May 11, 2017

Written by

Chris Gonzales


Robin Benad

I’ve been reading science fiction ever since I was a kid. My dad was a big influence on my early interest in reading, and since he was a nerd who loved things like sci-fi, fantasy, and superheroes, those were the kinds of books we always had around.

With that in mind, I thought I’d suggest a few great sci-fi stories worth reading. Enjoy!

Note: Most of these suggestions are on the newer side, but there are lots of great older sci-fi novels out there too. I may compile some of those into another guide at some point.

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Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card.

Ender’s Game »

If you’re going to get into sci-fi, this is one of the books to start with. In fact, it was the one I started with when I was about 12, and I’ve re-read it a handful of times since. Despite the author (Orson Scott Card) being an appalling person in real life, his novel is a masterpiece of science fiction.

The story is about a brilliant boy named Ender Wiggins who gets sent off to Battle School alongside other child prodigies, so that they can all be trained as soldiers and commanders to combat a threatening alien species known as the Buggers. Ender turns out to be a genius among geniuses, and though he quickly excels above his classmates in terms of tactical thinking and combat skills, he also becomes resented for it.

I won’t spoil any more than that.

Get the book in these formats:

The Martian by Andy Weir.

The Martian by Andy Weir.

The Martian »

This was one of the best sci-fi books of 2014, and inspired the hit film starring Matt Damon a year later. It’s about an astronaut named Mark Watney who becomes accidentally stranded alone on Mars during a botched mission, left with only a limited amount of supplies — and thus, time. It’s fascinating to see how he applies his wits and engineering/botanical knowledge to such a grim situation.

Get the book in these formats:

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson.

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson.

Seveneves »

The plot of Seveneves begins with the sudden breaking apart of the Moon by a mysterious force that becomes known as the “Agent”. As the resulting chunks slowly begin colliding with one another and disintegrating at an increasing rate, a horrifying truth dawns on scientists: Humanity has approximately two years to prepare before those fragments begin falling to Earth all at once, making the planet completely uninhabitable — not for years, or centuries, but thousands of years.

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The Three-Body Problem »

This Hugo Award-winning science fiction novel — which was first published in China in 2006 and translated into English by Ken Liu in 2014 — centers around an age-old question: What would it mean for humanity to make contact with an extraterrestrial species?

From the book description:

Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.

I’ll only add three things here:

  1. This is one of those books that will make you rethink how you look at the universe (particularly the field of physics).
  2. It’s fascinating, at least as an American reader, to read about an alien invasion from the perspective of Chinese scientists and the political system they live under.
  3. The story does take a little while to find its footing, but once it does, you’ll be hooked. Don’t give up early on! I mean, this book got Obama’s stamp of approval, if that means anything to you.

The Three-Body Problem is the first in a trilogy of novels called Remembrance of Earth’s Past, with the second and third novels being The Dark Forest and Death’s End, respectively. And if you like this series, you should definitely check out Ann Leckie’s Ancillary trilogy afterward.

Get the book in these formats:

Worm by John McCrae.

Worm by John McCrae.

Worm »

This one’s not a book per se, but rather a (very long) web serial written by John “Wildbow” McCrae and published online between June 11th, 2011 and November 19th, 2013. It follows the story of an introverted “parahuman” girl named Taylor Hebert, who tries to use her unusual (and surprisingly useful) superpower — complete control over all bugs within a several-block radius — for good, but discovers it isn’t always so easy.

The series starts with Taylor being bullied in school and escalates all the way to unimaginably large crises. When I say this is an epic tale, I’m not exaggerating. Along the way, our protagonist meets a wide variety of heroes (aka “capes”), villains, and everything between, all of whom have their own concerns, struggles, politics, and desires. It’s one of my favorite stories ever written, and it was almost impossible to put down while reading.

A couple months ago, Wildbow told me on Reddit that a sequel is “slated for later this year, barring exceptional circumstance.” Yay!

Wildbow is working on editing the entire series to produce a polished print/ebook release. Until then, you have two main options:

It is possible to find fan-made, downloadable ebook versions of Worm on the web for offline reading, but I won’t link them here, as that would be against the author’s wishes. I recommend supporting his work here instead so he can keep making awesome stuff and hopefully get that print version made 😉

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin.

The Fifth Season »

This is the first in N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. The story takes place on a dystopian super-continent called the Stillness, which is an ironic name since it’s home to frequent and unstable seismic activity, and thus environmental catastrophes (more like near-extinction events) such as tsunamis, lava flow, and vegetation poisoning. These are the so-called “fifth seasons”.

As the book’s description shows, it’s a pretty bleak story:

This is the way the world ends. Again.

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

Other interesting parts of the story involve “orogenes” — people with incredible geological powers that allow them to start or stop earthquakes — and the frequent appearance of ancient technological ruins of past civilizations, which seemingly can no longer be used and serve no purpose.

The second book in the series, The Obelisk Gate, came out last August. The upcoming third one, The Stone Sky, is available for pre-order and will release August 15th, 2017.

Get the book in these formats:

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson.

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson.

Steelheart »

Steelheart is book one of The Reckoners, a young adult trilogy about a near-future apocalyptic world suddenly ruled by merciless supervillians and the humans who eventually decide to fight back from the shadows. The villains, who all started out as ordinary people, gained their incredible powers following the sudden appearance of a strange red object in the sky known as The Calamity. Unfortunately, every single one of them turned out to be evil.

The book’s two sequels are Firefight and Calamity, respectively.

Get the book in these formats: