The Essential Guide of Sci-Fi Books For The New Reader

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We are introducing a new series on the blog: The Genre Guide!

One of our goals at Alchemy Bookshop is to help you expand your reading life into books and genres that you might have not been originally drawn to.  We have started with the essential Sci-Fi (Science Fiction) books as it seems to be one of the hardest genres to convince the uninitiated to read,  but we are planning similar guides for poetry, romance, classic literature, and more! 

Essential Guide on How to Get Started with Sci-Fi Books

One of the hardest times I have is trying to convince a friend to try a science fiction book.  When I am asked for a book recommendation, people excitedly write down the name of whatever latest contemporary fiction or nonfiction book that is currently ranked on the New York Times Bestseller list, but as soon as I pull out the latest Murderbot Diaries by Martha Well…  crickets….  and mumbling “Oh that’s what type of books you read…”

I realize that even admitting that I like science fiction has the most of you thinking “Nerd Alert!”  Well, the joke is on you because you can’t get much nerdier than partnering to create an entire blog to write about my love of books.

In reality, you have probably already read a science fiction book (and loved it) without knowing what genre it was in. 

When the Hunger Games series came out several years ago (and yes, it is a science fiction book), it started a wave of other dystopian science fiction books that the public ate up and loved  like Divergent & The Maze Runner.  And then there are classics like Jurassic Park, the Handmaid’s Tale, Frankenstein that have been loved by the public for years.

What Exactly is Sci-Fi?

Easily confused with fantasy, science fiction uses elements of math, science, physics to create the thematic elements of the story.   

  • Hard Science Fiction – the focus of the story IS the science with great lengths gone to ensure everything functions as the laws of physics would dictate
    • The Martian- Andy Weir
    • Foundation- Issac Asimov
    • Jurassic Park- Michael Crichton (or really anything by this author)
    • Children of Time- Adrian Tchaikovsky
  • Soft Science Fiction – the focus of the story is the characters and the speculative society, with the plausibility of the science taking a back seat to the story.
    • Polaris Rising
    • A Wrinkle in Time
    • Skyward- Brandon Sanderson
    • Aurora Rising- 

I tend to fall on the side of Soft SciFi; I want great characters in hilarious and memorable situations.

My goal today is to give you a list of books and hope you come away with a desire to try one of them and maybe, just maybe you will consider giving this incredible genre a chance. 

My Newest Sci-Fi Books Loves
My Newest Sci-Fi Obsessions

The Essential Sci-Fi Books by Theme

If You Loved Star Wars Movies or Star Trek and Would Like to Try Another Space Opera:

Becky Chambers

An incredible character-driven space opera that thoughtfully explores the dynamics of diversity, gender, and alien/human coexistence.  Rosemary joins the crew of misfits on the spaceship, Wayfarer, and the crew is offered a very lucrative and dangerous opportunity to tunnel wormholes to deep space. 

The start to a fantastic series!

David Weber

This is a large series to go through- but if you like strong female characters (and who doesn’t?!), thrillers, and space, I recommend this series! Not to mention, there is a cat!

#1 On Basilisk Station

Brandon Sanderson

YOUNG ADULT- Since I am firmly in the camp that everything Brandon Sanderson writes is gold, I had to give his young adult science fiction series a try.  Skyward fits in the young adult space opera category featuring a young girl who dreams of becoming a space pilot (sound familiar?). 

Overall, it is an enjoyable, quick read with creative twists and fantastic world building that you expect from Brandon Sanderson

Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

YOUNG ADULT- Another fantastic Young Adult Science Fiction series, a misfit group of angsty teenagers training at a space academy in the year 2380 discover a girl that has been cryogenically frozen for 200 years in space.  Fun adventure for fans of other YA fantasy novels like Divergent or Sarah J. Maas’s Series, Throne of Glass

If Space Opera is a No-Go, Try These Sci-Fi Books That Have No Mention of Space, Aliens or Robots

Jules Verne

Okay, Jane here. This has always been one of my absolute favorite books. This is a long one, but if you’re looking for sci-fi with no space odyssey, this is a must-read. With today’s technology, it’s easy to forget how a touring submarine was such a crazy idea.

In addition to the gorgeous imagery, it’s also a character study- posing the mysterious Captain Nemo against the overt Ned Land. I highly recommend this one for diving into (pun intended) when you’re ready for an adventure.

The Nautilus will deliver!

Michael Crichton

Growing up, I didn’t even know that Jurassic Park WAS a book first.  Jane introduced me to the world of Michael Crichton’s books in high school, and SO many of them have been made into movies: Andromeda Strain, Westworld, The First Great Train Robbery, Congo, Jurassic Park: Lost World, Timeline. 

In each case, I firmly believe the book is better than the movie (#thebookisalwaysbetterthanthemovie). Jurassic Park is an amazing book that you will love whether or not you have seen the movie; especially if you grimace at the thought of reading anything involving space or aliens.

