13 Best Gothic Science Fiction Books

Gothic science fiction (or “space goth”) focuses on the macabre, reveling in mystery, darkness, death, decay, madness, and monsters. Bonus goth points if vampires or werewolves appear and are explained non-magically.

There are supernatural elements in some gothic SF, so I recommend relaxing your definitions of what is or isn’t science fiction, and drift down the black river of the irrational into these stories.

 

13
Hyperion
by Dan Simmons – 1989

On the world called Hyperion, beyond the reach of galactic law, waits a creature called the Shrike. There are those who worship it. There are those who fear it. And there are those who have vowed to destroy it. In the Valley of the Time Tombs, where huge, brooding structures move backward through time, the Shrike waits for them all.

On the eve of Armageddon, with the entire galaxy at war, seven pilgrims set forth on a final voyage to Hyperion seeking the answers to the unsolved riddles of their lives. Each carries a desperate hope—and a terrible secret. And one may hold the fate of humanity in his hands.

“An unfailingly inventive narrative… generously conceived and stylistically sure-handed.”
—The New York Times Book Review

12
Nine Princes in Amber
by Robert Zelazny – 1970

Amber is the one real world, of which all others including our own Earth are but Shadows. Amber burns in Corwin’s blood. Exiled on Shadow Earth for centuries, the prince is about to return to Amber to make a mad and desperate rush upon the throne.

From Arden to the Pattern deep in Castle Amber, which defines the very structure of Reality, Corwin must contend with the powers of his eight immortal brothers, all Princes of Amber. His savage path is blocked and guarded by eerie structures beyond imagining, impossible realities forged by demonic assassins and staggering Forces that challenge the might of Corwin’s superhuman fury.

11
The Wolfen
by Whitley Strieber – 1978

In the dark, they are watching…
They are waiting for you.

No one has ever lived to tell the horrifying truth about them. Yet even now the Wolfen are gathered in the night-dark alleys … unseen, poised … ready to destroy their helpless human prey. Only one man and one woman, trained cops, willing to risk their lives, stand in the way.

10
The Tommyknockers
by Stephen King – 1987

Something was happening in Bobbi Anderson’s idyllic small town of Haven, Maine. Something that gave every man, woman, and child in town powers far beyond ordinary mortals. Something that turned the town into a death trap for all outsiders. Something that came from a metal object, buried for millennia, which Bobbi stumbled across.

It wasn’t that Bobbi and the other good folks of Haven had sold their souls to reap the rewards of the most deadly evil this side of Hell. It was more like a diabolical takeover… and invasion of body, soul, and mind.

“Brilliant, riveting, marvelous.”
—The Boston Globe

9
The Coming Race
by Edward Bulwer-Lytton – 1871

Also known as Vril: The Power of the Coming Race, this is the tale of a subterranean matriarchal Master Race, able to control a mysterious energy force, called the Vril. It inspired the real-life Vril Society in Germany and beyond, and was believed by whackos everywhere be thinly disguised reality.

8
At the Mountains of Madness
by H. P. Lovecraft – 1936

H. P. Lovecraft, a racist dilettante who died in poverty at the age of 46, wrote some of the most influential horror stories of the twentieth century, and his Cthulhu Mythos remains popular to this day. Stephen King called Lovecraft “the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale.”

On an expedition to Antarctica, Professor William Dyer and his colleagues discover the remains of ancient half-vegetable, half-animal life-forms. The extremely early date in the geological strata is surprising because of the highly-evolved features found in these previously unknown life-forms.

Through a series of dark revelations, violent episodes, and misunderstandings, the group learns of Earth’s secret history and legacy.

7
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
by Robert Louis Stevenson – 1886

Dr. Henry Jekyll, fascinated by the dichotomy of good and evil, no longer wants to inhibit his dark side. He concocts a potion to create the alter ego of Mr. Edward Hyde. With the burden of evil placed on Hyde, Jekyll can now take pleasure in his immoral, nefarious fantasies—free of conscience and guilt. It’s when Hyde turns to murder that Jekyll realizes how monstrous his impulses are and how hard they are to suppress.

6
Black Sun Rising
by C.S. Friedman – 1991

Over a millennium ago, Erna, a seismically active yet beautiful world, was settled by colonists from far-distant Earth. But the seemingly habitable planet was fraught with perils no one could have foretold. The colonists found themselves caught in a desperate battle for survival against the fae, a terrifying natural force with the power to prey upon the human mind itself, drawing forth a person’s worst nightmare images or most treasured dreams and indiscriminately giving them life.

