Late to the Sci-Fi Party

Great science fiction books for beginners
Category: Reading

Science fiction is reigning supreme at the cinema right now with blockbusters like The Martian and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. If you’ve been inspired to find out more about science fiction in literature, we’re here to help.

You can find science fiction of every kind: crime, YA, fantasy, romance and more. It’s a space to explore a dizzying array of possible futures, pasts and presents, warnings and celebrations, and stories told by a vast range of voices. It explores conflicts, desires, current issues, and imagines both that we can be better than we are and that we can fail. End of the world stories often ask us to think about what happens after the worst happens, when we have to keep going anyway.

There’s a lot of great science fiction out there and more brilliant new books published every time I look. Where do you start? Here are some books that helped me figure out what I loved about sci-fi – maybe they can help you find your way in, too.

Eon by Greg Bear

Eon by Greg Bear

I fell in love with the Gollancz Space Opera Collection’s front covers. Then I read the back of the books and found a story I couldn’t resist. Often compared to Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke, Eon is about an asteroid that turns up near Earth, what is inside, and how the world reacts. Patricia Vasquez is a brilliant mathematician who makes her way through the seven chambers of the asteroid, each full of revelations and big ideas. If you like sweeping stories across space and time, you could also check out the Culture series by Iain M. Banks – incredible stories of sentient space ships and people trying to make their way in a vast post-scarcity society.


Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

This is a Young Adult book, a dystopia, and a warning. It’s also a fantastic book about a possible future. Teen girls are designed and built, not born, and compete to be the most popular online celebrity they can be, all to gain the best future out of the few limited options they’re allowed. If you like this, try The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy.


The City and The City by China Mieville
The City and The City
by China Miéville

This book is a crime procedural in a setting you’ll never forget. The cities of Besźel and Ul Qoma exist in the same physical space, with people who live there learning to ‘unsee’ parts of the other city, and any crossover is managed by the organisation Breach. This was the first China Miéville I read but it certainly wasn’t the last.

For more crime fiction set in science fiction universes, you could also try titles such as The Execution Channel or The Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon, and The North Road by Peter F. Hamilton.


The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

There are some writers who are recommended on every science fiction article because their books are so good they could fill a list like this on their own. Choosing just one book by Ursula Le Guin is nearly impossible. The Left Hand of Darkness is set on the planet Gethen, called Winter by the arriving envoy, Genly Ai, who is tasked with convincing its people to join the Ekumen, a league of planets. Gethen’s people are ambisexual and spend much of their time without sexual attributes. This book is about nothing less than what it is to be a human, what gender and sexuality are to us as human beings, and what it is to be a citizen in a society. Two other writers who are recommended often, with excellent reason, are Arthur C. Clarke and Octavia Butler.


Companion novels!

Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
Sunday afternoons growing up used to mean two things in my house: Scrapheap Challenge and Stargate SG-1. After the show ended, Stargate lived on in the novels and Big Finish audio dramas, which are brilliant. There are awesome companion novels out there for a huge variety of science fiction universes, maybe even one you already love, including Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, the Halo series, and more. A Star Wars novel that hit the headlines recently was Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig for its inclusion of a gay character in a leading role, and the Star Wars X-Wing series is legendary. If you have ever wondered what happened next or what your favourite character was thinking during the onscreen events, a companion novel could be for you.


Further reading

This is just the tip of the iceberg, though. Nova Scotia: An Anthology of New Scottish Speculative Fiction (edited by Andrew J Wilson and Neil Williamson) is a great place to start, as is the brilliant Where Rockets Burn Through: Contemporary Science Fiction Poems from the UK (edited by Russell Jones).

Our Science Fiction book lists might give you some ideas, too – have a look!


Main image: from the cover for The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin

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