If you know someone who is science fiction-curious but reluctant to take the leap, try giving them one of these books. There’s mystery, thrillers, military, near-future, and hilarious stuff here, hopefully enough to entice anyone down the wormhole of science fiction.
Includes “Story of Your Life”—the basis for the major motion picture Arrival.
Stories of Your Life and Others delivers dual delights of the very, very strange and the heartbreakingly familiar, often presenting characters who must confront sudden change—the inevitable rise of automatons or the appearance of aliens—with some sense of normalcy. With sharp intelligence and humor, Chiang examines what it means to be alive in a world marked by uncertainty, but also by beauty and wonder.
“[Blends] absorbing storytelling with meditations on the universe, being, time and space … raises questions about the nature of reality and what it is to be human.”
—The New York Times
Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.
Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.
After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.
Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.
But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?
“An excellent first novel… Weir laces the technical details with enough keen wit to satisfy hard science fiction fan and general reader alike [and] keeps the story escalating to a riveting conclusion.”
—Publisher’s Weekly, starred review
Humanity has colonized the solar system—Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond—but the stars are still out of our reach.
Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, the Scopuli, they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for—and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why.
Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to the Scopuli and rebel sympathizer Holden, he realizes that this girl may be the key to everything.
Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations—and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe.
“This is the future the way it was supposed to be.”
—The Wall Street Journal
In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race’s next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn’t make the cut―young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.
Ender’s skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers, Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister.
Is Ender the general Earth needs? But Ender is not the only result of the genetic experiments. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender’s two older siblings are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If, that is, the world survives.
“An affecting novel full of surprises. Card never makes the mistake of patronizing or sentimentalizing his hero.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Are you happy with your life?”
Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.
Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.
Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”
In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.
Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.
“A fast, tasty read with a killer twist. It’s a whole bag of barbecue chips…just sitting there waiting for you to devour in one long rush.”
First book of the Lost Fleet series.
The Alliance has been fighting the Syndics for a century—and losing badly. Now its fleet is crippled and stranded in enemy territory. Their only hope is a man who’s emerged from a century-long hibernation to find he has been heroically idealized beyond belief….
Captain John “Black Jack” Geary’s exploits are known to every schoolchild. Revered for his heroic “last stand” in the early days of the war, he was presumed dead. But a century later, Geary miraculously returns and reluctantly takes command of the Alliance Fleet as it faces annihilation by the Syndics.
Appalled by the hero-worship around him, Geary is nevertheless a man who will do his duty. And he knows that bringing the stolen Syndic hypernet key safely home is the Alliance’s one chance to win the war. But to do that, Geary will have to live up to the impossibly heroic “Black Jack” legend….
“The Lost Fleet is some of the best military science fiction on the shelves today.”
An enormous cylindrical object has entered Earth’s solar system on a collision course with the sun. A team of astronauts are sent to explore the mysterious craft, which the denizens of the solar system name Rama.
What they find is astonishing evidence of a civilization far more advanced than ours. They find an interior stretching over fifty kilometers; a forbidding cylindrical sea; mysterious and inaccessible buildings; and strange machine-animal hybrids, or “biots,” that inhabit the ship. But what they don’t find is an alien presence. So who—and where—are the Ramans?
“Mr. Clarke is splendid… We experience that chilling touch of the alien, the not-quite-knowable, that distinguishes SF at its most technically imaginative.”
—The New York Times
This American classic is one of the world’s great antiwar books. Centering on the infamous firebombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we fear most.
“Very tough and very funny… very Vonnegut.”
—The New York Times
When an extra-terrestrial visitor arrives on Earth, his first impressions of the human species are less than positive. Taking the form of Professor Andrew Martin, a prominent mathematician at Cambridge University, the visitor is eager to complete the gruesome task assigned him and hurry home to his own utopian planet, where everyone is omniscient and immortal.
He is disgusted by the way humans look, what they eat, their capacity for murder and war, and is equally baffled by the concepts of love and family. But as time goes on, he starts to realize there may be more to this strange species than he had thought. Disguised as Martin, he drinks wine, reads poetry, develops an ear for rock music, and a taste for peanut butter. Slowly, unexpectedly, he forges bonds with Martin’s family. He begins to see hope and beauty in the humans’ imperfection, and begins to question the very mission that brought him there.
“[S]illy, sad, suspenseful, and soulful.”
Earth is long since dead. On a colony planet, a band of men has gained control of technology, made themselves immortal, and now rule their world as the gods of the Hindu pantheon. Only one dares oppose them: he who was once Siddhartha and is now Mahasamatman: Binder of Demons, Lord of Light.
