – 1985
Criticized for its violence (and possibly popular because of it), Ender’s Game shows children on a military space station, training for the war against the evil alien Buggers.

It won the Hugo and Nebula awards, even though the New York Times felt that the plot resembled a “grade Z, made-for-television, science-fiction rip-off movie.”

2
Starship Troopers
by Robert A. Heinlein – 1959
Starship Troopers was written while Heinlein was taking a break on Stranger in a Strange Land. Robert and his wife Virginia Heinlein created the small “Patrick Henry League” in an attempt to create support for the U.S. nuclear testing program. Heinlein found himself under attack both from within and outside the science fiction community for his views, so he wrote Starship Troopers to clarify and defend his military and political views at the time.

3
Childhood's End
by Arthur C. Clarke – 1953

It looks like a good deal at first: a peaceful alien invasion by the mysterious Overlords, whose arrival ends all war, helps form a world government, and turns the planet into a near-utopia. However, they refuse to answer questions about themselves and govern from orbiting spaceships.

Clarke has said that the idea for Childhood’s End may have come from the numerous blimps floating over London during World War II.

4
The War of the Worlds
by H. G. Wells – 1898
The granddaddy of alien invasion stories, The War of the Worlds was classified as “scientific romance,” as was Wells’s earlier book, The Time Machine.

Wells appears to have enjoyed the idea of obliterating his neighborhood. In a letter to a friend, he wrote, “I’m doing the dearest little serial for Pearson’s new magazine, in which I completely wreck and sack Woking — killing my neighbors in painful and eccentric ways — then proceed via Kingston and Richmond to London, which I sack, selecting South Kensington for feats of peculiar atrocity.”

5
The Andromeda Strain
by Michael Crichton – 1969
An accidental invasion by an extraterrestrial microbe that almost instantly clots human blood or causes insanity.

It’s a fun read, but prepare yourself for a meh ending.

6
The Mote in God's Eye
by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle – 1974

In the year 3016, the Second Empire of Man spans hundreds of star systems, thanks to the faster-than-light Alderson Drive. No other intelligent beings have ever been encountered, not until a light sail probe enters a human system carrying a dead alien. The probe is traced to the Mote, an isolated star in a thick dust cloud, and an expedition is dispatched.

Robert A. Heinlein, who gave the authors extensive advice on the novel, described the story as “possibly the finest science fiction novel I have ever read.”

7
Spin
by Robert Charles Wilson – 2006
This is one of my favorite SF books.

One night, a boy watches the stars flare and go out. The sun is now a featureless disk—a heat source, rather than an astronomical object. The moon is gone, but tides remain.

It’s a rare author that can start with such an intriguing premise and carry it through, while exceeding expectations. I recommend this book strongly, as well as the other two in the series, Axis and Vortex.

8
Pandora's Star
by Peter F. Hamilton – 2004

The human race has had wormhole technology for over 300 years and has colonized several hundred planets.

Hamilton’s exhilarating new opus proves that “intelligent space opera” isn’t an oxymoron.
– Publisher’s Weekly

9
A Hymn Before Battle
by John Ringo – 2000

Earth is introduced to extraterrestrial life by the Galactics, who tell world leaders that an invasion by another alien race, the Posleen, is coming, and they are bringing with them a terrible book cover.

A Hymn Before Battle is the first book in Ringo’s Legacy of the Aldenata series, which already has twelve books, and at least two more planned.

For fans of military fiction.

10
The Day Of The Triffids
by John Wyndham – 1951
The Day Of The Triffids is a classic, one of the cornerstones of the post-apocalyptic genre. It traces the fate of the world after a comet shower blinds most of the world’s population. The few with sight must struggle to reconstruct society while fighting mobile, flesh-eating plants called triffids.

Arthur C. Clarke called The Day Of The Triffids an “immortal story.” Director Danny Boyle says the opening hospital sequence of The Day of the Triffids inspired Alex Garland to write the screenplay for 28 Days Later.

11
Judas Unchained
by Peter F. Hamilton – 2007

Judas Unchained is the sequel to Pandora’s Star, and unlike many sequels, it doesn’t waste any time bringing you up to speed. Reviewers say that reading Pandora’s Star first is mandatory.

The density of detail may slow readers down, but the distinctive characters and the plot’s headlong drive will pull them along. In more ways than one, this two-part work is monumental.
-Publishers Weekly (starred review)

12
Startide Rising
by David Brin – 1983
Brin’s tales are set in a future universe in which no species can reach sentience without being “uplifted” by a patron race. But the greatest mystery of all remains unsolved: who uplifted humankind?

The Terran exploration vessel Streaker has crashed in the uncharted water world of Kithrup, bearing one of the most important discoveries in galactic history. Below, a handful of her human and dolphin crew battles an armed rebellion and the whole hostile planet to safeguard her secret—the fate of the Progenitors, the fabled First Race who seeded wisdom throughout the stars.

Winner of both the Hugo and Nebula awards, Startide Rising is the second book in the Uplift series (there’s a total of six), but popular opinion has it that the first book, Sundiver, can safely be skipped.

