The best books about close encounters

13 authors have picked their favorite books about close encounters and why they recommend each book.

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Mass Effect

By Drew Karpyshyn,

Book cover of Mass Effect: Revelation

Mass Effect was a very big sci-fi series for me growing up, the technology of which continues to influence my novels to this day. This novel serves as a prequel to the first game in the Mass Effect series, covering an event that was only briefly mentioned within the game itself, where Captain David Anderson works alongside the Spectre Saren, a Turian who despises humanity and believes them to be growing too quickly. Saren’s behavior and beliefs lead to him committing atrocities and then blaming Anderson to sabotage the whole reason why they were asked to team up in the first place, setting the stage for the first game.

Who am I?

All of the books I’ve recommended here involve various game series, or at least subseries in a larger franchise like Star Wars, that has come to influence my own writing, be it with the technology, the setting details, or just various writing quirks I’ve picked up over the years. I’m a long-standing fan of video games and strategy games or RPGs in particular, and I’ve been told in the past that my novels feel very video-game-y, though such was not my original intention. I should hope that the books I recommend here will give you some insight into what sources I draw from as I write my own novels!

I wrote...

Daughters of Astrid

By Matthew Michaelson, Danielle Dy-Liccao (illustrator),

Book cover of Daughters of Astrid

What is my book about?

An epic fantasy tale centered around redemption. The Daughters Of Astrid takes the reader on a wild ride of imagination. The sudden appearance of a living, breathing, immortal Goddess on the planet of Terra Ancora sets off events that plunge the world into a holy crusade. Millions are killed. Against the wishes of the benevolent Goddess Astrid Cailmel, her warrior empress Rebecca has committed genocide, killing countless unbelievers. With her memory of her crimes repressed from dissociative amnesia, Rebecca is to stand trial, but the anger against her is so great that traditional justice is impossible. Sensing a true willingness to repent in Rebecca, Lady Astrid sentences her to undertake a journey of atonement in Astrid’s name.

Einstein Intersection

By Samuel R. Delany,

Book cover of Einstein Intersection

When I first read this novel at age 15, I knew upon finishing that I wanted to be a science fiction writer. The strangeness of the tale enchanted me. And, by dint of that spell, my mind opened to the author’s philosophical insights about identity, cultural dreaming, and sexuality. Set on a far-future Earth where humanity is a mythical memory, the narrator assumes an identity based on Orpheus – and so, lost love and music play witching roles. Meaning is elusive, and that's part of the book's charm. Meaning in this story is also allusive, and the many legendary and literary references in the telling wander far from their origins and lead us to unexpected associations with our own time and lives.

Who am I?

I’m a novelist and student of the imagination living in Honolulu. I actually write most of my fiction inside a volcano: Koko Crater, a botanical garden near my home. Fantasies, visions, hallucinations, or whatever we call those irrational powers that illuminate our inner life fascinate me. I’m particularly intrigued by the creative intelligence that scripts our dreams. And I love how this dramatic energy finds its way to the page, into the one form that most precisely defines who we are: story.

I wrote...

The Last Legends of Earth

By A.A. Attanasio,

Book cover of The Last Legends of Earth

What is my book about?

Seven billion years from now, long after the Sun has died and human life has become extinct, alien beings reconstruct homo sapiens from our fossilized DNA drifting as debris in deep space. We are reborn to serve as bait in a battle to the death between the Rimstalker, humankind's re-animator, and the zōtl, horrific creatures who feed vampire-like on the suffering of intelligent lifeforms.

In the Ocean of Night

By Gregory Benford,

Book cover of In the Ocean of Night

This novel, about the discovery of an alien probe hidden within an Earth orbit-crossing asteroid and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence it provokes, is the first volume of a long, six-volume epic, the Galactic Center series, that is regarded by most critics as a landmark work. You can read this novel on its own or you can go from there with the rest of the series; in any case, it’s hard SF at its thought-provoking best.

Who am I?

Okay, so you’ve read Dune, you’ve read Starship Troopers, you’ve read 2001: A Space Odyssey, and maybe you’ve even read From Earth to the Moon and The First Men in the Moon. Seen the movies, too (or maybe you cheat and say you’ve read the books when you’ve only seen the flicks). Bet you think that makes you an expert on science fiction about space, right? Not even close! If you want to read more than just the well-known classics everyone else has, find these books. Some have become obscure and are now out of print, but they’re not hard to find; try ABE, eBay, and local second-hand bookstores. They’re worth searching for, and then you’ll really have something to talk about.

