Science Fiction Recommendations: for the genre newbie, intermediate, + experienced reader
Science fiction has long been my favorite genre. The first series of books I read for myself (Animorphs by KA Applegate) was sci-fi and it even manages to join two of my favorite things: science and technology and the study of the world, and fictional stories. I do know however that many people find science fiction reads a little too “gadgety” and scientific for them, and that many YA readers become a little lost when looking for sci-fi. Therefore I have devised this list of reads that I have personally really enjoyed, and have broken it in to three parts. The first for people who may not be a huge fan of sci-fi or may not have that much experience with the genre, the second for those who enjoy science fiction but may not want a huge dose of the “science” part, and the third for those, like me, who love sci-fi and are all in.
I have also designed the list to be a sort of sliding scale. The most beginner of the beginner sci-fi books are at the top, and the books become more intense and “advanced” as you scroll down. I hope you enjoy, and that you maybe even find your next favorite read!
For the Science Fiction Newbie
The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
THEMES: Futuristic, Retelling, Romance, Robots
I really love The Lunar Chronicles for how much crossover potential it has. I know many, many people who generally don’t enjoy science fiction who love these books. They do have a lot of heavy sci-fi elements: they are set in the far future, the main character is a cyborg, there is space travel and robots and hacking… Yet they also have a lot of romance and slightly magical elements to soften that a little, and most of it has a very fantastically feel. I highly recommend these to anyone looking to get into reading science fiction… or just to anyone, really.
The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken
THEMES: Dystopian, Superpowers, Found Family
While it is at its core science fiction, The Darkest Minds does not feel at all like science fiction. It is set in essentially contemporary times, (despite some important more ~dystopian~ details) and if you are less of fan of all the technology in science fiction, this series contains basically no gadgets. The scifi elements are eventually explained, but they spend most of the books just in the background. Instead this book is about a group of teenagers who just happen to have superpowers running from the law and trying to figure out where to fit in a world that doesn’t really want them anymore. It’s beautiful, and heart wrenching, and pretty thrilling, too.
The Accidental Hero by Matt Myklusch
THEMES: Superheroes, Alien Invasion, Genre Mashup
I love this book (and all of Myklusch’s work) so darn much but the hardest part of recommending it is actually describing it. The Accidental Hero is middle grade about a nation made up of Superheroes. It’s kind of the ultimate genre mashup, with magic and fantasy elements, but with all the aliens and the tech I would ultimately say it’s mostly science fiction. The characters are all great, the plot is a lot more complicated than it first appears, and while the setting seems clique and ridiculous it’s actually pretty captivating. I especially recommend this one to fans of superhero media and word play. Seriously… 80% of the names are some sort of play on words and it’s amazing.
For the Intermediate Sci-Fi Reader
Epic by Conor Kostick
THEMES: Virtual Reality Gaming, Futuristic Utopia
This is kind of your classic not-quite-perfect futuristic utopia, but with a twist: Any person in this book’s world has their economic and social status entirely determined by their standing in the virtual reality video game called ‘Epic.’ Legal disputes are not determined by a judge and jury but by one on one matches in the game’s arena. Earning virtual money through quests gets your family more food, better housing, and better work. It’s a really fascinating concept that makes for a fast paced, and somewhat mysterious, read.
The Lost Planet by Racheal Searless
THEMES: Space Odyssey, Adventure, Mystery
The Lost Planet is a space odyssey for middle grade readers and is so super fun while also getting into some super serious stuff. I really can’t tell you what this one is about without giving some sort of spoiler so I would say to read the summary and pick it up if you’re at all interested. I also think this one has a really eye-catching cover illustration.
Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
THEMES: Supervillians, Dystopian, High Tech Assassins
In Steelheart, when people develop superpowers, they become evil. David, the main character, saw his father killed by a superpowered ‘Epic,’ and since then has wanted revenge against them and all of the other people taking advantage of their powers to become tyrants and bullies. Steelheart is a book that contains a lot of really cool worldbuilding, (because Brandon Sanderson) with some great tech and characters that I love a ridiculous amount. This book seems pretty hit or miss for a lot of people but I really love it and it’s great if you love supervillains, cool powers, and moral complexity.
Insignia by SJ Kincaid
THEMES: Space Fights, Weaponized Teenagers, Politics
Insignia has been, and remains to be, my very favorite science fiction series. The plot is rich, and each of the books in this trilogy is even stronger than the one before. Essentially, in this book World War III is being fought over resources, by giant robotic spaceships. And those ships can only be controlled by teenagers. It deals with the moral issues of technology, using children to fight, and having corporations influencing governments, while also telling a really great story with fantastic characters.
For the Advanced Sci-Fi Reader
The Illuminae Files by Amie Kauffman and Jay Kristoff
THEMES: Survival, Hacking, Space Ships
Though I love Illuminae, I would be the first to admit this is a pretty different kind of book. Hence, the placement into the “advanced” section of this list. This series is told not in a usual story format but through documents. Emails, IMs, photos, mission reports, interview transcripts… You name it, it’s probably in there. It seems like a story written like this would be pretty confusing, but once you get into it it’s really not. Besides the way it’s told, Illuminae is the story of the refugees fleeing from a bombed and destroyed planet, and everything that happens to them afterward. I thought it was so super captivating and just really cool.
The Martian by Andy Weir
THEMES: Survival, Space Travel, Comedy
You might have seen (or at least heard of) the movie adaptation made for this book. The movie was pretty great, but of course the book is much better. The Martian is about an astronaut that becomes stranded on Mars and essentially has to survive until he can be brought back to Earth… None of which is an easy feat. The most amazing thing about this book is that it essentially only has a single character, and yet manages to be hilarious and emotional, even when there is very little interaction between different people. Another amazing thing about it is how much real science is used. This might give a lot of people pause, as the technical explanations can get rather long and in depth. I thought they were fascinating and made the book even better, but it really depends whether you enjoy the science or not.