The best books on extraterrestrial intelligence

29 authors have picked their favorite books about extraterrestrial intelligence and why they recommend each book.

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Solaris

By Stanislaw Lem, Steve Cox, Joanna Kilmartin

Book cover of Solaris

When asked what my favorite book is, the answer is quite definitively Solaris as it exemplifies everything that great sci-fi can accomplish. Having seen Andrei Tarkovsky’s film and been intrigued by its premise of love, obsession, and guilt in the face of something beyond all human comprehension (a living planet!), I was inspired to explore its source material. I found Stanislaw Lem’s book enthralling and like Kris Kelvin’s obsession with his late wife, it’s a story that haunts me and keeps coming back to be relived again and again! The futility of trying to understand things beyond human comprehension and our penchant to anthropomorphize things we don’t understand are themes that I explore within my stories, and it was the biggest inspiration for my SATURN Award-winning film Encounter


Who am I?

Born in Natick, MA, I was raised on a healthy diet of sci-fi and horror from age five when I saw a double-feature of Star Wars and Logan’s Run! I soon discovered The Twilight Zone and Doctor Who and then Stephen King and Clive Barker. I moved to CA to attend USC and parlayed my obsessions into a successful three decades plus run in the Film industry as a Writer, Producer, Film Executive, Comic Book Creator, Author, and originally as a Special F/X Make-Up Artist. The five books I chose were seminal in inspiring me as a storyteller to explore the frayed edges of the human (and inhuman!) condition.


I wrote...

On The Set: The Hidden Rules of Movie Making Etiquette

By Paul J. Salamoff,

Book cover of On The Set: The Hidden Rules of Movie Making Etiquette

What is my book about?

Whether you are new to the industry, a seasoned pro or just interested in what the credits mean at the end of your favorite movie, this book is for you. Not only will you learn about the different jobs on a movie set, but for the first time, you’ll discover the hidden rules of movie set etiquette not taught in any film schools.

Featuring advice from over 90 working professionals including: James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy), Bryan Singer (X-Men), Wes Craven (Scream), Gale Anne Hurd (Aliens), Lin Shaye (Insidious), Doug Jones (The Shape of Water), Edward Neumeier (Robocop), Owen Roizman (The Exorcist), Patrick Tatopoulos (Independence Day), Greg Nicotero (The Walking Dead) and Kevin D. Ross (Stranger Things).

Bone Rider

By J. Fally,

Book cover of Bone Rider

This sci-fi adventure seems insane when you read the premise – a cowboy, a hitman, and an alien AI armor? Somehow, this manages to actually work, and becomes a thrilling adventure, with a pretty unique romance and fun world-building. It’s just one of those books you need to read to believe.


Who am I?

A member of the LGBTQ community, I set out to write books about people that looked like me, that were under-represented in the media. I’m disabled, living with multiple medical conditions and mental health issues, which also inform my writing. I self-identify as a “full-time geek” – I have a passion for history and science, as well as being an avid gamer. My reading (and writing) time is spent wandering through fantasy realms, traveling the outer reaches of space, or delving into historical time periods.


I wrote...

A Mage's Power (Inquisition Trilogy)

By Casey Wolfe,

Book cover of A Mage's Power (Inquisition Trilogy)

What is my book about?

A Mage’s Power is the first book in a contemporary fantasy trilogy.  Step into an alternate modern world, where humans live alongside all manner of magical beings – mages, werecreatures, vampires, elves, and more.  Meet a large cast of diverse characters as war looms on the horizon.

Young master mage, Rowan, is just trying to make a name for himself, when he’s blindsided by someone who should be an enemy – an Inquisitor named Shaw.  Friendship, love, and magic abound when two lives collide, and conspiracy looms in the shadows.

Extraterrestrial

By Avi Loeb,

Book cover of Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth

The first known object from interstellar space, ʻOumuamua, plunged through the solar system and headed out again in 2017. It was seen by telescopes for just 17 days, enough to tell that it wasn’t as the saying goes, a bird, a plane, or Superman. Perhaps it was a space vehicle or other artifact from distant aliens, an older and superior civilization than ours. At least that’s what the brilliant Harvard astrophysicist Avi Loeb suggests. I think his theory is soundly based on the limited observational data, but that doesn’t make it true, and other astronomers won’t touch aliens with a ten-foot telescope. They offer alternative explanations none of which clearly fit the data but that smack less of science fiction. Inquiring minds should read the book and decide for themselves.