Twelve centuries after fate first stranded the colonists on Erna, mankind has achieved an uneasy stalemate, and human sorcerers manipulate the fae for their own profit, little realizing that demonic forces, which feed upon such efforts, are rapidly gaining in strength.

Now, as the hordes of the dark fae multiply, four people—Priest, Adept, Apprentice, and Sorcerer—are about to be drawn inexorably together for a mission that will force them to confront an evil beyond their imagining, in a conflict which will put not only their own lives but the very fate of humankind in jeopardy.

“Hauntingly memorable protagonists, high drama, and vivid world-building.”
—Library Journal

5
Rogue Moon
by Algis Budrys – 1960

Hugo Award finalist

A monstrous apparatus has been found on the surface of the moon. It devours and destroys in ways so incomprehensible to humans that a new language has to be invented to describe it and a new kind of thinking to understand it.

So far, the human guinea pigs sent there in hopes of unraveling the murderous maze have all died terrible deaths. The most recent volunteer survived but is now on suicide watch. The ideal candidate won’t go insane even as he feels the end approaching.

Al Barker has already stared into the face of death; he can handle it again. But he won’t merely endure the trauma of dying. Barker will die over and over—even as his human qualities are preserved on Earth.

“A unique and breathtaking novel that simply has no equal, a true classic in every sense.”
—SFBook Reviews

4
The Passage
by Justin Cronin – 2010

Amy was abandoned by her mother at the age of six, pursued, and then imprisoned by the shadowy figures behind a government experiment of apocalyptic proportions. But Special Agent Brad Wolgast, the lawman sent to track her down, is disarmed by the curiously quiet girl and risks everything to save her.

As the experiment goes nightmarishly wrong, Wolgast secures her escape—but he can’t stop society’s collapse. And as Amy walks alone, across miles and decades, into a future dark with violence and despair, she is filled with the mysterious and terrifying knowledge that only she has the power to save the ruined world.

“The type of big, engrossing read that will have you leaving the lights on late into the night.”
—The Dallas Morning News

3
I Am Legend
by Richard Matheson – 1954

The population of the entire world has been obliterated by a pandemic of vampire bacteria. Yet somehow, Robert Neville survived. He must now struggle to make sense of what happened and learn to protect himself against the vampires who hunt him nightly.

As months of scavenging and hiding turn to years marked by depression and alcoholism, Robert spends his days hunting his tormentors and researching the cause of their affliction. But the more he discovers about the vampires around him, the more he sees the unsettling truth of who is—and who is not—a monster.

“I think the author who influenced me the most as a writer was Richard Matheson. Books like I Am Legend were an inspiration to me.”
―Stephen King

2
Echopraxia
by Peter Watts – 2014

It’s the eve of the twenty-second century: a world where the dearly departed send postcards back from Heaven and evangelicals make scientific breakthroughs by speaking in tongues; where genetically engineered vampires solve problems intractable to baseline humans and soldiers come with zombie switches that shut off self-awareness during combat. And it’s all under surveillance by an alien presence that refuses to show itself.

Daniel Bruks is a living fossil: a field biologist in a world where biology has turned computational, a cat’s-paw used by terrorists to kill thousands. Taking refuge in the Oregon desert, he’s turned his back on a humanity that shatters into strange new subspecies with every heartbeat. But he awakens one night to find himself at the center of a storm that will turn all of history inside out.

Now he’s trapped on a ship bound for the center of the solar system. To his left is a grief-stricken soldier, obsessed by whispered messages from a dead son. To his right is a pilot who hasn’t yet found the man she’s sworn to kill on sight. A vampire and its entourage of zombie bodyguards lurk in the shadows behind. And dead ahead, a handful of rapture-stricken monks takes them all to a meeting with something they will only call “The Angels of the Asteroids.”

“A paranoid tale that would make Philip K. Dick proud, told in a literary style that should seduce readers who don’t typically enjoy science fiction.”
―Kirkus Reviews

1
Frankenstein
by Mary Shelley – 1818

I’d argue that Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus is the first science fiction novel. It’s certainly the first transhumanist one (though who knows what Shelley would have made of that term). It delves into the humanity of the monster and those around him, as opposed to the precise methods the doctor used to animate him.

Shelley published it anonymously in 1818, and 500 copies were printed.

It wasn’t until 1831 that the “popular” version was sold (which is probably what you’ve read). Shelley edited the book significantly, bowing to pressure to make the book more conservative. Many scholars prefer the 1818 version, claiming it holds true to Shelley’s original spirit.

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