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Best science fiction books 2023: Explore captivating new worlds and realities

Immerse yourself in fascinating alternative realities and chilling distant universes with these top science fiction reads

Trekking across freshly discovered planets, surviving an apocalypse, even fighting for your life against zombies, anything is possible reading science fiction. The genre has captivated people for hundreds of years, but it was in the 1920s when science fiction became a term that was familiar to the general public.

On its surface, sci-fi literature seems fairly self-explanatory. It usually posits some kind of alternative reality, alternative history or a future that has changed the course of the world. On top of which, unique inventions, mutated viruses, missing (or additional) world events, space travel or superior human capabilities are all common features.

Choosing the best science fiction book for you largely comes down to personal preference. There are many different avenues and styles to explore, and numerous subgenres of science fiction. More realistic settings and plots might take your fancy, or perhaps a brilliantly contrived scenario that’s a far stretch from reality, but thrilling nonetheless, will suit your personal tastes. Once you’ve decided on an interesting theme, it will help you narrow down your options.

With the peril most of these characters go through, it’s nice to know you can enjoy getting lost in a different world, but just as quickly come back to reality by closing the pages. Grow your personal library and get stuck into our picks of the best science fiction books listed below. We’ve also put together a brief guide on choosing the best ones for you. 

Best science fiction books: At a glance

How to choose the best science fiction book

What types of science fiction books are available?

With no shortage of sci-fi subgenres, there is truly something for everyone. The list of options is long, but here are just a few examples: 

  • Space opera
  • Apocalypse and post-apocalypse
  • Transrealism
  • Hard science fiction 
  • Space warfare
  • Cyberpunk
  • Steampunk
  • Afrofuturism

What features should I look for in a good science fiction novel?

This can only be determined based on your own likes, but here are some important details to keep in mind when you’re searching for your next best science fiction read:

  • A solid plot: Pick a setting that sounds interesting, something that you will understand and become engrossed in. If space blows your mind you will likely prefer a plot that travels to other planets over hard science fiction that focuses on the technical or historical.
  • A fascinating topic: With the long list of subgenres available, it won’t be too difficult finding a good topic. Like a solid plot, you’ll want the overarching theme of your sci-fi read to pique your interest.
  • Format: Although novels are the primary format of digesting a good science fiction story, there are plenty of great short story anthologies and novellas, too. And, aside from paperback and hardcover books, you’ll find a good selection of science fiction stories told through audiobook, or available on digital e-readers (such as Kindle).

Another good guide to choosing great sci-fi is to look for stories that have won awards. Though everyone’s taste in books is extremely subjective, if a book has won a prize, it’s a good indication that it’s worth reading. The Hugo Awards and Nebula Awards are some of the most esteemed for this genre, and many of the picks we’ve featured below have earned one, or the other, or both.

If you’re hankering for a great new science fiction read, continue on for some of the best sci-fi books out there.

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The best science fiction books to buy in 2023

1. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler: Best overall science fiction

Price: £9 | Buy now from Amazon

Octavia Butler won numerous prestigious awards with her writing, including the Nebula and Hugo twice each. And, if you’re unfamiliar with her work, The New York Times bestseller Parable of the Sower is a solid place to start. But if that’s not enough to convince you, maybe the thousands of five-star reviews will.

If harrowing stories of dystopian societies thrill you, this is a must-add-to-cart. What makes this particular book so powerful is its chilling believability as it sheds light on a dystopian world through the eyes of a young woman named Lauren. Intertwining racial injustices, politics, environmental issues and religion, it’s a haunting tale that echoes themes familiar to us today. That it’s set in 2026 makes it hit even closer to home.

Once you’ve finished, there’s a sequel to crack on with: Parable of the Talents. Butler also has a collection of science fiction short stories, if that’s your preferred method of reading.

Key details – Length: 320; First published: 1993; Formats available: Paperback, Kindle, audiobook

2. Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir: Best space opera

Price: £5 | Buy now from Amazon

Nearly 70,000 five-star reviews speak for this book – the latest science fiction novel from the author of The Martian, Andy Weir – following the journey of an astronaut named Ryland, who has a plan to save planet Earth, but wakes up to realise he doesn’t remember it, or even who he is.

This synopsis may sound frightening, but the book has the perfect balance of humour woven into it, which almost makes the plot feel more realistic and Ryland more relatable. Part of the beauty of science fiction is how immensely detailed authors can get, and this is a perfect example – Weir explains things on an extremely scientific level, to the point where you feel like you may be learning how to manoeuvre a spaceship yourself.

This one is a fan-favourite for a reason, and even former President Barack Obama had it on his reading list.