Who am I?

I’ve studied space for 60+ years, including spotting Sputnik from atop 30 Rock for Operation Moonwatch; monitoring an exploding star for a PhD at University of Michigan, leading the Remotely Controlled Telescope project at Kitt Peak National Observatory, hunting pulsars from Arizona and Chile, and helping develop scientific instruments for the Hubble Space Telescope. I worked for 5 years at Kitt Peak and 35 years for NASA. As Press Officer (now retired) of the American Astronomical Society, I organized press conferences on many notable cosmic discoveries. Minor Planet 9768 was named Stephenmaran for me, but I haven’t seen it yet. What I have spotted are five exceptional books on space.  Enjoy!


I wrote...

Astronomy for Dummies

By Stephen P. Maran,

Book cover of Astronomy for Dummies

What is my book about?

Do you know the difference between a red giant and a white dwarf? From asteroids to black holes, this easy-to-understand guide takes you on a grand tour of the universe. Featuring updated star maps, charts, and an insert with gorgeous full-color photographs, Astronomy For Dummies provides an easy-to-follow introduction to the night sky. Plus, this new edition also gives you the latest theories, explanations, and insights into the basic workings of the universe.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

By Becky Chambers,

Book cover of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

You know how Star Trek can have you pondering the human condition one moment and laughing at the antics of a quirky, diverse crew the next? This science fiction novel gave me that same feeling, and I loved every minute of it. There’s action, adventure, and, if you look closely enough, a plot. But the heart of this book is its ensemble cast. I kept coming back to it to see how the different personalities, backstories, and creative fictional cultures of the Wayfarer’s crew would guide their interactions with each other. The scenes where everyone converses over a dinner lovingly prepared by their alien chef don’t feel like fillers or segues. They’re every bit as vital as the epic space chase scenes, if not more.


Who am I?

When people ask what kind of books I like to read, I can’t answer with a genre. As a kid, I’d come home from the library with mysteries, Westerns, fantasies, non-fiction books, and comic books in the same stack. I’ve always liked books that introduce me to fun characters, take these characters on fantastical adventures, make me laugh at least a little, and leave me with a sense of hope and triumph. They can be anything from cheesy romcoms to dark thrillers to complicated biographies. This is reflected in my fantasy series, Thalia’s Musings, which has been praised for its realistic treatment of abuse and also compared to Friends.


I wrote...

A Snag in the Tapestry: Thalia's Musings Volume 1

By Amethyst Marie,

Book cover of A Snag in the Tapestry: Thalia's Musings Volume 1

What is my book about?

Thalia is the Muse of Comedy. She doesn’t affect real life with her powers the way the Twelve Olympians do. She spends her days making mortal playwrights jump through hoops in exchange for comedic inspiration, and totally not flirting with the god Apollo. But when Thalia helps Apollo raise a cursed nymph from the dead, the Fates want to test her limits. Thalia takes the Fates’ tests in stride with the same glib, bubbly snark that she brings to the Olympian Court’s drama—until her sister becomes a target for Zeus’s attention and Hera’s vengeance, and Thalia’s growing powers may be the only thing that can protect her.

The White Mountains

By John Christopher,

Book cover of The White Mountains

This is a lighter dystopia, in many ways—call it a unicorn chaser for 1984 and V for Vendetta, if you will! It’s a YA novel, and I found it a quick, fun, pacy read—as are its two sequels. You can often pick up all three in a single volume, which is how I read them. I don’t want to say too much about the first book, because so much of the fun of its opening chapters lies in figuring out what on earth is going on. You’re dropped into the peaceful English village of Wherton—a rural idyll on the surface, but there’s something not quite right about it. Maybe it has something to do with the strange headwear everyone’s sporting…


Who am I?

I’m a former English student who has always been fascinated by what stories can tell us about society—and vice versa. Dystopian fiction is one of my favourite genres for this: I love how it makes the familiar strange and holds a dark mirror up to our cultural attitudes and conventions. Now, I’m a sci-fi author who creates twisted fiction of her own. Inscape, my own British dystopia, is a ‘razor-sharp’ spy thriller set in a UK that has fallen under corporate control. It was included in The Guardian’s round-up of the best new science fiction and has been nominated for a Subjective Chaos Kind of Award.


