The best hard sci-fi classics that offer insight into human nature

Why am I passionate about this?

Since childhood, I have been obsessed with understanding everything — science and the universe. Now, in this age of the JWST and a burgeoning space industry, I do sub-quantum mechanics research at an international physics think-tank, The Quantum Bicycle Society. My own hard sci-fi novel is intended to help publicize these scientific advances, as well as the behavioral psychology concepts that are the subject of my next nonfiction book, The Animal In The Mirror. The books on this list represent the foundation of inspiration that propelled my formative sci-fi journey, stories that also shine the light of insight onto our shared, instinctive nature.


I wrote...

The Intrepid: Dawn Of The Interstellar Age

By Arnie Benn,

Book cover of The Intrepid: Dawn Of The Interstellar Age

What is my book about?

This story, set in the context of humanity’s first interstellar expedition, is really as much a foray into human nature. My purpose in writing it was two-fold. I set out to create a story world as a platform to explore our behavioral evolution as a species. I also wanted the science in the story to be real — even educational — in addition to bringing attention to some important new advances in sub-quantum physics. 

The future I see is not dystopian, and this story explores how we might navigate our next half-century in order to become a more civilized society. Think the Apollo 11 mission meets Interstellar meets Contact.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Contact

Arnie Benn Why did I love this book?

This is my favorite hard sci-fi classic. I love the beautiful mix of real science (wormholes excepted), compelling story, and characters, and it touches on both first contact and the way in which human nature might cause us to react to it. That is the power combo, in my opinion!

The movie of the book was very good — Robert Zemeckis is a brilliant director — although it left out some fantastic details that, as a math and science fan, I really loved! (I won’t spoil it here; it’s too good.)

By Carl Sagan,

Why should I read it?

15 authors picked Contact as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In December 1999 a multinational team journeys out to the stars, to the most awesome encounter in human history. Who - or what - is out there?


Book cover of Dune

Arnie Benn Why did I love this book?

What I loved most about this classic series is the detailed story world the author creates. When you read beyond the first book in the series, you start to get more and more of it — cultural, anthropological, geological, and more. It is a very cool and fully immersive world.

While the new movie series has captured the imagination of many and certainly has super cool production design elements, it does take some license with the story. Allow it to merely whet your appetite for the books. They're better.

By Frank Herbert,

Why should I read it?

56 authors picked Dune as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Before The Matrix, before Star Wars, before Ender's Game and Neuromancer, there was Dune: winner of the prestigious Hugo and Nebula awards, and widely considered one of the greatest science fiction novels ever written.

Melange, or 'spice', is the most valuable - and rarest - element in the universe; a drug that does everything from increasing a person's lifespan to making interstellar travel possible. And it can only be found on a single planet: the inhospitable desert world of Arrakis.

Whoever controls Arrakis controls the spice. And whoever controls the spice controls the universe.

When the Emperor transfers stewardship of…


Book cover of Stranger in a Strange Land

Arnie Benn Why did I love this book?

I have thought about this story, every now and again, since I first read it as a teenager. It is a classic for a reason. Elon Musk even named his AI project after a word from this book. You grok? Even though the story starts out with elements of first contact and space travel to Mars, I found it to be far more about an alien-raised human coming back to Earth with alien experiences — and some alien abilities — and how that plays out.

I am a big fan of exploring our shared human condition, as well as how we might evolve our behavior and our society, and this story delves into that in a cool and memorable way.

By Robert A. Heinlein,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Stranger in a Strange Land as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The original uncut edition of STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND by Hugo Award winner Robert A Heinlein - one of the most beloved, celebrated science-fiction novels of all time. Epic, ambitious and entertaining, STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND caused controversy and uproar when it was first published and is still topical and challenging today.

Twenty-five years ago, the first manned mission to Mars was lost, and all hands presumed dead. But someone survived...

Born on the doomed spaceship and raised by the Martians who saved his life, Valentine Michael Smith has never seen a human being until the day a…


Book cover of Non-Stop

Arnie Benn Why did I love this book?

This is an evocative story world with many great twists as the plot unfolds, and I’m a sucker for a great twist. I also love the very cool mix of sci-fi, human evolution, and complicated choices.

It not only explores how we might evolve on a journey so long that our tribal factions have forgotten we are even on a journey, but it gets even more interesting when we find out where we are.

By Brian Aldiss,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Non-Stop as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Curiosity was discouraged in the Greene tribe. Its members lived out their lives in cramped Quarters, hacking away at the encroaching ponics. As to where they were - that was forgotten.

Roy Complain decides to find out. With the renegade priest Marapper, he moves into unmapped territory, where they make a series of discoveries which turn their universe upside-down ...

Non-Stop is the classic SF novel of discovery and exploration; a brilliant evocation of a familiar setting seen through the eyes of a primitive.


Book cover of The Moon is Hell

Arnie Benn Why did I love this book?

This is a lesser-known story today, but as a kid growing up—doing my own homemade chemistry experiments—I absolutely loved this story of how astronauts, stranded on the moon, would be able to “science the shit out of it” and survive.

Of course, it was penned in 1951, before a human had left the atmosphere of Earth. That does make it a bit dated by today’s standards, although it is still a fun foray into the chemistry and geology of lunar DIY survival… written half a century before The Martian.

By John W. Campbell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Moon is Hell as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ace Books, 1973. Paperback, 1st printing. Includes two Campbell stories: The Moon Is Hell (1951), and The Elder Gods (1939, written with Arthur J. Burks).


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Price of Vengeance

By Kurt D. Springs,

Book cover of Price of Vengeance

Kurt D. Springs

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Why am I passionate about this?

Author Teacher Cook Barista Guardian

Kurt's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Liam was orphaned at the age of two by a group of giant carnivorous insects called the chitin. Taken in by High Councilor Marcus and his wife, Lidia, Liam was raised with their older son, Randolf in New Olympia, the last remaining city on the planet Etrusci.

As an adult, Liam becomes a soldier. After being cut off from the city, Liam finds that there is an alien intelligence behind the chitin. To defeat it, he must discover who he is and how to use his powers. Then, Liam discovers that a traitor, responsible for his birth parents' deaths, had murdered his beloved foster parents. Will the price he has to pay in his quest for vengeance prove to be an even more unbeatable foe?

Price of Vengeance

By Kurt D. Springs,

What is this book about?

"From the cover to the opening pages, Price of Vengeance grabs the reader and takes them on a wild ride. Fasten your seat belts for this book." -S. J. Francis, author of Shattered Lies

What is the Price of Vengeance? One could understand why Liam was angry. He was orphaned at the age of two by a group of giant carnivorous insects called the chitin. Taken in by High Councilor Marcus and his wife, Lidia, Liam was raised with their older son, Randolf in New Olympia, the last remaining city on the planet Etrusci.

As an adult, Liam becomes a…


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