The best science fiction novels with really cool cities

Why am I passionate about this?

I discovered science fiction at age nine with Rocketship Galileo and Red Planet and have never lost my love for speculative worlds, even after growing up to follow a career teaching and writing about the history of cities and city planning. In recent years, I’ve also begun to write about the field of SF. So it is one-hundred-percent natural for me to combine the two interests and explore science fiction cities. I try to look beyond the geez-whiz technology of some imagined cities to the ideas of human-scale planning and community that might make them fun places to visit or live in if we could somehow manage to get there.  


I wrote...

Imagining Urban Futures: Cities in Science Fiction and What We Might Learn from Them

By Carl Abbott,

Book cover of Imagining Urban Futures: Cities in Science Fiction and What We Might Learn from Them

What is my book about?

Cities are everywhere in science fiction. There are spaceports and capitals of galactic empires, domed cities on Mars and the Moon and floating cities on watery planets. My book identifies some of the most common ways that we envision urban futures and explores key examples. Some project our fears into the future and others hold out hope. Some elaborate on grandiose technologies and others highlight cities as centers of creativity. Some SF cities are firmly planted in North America and others lie on the far side of the galaxy. They’re all exciting places to visit—with the help of my guide, of course.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Perdido Street Station

Carl Abbott Why did I love this book?

Istanbul and New York are famously cosmopolitan cities, but they’re dullsville compared to New Crobuzon in Perdido Street Station.

Where else can you find such a wild mix of human and nonhuman cultures whose members argue, fight, make art, make love, and plot revolution. I love to tour New Crobuzon’s neighborhoods to see the conflict and creativity that come from twirling the urban kaleidoscope and watching its people and communities fall into new patterns. 

New Crobuzon is not a relaxing place to visit, but there is always something happening. It’s like taking Paris in 1900, Berlin in 1925, and San Francisco in 1965 and stirring them together with plenty of nonhumans.

By China Miéville,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Perdido Street Station as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the August Derleth award and the Arthur C. Clarke Award, Perdido Street Station is an imaginative urban fantasy thriller, and the first of China Mieville's novels set in the world of Bas-Lag.

The metropolis of New Crobuzon sprawls at the centre of its own bewildering world. Humans and mutants and arcane races throng the gloom beneath its chimneys, where the rivers are sluggish with unnatural effluent, and factories and foundries pound into the night. For more than a thousand years, the parliament and its brutal militia have ruled over a vast array of workers and artists, spies, magicians,…


Book cover of New York 2140

Carl Abbott Why did I love this book?

For me, the worst thing about New York is getting stuck in traffic.

In the New York of 2140, that’s not a problem because rising sea levels have drowned much of Manhattan and motorboats zip through the flooded streets like it’s a high-rise Venice. Future New York is also a city whose residents are coping with the planet’s new reality.

In the midst of climate gloom, it is refreshing to imagine a scenario where New Yorkers can come together through cooperative action to take control of their own future.

By Kim Stanley Robinson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked New York 2140 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NOMINATED FOR THE HUGO AWARD FOR BEST NOVEL 2018

'A towering novel' - Guardian

'Relevant and essential' - Bloomberg Businessweek

As the sea level rose, every street became a canal, every skyscraper an island. For the residents of one apartment building in Madison Square, however, New York in the year 2140 is far from a drowned city.

New York Times bestselling author Kim Stanley Robinson delivers a bold and brilliant vision of New York in the next century.

'New York may be underwater but it's better than ever' - New Yorker

'Massively enjoyable' - Washington Post

'Gripping . . .…


Book cover of Lagoon

Carl Abbott Why did I love this book?

I get bored when aliens always seem to land on the National Mall in Washington or hover over Los Angeles, so I was delighted to discover that at least one alien ship prefers to land in the lagoon off Lagos, Nigeria.