I wrote...

Inscape

By Louise Carey,

Book cover of Inscape

What is my book about?

Warning: use of this gate will take you outside of the InTech corporate zone. You may be asked to sign a separate end-user license agreement. Do you wish to continue?

Tanta has trained all her young life for this. Her first mission is a code red: to take her team into the unaffiliated zone beyond InTech’s borders and retrieve a stolen hard drive. It should have been quick and simple, but a surprise attack kills two of her colleagues and Tanta barely makes it home alive. Determined to prove herself and partnered with a colleague whose past is a mystery even to himself, Tanta’s investigation uncovers a sinister conspiracy that makes her question her own loyalties and the motives of everyone she used to trust.

Cress

By Marissa Meyer,

Book cover of Cress

I may be cheating here. Rapunzel is an old-time fairy tale, and Cress is a science fiction re-writing of that story, so I'm going to count it in this list as "historical." This is the third book in Meyers' Lunar Chronicles and it is my favorite of the bunch. Cress (Rapunzel) is incredibly smart and completely naive to the world. Her romantic interest is a completely dopey bad guy, who you shouldn't waste your time disliking. The odd situations they get themselves into mirror, to an extent, the famous fairy tale. Lots of fun.


Who am I?

I teach writing and children's literature at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, and for many years worked as a librarian. (Once a librarian, always a librarian!) First and foremost, I'm a reader. The real world can be an unpleasant and depressing place, so I regularly escape inside books. Although serious books are great, it's also nice to escape to a world where you can laugh and not worry about anything too bad happening.


I wrote...

Wilde Wagers

By Elizabeth Caulfield Felt,

Book cover of Wilde Wagers

What is my book about?

Oscar Wilde bets that actress Olivia Snow can fool a group of country bumpkins into believing she is Genevieve Lamb, the wealthy beauty of the recent Season. The weekend will prove a challenge for the old-fashioned actress and Genevieve’s handsome and old-fashioned brother, Philip, because the manor is filled with ridiculous and eccentric characters, as well as one murderous criminal. While Olivia pretends to be Genevieve, Genevieve wagers on her own performance–as Olivia Snow. She and Oscar Wilde go out on the town, a decision that will have both wishing they’d stayed at home. These two charades take unexpected turns during a wild weekend of kidnapping, cucumber sandwiches, bee stings, and love. This Oscar Wilde-esque romantic comedy mystery will keep you guessing–and craving teacake.

The True Meaning of Smekday

By Adam Rex,

Book cover of The True Meaning of Smekday

I haven’t seen the 2015 animated movie Home, which is based on The True Meaning of Smekday, but my kids assure me that the book is better. The world is taken over by aliens in the opening chapters, and protagonist Gratuity (“Tip”) teams up with a rogue Boov who has named himself J.Lo, figuring that’s a common Earth name, to find her missing mother. The plot zig zags across the country and is full of clever twists and turns.

Tip’s voice, and the relationship between Tip and J.Lo, give the book its real charm. This is an often hilarious read, with stakes that feel real and weighty.

The Aliens: There are many, and they come in many flavors: funny, scary, brutal, BFF material…


Who am I?

When I was bored or stressed out at school as a kid, I used to pretend that I was an alien posing as a person and that I’d come to earth to learn about humans. It was fun and helped me to relax. (Look, we all have our own ways of relaxing, I don’t know why “pretending to be an alien” isn’t on more self-care lists these days). Given my tendency to drift toward other worlds, it’s amazing that it took me so long to write a book featuring aliens! The trouble-making Sneaks provide the action in my most recent MG book, which also deals with very real middle-school struggles with friendships and family.  


I wrote...

Sneaks

By Catherine Egan,

Book cover of Sneaks

What is my book about?

Men in Black meets middle school! A school project takes an alien turn when three kids uncover a secret society whose aim is to keep sneaks–mischievous interdimensional sprites–from slipping into our universe!

When Ben Harp sees his teacher’s watch crawling across the hallway, he thinks he must be dreaming. But no, he’s just seen his first Sneak—an interdimensional mischief-maker that can borrow the form of any ordinary object. Soon Ben and his friends are trying to decipher a book with a coded map while being pursued by violent clothes hangers, fire-spitting squirrels, and more. The Sneaks want that book! And they want something else, too: to pull a vastly more dangerous creature into the world with them.

