Best Space Books: Science Fiction
Artist Stephan Martiniere, who created this vision of future space travel, will judge the first-ever FarMaker Interstellar Speed Sketch contest at the Starship Congress conference on interstellar travel.
Credit: Stephan Martiniere/National Geographic

From the very beginning we have looked to the stars and dreamed of reaching them, and stories about how we get there and what comes next are a fundamental part of that dream. Good science fiction can amaze and motivate, warn, raise questions and spark the imagination, inspiring human creativity and each new generation of stargazers. Plus, it's just fun to read. Here are some of the science fiction books Space.com's writers and editors have read and loved — an incomplete list, but one that's always growing.

(We are constantly reading new and classic space books to find our favorite takes on the universe. Our recently-read books in all categories can be found at Best Space Books. You can see our ongoing Space Books coverage here.)

By Mary Robinette Kowal

"The Calculating Stars" by Mary Robinette Kowal.
"The Calculating Stars" by Mary Robinette Kowal.
Credit: Tor Books

What if space exploration wasn't a choice but a necessity, driven by the knowledge that Earth would soon become uninhabitable and powered by international coalitions built after a catastrophic meteorite impact? That's the alternative history novelist Mary Robinette Kowal explores in her Lady Astronaut series. The books follow mathematician and World War II pilot Elma York, who dreams of becoming an astronaut herself. Kowal intricately melds real history with her fictional plot to create a series that is simultaneously hopeful and pragmatic. The Lady Astronaut offers a powerful vision of how spaceflight could be a positive force in society. ~Meghan Bartels

Kowal talks with Space.com about the books here; read an excerpt from chapter 1 of "The Fated Sky" here.

 

By Kim Stanley Robinson

"Red Moon" by Kim Stanley Robinson
"Red Moon" by Kim Stanley Robinson
Credit: Hachette Book Group

"Red Moon," the latest novel from legendary science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson, blends realism and drama in a way that instantly transports the reader to the lunar surface. The book, which takes place 30 years into the future, opens on the journeys of Fred Fredericks, an American quantum engineer working for a Swiss company, and Ta Shu, a poet, feng shui expert and celebrity travel reporter to the moon where they are traveling to work. In the world of the book, China has become the first political and technological entity to inhabit the moon in a serious, long-term way.

At first, as a reader, you may find yourself adjusting to the character's clumsy movements in lunar gravity and anticipating what life on the moon might really be like, but the story takes a shocking turn and life on the moon turns out to be much different from what you may have expected. "Red Moon" does an incredible job immersing the reader in a captivating alien, yet still familiar, world while at the same time staying grounded in a reality that we could truly one day face. ~Chelsea Gohd

Read a Q&A with Robinson about "Red Moon" here.

 

By Emma Newman

"Before Mars" (Ace, 2018) by Emma Newman
"Before Mars" (Ace, 2018) by Emma Newman
Credit: Ace

Emma Newman's latest book set in her "Planetfall" universe, "Before Mars," sees a geologist arriving at a small Mars base after a lengthy journey only to realize that things aren't as they seem. The base's AI is untrustworthy, the psychologist seems sinister, and the main characters finds a note to herself she has no memory of writing. In a world of perfectly immersive virtual reality, can she trust what she sees? Or did the long trip take a toll on her sanity? "Before Mars" takes place on an eerie, largely empty Mars after a giant corporation buys the rights to the planet.

It's a thrilling read but — like Newman's other "Planetfall" books — also a deep dive into the protagonist's psychology as she grapples with what she discovers on the Red Planet. "Before Mars" and the other books in the same universe ("Planetfall" and "After Atlas") can be read in any order, but Space.com highly recommends giving them all a look. ~Sarah Lewin

Read a Q&A with Newman here and an excerpt from "Before Mars" here.

