The best sci-fi books for those who wonder how the whole damn genre got started

Why am I passionate about this?

I was born in Coatbridge, in the West of Scotland, more years ago than I care to remember. I recently took the big step of moving east to Edinburgh, by way of Birmingham, London, Lagos, Nigeria, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and New York: a necessary detour because traffic on the direct route is really, really bad. I’m a graduate of Birmingham University and Harvard Law School, and work in the field of counter-terrorist financing, which sounds way cooler than it is. Basically, I write emails, fill in forms, and use spreadsheets to help choke off the money supply that builds weapons of mass destruction, narcotics empires, and human trafficking networks. And sometimes I write science fiction.

I wrote...

Braking Day

By Adam Oyebanji,

Book cover of Braking Day

What is my book about?

Ravinder MacLeod’s world is coming to an end. Once the generation ship Archimedes starts braking for its destination, there will be no going back. Change is difficult. Tensions rise and the young trainee finds himself caught between the rigid requirements of the officer class and his blue-collar, ne’er-do-well family. Roberta “Boz” MacLeod, his brilliant ex-con cousin, is determined to make his life difficult.  

Then Ravi is assigned to routine maintenance deep in the massive engines of the Archimedes. Alone and out of contact, he comes face to face with something... impossible. Turning to Boz for help, their search for answers takes them to a place where the ship’s uncertain future intersects with the dangerous secrets of its past. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Frankenstein

Adam Oyebanji Why did I love this book?

Although often lauded as one of the great gothic and/or horror novels, Frankenstein can also lay claim to being one of the first—if not the first—true works of science fiction. The monster of the novel (not Frankenstein, by the way, that was the name of the doctor who created him) is not a creature of magic or fantasy. He is the result of a series of scientific experiments that take place in a lab, brought to life by a jolt of electricity.  What is that if not a glimpse, however darkly, into the future? The cell that became Dolly the sheep, the first clone, was brought to life in exactly the same way.

By Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

One of the BBC's '100 Novels That Shaped Our World'

'That rare story to pass from literature into myth' The New York Times

Mary Shelley's chilling Gothic tale was conceived when she was only eighteen, living with her lover Percy Shelley on Lake Geneva. The story of Victor Frankenstein who, obsessed with creating life itself, plunders graveyards for the material to fashion a new being, but whose botched creature sets out to destroy his maker, would become the world's most famous work of horror fiction, and remains a devastating exploration of the limits of human creativity. Based on the third…

Book cover of The War of the Worlds

Adam Oyebanji Why did I love this book?

That great theme running through so much of sci-fi, alien invasion of the Earth, successful or otherwise, can trace its origins back to this Victorian classic, in which envious, highly advanced Martians launch an invasion of Earth from their dying planet. The novel draws on the cutting-edge science of the day. The American astronomer, Percival Lowell, had popularised the idea that there were canals on Mars, moving water from the poles to irrigate a desert planet. Less well known, perhaps, is that the novel’s denouement also displays a sophisticated understanding of germ theory.

By H.G. Wells,

Why should I read it?

14 authors picked The War of the Worlds as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

But planet Earth was not only being watched - soon it would be invaded by monstrous creatures from Mars who strode about the land in great mechanical tripods, bringing death and destruction with them. What can possibly stop an invading army equipped with heat-rays and poisonous black gas, intent on wiping out the human race? This is one man's story of that incredible invasion, from the time the first Martians land near his home town, to the destruction of London. Is this the end of human life on Earth?

Book cover of Galactic Patrol

Adam Oyebanji Why did I love this book?

Long before Captain Kirk and Starfleet, Smith’s Galactic Patrol served to protect the galaxy from the evil designs of those who would do us harm. First serialised in Astounding magazine in 1937 and then published in book form in 1950, Galactic Patrol is the great-great granddaddy of galaxy-spanning space opera, both military and otherwise. Make allowances for when it was written (woke, it ain’t), and it is difficult to think of a modern space opera theme that Smith didn’t play around with beforehand.

