top of page
  • Writer's pictureThe Fiction Fox

Science Fiction Favourites (Updated 2024)

Updated: Apr 2

I find it difficult to name a single particular genre to be my "favourite" above the rest, but if you forced my hand, I think I might go with scifi/speculative as of this moment. Not a surprise therefore that this list contains a bunch of my all-time favourite novels. From hard space-sci-fi to literary speculative; I feel like there's something for every type of reader on this list, and I hope to help you find at least one title to add to your TBR. Note: books are mentioned in no particular order; I can't do it to myself to pick a favourite amongst my precious children...



See also: The Glass Hotel and Sea of Tranquility by the same author

I'm mentioning these novels together as, although they can be read as standalones, they take place in the same universe, and I love them equally. If you loved one but haven't read the others, I highly recommend you get on that ASAP. You can read them in any order, but I recommend publication-order (Station Eleven, The Glass Hotel, Sea of Tranquility) to make the most out of the cross-references. Individual reviews of each can be found on my blog and/or Goodreads.


Synopsis of Station Eleven: Kirsten Raymonde will never forget the night Arthur Leander, the famous Hollywood actor, had a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear. That was the night when a devastating flu pandemic arrived in the city, and within weeks, civilization as we know it came to an end.


Twenty years later, Kirsten moves between the settlements of the altered world with a small troupe of actors and musicians. They call themselves The Traveling Symphony, and they have dedicated themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive. But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who will threaten the tiny band’s existence. And as the story takes off, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, the strange twist of fate that connects them all will be revealed.



The first book in this genrebending trilogy stands to date as what is probably my all-time favourite novel ever, for reasons highly personal to me that I've talked about plenty of times. Although I can see that not everyone will share that intense love, as they don't carry the personal connection I felt to the story, it still holds up as "objectively" one of the best speculative horror series I've ever come across.


Synopsis Annihilation:

Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; the second expedition ended in mass suicide, the third expedition in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another. The members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within weeks, all had died of cancer. In Annihilation, the first volume of Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy, we join the twelfth expedition.

The group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain, record all observations of their surroundings and of one anotioner, and, above all, avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.

They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it's the surprises that came across the border with them and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another that change everything.


A story of extraterrestrial survival that is simulateously smart, harrowing and a lot of fun, featuring one of my favourite protagonists in the genre. The Martian took me by surprise when I first read it, but has stood the test of time and multiple rereads for me. It also spawned one of the quotes that I've adopted to be my life-motto; "things didn't go as planned, but I didn't die, so that's a win..."


Synopsis:

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills — and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit — he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?


There is no way I could go about this list without mentioning the King of (space) Sci-fi in my personal book; Adrian Tchaikovsky. Not only has this man produced some of the most intelligent and well-written sci-fi stories I've ever read, he also shares my slightly niche interest in weird biology and ecology. Cage of Souls encapsulates the aspects of his writing that I adore the best, but any of the abovementioned books by him could've featured on this list as well. If you enjoy a well thought-out world, built off the back of true to life science with deeply relatable and human characters as well as truly alien aliens: give Tchaikovsky a try!


Synopsis Cage of Souls:

The Sun is bloated, diseased, dying perhaps. Beneath its baneful light, Shadrapar, last of all cities, harbours fewer than 100,000 human souls. Built on the ruins of countless civilisations, surviving on the debris of its long-dead progenitors, Shadrapar is a museum, a midden, an asylum, a prison on a world that is ever more alien to humanity.

Bearing witness to the desperate struggle for existence between life old and new, is Stefan Advani, rebel, outlaw, prisoner, survivor. This is his testament, an account of the journey that took him into the blazing desolation of the western deserts; that transported him east down the river and imprisoned him in verdant hell of the jungle's darkest heart; that led him deep into the labyrinths and caverns of the underworld. He will treat with monsters, madman, mutants. The question is, which one of them will inherit this Earth?



I have a strange relationship with the classic novel Frankenstein… I didn’t enjoy the original text in the slightest, but still consider it one of my favourite classics for the legacy it spawned, and the string of homages/retellings/discussion-pieces that followed it. Our Hideous Progeny is perhaps the best example of that. It's not so much a retelling of the original, but a continuation that builds- and improves upon the story in the best way possible. On the surface, it's a classic gothic tale of scientific ambition, hubris, and creation like the original. Just below, a feminist outcry for the unsung women in scientific history and an exploration of queerness, otherness and learning to embrace the hideous-side of oneself. Then in the depths; a narrative of illness, body, childlessness and legacy, that struck a personal chord in a way I didn’t anticipate.


Synopsis:

Mary is the great-niece of Victor Frankenstein. She knows her great uncle disappeared in mysterious circumstances in the Arctic, but she doesn't know why or how...

The 1850s is a time of discovery, and London is ablaze with the latest scientific theories and debates, especially when a spectacular new exhibition of dinosaur sculptures opens at the Crystal Palace. Mary, with a sharp mind and a sharper tongue, is keen to make her name in this world of science alongside her geologist husband Henry, but without wealth and connections, their options are limited.

But when Mary discovers some old family papers that allude to the shocking truth behind her great-uncle's past, she thinks she may have found the key to securing their future... Their quest takes them to the wilds of Scotland, to Henry's intriguing but reclusive sister Maisie, and to a deadly chase with a rival who is out to steal their secret.



