The best character driven science fiction books you can't put down

Paul L. Arvidson Author Of Dark
By Paul L. Arvidson

Who am I?

I’ve always read Sci-Fi and Fantasy. It’s my comfort place and haven’t we all needed that in the roaring '20s? It took a long while to clock that the books that stuck with me longest were all in that odd space where fantasy and sci-fi collide, (like Helliconia or Fire Upon the Deep or Dune) When I started writing, the ideas just poured out of me but after I realised I’d written a book like those I loved to read.

I wrote...


By Paul L. Arvidson,

Book cover of Dark

What is my book about?

He never wanted to be a hero. But the deep tunnels are a deathtrap for the unwary…

Dun is haunted by savage dreams. Suffocating under the weight of caring for his family, he fears his visions mean he’s a shaman like his missing father. But when the rivers mysteriously empty of fish, he embarks on a dangerous quest to uncover the truth. Dun sets off into unknown territory with two friends, an unfinished map, and a dubious guide. But his search for answers could send him and his companions straight into the jaws of death…This is the intense first tale in the Dark series. If you like unexpected heroes, spectacular settings, and intriguing mysteries, you'll love this.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

The Fairy's Tale: A Novel For People Who Don't Trust Fairy Tales

By F.D. Lee,

Book cover of The Fairy's Tale: A Novel For People Who Don't Trust Fairy Tales

Why this book?

I love, love, love this book, for so many reasons. My top two are: 1) It sits squarely in that odd ‘fantasy in a technological world’ niche (Imagine 1984’s world filled with fairies!) 2) It has an odd, dark humour feel to a book that I like (think Gaiman or Pratchett) And oh! The characters? Funny, clever, nuanced. Bum that was three wasn’t it? I’ll come in again.


By Kristene Perron, Joshua Simpson,

Book cover of Warpworld

Why this book?

This book is so squarely in my wheelhouse, it could have been written for me. It’s a world-jumping, rip-roaring adventure that is literally breathtaking in its scope and its tempo. The protagonists have a real feel to them (very human failings) but it never feels forced, you’re just scooped up and flown along at a breakneck pace. The action scenes are heart-stopping (Kristine used to be a stunt woman!) but that’s never at the expense of the characters. Stunning, action-packed, sci-fi book.

Struggling With the Current

By A.R.K. Horton,

Book cover of Struggling With the Current

Why this book?

This book is straight-up Fantasy, so it’s notable in my list because I read so little trad fantasy these days. But don’t be fooled, this book is not what you expect. Every trope of fantasy gets turned on its head, kicked over, rearranged, and then the characters just straight up do something other than what you expected. There are no hunky but boring heroes. There are no damsels in distress. Even the Gods in this world are… well that would be spoilers. Super well told gripping fantasy trilogy that you won’t regret picking up. Except you won’t be able to put it down.


By Tade Thompson,

Book cover of Rosewater

Why this book?

This is an amazing Sci-Fi cyberpunk feeling book. Is it African futurism? I suppose so, but you get swept up in this book so quickly that really its category becomes irrelevant. On one level you could say it’s an alien invasion novel, except the alien arrived before the story started and you’re piecing together clues of this alien mind, what it wants, is it a goody or a baddy, or either. Unpicking it all with us is our last great hope for humanity, Kaaro, the least likely hero and the least willing to be a hero if he can help it. He is a brilliant pair of mirror shades for us to view the scintillating world through. Fantastic book. One of my favourite Sci-Fi reads ever.


By Nnedi Okorafor,

Book cover of Lagoon

Why this book?

I love a book that from page one, you have no idea at all where it’s going to take you. Lagoon is such a book. I love the idea it’s based on: ‘what if the aliens invaded, but they just didn’t pick America, because that wasn’t what was interesting to them?’ I found it so beautifully written that it reignited my passion for Sci-Fi after a long absence. There are lands and minds and people to explore in this book that are futuristic and fantastical and I adored every minute of it.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in extraterrestrial intelligence, damsels in distress, and fairy tales?

5,809 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about extraterrestrial intelligence, damsels in distress, and fairy tales.

Extraterrestrial Intelligence Explore 31 books about extraterrestrial intelligence
Damsels In Distress Explore 16 books about damsels in distress
Fairy Tales Explore 181 books about fairy tales

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Day of the Triffids, Flora Curiosa, and Disruption if you like this list.