The best science fiction novels that draw you in with incredible worldbuilding

Who am I?

I’m addicted to reading and writing science fiction that pulls readers into a universe they never want to leave. I love big, futuristic cities and complex societies where good people must make difficult choices. My first novel, The Sentient, was published in 2020 and the third book in my trilogy will be released in March 2023—a story about clones, cults, and consciousness. I love a lot about science fiction—the technology, the depictions of space travel and distant planets—but I care most about worldbuilding. I taught a class at a writer’s conference about getting from good to great worldbuilding in science fiction and fantasy.


I wrote...

The Sentient

By Nadia Afifi,

Book cover of The Sentient

What is my book about?

Amira Valdez dreams of working in the space stations that orbit the Earth and putting her past behind her. She escaped a religious compound in the American southwest to eventually become a talented neuroscientist in the city of Westport. But when she’s assigned to the controversial Pandora project, an effort to create the first human clone, her past and present collide. Using her talents as an interpreter of human memories, Amira uncovers a conspiracy to stop the Pandora project from succeeding—at all costs.

As she digs deeper, Amira navigates a dangerous world populated by anti-cloning militants, scientists with hidden agendas, and a mysterious New Age movement. But her adventures also uncover an even darker secret within the project, one that will change the world.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of A Master of Djinn

Nadia Afifi Why did I love this book?

This alternate universe set in Cairo had everything I was looking for at the time—a fast-paced reimagining of Middle Eastern history and folklore with a compelling female protagonist. But above all, it’s fun. The story starts strong and maintains an exciting, gripping pace throughout as Agent Fatma investigates the murder of a secret brotherhood in a world populated by magical beings. It’s such a fascinating and richly developed universe that I immediately wanted another book set in this world after turning the final page. And luckily, there are more!

By P. Djèlí Clark,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked A Master of Djinn as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Included in NPR’s Favorite Sci-Fi And Fantasy Books Of The Past Decade (2011-2021)
A Nebula Award Winner
A Ignyte Award Winner
A Compton Crook Award for Best New Novel Winner
A Locus First Novel Award Winner
A RUSA Reading List: Fantasy Winner
A Hugo Award Finalist
A World Fantasy Award Finalist
A NEIBA Book Award Finalist
A Mythopoeic Award Finalist
A Dragon Award Finalist
A Best of 2021 Pick in SFF for Amazon
A Best of 2021 Pick in SFF for Kobo

Nebula, Locus, and Alex Award-winner P. Djèlí Clark goes full-length for the first time in his dazzling debut…


Book cover of Gideon the Ninth

Nadia Afifi Why did I love this book?

So much has already been said about this weird and wonderful novel, but I’ll add my voice to the mix. I haven’t read anything else quite like it. (Necromancers in space! Dueling royal houses meets locked room mystery!) At times, it can be a lot to absorb, but once I got pulled into the novel’s strange universe, with a galactic empire, skeletons, and necromancers competing for power, I was hooked. It helps that the protagonist, Gideon Nav, is a funny, irreverent guide throughout the story—the dialogue is sharp and stylish, and the humor is biting. Years later, I still think about this book with a smile. 

By Tamsyn Muir,

Why should I read it?

21 authors picked Gideon the Ninth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

15+ pages of new, original content, including a glossary of terms, in-universe writings, and more!

A USA Today Best-Selling Novel!

"Unlike anything I've ever read. " --V.E. Schwab

"Lesbian necromancers explore a haunted gothic palace in space!" --Charles Stross

"Brilliantly original, messy and weird straight through." --NPR

The Emperor needs necromancers.

The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.

Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead nonsense.

Tamsyn Muir's Gideon the Ninth, first in The Locked Tomb Trilogy, unveils a solar system of swordplay, cut-throat politics, and lesbian necromancers. Her characters leap off the page, as…


Book cover of Nophek Gloss

Nadia Afifi Why did I love this book?

This novel is a minefield of big ideas and creative, mind-bending worldbuilding. I love science fiction that explores the idea of parallel worlds and multiverses, and this story includes a sentient spaceship that is able to travel between universes and even create its own bubble universe. The aliens in this story are also portrayed in a diverse way and the technology is creative and realistic. But despite the strong worldbuilding, Nophek Gloss also gives plenty of attention to the story and characters. This is a coming-of-age revenge story with a brutal, devastating opening and a powerful narrative that includes themes that resonated with me—overcoming trauma, found family, and the cost of revenge. 