It’s a city as big or bigger than New York, after all. There is the challenge of dealing with very enigmatic visitors, but the time is the present and readers get a whirlwind tour of one of the world’s megacities. It’s like having the most highspeed guide you can imagine… who happens to be one of the most compelling SF writers today.

By Nnedi Okorafor,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Three strangers, each isolated by his or her own problems: Adaora, the marine biologist. Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa. Agu, the troubled soldier. Wandering Bar Beach in Lagos, Nigeria's legendary mega-city, they're more alone than they've ever been before.

But when something like a meteorite plunges into the ocean and a tidal wave overcomes them, these three people will find themselves bound together in ways they could never imagine. Together with Ayodele, a visitor from beyond the stars, they must race through Lagos and against time itself in order to save the city, the world... and themselves.

'There was…


Book cover of Terminal World

Carl Abbott Why did I love this book?

Two fantastic cities are even better than one.

At the center of the story is Spearpoint, the tallest skyscraping megabuilding that you could imagine. It is so enormous that it is divided into segments from bottom to top with different levels of technology (Horsetown and Steamville at the bottom, cybertowns, and then the fantastic Celestial Levels at the top). But wait, there’s more.

Roaming the rest of the planet is the Swarm, hundreds of giant aircraft that function together as the neighborhoods of a “distributed city” much like the fleet in Battlestar Galactica. The very different cities do not play well together, and you get to choose which one you’d rather live in. I like flying, myself.

By Alastair Reynolds,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Spearpoint, the last human city, is an atmosphere-piercing spire of vast size. Clinging to its skin are the zones, a series of semi-autonomous city-states, each of which enjoys a different - and rigidly enforced - level of technology. Horsetown is pre-industrial; in Neon Heights they have television and electric trains ...Following an infiltration mission that went tragically wrong, Quillon has been living incognito, working as a pathologist in the district morgue. But when a near-dead angel drops onto his dissecting table, Quillon's world is wrenched apart one more time, for the angel is a winged posthuman from Spearpoint's Celestial Levels…


Book cover of The City, Not Long After

Carl Abbott Why did I love this book?

For much of my academic career, I’ve battled the stereotype that cities are dangerous and deadening places, and certainly not where you want to be caught after plague decimates the population.

Pat Murphy is on my side. She imagines a post-plague San Francisco where the few remaining residents are artists, not bunkered survivalists. Her city “not long after” a plague is a place of creative eccentrics who defend themselves against outsiders with performance art.

Without the excitement of cities, there would be few new ideas, and it is great to find a science fiction book that agrees.

By Pat Murphy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The City, Not Long After as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

Jax and Danny-Boy, scrambling to get by in a near-future San Francisco ravaged by plague, become fellow artists in their united struggle to stop a tyrannical general from taking over


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Alpha Max

By Mark A. Rayner,

Book cover of Alpha Max

Mark A. Rayner Author Of Alpha Max

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Human shaped Pirate hearted Storytelling addict Creatively inclined

Mark's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Maximilian Tundra is about to have an existential crisis of cosmic proportions.

When a physical duplicate of him appears in his living room, wearing a tight-fitting silver lamé unitard and speaking with an English accent, Max knows something bad is about to happen. Bad doesn’t cover it. Max discovers he’s the only human being who can prevent the end of the world, and not just on his planet! In the multiverse, infinite Earths will be destroyed.

Alpha Max

By Mark A. Rayner,

What is this book about?

★★★★★ "Funny, yet deep, this is definitely worth venturing into the multiverse for."

Amazing Stories says: "Snarky as Pratchet, insightful as Stephenson, as full of scathing social commentary as Swift or Voltaire, and weirdly reminiscent of LeGuin, Alpha Max is the only multiverse novel you need this month, or maybe ever."

Maximilian Tundra is about to have an existential crisis of cosmic proportions.

When a physical duplicate of him appears in his living room, wearing a tight-fitting silver lamé unitard and speaking with an English accent, Max knows something bad is about to happen. Bad doesn’t cover it. Max discovers…


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