I wrote...

Coyote (Coyote Trilogy)

By Allen M. Steele,

Book cover of Coyote (Coyote Trilogy)

What is my book about?

Coyote is a novel of interstellar exploration by Hugo Award-winning author Allen Steele. It has been translated into several languages and published worldwide, entered the curriculum of several college science fiction courses, and been optioned for TV/film adaptation. It’s followed by four other novels in the same series, along with three spin-off novels and several related short stories. Of Steele’s many novels, this is his most popular book.

Childhood's End

By Arthur C. Clarke,

Book cover of Childhood's End

From the golden age of science fiction is one of my all-time favorite novels, written by one of the fathers of the genre. I’m not even going to provide a summary of the plot—this is an experience that cannot be missed if you are any sort of fan of sci-fi. Despite it being written in 1954, the writing, premise, and story progression all still feel fresh. The book, spanning decades, is one of the human condition and exploring our place in the universe in the face of truly alien intentions. 

This may be the last book on my list, but it's easily one of the easiest recommendations I can make.

Who am I?

My parents always encouraged me to explore the world and express myself. I also grew up in a home where the bookshelves were lined with Stephen King novels, encyclopedias, and VHS tapes containing episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. So it came as little surprise that my interests in astronomy, orbital mechanics, and fantastical technology concepts (who doesn't like the idea of a ringworld?) dominated my life. I also love history and the drive for exploring the endless possibilities behind the question "what if." Science fiction is, at its core, about exploring the human condition—this is where you’ll find my writing and the adventures I bring to you.

I wrote...

Eternal Shadow

By Trevor B Williams,

Book cover of Eternal Shadow

What is my book about?

What would you do if the world is going to end in ten years? For Jennifer Epstein, a by-the-books senior researcher at SETI, there is only one answer: prevent the apocalypse from happening. Pluto, Neptune, and Uranus were destroyed by an alien threat. The deck was stacked against humanity before the cards came out of the box.

But Jennifer isn’t alone. She has Samantha Monroe, her excitable but brilliant subordinate. From South Africa, CEO Muzikayise Khulu of Khulu Global supplies his vast resources to the ultimate race for survival. The three find themselves in an unlikely alliance while political brinkmanship, doomsday cults, and untested technologies form ever-growing obstacles. Will humanity unite to face the greatest challenge of their time, or will it destroy itself before the alien ship arrives?


By Ernest Cline,

Book cover of Armada

Every nerd’s dream is to one day be swept away into adventure, and in this book it actually happens for Zack Lightman. Video game mechanics are used as the basis for interstellar combat, and the main protagonist gets to use his epic skills to save the world. How can any self-respecting gamer hate that?

It’s written by the author of Ready Player One, but instead of that, I chose this because this is much more singularly inspired by gaming. You learn that video games were specifically created in order to prepare humanity for a potential threat, and the better you are at gaming the better humanity’s chances are at winning. I know I’ve had that fantasy at least dozens of times growing up. It’s epic, funny, and has great music. What’s not to love?

Who am I?

I’m a young writer who loves many genres such as mystery, romance, horror, and most notably Sci-Fi. My two greatest passions have always been writing and gaming. I’ve logged in thousands of hours across multiple platforms of gaming, specifically RPGs. My recent novel, Welcome to LEGEND, tells the story of two people finding love through their mutual obsession with video games. Right now, I’d like to introduce to you my top picks for books that are heavily inspired by the video games I love so much.

I wrote...

Welcome to LEGEND

By Michael Loring,

Book cover of Welcome to LEGEND

What is my book about?

Cole Matheson has dealt with depression and isolation his whole life, making it from one day to the next the best he can. The only escape he's ever had were video games, and when the largest VRMMORPG LEGEND was first released, he was immediately smitten.

It's on the LEGEND's servers that he meets Lady Oracle, another passionate gamer just like him. When they play together, Cole—in the form of his virtual alter-ego Castellan—feels a completeness he's never felt before. When he's with her he feels like everything isn't so bad. But Cole is not very good with romance and has many obstacles to face before he can admit his true feelings. He's going to need to level up his own game before he can advance any further in life.


