The best sci-fi books to bend your brain and crush your soul

Who am I?

I’ve been writing professionally for an entire decade now, and for most of that time sci-fi has been my bread and butter. I love the genre’s varied aesthetics, and its tightrope of creativity and believability. The sci-fi books I love most of all are, for whatever reason, the ones that make me think deep, none-too-happy thoughts. Best is subjective, but these are five of my very favorites.


I wrote...

Book cover of Ymir

What is my book about?

If we were in an elevator, I’d tell you Ymir is about a despised prodigal who returns to his icy homeworld to break a mining strike and hunt down an ancient alien war machine. Over drinks, I’d tell you it’s also about fraternal rivalry and cyclical self-destruction.

Here, I’ll tell you that Ymir was originally conceived as a grimy, posthuman retelling of Beowulf, but along the way it absorbed everything else I like, from Émile Zola and Chuck Palahniuk to Galidor Quest and Bojack Horseman. It’s the most brutally personal thing I’ve ever written, and simultaneously an assemblage of all the cheap writing tricks I’ve learned over the past decade of writing fiction. It’s a trip. I hope you take it.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Feed

Rich Larson Why did I love this book?

Let’s lead with Feed, the book that is likely my single greatest influence. Every time I re-read it I’m blown away by its density and creativity. This postcyberpunk satire is a masterclass in naturalistic neologisms – right from the jump, readers are hit with an absolute avalanche of invented slang and tech talk that all makes perfect sense from context. It’s also a scalpel-sharp exploration of class, consumerism, and Late Capitalism. It’s also a tear-jerking tragedy with messy, incredibly human characters.

By M.T. Anderson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Feed as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

Identity crises, consumerism, and star-crossed teenage love in a futuristic society where people connect to the Internet via feeds implanted in their brains. Winner of the LA Times Book Prize.

For Titus and his friends, it started out like any ordinary trip to the moon - a chance to party during spring break and play around with some stupid low-grav at the Ricochet Lounge. But that was before the crazy hacker caused all their feeds to malfunction, sending them to the hospital to lie around with nothing inside their heads for days. And it was before Titus met Violet, a…


Book cover of Sailing Bright Eternity

Rich Larson Why did I love this book?

The first sci-fi I ever read, plucked from a dusty shelf on a mission compound in Niger. The physics explanations were beyond me, and honestly still are, but the astronomical imagery rewired my nine-year-old brain. This is a book (and series) that melds the rigor of hard SF with the scope and imagination of the best space opera, following the remnants of humanity as they flee inscrutable, implacable AI monstrosities. It makes the universe feel visceral and terrifyingly beautiful, and makes the reader feel like an ant.

By Gregory Benford,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sailing Bright Eternity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This new, special edition of the classic concluding volume of this defining series by the eminent physicist and Nebula Award-winning author contains a teaser chapter from Benford's, The Sunborn.
The final chapter of humanity's future has begun, and three men hold the key to survival. As the fierce, artificially intelligent mechs pursue their savage and unstoppable destruction of the human race, it soon becomes apparent that three men-three generations in a family of voyagers-are their targets. Toby Bishop, his father Kileen, and his longdead grandfather each carry a piece of the lethal secret that can destroy their relentless pursuers. There…


Book cover of Blindsight

Rich Larson Why did I love this book?

To stay in that existential crisis vibe, let’s turn to Blindsight, a book I avoided for way too long because vampires in space sounded goofy as hell. This horror-tinged hard SF novel manages to make First Contact feel fresh again, with truly alien aliens, inventive tech, and spectacular visual setpieces – plus a hit of psychology and linguistics. The underlying idea that consciousness as we know it is a parasitic fluke, and any advanced life we encounter will be brilliant biological automatons, had me rattled for days.

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…


Book cover of Neuromancer

Rich Larson Why did I love this book?

I came very late to the party on this book, and was still staggered by it. It’s the primary source for the grimy near-future aesthetic I’ve loved and employed for years, and even decades after publication, it still does cyberpunk better than any of its countless descendants. Each page is packed neutron-star tight with branding and slang. The prose is razorous and attentive. The ending’s a bit bleak, but the truly crushing thing is that I’ll never write something this cool.

By William Gibson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The book that defined the cyberpunk movement, inspiring everything from The Matrix to Cyberpunk 2077.

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

William Gibson revolutionised science fiction in his 1984 debut Neuromancer. The writer who gave us the matrix and coined the term 'cyberspace' produced a first novel that won the Hugo, Nebula and Philip K. Dick Awards, and lit the fuse on the Cyberpunk movement.

More than three decades later, Gibson's text is as stylish as ever, his noir narrative still glitters like chrome in the shadows and his depictions of…


Book cover of The Ellimist Chronicles

Rich Larson Why did I love this book?

Kid books are the most important books. They hook deep into the gray matter right as it’s branching off in all directions, and set the course for a whole new crop of writers. The imagery in this companion to the long-running Animorphs series was off the charts – for example, a moon-spanning hivemind organism that keeps thousands of victims tethered underwater, trepanned by tendrils that let it access their decaying brains. This one is dark, vivid, and capped off by a beautifully understated death. 

By Katherine Applegate,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

He is called the Ellimist. A being with the ability to alter space and time. A being with a power that will never be fully understood. He is the reason Elfangor came to Earth. He is the reason the Earth now has a fighting chance. And though his actions never seem quite right or wrong, you can be certain they are never, ever what anyone expects.

This is the beginning and the middle of the story. A story that needs to be told in order to understand what might happen to the future. The future of the Animorphs. The future…


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The Festival of Sin: and other tales of fantasy

By J.M. Unrue,

Book cover of The Festival of Sin: and other tales of fantasy

J.M. Unrue Author Of The Festival of Sin: and other tales of fantasy

New book alert!

Who am I?

I’m an old guy. I say this with a bit of cheek and a certain amount of incongruity. All the books on my list are old. That’s one area of continuity. Another, and I’ll probably stop at two, is that they all deal with ordinary people caught in extraordinary circumstances—those curveballs of life we flail at with an unfamiliar bat; the getting stuck on the Interstate behind a semi and some geezer in a golf cap hogging the passing lane in a Buick Le Sabre. No one makes it through this life unscathed. How we cope does more to define us than a thousand smiles when things are rosy. Thus endeth the lesson.

J.M.'s book list on showing that somebody has it worse than you do

What is my book about?

The Festival of Sin is a three-story light sci-fi arc about a young boy rescued in 6000 BCE and taken to the home planet of the Hudra. Parts two and three are exploratory excursions. It's a fish-out-of-water series. More than fish-out-of-water. Fish-on-another-planet.

Plus, there are two fantasy stories dealing with people who must overcome "supernatural" circumstances, things well beyond the realm of common understanding. 

The Festival of Sin: and other tales of fantasy

By J.M. Unrue,

What is this book about?

The Festival of Sin is a three-story light sci-fi arc about a young boy rescued in 6000 BCE and taken to the home planet of the Hudra. Parts two and three are exploratory excursions. It's a fish-out-of-water series. More than fish-out-of-water. Fish-on-another-planet.

Plus, there are two fantasy stories dealing with people who must overcome "supernatural" circumstances, things well beyond the realm of common understanding. 


5 book lists we think you will like!

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