The Best Science Fiction Books with Gas Giants

It is not always easy to get AI image generators to do what you want. I ended up with “astronauts inside
Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.”

Gas giants are wonderfully weird, mysterious, and incredibly dangerous. It’s surprising there aren’t more gas giant stories out there. But until that onslaught comes, these books might keep you sated.


Saturn Rukh
by Robert L. Forward – 1997

In the near future, five intrepid men and women have been paid a billion dollars each to risk the first voyage into the upper atmosphere of Saturn. The goal: to convert atmospheric chemicals into fuel to power interplanetary spaceships.

But no one anticipates a crash landing on one of the enormous flying creatures known as rukhs that live in Saturn’s atmosphere.

Author Robert L. Forward is known for big, cool ideas and not so much for writing quality. You’ve been warned.

“Forward’s technological detail is imaginative, and as always, impeccable….This story engages with its strong science and fetching aliens.”
—Publishers Weekly

Clouds of Saturn
by Michael McCollum – 1991

When the sun flared out of control and boiled Earth’s oceans, humanity took refuge in a place that few would have predicted. In the greatest migration in history, the entire human race took up residence among the towering clouds and deep clear-air canyons of Saturn’s upper atmosphere. Having survived the apocalypse, they returned to the all-too-human tradition of internecine strife. The new city-states of Saturn began to resemble those of ancient Greece, with one group of cities taking on the role of militaristic Sparta…

Cold as Ice
by Charles Sheffield – 1992

Twenty-five years ago there was a great interplanetary war in the solar system. It was a suicidal spasm in which terrible weapons were created and used; in which nine billion people were killed. The rivalries that led to the war are not gone. And a few of those deadly weapons remain, some still orbiting the sun in the debris of destroyed ships, some deliberately placed in storage.

Cyrus Mobarak, the man who perfected the fusion engine, is determined to bring human settlement to the protected seas of Europa. Opposing him is Hilda Brandt, Europa’s administrator. And caught between them are three remarkable young people: Jon Perry, Camille Hamilton, and Wilsa Sheer.

“Written at the level of Arthur C. Clarke at his best–with deft characterization, pellucid handling of scientific questions, good world building and real wit—this is arguable Sheffield’s best book yet.”

Starship Repo
by Patrick S. Tomlinson – 2019

With a name that is the result of an unfortunate clerical error (Firstname Lastname), a woman is destined to be one of the only humans on an alien space station. That is, until she sneaks aboard a ship and joins up with a crew of repomen (they are definitely not pirates).

Now she’s traveling the galaxy “recovering” ships. What could go wrong?

“A well-drawn ensemble cast of scientists, soldiers, and aliens enriches this quirky first-contact tale.”

The Jupiter Theft
by Donald Moffitt – 1977

The Lunar Observatory on Earth is picking up a very strange and unidentifiable signal from the direction of Cygnus. When the meaning of this signal is finally understood, it clearly spells disaster for earth. An immense object is rushing towards the Solar System, traveling nearly at the speed of light, its intense nuclear radiation is sure to kill all life on Earth within months.

As it moves close the humans can discern that it is an enormous convoy of some sort, nearly as large as a planet. And there is nothing anyone can do to divert such an enormous alien object. Then, unexpectedly, the object changes course and heads toward the dead planet of Jupiter. But what could an enormous alien convoy want with such a useless planet?

The Integral Trees
by Larry Niven – 1983

This book doesn’t have a gas giant in it, but the Smoke Ring was similar enough and cool enough to include here.

When leaving Earth, the crew of the spaceship Discipline was prepared for a routine assignment. Dispatched by the all-powerful State on a mission of interstellar exploration and colonization, Discipline was aided (and secretly spied upon) by Sharls Davis Kendy, an emotionless computer intelligence programmed to monitor the loyalty and obedience of the crew. But what they weren’t prepared for was the Smoke Ring—an immense gaseous envelope that had formed around a neutron star directly in their path. The Smoke Ring was home to a variety of plant and animal life-forms evolved to thrive in conditions of continual free-fall. When Discipline encountered it, something went wrong. The crew abandoned ship and fled to the unlikely space oasis.