On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest.
Once, she was the Justice of Toren—a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy.
Now, an act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with one fragile human body, unanswered questions, and a burning desire for vengeance.
“Ancillary Justice is the mind-blowing space opera you’ve been needing… This is a novel that will thrill you like the page-turner it is, but stick with you for a long time afterward.”
Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are only valued if their ovaries are viable.
Funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing, The Handmaid’s Tale is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and tour de force.
“Atwood takes many trends which exist today and stretches them to their logical and chilling conclusions… An excellent novel about the directions our lives are taking… Read it while it’s still allowed.”
— Houston Chronicle
A lone human ambassador is sent to the icebound planet of Winter, a world without sexual prejudice, where the inhabitants’ gender is fluid. His goal is to facilitate Winter’s inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the strange, intriguing culture he encounters…
“A jewel of a story.”
—Frank Herbert, author of Dune
Melanie is a very special girl. Dr. Caldwell calls her “our little genius.”
Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant keeps his gun pointed at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.
“Original, thrilling and powerful.”
When civilization needs someone to run generating stations three kilometers below the surface of the Pacific, it seeks out a special sort of person for its Rifters program. It recruits those whose histories have preadapted them to dangerous environments, people so used to broken bodies and chronic stress that life on the edge of an undersea volcano would actually be a step up. Nobody worries too much about job satisfaction; if you haven’t spent a lifetime learning the futility of fighting back, you wouldn’t be a rifter in the first place. It’s a small price to keep the lights going, back on shore.
But there are things among the cliffs and trenches of the Juan de Fuca Ridge that no one expected to find, and enough pressure can forge the most obedient career-victim into something made of iron. At first, not even the rifters know what they have in them―and by the time anyone else finds out, the outcast and the downtrodden have their hands on a kill switch for the whole damn planet…
“No one has taken this premise to such pitiless lengths–and depths as Watts. . . . In a claustrophobic setting enlivened by periodic flashes of beauty and terror, the crew of Beebe Station come across as not only believable but likeable as they fight for equilibrium against their own demons, one another, their superiors and their remorselessly hostile surroundings.”
―The New York Times
On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington, D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the Earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space, and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process.
Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too.
Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her.
“Readers will thrill to the story of this ‘lady astronaut’ and eagerly anticipate the promised sequels.”
―Publishers Weekly, starred review
It’s fall 2007. A well-timed leak has revealed that the US government might have engaged in first contact. Cora Sabino is doing everything she can to avoid the whole mess, since the force driving the controversy is her whistleblower father. Even though Cora hasn’t spoken to him in years, his celebrity has caught the attention of the press, the Internet, the paparazzi, and the government―and with him in hiding, that attention is on her. She neither knows nor cares whether her father’s leaks are a hoax, and wants nothing to do with him―until she learns just how deeply entrenched her family is in the cover-up, and that an extraterrestrial presence has been on Earth for decades.
Realizing the extent to which both she and the public have been lied to, she sets out to gather as much information as she can, and finds that the best way for her to uncover the truth is not as a whistleblower, but as an intermediary. The alien presence has been completely uncommunicative until she convinces one of them that she can act as their interpreter, becoming the first and only human vessel of communication. Their otherworldly connection will change everything she thought she knew about being human―and could unleash a force more sinister than she ever imagined.
“Suspenseful and inventive, but also funny and full of action, Axiom’s End remixes the Hollywood alien-invasion playbook.”
It’s 2016, and in Tom Barren’s world, technology has solved all of humanity’s problems—there’s no war, no poverty, no under-ripe avocadoes. Unfortunately, Tom isn’t happy. He’s lost the girl of his dreams. And what do you do when you’re heartbroken and have a time machine? Something stupid.
Finding himself stranded in a terrible alternate reality—which we immediately recognize as our 2016—Tom is desperate to fix his mistake and go home. Right up until the moment he discovers wonderfully unexpected versions of his family, his career, and the woman who may just be the love of his life.
Now Tom faces an impossible choice. Go back to his perfect but loveless life. Or stay in our messy reality with a soulmate by his side. His search for the answer takes him across continents and timelines in a quest to figure out, finally, who he really is and what his future—our future—is supposed to be.
“Entertainingly mixes thrills and humor.”
The Culture—a human/machine symbiotic society—has thrown up many great Game Players, and one of the greatest is Gurgeh Jernau Morat Gurgeh. The Player of Games. Master of every board, computer and strategy.