By Alexis Deacon,

Book cover of Beegu

I love the fact that no one actually knows who or what Beegu is, though she is instantly adorable and engaging and the reader feels empathy immediately for her.

It is a very gentle, quiet story about missing home but which had a big impact on me, nevertheless, and the children I’ve read it with seem to understand her sadness.

I think Alexis Deacon’s beautiful paintings have an ethereal, timeless feeling, perfect for the story which could be set in the past, present, or future.

Who am I?

I usually enjoy painting pictures for storybooks about nature I know, so it was a treat to depict an imaginary place that I’ve never actually seen! I was so inspired to illustrate Mary’s story about the moon, as I could focus on creating an other-worldly atmosphere, adding to the drama that could have happened anywhere. The story focuses on Molly and her family moving to the moon and includes scientific facts about how gravity would impact their everyday life. I used Mary’s knowledge as reference to underpin the imaginative side of my process. Painting the inside of a moon module enabled me to use textures, colours, and lighting in such a fun, expressive way!

I illustrated...

Molly on the Moon

By Mary Robinette Kowal, Diana Mayo (illustrator),

Book cover of Molly on the Moon

What is my book about?

Award-winning science fiction author Mary Robinette Kowal consulted with a NASA astronaut to craft her first picture book story, accurately describing how living on the moon differs from life on Earth. Beautifully illustrated by Diana Mayo, Molly on the Moon is the tale of two siblings adjusting to their new home. Inspiring and imaginative, Molly on the Moon also includes fascinating facts about the moon’s environment, revealing how the differences in gravity, temperature, and time would affect our lives.

Illustrator Diana Mayo’s art is an intriguing study in contrasts. She envisions the moon as a world that seems both strange and familiar, vast but confined, cozy yet intensely isolated. The deep blue colour palette of her mixed media images feels appropriately lunar and a little mysterious.” –

Rendezvous with Rama

By Arthur C. Clarke,

Book cover of Rendezvous with Rama

Rendezvous with Rama (and its subsequent novels) is my favorite sci-fi series. I love the idea of an alien spacecraft passing through our solar system and us being able to intercept it and potentially learn more about our universe. (If that happened in real life, I would want to be a part of that.) I actually prefer the last three books in this series because it follows several generations of a family that’s travelling through space, the difficulties that creates, the obstacles they face, and the discoveries they make both along the way and at their final destination. But the first book, Rendezvous with Rama, sets it all up beautifully and is as unique a story now as it was back when it was published in the 70s.

Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated by science and space since I was a child and naturally gravitated toward science fiction. In many respects, it was a form of escapism, as I didn’t enjoy school. I always preferred escaping into another world or being taken on a journey to another world. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized that most great science fiction is a commentary on our own world and the issues we face daily. Science fiction, more than any other genre, does a better job of exploring and dissecting aspects of our world, which in turn helps us better understand our world and our relationship with it.

I wrote...

The Darkdrift

By Don Kinney,

Book cover of The Darkdrift

What is my book about?

Targeted LA cop Samuel Winter escapes the unforgiving Silanna cartel and flees to more familiar territory, New York City, where new enemies and friends—desperately bound to ancient text hidden in an otherworldly object—await his arrival and thrust him into a struggle to prevent a tragedy that may or may not occur, that may simply be shrouding a far greater catastrophe: the inescapable pull of the Darkdrift.

Terminal Alliance

By Jim C. Hines,

Book cover of Terminal Alliance

Okay, this is not a “pure” zombie novel, but zombies are an integral part of the backstory and characters. In this fun, futuristic science fiction tale, aliens discover an Earth populated by zombies. They “fix” them because the zombie virus made humans really hard to kill, which means they make great soldiers and overall worker bees in an intergalactic war. The main character is one of these humans, except she’s assigned a janitorial job on a spaceship. This is seriously one of my favorite sci-fi series, guaranteed to make you laugh out loud while sympathizing with the humans who’ve been somewhat cured of their zombiism.

Who am I?

I have been a voracious zombie fan since George A. Romero changed the nature of zombies with his low-budget breakthrough film, Night of the Living Dead over 40 years ago. Since then, I have watched a ton of zombie movies and shows and read even more zombie books and comics. It was inevitable that they would star in my own books, including my zombie trilogy, The Deadland Saga along with several novellas and short stories.

I wrote...

100 Days in Deadland

By Rachel Aukes,

Book cover of 100 Days in Deadland

What is my book about?