Margaret Atwood

This book absolutely terrified me to the point that I thought I should put it in the Horror or Thriller category.  Maybe reading this book right after the 2016 election was a little bit too soon?

Author

If you hated Star Wars but LOVED all the new Marvel and DC Superhero Movies, you should absolutely try this masterful series of two college roommates developing superpowers.  Strong anti-hero vibes.  I just can’t say enough good things about this series, AND there is a rumor that a third book is coming out!

If You are Intrigued by Sci-Fi, But Want These Elements to Take Second Place to a Great Romance, Try These Books:

Jessie Mihalik

If you ever wished that Stars Wars featured more believable characters and a steamier romance, try out this trilogy. 

Each book in the trilogy focuses on a daughter of the ruling families of the ‘verse as they navigate through war,  politics, and of course, finding a hunky dude to do it with. 

The female protagonists are pretty kick-ass and remind me of some of the recent urban fantasy books by Ilona Andrews, Kim Harrison, or Patricia Briggs.

Ilona Andrews

This book actually started as a serial on Ilona Andrew’s blog that has morphed into a multiple book series.  Featuring Dina who appears to be a normal innkeeper managing her Inn in Texas but in reality, the Inn serves as neutral territory for intergalactic visitors. 

Incredibly creative book with a softer romance than “Polaris Rising”.  This book started my love affair with anything that Ilona Andrews writes.

Ann Aguirre

An urban fantasy adventure.. in space?  If you loved recent urban fantasy series like Patricia Briggs and Ilona Andrews, there is a good chance you are going to love this adventure in space. 

Sirantha Jax has a unique talent that allows her to navigate a space ship through grimspace.  But after her spaceship crashes and she is left in a jail cell, will a dashing stranger get her out?

Rachel Bach

Feels like an old-school space odyssey but with a badass, snarky heroine named Devi Morris.  She is a mercenary who joins the crew of the ship “The Glorious Fool” which has an unfortunately high mortality rate. 

Add in a mystery, aliens, and a little bit of romance, you have an entertaining story that is rightful compared to FIREFLY.  And as you guys know, I am obsessed with Gina Torres on Firefly.

If You Want a Sci-Fi Book That Doesn't Take Itself Too Seriously, Try These Satires:

Douglas Adams

It is difficult to create any type of science fiction book list and not include this book.  It is equal parts witty, silly, manic and intelligent.  If you love other satires like “The Princess Bride” or “Good Omens”,  you are going to love this book.  There is a reason it spawned multiple sequels and movies.  Every page seems to feature a particular gem to quote again and again.

There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.

Douglas Adams

Martha Wells

Not many other people would classify this book as a comedy, but I was continuously laughing throughout this novella at the thoughts and dialogue of this moody robot.  Murderbot is a security bot that has hacked his governor chip.  Therefore, it does not need to follow commands any longer, but it spends its time watching TV and Movies about humans.  His greatest desire is to be left alone to do so.

My opinion is that this novella is firmly in the dark comedy category.  The first 4 books in the series are quick reads, but the 1st full-length novel just came out!

Jim C. Hines

A crew of space janitors must save the world.  You read that right, space janitors.  A hysterical science fiction series that reminds me strongly of the above, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

If The Hunger Games Were The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread, Try These Other Fantastic Dystopic Sci-Fi Novels

Ernest Cline

If you have been dreaming of the intersection of video games and a dystopic universe, the book is for you.  It is an easy read with plenty of 80s nostalgia built-in.  Feels like a love letter to a fellow gamer (which I suspect the author is).

Rachel Caine & Ann Aguirre

YOUNG ADULT- A fantastic YA novel from Ann Aguirre and Rachel Caine.  Zara Cole decided to live on the streets of New Detroit rather than joining the rest of her family on the Mars Colony.  She eeks out an existence with petty crimes until she commits the ultimate crime that has the local crime syndicate out for her.  She finds an escape as she is selected as an “Honor”; elite few humans chosen to fly with the intelligent Leviathan, but not everything is as it seems.  

If All the Prior Suggestions Were Too Heteronormative, Try These Books for Some LGBTQ Action

Tamsyn Muir

The main character is a lesbian necromancer, do I really need to say more?  Okay, fine.

It’s a dark, creepy, science fiction/ fantasy murder mystery.  It crosses too many genres to pick just one.  It also has one of the best enemies-to-lovers tropes that I have read in years.

Kameron Hurley

An all-female space opera that managed to win the most prestigious award in Scifi, the Hugo Award. 

Zan wakes up with no memory of the battles she has fought by a family that says she is their salvation.  She is the only one that can control Mokshi, a world ship with the power to leave the legion and this perpetual war.  This book is weird… and wonderful.