By Essa Hansen,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Nophek Gloss as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'AN EXCEPTIONAL DEBUT . . . READS LIKE A BECKY CHAMBERS NOVEL CROSSED WITH FIREFLY' Michael Mammay, author of Planetside

'A SUCKER PUNCH TO THE SENSES . . . A KILLER STORY WITH REAL HEART AND SOUL' Alastair Reynolds

In this dark, dangerous, roller coaster of a debut, a young man sets out on a single-minded quest for revenge across a breathtaking multiverse filled with aliens, mind-bending tech, and ships beyond his wildest imagining. Essa Hansen's is a bold new voice for the next generation of science fiction readers.

Caiden's planet is destroyed. His family gone. And, his only hope…


Book cover of The Windup Girl

Nadia Afifi Why did I love this book?

What makes great worldbuilding, as opposed to just good worldbuilding? It’s hard to define, but the world should feel complex but not confusing, different but still relatable, and drive the story the author wants to tell. The Windup Girl remains my ultimate blueprint for how to get it right in my own novels. This novel follows several characters in 23rd Century Thailand that includes a refugee, an economic hitman, a well-meaning law enforcement officer, and a genetically-modified, synthetic human named Emiko. Climate change is a big theme and forms the basis for how the characters operate and survive in this complex, morally murky, and magnetic world. 

By Paolo Bacigalupi,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Windup Girl as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE HUGO, NEBULA, LOCUS, JOHN W. CAMPBELL AND COMPTON CROOK AWARDS

The Windup Girl is the ground-breaking and visionary modern classic that swept the board for every major science fiction award it its year of publication.

Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen's calorie representative in Thailand. Under cover as a factory manager, he combs Bangkok's street markets in search of foodstuffs long thought to be extinct. There he meets the windup girl - the beautiful and enigmatic Emiko - now abandoned to the slums. She is one of the New People, bred to suit the whims of…


Book cover of Blindsight

Nadia Afifi Why did I love this book?

What is consciousness? I wish more science fiction novels explored this question, so when I found one that combines an alien encounter with big ideas about life and the human condition, I got excited. Very excited. This novel explodes with creativity, from the way it depicts aliens who’ve arrived at the edge of the solar system to observe Earth, to a resurrected vampire (yes, you read that right) who’s been included on the space crew sent to investigate the alien outpost. The novel wrestles with the idea of what it means to be conscious, and whether humans, with their sense of selfhood and empathy, might be a deviation in the universe.

By Peter Watts,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Two months have past since a myriad of alien objects clenched about the Earth, screaming as they burned. The heavens have been silent since until a derelict space probe hears whispers from a distant comet. Something talks out there: but not to us.Who should we send to meet the alien, when the alien doesn't want to meet?Send a linguist with multiple - personality disorder and a biologist so spliced with machinery that he can't feel his own flesh. Send a pacifist warrior and a vampire recalled from the grave by the voodoo of paleogenetics. Send a man with half his…


You might also like...

Winter Solstice in the Crystal Castle

By Jennifer Ivy Walker,

Book cover of Winter Solstice in the Crystal Castle

Jennifer Ivy Walker Author Of Winter Solstice in the Crystal Castle

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author French teacher Avid reader Lover of medieval romance European traveler

Jennifer's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

A medieval romance between a flame haired, fire hearted French princess descended from Viking Valkyrie and the chivalrous knight who suffers an impossible love for her-- the daughter of the king he is sworn to protect.

A Yuletide Joust will determine who wins Princess Gabrielle's royal hand in marriage and her valuable dowry, the Breton kingdom of Finistère. Without a title of nobility, the man she loves--Sir Bastien de Landuc-- is ineligible to compete in the tournament, and she will be forced to marry a man she loathes.

Will Yuletide wishes make impossible dreams come true? Can the valiant knight win the coveted hand of his Viking Valkyrie?

Winter Solstice in the Crystal Castle

By Jennifer Ivy Walker,

What is this book about?

Gabrielle is a flame haired, fire hearted French princess who dreams of becoming a Valkyrie warrior queen like her Viking ancestors from Normandy. Sent to Paris to learn the proper etiquette for a future French queen, she is called home to le Château de Beaufort for a forced marriage to a man she loathes when her father the king's precarious health takes a sudden turn for the worse. Chivalrous, solitary knight Sir Bastien de Landuc suffers an impossible love for Gabrielle, the unattainable princess he can never have. Without a title of nobility, he is ineligible to compete in the…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in extraterrestrial life, space horror, and space warfare?

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

Extraterrestrial Life Explore 211 books about extraterrestrial life
Space Horror Explore 21 books about space horror
Space Warfare Explore 42 books about space warfare