Bloom

By Kenneth Oppel,

Book cover of Bloom

Bloom is the first book in the Overthrow Series. A strange rain drops seeds, and as creepy vines grow and release pollen, everybody is allergic – except a small group of teens. As the alien plants turn carnivorous, our protagonists have to figure out their role amid world-shattering events. The plot roars along, while also seeding provocative questions about technology, ethics, and what it means to be human.

Kenneth Oppel is a master plotter, and this book is an excellent introduction to his work if you aren’t already a fan. All his books are favorites in our house.

The Aliens: No spoilers here. This is a plot twist that will make you gasp out loud.


Who am I?

When I was bored or stressed out at school as a kid, I used to pretend that I was an alien posing as a person and that I’d come to earth to learn about humans. It was fun and helped me to relax. (Look, we all have our own ways of relaxing, I don’t know why “pretending to be an alien” isn’t on more self-care lists these days). Given my tendency to drift toward other worlds, it’s amazing that it took me so long to write a book featuring aliens! The trouble-making Sneaks provide the action in my most recent MG book, which also deals with very real middle-school struggles with friendships and family.  


I wrote...

Sneaks

By Catherine Egan,

Book cover of Sneaks

What is my book about?

Men in Black meets middle school! A school project takes an alien turn when three kids uncover a secret society whose aim is to keep sneaks–mischievous interdimensional sprites–from slipping into our universe!

When Ben Harp sees his teacher’s watch crawling across the hallway, he thinks he must be dreaming. But no, he’s just seen his first Sneak—an interdimensional mischief-maker that can borrow the form of any ordinary object. Soon Ben and his friends are trying to decipher a book with a coded map while being pursued by violent clothes hangers, fire-spitting squirrels, and more. The Sneaks want that book! And they want something else, too: to pull a vastly more dangerous creature into the world with them.

Binti

By Nnedi Okorafor,

Book cover of Binti

A young tribal woman defies her homebound culture to become a mathematician and attend an off-world university. On the way, their craft is attacked by a very alien enemy. Binti alone survives and it is up to her to save herself and possibly also her planet’s people by initiating the difficult first communication between the species. This compelling 96-page book by an Afro-Centric woman led to two sequels and eventually a prize-winning career. No surprise, as it is as full as a much longer novel.   


Who am I?

I was an artist as a child but graduated as a Comparative Literature Major. The aunt and uncle I stayed with in Providence summers when I was 10-12 years old lived three houses away from that of H.P. Lovecraft. My aunt would have tea with women who remembered “Poor Howard.” So my first real reading was H.P. and a host of other SF authors. I also always read foreign authors: classics and newer books. The books by the women are small but virtually perfect with unusual narrators—a disgraced, planet-colony Security Robot and a dark-skinned, young Tribal woman who finds herself facing her people’s worst enemy. Both novellas have spawned entire series by their authors.


I wrote...

The Betrothal at Usk

By Felice Picano,

Book cover of The Betrothal at Usk

What is my book about?

The second volume of my SF trilogy takes place, a generation after the galaxy-wide transforming events of Dryland’s End. With the end of the Galactic Matriarchy, Vir’ism has risen, centered on Hesperia, the City on a Star. One leader, Mart Kell, is out of power, plotting his return. While another leader, the Great Father, is quietly retired. On a small resort planet with a rainbow of rings, a 16 year-old-boy air skates across the sands dreaming of escape to the famed City on a Star. When the rulers of the galaxy-wide republic and their glamorous entourages arrive on Usk to celebrate a great betrothal, young Ay’r finds himself thrust into their midst but even deeper into their dynastic schemes and power manipulations...

The Way Back Home

By Oliver Jeffers,

Book cover of The Way Back Home

Oliver Jeffers has such a simple way with words (almost as if he is writing as his child self, still) but which always brings a wry, knowing adult smile to my mouth when reading aloud. I love this book too, for being able to make my children smile and feel empathy for the characters.

I love the graphic, simple yet sophisticated illustrations, helping to explain the story along the way. It’s a fantastic blend of the reality of children’s play, along with an imaginative introduction to science fiction. Fabulous!


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.” – Bookpage.com

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