If You Are A Young Adult Junkie, Try These Classic YA Sci-Fi Novels

Orson Scott Card

YOUNG ADULT- One of my favorite books growing up, it still feels fresh re-reading it as an adult.  Ender is a young boy who is drafted into Battle School in space at age ten for military training for the war against the Buggers.  He is a product of genetic experiments to create the General who will finally defeat the Buggers.  His older siblings, who were either too violent and too passive from the same experiment, will the three of them be able to change the outcome of the war?

Do yourself a favor; read the book,  and don’t watch the recent film adaption.

Anne McCaffrey

YOUNG ADULT- Fun YA series for kids and teens (and I still re-read as a 30 something-year-old).  Another winner of the prestigious Hugo Award, Anne McCaffrey creates a world in which humans have crash-landed on the planet of Pern.  The Dragonriders and their dragons fight against the Threads that threaten to destroy the planet of Pern.

Madeleine L'Engle

One of my favorite childhood classics, this book was groundbreaking in the 1960s when it originally was released.  A fresh female heroine who loves math, a focus on hard scientific principles, and a little bit of spirituality mixed in.  There is an influence of Christian ideology, but it doesn’t feel as heavy-handed as other books such as “The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis.

Meg is the oldest of 4 siblings who sets off on a journey with her genius little brother and friend to find her scientist father who has disappeared without a trace.

Now That You are a New Sci-Fi Fan, Try Out These Essential Books

Andy Weir

Mark is one of the first astronauts to walk on Mars and now he is sure is going to the first to die on this planet.  A survival story that is surprisingly hilarious at times that has been meticulously researched by the author.  

Dune in the desert
Reading Dune In Its Native Environment

Frank Herbert

This book arguably did for science fiction is what “Lord of the Rings” and JRR Tolkien did for the world of fantasy.  Dune was written all the way back in the 60s and still feel relevant today (except for the two main characters’ names: Paul? Jessica?).

Paul Atreides is the heir to the Atreides Noble Family and they are granted the planet Arrakis (Called Dune by the Inhabitants).  The planet contains a valuable spice that is required for intergalactic space travel and this puts the Atreides Noble Family in the middle of a political power struggle that Paul must fight to survive. 

This book span multiple sequels and multiple movies with one coming out this year featuring Timothée Chalamet (Giddy with excitement!).  Watch the trailer!

Octavia Butler

I would be remiss if I didn’t include at least one of Octavia Butler’s books.  She is one of the first female BIPOC Sci-Fi authors and won the McArthur Genius grant in 1995, the first sci-fi author to win.

Spanning the years 1600-1800 from pre-colonial Africa to America, Anyanwu and Doro are two immortal shapeshifters.  While Anyanwu can shift into another’s form without harm, Doro must kill the other being to inhabit their body.  The opposition of these two characters is the key of the novel as they must endure each other throughout the years.

Author

A Sci-Fi Tech Thriller set in the years immediately after 9/11.  Cayce is a market researcher and has the unique ability that she is allergic to logos.  She is given a new assignment to investigate the creator of addictive video clips online that have attracted an obsessive online following.  This assignment is not as simple as it seems about her apartment is broken into and her computer hacked.  She must lean on the teachings of her security (possible CIA) father who disappeared in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. 

Adrian Tchaikovsky

Humans have left the dying earth in search of a new planet to call home.  However, there is already an intelligent alien species inhabiting the planet and these two civilizations are about to collide.  A fantastic “first contact with aliens” featuring intelligent spiders! An incredibly imaginative book that you will not regret picking up.

Isaac Asimov

This may be the most challenging book on the list.  It was an absolute visionary of a novel when first published in 1951 and won the Hugo Award for best series in 1966.  It is easy to see when reading how more modern Sci-Fi stories such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Dune used the themes in this novel as a foundation (get it, get it?) for their stories.

It takes an overarching view of the decline and building of a new empire.  For 1200 years, the Galatic Empire has ruled supremely; but a psychohistorian has seen the fall of the empire and the dark age that is to come.   Note, there is almost no character development in this book; read it like you would experience other classics of the era.

Our hope is that you will be inspired to pick up your first Sci-Fi Book and start to enjoy this genre for the incredible creativity that it represents.

Did I miss any essential Sci-Fi Books that are crucial for the new reader to experience?  Let me know in the comments!  And if you would like to support us and indie bookshops, consider buying your next book at bookshop.org

-Alice

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    2 thoughts on “The Essential Guide of Sci-Fi Books For The New Reader”

    1. One of our goals this year is to read more sci-fi. It is a genre that we both really enjoy. It isn’t the genre we reach for first though.

      It is weird how many sci-fi books/movies people actually love and enjoy that they don’t realize is sci-fi.

      I miss the wave of great dystopian stories we got to read/watch a few years ago.

      Happy reading!

      Reply
      • Alice probably reads the most Sci-fi right now, but it’s a goal of mine to read more as well! I really like Sci-fi when I read it, but it’s not a genre that I naturally gravitate towards 🙂 You’ll have to let us know your favorite sci-fi books you end up reading this year!

        Reply

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