Science Fiction Book Recommendations

This page includes some of the best science fiction books ever written. We’ll continue to add more here, so check back!

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The Space Trilogy by C. S. Lewis (1938-1945)

Reviewed by Eric

Where do I even begin with this one? My all time favorite author writing in my all time favorite genre? Sign me up! Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength begin as a foray into a science fiction story in the style of H.G. Wells and ends as so, so much more. At the end of these books, Lewis winds up in territory much more akin to Dante’s Divine Comedy than anything else, and in Lewis’s masterful hands that is a very good thing. In fact, in his space trilogy, Lewis is intentionally melding the medieval Christian cosmology one finds in Dante with more conventional science fiction stories and the result is profound, stunning, and, above all, beautiful. As I tell my students, if you can only read one, read Perelandra, but they are all well worth your time.

Note from Elsie: I love this series as well. Perelandra is one of my favourite books, ever.

Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein (1959)

Reviewed by Eric

A thinking person’s science fiction, Starship Troopers is R.A. Heinlein’s futuristic answer to Plato’s Republic. Ride along with raw recruit Juan Rico as he joins the Mobile Infantry, learns the power of camaraderie, discovers what it means to be a true citizen, and becomes a man. Also involved is a zero-sum interstellar war with a fierce race of bug-like aliens and soldiers blasting across battlefields in high-powered mechanized armor. Halo meets Socrates. What could be better?

A note about the author: Heinlein is considered a grandmaster of science fiction, and that reputation is well-earned. He is a master storyteller and has the skill of spinning a good yarn that few authors can rival. That said, some of his works can get a bit strange, especially regarding sexual customs. Starship Troopers is fantastic, but approach his other works with caution if you dislike that sort of thing.

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick (1962)

Reviewed by Eric

The Man in the High Castle is Philip K. Dick’s novel of an alternate reality, one in which Nazi Germany and Japan won the second world war and have split the United States between them. Understated in its style, like many of Dick’s novels, The Man in the High Castle follows the lives of its characters as they try to make sense of the world they live in–from the Jew in hiding, to the high-ranking Japanese official, to the German military officer, to the woman in search of answers.

As in many of Dick’s works, the insight that we live in a profoundly broken world where no one knows how to pick up the pieces is front and center in this novel. Dealing with themes of confusion, uncertainty, and how to live and move forward in a broken world, The Man in the High Castle paints a haunting picture of what might have been, and also, in a sense, of what is. I still don’t understand the ending, even after my second read-through, but I thoroughly enjoyed the journey.

The Miles Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold (1986-2018)

Reviewed by Eric

There are few series that I have read that are simply as much fun as The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold. This series follows the adventures of Miles Vorkosigan, noble scion, mercenary commander, secret agent, deformed dwarf, and genius as he gallivants around the wormhole nexus saving the day with the perfect mixture of courage, risk, hare-brained intellect, and panache.

Bujold herself is a master storyteller. Her writing is light, clever, witty, funny, dramatic, suspenseful, and occasionally contemplative. Her characters are well imagined and her novels run the gamut of the adventure, spy thriller, mystery (though my wife might say it was a police procedural, I can’t tell the difference), and political drama genres. Can you tell that I like this series?

Besides just telling rollicking good stories, the books in this series often deal with deeper themes as well such as medical ethics, family relationships, honor, the relative advantages and disadvantages of different kinds of societies, identity, gender, societal norms, ageing, and what it means for a  life to be well lived. The author does land more progressive on a lot of these issues than I would, but the stories are just so good.

You can read them in chronological order, in which case start with The Warrior’s Apprentice, but you certainly don’t have to. Just be warned, these books are meant for adults and not for kids. There is usually some sex in most of them, but it is only somewhat explicit once that I can remember and that was for plot reasons and not simply gratuitous. In my opinion, the best of this already great series is Mirror Dance, Memory, and A Civil Campaign.

Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds (2000)

Reviewed by Eric

When I think of “space opera” I think of Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space. Epic in its scope, Revelation Space weaves together the stories of an archaeologist investigating the remnants of a long-dead alien civilization, the assassin hired to kill him, and the crew of an interstellar starship trying to ameliorate the effects on their ship of a plague that infects computer technology. All of these threads come together in an immersively told, exotically imagined answer to Fermi’s paradox–the question of why we don’t find more alien life in the universe.

Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar (2003)

Reviewed by Eric

We all know and (mostly) love Superman, the last son of Krypton who landed in rural middle America and was raised to fight for truth, justice, and the American way. But what if baby Superman’s rocket had landed somewhere else? Say, the Soviet Union? What would the Man of Steel be like then? This is the question asked by Mark Millar’s Red Son. Strap in for a story that is a unique take on Superman, one involving a broad cast of DC favorites like Green Lantern(s), Wonder Woman, and even Batman, but is also laced with considerations of the value of freedom versus safety and the need of people to grow by facing their problems. Seriously, this graphic novel is one of the best (in my opinion) Superman stories out there.

Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman (2007)

Reviewed by Eric

Are you a comic book movie fan? Are you unable to get enough of Marvel superheroes and don’t even mind watching the DC movies? If that’s you (and even if it isn’t) scratch that itch while waiting for the next MCU release by picking up the satirical and hilarious take on superheroics that is Austin Grossman’s Soon I Will Be Invincible. The villainous Dr. Impossible has launched his newest scheme to take over the world. Is the superhero team, the Champions, and their newest recruit up to the task of stopping him? A story full of comic-book action and meditations on the effect of personal failure and lost friends, Soon I Will Be Invincible will not let you go until its surprising and satisfying conclusion.

Three-Body Trilogy by Cixin Liu (2008)

Reviewed by Eric

Beginning with The Three-Body Problem, continuing with The Dark Forest, and finishing with Death’s End, this sci-fi trilogy by Chinese author Cixin Liu is haunting, powerful, and tragic. It is also one of the best and most original science fiction works I have read in years. Beginning in China’s Cultural Revolution of the 70s, The Three-Body Problem presents a world in which the progress of science has been stalled by a mysterious force, a more-than-it-seems game is sweeping the internet, and a mysterious, semi-cultish group is hatching schemes behind the scenes for their own nefarious purposes. How all these three strands intersect in the end is both satisfying and genuinely terrifying.

In this trilogy Cixin Liu offers his readers a stark, harsh, and hostile view of the universe and unflinchingly follows the logic of his vision through to its conclusion. The drama of being human in such a universe and of what it does to one’s humanity to be able to survive there forms the dynamic engine of Cixin Liu’s enthralling work. Seriously, check this one out.

Red Rising by Pierce Brown (2014)

Reviewed by Eric

Like The Hunger Games but smarter, more violent, and without the love triangle, Red Rising is a story about a heavily-stratified futuristic society where every class has a strictly defined function. The Golds at the top live in luxury and rule with an iron fist. The Reds at the bottom…well, you get the picture. The rules in this society are rigged and might makes right until a Red manages to fake his way into the elite school for the next generation of Gold rulers and gets more than he ever bargained for. This sharp, insightful, bloody, and powerful novel dives deep into the ruthless nature of power and what it takes to be an inspiring, forceful, and perhaps noble and moral leader.

The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch (2018)

Reviewed by Eric

Are you a fan of H.P. Lovecraft’s brand of otherworldly horror? Do you like police procedurals, space travel, time travel, alternate timelines, and conspiracies? Do you like your stories to have a generous dollop of cosmic existential dread? If so, let me introduce you to The Gone World, a gripping sci-fi thriller by Tom Sweterlitsch. This novel follows NCIS agent Shannon Moss as she investigates the brutal murder of an entire family, using the Navy’s technological capacity for traveling to potential futures to jump forward in time to pursue leads, then return to the present and track down the bad guys. Except it’s not that simple. Somehow this set of murders is entangled with domestic terror groups, the Navy’s own deep space and deep time programs, and a world-ending event known as the Terminus, which was first discovered in the distant future but has been advancing steadily up the timeline towards the present.

A word of warning: This is a very gripping book, but it contains descriptions of violence and some sexual content. For the mature reader.

Note from Elsie: I loved this book, too! It sparked so many good discussions between Eric and I, as we read it around the same time. Usually I don’t reread thrillers, but this one I plan to!