Key details – Length: 496; First published: 2021; Formats available: Hardcover, paperback, Kindle, audiobook

3. Dune by Frank Herbert: Best classic science fiction

Price: £7 | Buy now from Amazon

First published in 1965, Dune received another spike in popularity after the latest movie adaptation was released in 2021. It’s a classic science fiction read that mixes space travel, tumultuous inner conflict and romance with philosophical themes, class hierarchies and power struggles. Even nature and ecological themes are woven into its tale; part of Herbert’s inspiration stemmed from sand dune stabilising plants. Another Nebula and Hugo award winner, this book can’t be missed for true lovers of sci-fi.

The plot centres on a young man whose family controls a bleak planet that’s home to a substance that enables everything from space travel to longer life expectancy. Of course, even when your fam has this kind of power, nothing is easy, especially when a powerful drug is involved. If you adore the first, and we’re sure you will, you’ll be pleased to hear that there are five sequels to read right after.

Key details – Length: 592; First published: 1965; Formats available: Paperback, hard cover, audiobook, Kindle

4. Strange Highways by Dean Koontz: Best science fiction short story collection

Price: £8 | Buy now from Amazon

Dean Koontz is best known for his thrillers and suspense novels, but this particular collection of short stories is worth a read, whether or not lengthier books are more your thing. While the genre is science fiction, Koontz’s knack for keeping readers on the edge of their seats is still clear throughout the pages of this Locus award-nominated pick.

The title of this anthology is a metaphor, following the life paths – or highways, if you will – of several characters, making you think about the choices we make and the options we choose between without any idea how things will turn out.

This collection’s stories weave in bits of horror along with the science, and even robots. Space opera lovers and hard science fiction enthusiasts will appreciate the alien invasions and mutated rats, too. There are two novellas included along with ten shorter-form pieces.

Key details – Length: 512; First published: 1995; Formats available: Hardcover, paperback, audiobook, MP3 CD

5. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut: Best satirical science fiction

Price: £7 | Buy now from Amazon

If hard science fiction isn’t your go-to genre, you’ll appreciate Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. There’s still plenty of science, earth-shattering inventions, apocalyptic happenings and even a twist of religion, but it’s not chock-full of technical terms and confusing plot twists. It’s a satire brimming with sci-fi themes and an interesting perspective on what happens when people are given too much power.

Jonah, the protagonist, finds this out the hard way while on a quest to learn more about a dangerous form of water and its inventor. Vonnegut is a master of his art and although it’s one of the shorter picks on this list, there’s a lot to digest and pick apart. It’s also darkly funny.

If you prefer more “standard” science fiction, Vonnegut has plenty in that department, including his well-known novel Slaughterhouse-Five, and short story collection Welcome to the Monkey House. But it’s worth noting that, while it missed out on the Hugo award, this book was good enough to earn Vonnegut a master’s degree in anthropology from the University of Chicago (talk about impressive!).

Key details – Length: 224; First published: 1963; Formats available: Hardcover, paperback, audiobook, audio CD

6. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro: Best metaphysical science fiction

Price: £9 | Buy now from Amazon

Science fiction as a broad genre often gets a bad rap as people assume these books are full of over-the-top alien invasions or shallow, laser-beam-shooting heroes, but as this list proves, most stories are far more thought-provoking and moving. With that in mind, readers more interested in philosophical and metaphysical science fiction will have a profound appreciation for Sir Kazuo Ishiguro’s book Never Let Me Go. With relatable, heart-wrenching themes such as childhood trauma and friendship, it’s a story that sits with you a long time after reading it.

The book follows students at a special school during a time in which they find out the unnerving and heartbreaking reason they’re really there. It asks big questions around fate, deception and why some lives are deemed more important than others. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize and earning Ishiguro several other prestigious awards, it’s worth jotting this one down on your must-read list.

Key details – Length: 304; First published: 2005; Formats available: Hardcover, paperback, audiobook, Kindle

7. Ubik by Philip K Dick: Best paranoid science fiction

Price: £6 | Buy now from Amazon

Popular science fiction author Philip K Dick is best known for works such as The Man in the High Castle and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which was taken as inspiration for the movie Bladerunner. For another mind-blowing piece of work, try Ubik on for size.

Anyone who loves the truth-twisting situations science fiction novels excel at will enjoy this book that alters the reader’s (and the characters’) idea of what’s real. Something that is considered in today’s world as pseudoscience – psychic abilities – is an everyday capability and a must-have on the CVs of the people living in Dick’s book. When one company’s leader is supposedly killed, things start becoming fuzzy for the employees. Ubik, a special preservative, seems to be the only product giving anyone answers and keeping them alive. This story follows warped twists and turns, leaving a lot of readers with questions and awe when the final page turns.

Key details – Length: 224; First published: 1969; Formats available: Kindle, paperback, audiobook

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