 

By Andy Weir

"Artemis" (Crown, 2017) by Andy Weir.
"Artemis" (Crown, 2017) by Andy Weir.
Credit: Crown Publishers

In "The Martian" (Crown, 2014) first-time author Andy Weir gave voice to the sardonic, resourceful botanist Mark Watney as he struggled for survival stranded on Mars. In his second novel, "Artemis," he follows Jazz Bashara, a porter (and smuggler) on the moon who's drawn into a crime caper. Weir brings a similar meticulous detail to his descriptions of the moon as the ultimate tourist destination as he did to Watney's misadventures on Mars, but his characterization of Jazz doesn't play to his writing strengths like Watney's log entries did. Still, "Artemis" is an entertaining romp through a really intriguing future moon base, with plenty of one-sixth-gravity action and memorable twists. It's well worth the read. Plus, there's an audiobook version read by Rosario Dawson. ~Sarah Lewin

Space.com talked with Weir about constructing a realistic moon base here.

 

By Ann Leckie

"Provenance" (Orbit books, 2017) by Ann Leckie
"Provenance" (Orbit books, 2017) by Ann Leckie
Credit: Orbit Books

A young woman plots to find stolen artifacts in "Provenance," which takes place in the same universe as author Ann Leckie's award-winning "Ancillary" trilogy of books — but introduces readers to a new selection of future human cultures with a more straightforward and less high-concept adventure story. Don't let that fool you, though: The book's exploration of multiculture, multispecies conflict (with aliens called the Geck) works just as much intriguing worldbuilding into the mix as her previous books. Plus, there are mind-controlled robots, stolen alien ships and a society with three genders. ~Sarah Lewin

Read an interview with Leckie about the book here.

 

By James S.A. Corey

"Leviathan Wakes" by James S.A. Corey
"Leviathan Wakes" by James S.A. Corey
Credit: Hachette Book Group

200 years in the future, humanity has colonized the solar system and is split among three factions on the brink of conflict: Earth, Mars and the Asteroid Belt, which includes the spinning Ceres asteroid colony. As multiple viewpoint characters are ensnared in a system-wide mystery, the story's scope slowly broadens to reveal the full complexity of the novels' science fiction world. The books, co-written by Dan Abraham and Ty Franck, originally stemmed from a tabletop roleplaying game idea, and it shows through the detailed worldbuilding and exploration of a solar system remade in humanity's image. Plus, it's a fun, tightly-plotted set of spacefaring adventure stories.

The series is slated for nine books, and they've appeared steadily one per year from 2011-2015 for a total of five so far (plus some tie-in novellas). They're also the basis for Syfy's TV show "The Expanse," recently renewed for a 13-episode second season. Book six, "Babylon's Ashes," is slated for release December 2016.

See here and here for Q&As with the series' authors describing the book's inception and the TV show's development (plus, the coolest sci-fi in the series). ~Sarah Lewin

 

By Kim Stanley Robinson

"Aurora" by Kim Stanley Robinson.
"Aurora" by Kim Stanley Robinson.
Credit: Orbit Books

After numerous novels and short stories probing humanity's trials in the near future, far future and distant past, science fiction master Kim Stanley Robinson offers his own highly detailed spin on the challenge of interstellar travel in his new book "Aurora" (Orbit, 2015).

Humanity's first trip to another star is incredibly ambitious, impeccably planned and executed on a grand scale in "Aurora." The novel begins near the end of a 170-year mission aboard a spaceship carrying roughly 2,000 humans to the seemingly Earth-like moon of a planet orbiting a nearby star, Tau Ceti.

Told largely from the perspective of the ship's computer, "Aurora" emphasizes the fragile unity of all the living and nonliving parts aboard the starship as it hurtles through space. As the story of the landing unfolds, the narrative doesn't shy away from the science or the incredible complexity of a 2,000-person, multigenerational ship. The spacecraft is portrayed as one organism that can have conflicting interests or fall out of balance but that ultimately has to work in concert to reach its destination intact. ~Sarah Lewin

For more info about the book, check out our Q&A with Robinson.

 

By Ray Bradbury

Age range: High school and up

"The Martian Chronicles" by Ray Bradbury.
"The Martian Chronicles" by Ray Bradbury.
Credit: Simon & Schuster

In case you haven't heard of him, Ray Bradbury is an icon of science fiction writing. In "The Martian Chronicles," Bradbury explores the gradual human settlement of the Red Planet, through a series of lightly connected stories. Bradbury paints the Martian landscape and its inhabitants with master strokes, but equally strong is his portrayal of the psychological dangers that await the human settlers who arrive there. This, as well as the space-themed stories in Bradbury's other classic collection "The Illustrated Man," struck a chord with me when I was young and dreamed about traveling to the stars. Reading his work today, it is amazing to see that although Bradbury writes from a time when human space travel hadn't yet begun (the book was first published in 1950), the issues and questions his stories raise are still relevant as humanity takes its first steps into that great frontier. ~Calla Cofield