13
The Forge Of God
by Greg Bear – 1987

A dying alien is found in the desert, and in clear English says, “I’m sorry, but there is bad news.” He is later found to have a gift for understatement.

Fans of Bear’s earlier work may be disappointed by the less-visionary The Forge of God, but will still enjoy a compelling read.

14
The Course of Empire
by Eric Flint and K.D. Wentworth – 2005
Conquered by the Jao twenty years ago, the Earth is shackled under alien tyranny—and threatened by the even more dangerous Ekhat, one of whose genocidal extermination fleets is coming to the solar system.

The Course of Empire does a masterful job of describing deeply inhuman aliens, and makes them individuals, unlike most alien species (all Klingons are warlike, all Vogons write poetry, etc).

15
The Puppet Masters
by Robert A. Heinlein – 1951
The Puppet Masters is a true classic of alien invasion infused with Cold War paranoia. Echoing his pro-military stance (I’m oversimplifying), Heinlein repeatedly makes explicit the analogy between the mind-controlling parasites and the Communist Russians.

The original manuscript of The Puppet Masters was too risqué for the stuffy 1950s, and scenes of the main character waking up next to a blonde whose name he hadn’t bothered to learn had to be cut, as well as when the aliens discover human sexuality and embark on wild, televised(!) orgies.

16
Footfall
by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle – 1986
Footfall is probably the most widely-read alien invasion book in the world. It was a New York Times #1 bestseller and even featured Robert A. Heinlein as a thinly veiled minor character.

Its politics date Footfall—set in the 1990s, it features a still-strong USSR, which is dominant in space. Some reviewers complained of unrealistic characters, but the consensus is that it’s still a fun and exciting read.

17
Orphanage
by Robert Buettner – 2008
Orphanage has a great premise: mankind’s first alien contact tears into Earth. Projectiles launched from Jupiter’s moon, Ganymede, vaporize whole cities. Under siege, humanity gambles on one desperate counterstrike. In a spacecraft scavenged from scraps and armed with Vietnam-era weapons, foot soldiers (orphans that no one will miss) must dare man’s first interplanetary voyage and invade Ganymede.

According to the author, Orphanage is a conscious homage to Robert A. Heinlein’s classic, Starship Troopers, a youthful favorite of his.

This isn’t too surprising, given that Heinlein and Buettner were both military men.

18
The Blackcollar
by Timothy Zahn – 1983

Blackcollar starts years after a successful alien invasion of Earth. To free humanity, a lone soldier must locate the Blackcollars, an elusive, elite, martial-arts-trained, genetically-enhanced guerrilla fighting force. And he’d better do it, or the book title won’t make much sense.

Reviewers say it’s Zahn’s best work, and given that he’s written over forty books, Blackcollar is either great or the other thirty-nine books suck.

19
Fire with Fire
by Charles E. Gannon – 2013

By most accounts, Fire with Fire is an absorbing story of espionage, mystery, and space travel that’s firmly in the Military Science Fiction genre.

Reviewers applaud the well-rounded characters but aren’t too happy about the tough female soldiers who get both frightened and giggly a little too easily.

20
A Matter For Men
by David Gerrold – 1983
More a story of alien infestation instead of alien invasion, A Matter For Men does a great job of imagining an alien ecology.

Warning: A Matter For Men is the first book in a supposed seven-book series, but the fifth hasn’t been written yet, and the fourth was not only published over twenty years ago, it has a cliffhanger ending.

21
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
by Jack Finney – 1955

More people have heard of the four Invasion of the Body Snatchers movies than the book, which isn’t surprising, given the book’s reception:

“Almost from the beginning, the characters follow the author’s logic rather than their own… [The characters], intelligent and capable people, exhibit an invincible stupidity whenever normal intelligence would allow them to get ahead with the mystery too fast.”

It’s also been faulted for scientific inaccuracies and an unconvincing ending. But modern reviewers on Amazon and Goodreads continue to give it high ratings.

22
Steel Beach
by John Varley – 1993

“In five years the penis will become obsolete.”

That’s the opening line.

The “Steel” in Steel Beach, however, refers to the Moon, where much of humanity lives, after being ousted from Earth by The Invaders.

Varley does a great job of drawing full characters and imagining weird and wonderful ways humans carve out lives for themselves outside of Earth.

23
The Word for the World Is Forest
by Ursula K. Le Guin – 1976

The Word for World Is Forest is the Humans As Invader flavor of alien invasion stories. Earthlings land on an Eden-like forest planet and immediately begin chopping down what they can and enslaving everything else.

The narrative can be a little heavy-handed, but it’s more about the forced loss of innocence than simply beating the drum for conservation.

24
Manifold- Space
by Stephen Baxter – 2002

Startling discoveries reveal that the Moon, Venus, even Mars once thrived with life—life that was snuffed out not just once but many times, in cycles of birth and destruction. And the next chilling cycle is set to begin again…

The second book of a series, Manifold: Space is nestled in between Manifold: Time and Manifold: Origin. While it shares characters with the first book, it is not considered a sequel, so feel free to treat it as a stand-alone.

This is hard SF – lots of science, and very little character development.

25
Ring of Charon
by Roger MacBride Allen – 1990

An unknown alien race captures Earth with the use of a controlled wormhole, which was triggered accidentally by artificial gravity experiments issued from a human outpost in space.

This is a hard sci-fi novel (don’t expect lots of character development) that’s supposed to be the first book of a trilogy, but the third hasn’t been published yet, and it’s been twenty years since the second book, The Shattered Sphere, was published.

26
The Genocides
by Thomas R. Disch – 1965

People generally either love or hate this book about alien plants that grow incredibly fast and start sucking the planet dry. It focuses more on human failings in the face of disaster than the details of alien life.

27
Evolution's Shore
by Ian McDonald – 1995

Called Chaga in the UK, Evolution’s Shore has been applauded for being one of the few truly intelligent books about alien contact. However, it doesn’t seem to be sure if it’s a science fiction story, a mystery, or a love story, so be prepared to have a little romance in this alien-plants-take-over book.

28
Fade Out
by Patrick Tilley – 1981

Praised for its scientific accuracy and ability to hold up more than thirty years after publication, Fade Out is an overlooked gem.

“Tension builds and builds, up to an astonishing climax”
—Daily Mirror

29
Pandora's Planet
by Christopher Anvil – 1973

Pandora’s Planet follows lion-like invaders as they try to grasp the bizarre thought processes of the conquered humans. It’s easily the funniest book on this list.


Reddit Speaks!

People on Reddit had a few suggestions for this list.

Dawn Octavia Butler (1987)
Blindsight Peter Watts (2006)
Roadside Picnic Boris Strugatsky and Arkady Strugatsky (1971)
The Taking Dean Koontz (2004)
Dreamcatcher Stephen King (2001)
The Forever War Joe Haldeman (1974)
Quarantine Greg Egan (1992)
Worldwar: In the Balance Harry Turtledove (1994)
Wasp Eric Frank Russell (1957)
When Heaven Fell William Barton (1995)
Fiasco Stanisław Lem (1986)
Way of the Pilgrim Gordon R. Dickson (1987)
Camouflage Joe Haldeman (2004)
The Battle of Dorking George Tomkyns Chesney (1871)
The Killing Star Charles Pellegrino and George Zebrowski (1995)
Who Goes There? John W. Campbell (1938)
The Madness Season Celia S. Friedman (1990)
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adams (1979)
The Tommyknockers Stephen King (1987)
Of Men and Monsters William Tenn (1968)
The High Crusade Poul Anderson (1960)
A Plague of Demons Keith Laumer (1965)
Anathem Neal Stephenson (2008)
All You Need Is Kill Hiroshi Sakurazaka with illustrations by Yoshitoshi Abe (2009)
Live Free or Die (Troy Rising 1) John Ringo (2010)
2001: A Space Odyssey Arthur C. Clarke (1968)
Rendezvous with Rama Arthur C. Clarke (1973)
The City of Gold and Lead (Tripods 1) John Christopher (1967)


 

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19 thoughts on “29 Best Alien Invasion Science Fiction Books

  1. I’d recommend also checking out The Madness Season, where a vampire from earth helps free it from an alien invasion.

    It sounds ludicrous, but it’s actually pretty well done.

    1. I have to agree on the “Breakers” series. It is the best I’ve read. The characters are so well connected and the scenario/s and characters seem incredibly real.

  2. “The Day of the Triffids” is not an alien invasion novel. The triffids are not aliens, they are the product of what we would now call genetic engineering, and the blindness is caused by a satellite weapon which is struck by meteorites. It should be classed as a “Frankenstein’s monster” novel.

  3. A story that I’m kind of shocked didn’t make the list is Battlefield: Earth. One of my all time favorite Alien Invasion stories.
    I’m thinking perhaps the movie had something to do with that. :/

  4. I may have flashed over it, but I didn’t see Damon Knight’s “To Serve Man”. It was supposed to be a moral guide for the help aliens provided us, but it turned out to be a cookbook.

  5. “In five years the penis will become obsolete.”

    Sounds like something Anita Sarkeesian would write. An opening line that guarantees I’ll never bother reading the rest of Steel Beach.

  6. As a teenager in the 1970s, I recall reading a novel (novella?) about alien invaders conquering earth by putting the human race into a state of sleep/hibernation with alien plant spores. The alien grunt soldiers are extremely superstitious, and are eventually defeated by a small band of humans immune to the spores due to previous exposure. One of the humans carried a hunting rifle with a telescopic sight.

    Can anyone identify the author/ title?

  7. Trying to remember author/title of an alien invasion story. One plot device is that humans find hidden cache of fighter jets and train themselves to fly and fight the aliens with the jets.

    Does this sound familiar to anyone?

    1. I think you are referring to the novel written by L. Ron Hubbard titled “Battlefield: Earth”. It was made into a not-very-good movie with the same title in 2000.

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