By E. E. 'Doc' Smith,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Galactic Patrol as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

Book cover of I, Robot

Adam Oyebanji Why did I love this book?

Linked together by a framing narrative, I, Robot is a collection of short stories written between 1940 and 1950 about, you guessed it, robots. Much of what sci-fi does with robots is drawn from these seminal tales, not least the concept that robots should be self-limiting in their ability to do harm, an idea pulled together by Asimov in his three laws of robotics. The three laws and variations thereon have been relied upon by sci-fi writers ever since. Read and enjoy. Then consider the times when the stories are set (Asimov’s future is roughly our present) and weep with frustration.

By Isaac Asimov,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked I, Robot as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Voyager Classics - timeless masterworks of science fiction and fantasy.

A beautiful clothbound edition of I, Robot, the classic collection of robot stories from the master of the genre.

In these stories Isaac Asimov creates the Three Laws of Robotics and ushers in the Robot Age.

Earth is ruled by master-machines but the Three Laws of Robotics have been designed to ensure humans maintain the upper hand:

1) A robot may not injure a human being or allow a human being to come to harm
2) A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such…

Book cover of The Snow Queen

Adam Oyebanji Why did I love this book?

If you want to look for a precursor to the modern trend of retelling fairy stories as sci-fi novels, you could do worse than look at The Snow Queen, which unashamedly draws its inspiration from the Hans Christian Anderson tale of the same name. But to talk of Vinge’s novel in those terms is to do it a grave disservice. This is a brilliant example of someone using sci-fi’s fascination with technology and aliens as a mere backdrop to something else. Beyond space travel and intriguing devices, The Snow Queen is a love story, an examination of cultures (Vinge has a background in anthropology), and a poignant plea about the dangers of over-exploitation. Come to The Snow Queen for the writing alone. Even if you loathe sci-fi, I can almost guarantee you will love this.

By Joan D. Vinge,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This reissue of a modern classic of science fiction, the Hugo and Locus Award-winning and Nebula-nominated The Snow Queen, marks the first time the book has been reprinted in fifteen years.

The imperious Winter colonists have ruled the planet Tiamat for 150 years, deriving wealth from the slaughter of the sea mers. But soon the galactic stargate will close, isolating Tiamat, and the 150-year reign of the Summer primitives will begin. Their only chance at surviving the change is if Arienrhod, the ageless, corrupt Snow Queen, can destroy destiny with an act of genocide. Arienrhod is not without competition as…

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Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

By Wendy Lee Hermance,

Book cover of Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

Wendy Lee Hermance Author Of Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Wendy Lee Hermance was heard on National Public Radio (NPR) stations with her Missouri Folklore series in the 1980s. She earned a journalism degree from Stephens College, served as Editor and Features Writer for Midwestern and Southern university and regional publications, then settled into writing real estate contracts. In 2012 she attended University of Sydney, earning a master’s degree by research thesis. Her books include Where I’m Going with this Poem, a memoir in poetry and prose. Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat marks her return to feature writing as collections of narrative non-fiction stories.

Wendy's book list on why Portugal is weird

What is my book about?

Weird Foods of Portugal describes the author's first years trying to make sense of a strange new place and a home there for herself.

Witty, dreamlike, and at times jarring, the book sizzles with social commentary looking back at America and beautiful, finely drawn descriptions of Portugal and its people. Part dark-humor cautionary tale, part travel adventure, ultimately, Hermance's book of narrative non-fiction serves as affirmation for any who wish to make a similar move themselves.

Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

By Wendy Lee Hermance,

What is this book about?

"Wendy Lee Hermance describes Portugal´s colorful people and places - including taxi drivers and animals - with a poet´s empathy and dark humor. Part travel adventure, part cautionary tale, Weird Foods of Portugal is at it´s heart, affirmation for all who consider making such a move themselves."

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Interested in robots, Mars, and extraterrestrial life?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about robots, Mars, and extraterrestrial life.

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