Five hundred years later, the descendants of the Discipline crew living on the Smoke Ring no longer remember their origins. Earth is more myth than memory, and no recollection of the State remains. But Kendy remembers. And just outside the Smoke Ring, Discipline waits patiently to make contact with its wayward children.

“Niven has come up with an idea about as far out as one can get… This is certainly classic science fiction—the idea is truly the hero.”
—Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine

Center of Gravity
by Ian Douglas – 2011

Book 2 in the Star Carrier series.

In the evolution of every sentient race, there is a turning point when the species achieves transcendence through technology. The warlike Sh’daar are determined that this monumental milestone will never be achieved by the creatures known as human.

On the far side of known human space, the Marines are under siege, battling the relentless servant races of the Sh’daar aggressor. With a task force stripped to the bone and the Terran Confederation of States racked by dissent, rogue Admiral Alexander Koenig must make the momentous decision that will seal his fate and the fate of humankind. A strong defensive posture is futile, so Koenig will seize the initiative and turn the gargantuan Star Carrier America toward the unknown. For the element of surprise is the only hope of stalling the Sh’daar assault on Earth’s solar system—and the war for humankind’s survival must be taken directly to the enemy.

Saturn Run
by John Sandford and Ctein – 2015

In 2066, a Caltech intern notices an anomaly from a space telescope—something is approaching Saturn, and decelerating. Space objects don’t decelerate. Spaceships do…

A flurry of top-level government meetings produce the inescapable conclusion: Whatever built the ship is at least one hundred years ahead of our technology, and whoever can get their hands on it will have an advantage so large, no other nation can compete.

The race is on, and a remarkable adventure begins. Soon a hastily thrown-together crew finds its strength and wits tested against adversaries of this earth and beyond. So buckle up, because two perfectly matched storytellers are about to take you for a ride…

(The premise of this book has strong similarities to The Jupiter Theft, but develops in a completely different way.)

“A terrific story of alien first contact. It’s a book Michael Crichton would have enjoyed, but never could have written…With the able partnership of Ctein, it’s fast, scientifically believable, and peopled by characters who become good friends.”
—Stephen King

A Night Without Stars
by Peter F. Hamilton – 2016

Book 2 of the Commonwealth.

After centuries trapped inside the Void, the planet Bienvenido—along with its inhabitants, both human and Faller—has been expelled into normal space. But the survivors are millions of light-years from the Commonwealth, which knows nothing of their existence. As the two races plunge into mortal conflict for sole possession of the planet, the humans seem destined to lose—despite the assistance of the mysterious Warrior Angel, who possesses forbidden Commonwealth technology.

With the Fallers’ numbers growing, and their ability to mimic humans allowing them to infiltrate all levels of society, it’s only a matter of time before they surge to victory. Then, on a routine space flight, Major Ry Evine inadvertently frees a captive vessel that crash-lands on Bienvenido carrying the last, best hope for human survival: a baby. But a far from ordinary one.

The child not only ages at a remarkable rate but demonstrates knowledge and abilities far beyond those of Bienvenido’s humans. Hunted by Fallers and humans alike, she is a crucial link to humanity’s lost past—and a glorious future already almost out of reach.

“Roars relentlessly along in utterly mesmerizing style, with edge-of-the-seat plotting, thrilling action, and knife-edge tension that will leave readers gasping. An atomic blast of a yarn. Hamilton in peak form and absolutely not to be missed.”
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Leviathans of Jupiter
by Ben Bova – 2011

Book 14 (of 23) of The Grand Tour.

What secrets lurk in the depths of Jupiter’s oceans?

In Ben Bova’s novel Jupiter, physicist Grant Archer led an expedition into Jupiter’s planet-wide ocean, attempting to study the unusual and massive creatures that call the planet their home. Unprepared for the hostile environment and crushing pressures, Grant’s team faced certain death as their ship malfunctioned and slowly sank to the planet’s depths.

