The best science fiction and fantasy books with a ton of action

Wayne Santos Author Of The Chimera Code
By Wayne Santos

The Books I Picked & Why


By John Steakley

Book cover of Armor

Why this book?

While a lot of people look to Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers as the first book to tackle powered battle armor, and soldiers using them to fight aliens, Armor made a far greater impression on me and had me coming back to it again and again.

Felix is a volunteer in a war against the aliens nicknamed “ants,” and while he can’t stand the carnage and senseless loss of life, he’s also very, very good at combat. The first quarter of the book is like the Normandy invasion set on another planet, with amazing battles and acts of, if not courage, survival. A gripping tale of the toll of war.

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The Forever War

By Joe Haldeman

Book cover of The Forever War

Why this book?

It’s one thing to go up against aliens, but it’s a whole other ballgame when both you and the aliens are suffering from massive time dilation effects. Haldeman took the confusion and alienation he experienced during the Vietnam War and transposed it into an interstellar conflict.

What’s so amazing about the action in this book is how it constantly changes as the time periods do. With every battle that William Mandella survives and returns from, generations have passed on Earth, meaning huge sea changes in technology and society. Each fight is with unfamiliar technology and tactics on both sides, making for tense battles.

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Jade City

By Fonda Lee

Book cover of Jade City

Why this book?

The first book of Fonda Lee’s fantasy trilogy takes place in an alternate world/universe that’s still at a mid-20th century level of technology. They have cars and phone lines, but no smartphones or computers. They also have access to a special type of jade that grants specific users insane physical strength and dexterity.

The result, in this book, is an engaging tale of thuggery as a Yakuza/Triad style organized crime family struggles to survive a brutal gang war for supremacy. It’s like The Matrix if Neo and friends had run into a bad crowd and gotten mixed up in organized crime. The fights are fantastic and so is the emotional investment.

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An Unkindness of Magicians

By Kat Howard

Book cover of An Unkindness of Magicians

Why this book?

Good action isn’t just powered battle armor fights, guns going off, or well-executed martial arts, magic can be pretty damn impressive too. An Unkindness of Magicians opens with a woman auditioning for a spot in a magic dueling tournament by levitating traffic in the middle of New York, and it just gets crazier from there.

I’ve described the book to some as Mortal Kombat with wizards. Magic users in New York face off for an elimination-style tournament where people can die in the matches. It’s not just brute force with fireballs either, any kind of magical ingenuity is on the table, and Kat Howard gives us some really engaging magical duels.

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By William Gibson

Book cover of Neuromancer

Why this book?

Okay, so Gibson is one of the reasons I became a writer and Neuromancer is one of the books that influenced me as a writer, so it’s no surprise that it also inspired my love of action in SFF books. A hacker who tried skimming from the top and paid for it is given a second chance by undertaking a dangerous heist.

As one of the seminal cyberpunk novels, this one has it all, covert operations, cybernetic showdowns, hacking duels, and a vision of a future world so outstanding that it has become a trope in the decades since it was released. The world-building is incredible and the action is razor-sharp.

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