100 Days in Deadland, the Amazon bestseller that made Suspense Magazine’s Best of the Year list, is set in a near-future Midwest United States decimated by a zombie plague. In this tale, our hero, Cash, and her guide, Clutch, are forced on a journey through hell on earth in a modern retelling of Dante Alighieri’s epic medieval poem, The Divine Comedy...reimagined zombie apocalypse style!

Hull Zero Three

By Greg Bear,

Book cover of Hull Zero Three

This book has the ideal traits I appreciate in science fiction—as with H.G. Wells’s classic tales, it’s reasonably short and can be read as pure adventure or allegory. We meet the archetypal figure of the “Teacher” birthed by a bioprinting machine on a starship soon to terraform an exoplanet. The Teacher has to grapple with survival, his purpose, the ship’s mission, and his realization that everything is haywire in this high-tech Eden full of monsters. Hull Zero Three is a detective tale with philosophical undertones as the Teacher slowly makes sense of the chaos that surrounds him, contends with his earlier clones, and undergoes a quest. Anyone who has ever experienced the drudgery of actual teaching will appreciate Bear’s creation of the Teacher as a mythic archetype.  

Who am I?

I’m fascinated with techno-utopian schemes. Decades ago, I had conversations with a friend who believed that humanity needed to evolve and leave the planet, just as early life once left the oceans. It was an intriguing idea that I have tried to follow up, critically, in Star Settlers. My book is a history not so much of the technology and nuts and bolts of space travel (although I do cover some of that), but of the rationale behind it—the idea that humanity’s ultimate destiny is in the stars. The idea is beguiling—but, likely, wrong-headed. To write the book, I spoke with physicists, science fiction writers, and space enthusiasts of all stripes. 

I wrote...

Star Settlers: The Billionaires, Geniuses, and Crazed Visionaries Out to Conquer the Universe

By Fred Nadis,

Book cover of Star Settlers: The Billionaires, Geniuses, and Crazed Visionaries Out to Conquer the Universe

What is my book about?

The idea that humanity’s destiny is in the stars has long been popular with science fiction writers and space visionaries. Billionaires Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk now lead that choir, insisting that we must establish Earth 2.0 out in space to prevent human extinction. They follow Russian mystic Konstantin Tsiolkovsky’s century-old advice that “The Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot remain in the cradle forever.” Star Settlers traces the waxing and waning of interest in space settlement through the decades, offers a journalistic tour through the influential subculture attempting to shape a multi-planetary future, and tackles the somewhat surreal conceptions underlying the enterprise.  

The Incal

By Alejandro Jodorowsky, Jean Giraud (illustrator),

Book cover of The Incal

The Incal follows John DiFool, an everyday goofball, as he is swept away on the most metaphysical, surrealistic, galactic adventure possible. Written and drawn by two of the wildest, most ingenious imaginations to ever grace the page, Jodorowsky and Moebius guide the reader gracefully to the edge of existence and back – without confusing or pandering to its audience. 

This book works so well because, first, Moebuis’ art is an absolute delight to look at, and second, because using the common-man-character of DiFool as the protagonist, the reader can learn alongside the story in a way that feels smooth and natural – in a world that would otherwise be beyond the understanding of mere mortals.

Who am I?

I believe comics are one of the very best storytelling mediums for stories with big imagination. Prose and film are amazing, but comics have artwork for every single moment of the story, artwork not bound by space, time, or budget. I’ve written and drawn 5 graphic novels published in 11 different languages. I’ve dedicated my entire life to the pursuit of imagination. The books I’ve recommended have given me endless enjoyment and inspiration, I hope they can do the same for you too.

I wrote...

ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria for the End Times

By Andrew MacLean,

Book cover of ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria for the End Times

What is my book about?

Alone at the end of the world, Aria is on a mission! This post-apocalyptic science fiction tale is the story of a woman in search of an ancient relic with immeasurable power. Traipsing through an overgrown city with a cat named Jelly Beans, Aria’s search seems hopeless, until a violent run-in with a young hunter sets her on a path to complete her quest. She’ll face death in the hopes of claiming her prize. 

The premiere graphic novel from the indie comics sensation, Andrew MacLean (Head Lopper), ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria for the End Times is an action-packed exploration of the extremes of humanity and our desire for a home in a world beyond repair.

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