However, one of Jupiter’s native creatures—a city-sized leviathan—saved the doomed ship. This creature’s act convinced Grant that they were intelligent, but he lacked scientific proof. Now, several years later, Grant prepares a new expedition to prove it once and for all. The new team faces dangers from both the hostile environment and from humans who will do anything to make sure the mission is a failure—even if it means murdering the entire crew.

“Bova gets better and better, combining plausible science with increasingly complex fiction.”
—Daily News (Los Angeles)

2010: Odyssey 2
by Arthur C. Clarke – 1982

In 1968, Arthur C. Clarke’s bestselling 2001: A Space Odyssey captivated the world and was adapted into the classic film by Stanley Kubrick. Fourteen years later, fans and critics were thrilled by the release of 2010: Odyssey Two.

Nine years after the ill-fated Discovery One mission to Jupiter, a joint Soviet-American crew travels to the planet to investigate the mysterious monolith orbiting the planet, the cause of the earlier mission’s failure—and what became of astronaut David Bowman. The crew includes project expert Heywood Floyd, and Dr. Chandra, the creator of HAL 9000.

What they discover is an unsettling alien conspiracy tampering with the evolution of life on Jupiter’s moons as well as that of humanity itself. Meanwhile, the being that was once Dave Bowman—the only human to unlock the mystery of the monolith—streaks toward Earth on a vital mission of its own…

“Clarke deftly blends discovery, philosophy, and a newly acquired sense of play.”

The Algebraist
by Iain M. Banks – 2004

Note that this book is not part of Banks’s Culture series.

It is 4034 AD. Humanity has made it to the stars. Fassin Taak, a Slow Seer at the Court of the Nasqueron Dwellers, will be fortunate if he makes it to the end of the year.

The Nasqueron Dwellers inhabit a gas giant on the outskirts of the galaxy, in a system awaiting its wormhole connection to the rest of civilization. In the meantime, they are dismissed as decadents living in a state of highly developed barbarism, hoarding data without order, hunting their own young, and fighting pointless formal wars.

Seconded to a military-religious order he’s barely heard of—part of the baroque hierarchy of the Mercatoria, the latest galactic hegemony—Fassin Taak has to travel again amongst the Dwellers. He is in search of a secret hidden for half a billion years. But with each day that passes a war draws closer; a war that threatens to overwhelm everything and everyone he’s ever known.

“Banks has created one of the most enduring and endearing visions of the future.”

7 thoughts on “The Best Science Fiction Books with Gas Giants

  1. IMHO the best gas giant novel (and one of my all time favorite SF novels) is Floating Worlds by Cecelia Holland. Though predominantly a highly acclaimed writer of historic novels, her sparse style lends itself perfectly to this theme of humanity 2000 years in the future. Each planet has different political hierarchies. Earth is an Anarchy, the gas giants have ‘bubble habitats’ in their atmosphere ruled by patriarchal militarist giants.

  2. Photo ….
    2 people, many Light Years from the Earth in … 1960s space suites.
    …. Marvelous!
    I guess, They are going to the local Masquerade ?
    ~~ Vladimir Joseph Orlovsky

  3. Saturn Rukh
    by Robert L. Forward – 1997
    “… The goal: to convert atmospheric chemicals into fuel to power interplanetary spaceships. …”
    … Burning wood is Space?
    Chemical energy is a very Energy limited source, Author … also a very limited and not Educated.
    Question: for whom it is written ? … this Super Limited Edition Marvel ?!

    1. Forward was a physicist and aerospace engineer. Have you read that book, or making assumptions based on the description above?

  4. I have read:
    10. Cold as Ice by Charles Sheffield – 1992
    3. Leviathans of Jupiter by Ben Bova – 2011
    2. 2010: Odyssey Two by Arthur C. Clarke – 1982 (the movie is awesome too !)

    Other gas giant books are “The Ophiuchi Hotline” by John Varley (awesome) and an early Perry Rhodan book where PR and crew land on the “surface” of Jupiter using force fields and anti-gravity.

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