 

By Orson Scott Card

Age range: High school and up

"Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card.
"Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card.
Credit: Tor Science Fiction

This classic science fiction novel by Orson Scott Card should be ever-present on any space fan's bookshelf. Card's novel follows the life of Ender Wiggin as he learns to fight the Formics, a horrifying alien race that almost killed off all humans when they attacked years and years ago. Wiggin learns the art of space war aboard a military space station built to help train young people to fight the cosmic invaders. Basically, this book is a coming-of-age tale that makes you want to fly to space and also forces you to think about some serious social issues presented in its pages. (The book is the first in a quintet, and inspired a much larger body of work that takes place in the same universe.) ~Miriam Kramer

 

By Andy Weir

"The Martian" by Andy Weir.
"The Martian" by Andy Weir.
Credit: Crown

"The Martian," by Andy Weir, is a truly great science fiction book that's heavy on the science. Weir tells the story of Mark Watney, a fictional NASA astronaut stranded on Mars, and his difficult mission to save himself from potential doom in the harsh Red Planet environment. Watney seems to have everything against him, yet Weir deftly explains not only what Watney's survival needs are but also how he goes about trying to make them work. "The Martian" also will be made into a movie, which is set for release in November 2015. The film stars Matt Damon as Watney and is directed by space movie veteran Ridley Scott. ~Miriam Kramer

Read an excerpt from "The Martian" by Andy Weir

 

By Frank Herbert

"Dune" by Frank Herbert.
"Dune" by Frank Herbert.
Credit: Ace

In "Dune," Frank Herbert imagines a vast, intricate future universe ruled by an emperor who sets the Atreides and Harkonnen families warring over the desert planet Arrakis, also known as Dune. The arid world holds the only source of the spice mélange, necessary for space travel. Spread across star systems, "Dune" teems with wild characters: human computers (Mentats), tribal fighters (Fremen), mind-controlling "witches" (Bene Gesserit Sisterhood) and humans ranging from the corrupt Baron Harkonnen to Paul "Muad'Dib" Atreides, whose journey from a sheltered childhood anchors the story. Early on, the Baron says, "Observe the plans within plans within plans," summing up the adversaries' wary analyses of each faction's complex motivations. This cerebral second-guessing balances with epic action throughout the book, centering on the perhaps best-known feature of the Duniverse: the monstrous spice-producing sandworms. The best-selling novel raised science fiction literature to greater sophistication by including themes of technology, science, politics, religion and ecology, although the burgeoning Dune franchise remains less popular than Star Wars (which borrowed heavily from "Dune"). ~Tom Chao

 

By Dan Simmons

"Hyperion" by Dan Simmons.
"Hyperion" by Dan Simmons.
Credit: Spectra

Part space epic, part "Canterbury Tales," "Hyperion" tells the story of seven pilgrims who travel across the universe to meet their fate, and the unspeakably evil Shrike, who guards the Time Tombs on the planet Hyperion. On the way, each pilgrim tells his or her own tale, and each world is so exquisitely created that it's hard to believe it all came from the mind of one author. The tale of the scholar whose daughter ages backward after her visit to the Tombs, and his quest to save her as she returns to childhood, is my favorite — it's heartbreaking and terrifying at the same time. ~Jennifer Lawinski

 

By Frederik Pohl

"Gateway" by Frederik Pohl.
"Gateway" by Frederik Pohl.
Credit: Del Rey

"Gateway" is the first science fiction book I ever read, because my father, a longtime sci-fi junkie, had loved it. It's an intense read that explores why we make the choices we do, and how we deal with the consequences of those choices in the black vacuum of space. In "Gateway," those with the money to leave the dying Earth can hitch a ride on a starship that will either make them wealthy beyond their wildest dreams or lead them to a grim and possibly violent death. Or, like our hero, you could wind up in the grip of a massive black hole and have to make difficult decisions that lead you to the couch of an electronic shrink. ~Jennifer Lawinski

Let us know your favorite science fiction books and series in the comments below!

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