Bored with success, Gurgeh travels to the Empire of Azad, cruel and incredibly wealthy, to try their fabulous game… a game so complex, so like life itself, that the winner becomes emperor. Mocked, blackmailed, almost murdered, Gurgeh accepts the game, and with it the challenge of his life, and very possibly his death.
Nightmarish villains with superhuman enhancements.
An all-seeing social network that tracks your every move.
Mysterious, smooth-talking power players who lurk behind the scenes.
A young woman from the trailer park.
And her very smelly cat.
Together, they will decide the future of mankind.
Get ready for a world in which anyone can have the powers of a god or the fame of a pop star, in which human achievement soars to new heights while its depravity plunges to the blackest depths. A world in which at least one cat smells like a seafood shop’s dumpster on a hot summer day.
This is the world in which Zoey Ashe finds herself, navigating a futuristic city in which one can find elements of the fantastic, nightmarish and ridiculous on any street corner. Her only trusted advisor is the aforementioned cat, but even in the future, cats cannot give advice. At least not any that you’d want to follow.
Will Zoey figure it all out in time? Or maybe the better question is, will you? After all, the future is coming sooner than you think.
“[U]nabashedly trolls everyone and lampoons everything in this beautifully outrageous science fiction adventure… Biting humor and blatant digs at modern society overlay a subtly brilliant and thoughtful plot focused on one young woman’s growth and survival against all odds.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
In the year 2045, reality is an ugly place. The only time Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the OASIS, a vast virtual world where most of humanity spends their days.
When the eccentric creator of the OASIS dies, he leaves behind a series of fiendish puzzles, based on his obsession with the pop culture of decades past. Whoever is first to solve them will inherit his vast fortune—and control of the OASIS itself.
Then Wade cracks the first clue. Suddenly he’s beset by rivals who’ll kill to take this prize. The race is on—and the only way to survive is to win.
“Enchanting… Willy Wonka meets The Matrix.”
It’s an average work day. You’ve been wrapped up in a task, and you check the clock when you come up for air—4:44 p.m. You check your email, and 44 unread messages have built up. With a shock, you realize the date is April 4—4/4. And when you get in your car to drive home, your odometer reads 44,444.
Coincidence? Or have you just seen the edge of a rabbit hole?
Rabbits is a mysterious alternate reality game so vast it uses the entire world as its canvas.
Since the game started in 1959, ten iterations have appeared and nine winners have been declared. The identities of these winners are unknown.
So is their reward, which is whispered to be NSA or CIA recruitment, vast wealth, immortality, or perhaps even the key to the secrets of the universe itself.
But the deeper you get, the more dangerous the game becomes. Players have died in the past—and the body count is rising.
And now the eleventh round is about to begin.
Enter K—a Rabbits obsessive who has been trying to find a way into the game for years. That path opens when K is approached by billionaire Alan Scarpio, rumored to be the winner of the sixth iteration. Scarpio says that something has gone wrong with the game and that K needs to fix it before Eleven starts, or the whole world will pay the price.
Five days later, Scarpio is declared missing.
Two weeks after that, K blows the deadline: Eleven begins.
And suddenly, the fate of the entire universe is at stake.
“Seemingly benign coincidences become clues to a mind-bending scavenger hunt in [Terry] Miles’s outstanding debut technothriller… Miles masterfully combines mystery, danger, and scientific theory to bring the game to life until readers are just as caught up in searching for the next clue as the characters themselves. It’s a wild ride and it proves impossible to put down.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
A Wrinkle in Time was rejected by at least 26 publishers, because it was, in L’Engle’s words, “too different,” and “because it deals overtly with the problem of evil, and it was really difficult for children, and was it a children’s or an adult’s book, anyhow?”
The book has been in print continuously since its publication in 1962, so apparently it wasn’t too difficult for children. However, it has been too challenging for the more religious adults: it was on the American Library Association’s list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000 at number 23, due to the book’s references to witches and crystal balls, the claim that it “challenges religious beliefs,” and the listing of Jesus “with the names of great artists, philosophers, scientists, and religious leaders.”
Kindred is one of the most intense, anxiety-inducing books I’ve ever read. It’s a tightly written, unconventional thriller.
A black woman living in 1970s California is snatched from her world and transported in time to a slave-owner’s plantation in the antebellum South. She spies a white man drowning, and saves him. She skips uncontrollably back and forth in time, spending longer and longer at the plantation, doing her best to figure out what’s happening to her while trying to survive the horrors of slavery.
“Butler’s literary craftsmanship is superb.”
—Washington Post Book World
When COVID-19 sweeps through New York City, Jamie Gray is stuck as a dead-end driver for food delivery apps. That is, until Jamie makes a delivery to an old acquaintance, Tom, who works at what he calls “an animal rights organization.” Tom’s team needs a last-minute grunt to handle things on their next field visit. Jamie, eager to do anything, immediately signs on.
What Tom doesn’t tell Jamie is that the animals his team cares for are not here on Earth. Not our Earth, at least. In an alternate dimension, massive dinosaur-like creatures named Kaiju roam a warm, human-free world. They’re the universe’s largest and most dangerous pandas, and they’re in trouble.
It’s not just the Kaiju Preservation Society who have found their way to the alternate world. Others have, too. And their carelessness could cause millions back on our Earth to die.
“Equally lighthearted and grounded―and sure to delight.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
Rosemary Harper doesn’t expect much when she joins the crew of the aging Wayfarer. While the patched-up ship has seen better days, it offers her a bed, a chance to explore the far-off corners of the galaxy, and most importantly, some distance from her past. An introspective young woman who learned early to keep to herself, she’s never met anyone remotely like the ship’s diverse crew, including Sissix, the exotic reptilian pilot, chatty engineers Kizzy and Jenks who keep the ship running, and Ashby, their noble captain.
Life aboard the Wayfarer is chaotic and crazy—exactly what Rosemary wants. It’s also about to get extremely dangerous when the crew is offered the job of a lifetime. Tunneling wormholes through space to a distant planet is definitely lucrative and will keep them comfortable for years. But risking her life wasn’t part of the plan. In the far reaches of deep space, the tiny Wayfarer crew will confront a host of unexpected mishaps and thrilling adventures that force them to depend on each other. To survive, Rosemary’s got to learn how to rely on this assortment of oddballs—an experience that teaches her about love and trust, and that having a family isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the universe.
“A quietly profound, humane tour de force that tackles politics and gender issues with refreshing optimism.”
The Earth is just a tiny bit farther away from the sun in Early Riser, but that’s enough to make the winters harsh enough that humans have evolved to hibernate. The exceptions are the Winter Consuls, a group of misfits tasked with keeping the sleeping population safe.
Charlie Worthing has just joined the Winter Consuls and is experiencing her first winter awake. Unfortunately, a viral dream appears to be killing people, and Charlie must survive the dream, the Villains (murderous non-hibernators), and Nightwalkers (essentially zombies who are placated by comfort food and candy bars).
I’m a big fan of Jasper Fforde’s well-written and mildly insane other books, including the Thursday Next and Nursery Crimes series, and Early Riser does not disappoint. It’s a funny, absurd, dystopian murder mystery with great characters in an alien, yet cozy, British setting.
“Charlie’s journey… is so absorbing… Whip-smart, tremendous fun, and an utter delight from start to finish.”
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
It’s an ordinary Thursday morning for Arthur Dent… until his house gets demolished. The Earth follows shortly after to make way for a new hyperspace express route, and Arthur’s best friend has just announced that he’s an alien.
After that, things get much, much worse.
With just a towel, a small yellow fish, and a book, Arthur has to navigate through a very hostile universe in the company of a gang of unreliable aliens. Luckily the fish is quite good at languages. And the book is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy… which helpfully has the words DON’T PANIC inscribed in large, friendly letters on its cover.
“Extremely funny… inspired lunacy… [and] over much too soon.”
—The Washington Post Book World
Flowers for Algernon is a beautiful, human book, with a little science fiction thrown in.
It examines morals and ethics without getting preachy—it’s a surprisingly easy read for such a thoughtful and deep book.
There are a few juicy scenes in it, which is why it’s occasionally removed from school libraries in Texas.
Flowers for Algernon is told through progress reports written by a low-IQ person who has an operation (we never learn the details) that quickly increases his IQ to genius levels. Unfortunately, his social and emotional skills do not increase at the same rate, and this causes hurt feelings all around.
“An ingeniously touching story… Moving… Intensely real.”
—The Baltimore Sun
Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, heir to a noble family tasked with ruling an inhospitable world where the only thing of value is the “spice” melange, a drug capable of extending life and enhancing consciousness. Coveted across the known universe, melange is a prize worth killing for….
When House Atreides is betrayed, the destruction of Paul’s family will set the boy on a journey toward a destiny greater than he could ever have imagined. And as he evolves into the mysterious man known as Muad’Dib, he will bring to fruition humankind’s most ancient and unattainable dream.
“It is possible that Dune is even more relevant now than when it was first published.”
—The New Yorker