Continuing on with "space-sci-fi" but approached from a very different direction: we now have a philosophical novel about the ethics and morality of first contact. The Book of Strange New Things is one of those stories that has lived rent-free in my mind ever since I read it, and still has me debating some of the questions it posed. It touches on many of the quintessential themes of the genre in a unique way, and truly shows the humanity of its characters (both from this world and out of it).


Synopsis:

It begins with Peter, a devoted man of faith, as he is called to the mission of a lifetime, one that takes him galaxies away from his wife, Bea. Peter becomes immersed in the mysteries of an astonishing new environment, overseen by an enigmatic corporation known only as USIC. His work introduces him to a seemingly friendly native population struggling with a dangerous illness and hungry for Peter's teachings—his Bible is their "book of strange new things." But Peter is rattled when Bea's letters from home become increasingly desperate: typhoons and earthquakes are devastating whole countries, and governments are crumbling. Bea's faith, once the guiding light of their lives, begins to falter.


Suddenly, a separation measured by an otherworldly distance, and defined both by one newly discovered world and another in a state of collapse, is threatened by an ever-widening gulf that is much less quantifiable. While Peter is reconciling the needs of his congregation with the desires of his strange employer, Bea is struggling for survival. Their trials lay bare a profound meditation on faith, love tested beyond endurance, and our responsibility to those closest to us.



An intimate, dystopian coming of age tale of friendship, memory, magical thinking and the ultimate acceptance of what (we perceive) cannot be changed. I bawled the first time I read this and couldn’t put it out of my mind for months, and it still continues to gain more power over me upon rereads.  


Synopsis:

As children, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules where teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were. Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her life. And for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared past and understand just what it is that makes them special—and how that gift will shape the rest of their time together. Suspenseful, moving, beautifully atmospheric, Never Let Me Go is modern classic.



From a modern classic, to an actual "classic-classic". What more can I say than: this truly stands the test of time...


Synopsis: When Kris Kelvin arrives at the planet Solaris to study the ocean that covers its surface, he finds a painful, hitherto unconscious memory embodied in the living physical likeness of a long-dead lover. Others examining the planet, Kelvin learns, are plagued with their own repressed and newly corporeal memories. The Solaris ocean may be a massive brain that creates these incarnate memories, though its purpose in doing so is unknown, forcing the scientists to shift the focus of their quest and wonder if they can truly understand the universe without first understanding what lies within their hearts.



This one is for the true "hard-sci-fi" lovers out there. A first-contact novel that is dense with science, rich with lore and truly terrifying with its cosmic implications...


Synopsis:

It's been two months since the stars fell... Two months since sixty-five thousand alien objects clenched around Earth like a luminous fist, screaming to the heavens as the atmosphere burned them to ash. Two months since that moment of brief, bright surveillance by agents unknown.

So who do you send to force introductions on an intelligence with motives unknown, maybe unknowable? Who do you send to meet the alien when the alien doesn't want to meet? You send a linguist with multiple personalities, her brain surgically partitioned into separate, sentient processing cores. You send a biologist so radically interfaced with machinery that he sees x-rays and tastes ultrasound, so compromised by grafts and splices he no longer feels his own flesh. You send a pacifist warrior in the faint hope she won't be needed, and the fainter one she'll do any good if she is. You send a monster to command them all, an extinct hominid predator once called vampire, recalled from the grave with the voodoo of recombinant genetics and the blood of sociopaths. And you send a synthesist--an informational topologist with half his mind gone--as an interface between here and there, a conduit through which the Dead Center might hope to understand the Bleeding Edge.

You send them all to the edge of interstellar space, praying you can trust such freaks and retrofits with the fate of a world. You fear they may be more alien than the thing they've been sent to find.



Last but not least, I had to put at least one sci-fi thriller on this list, so I went with the book that first introduced me to the genre and actually kept me up at night because I couldn't put it down. Out of all the books on this list, this might be one of the most accessible ones, and a perfect start for those wanting to dip their toes in the genre.


Synopsis:

Jason Dessen is walking home through the chilly Chicago streets one night, looking forward to a quiet evening in front of the fireplace with his wife, Daniela, and their son, Charlie—when his reality shatters.

"Are you happy with your life?"

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious. Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits. Before a man Jason's never met smiles down at him and says, "Welcome back, my friend."


In this world he's woken up to, Jason's life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible. Is it this world or the other that's the dream?

And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could've imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.



Honourable Mentions


The powerful, classic story about a man who receives an operation that turns him into a genius...and introduces him to heartache.


A debut that follows a cast of intricately linked characters over hundreds of years as humanity struggles to rebuild itself in the aftermath of a climate plague. If you loved Station Eleven, you have to give this one a go too.


A teenage boy suffering from terminal cancer gets wrapped up in a metaphysical mystery when his Dungeons & Dragons session turns stranger than fiction... Nailbiting tension mixed with an actually fantastic representation of the teenage experience with life-threatening illness.


In a ruined, nameless city of the future, a woman named Rachel, who makes her living as a scavenger, finds a creature she names “Borne” entangled in the fur of Mord, a gigantic, despotic bear. Truly strange, truly brilliant, truly Vandermeer-ian...


A space-epic by the pen of renouned fantasy-author Paolini, in which a female Xeno-archeologist finds herself at the center of a galaxy-spanning odyssey of transformation, when an alien entity fuses itself with her body.


6. The Night Alphabet - Joelle Taylor A speculative literary novel penned in the most stunning prose imaginable, in which a woman tells the kaleidoscopic tale of her life, guided by the map of the tattoo's she picked up along the way. A tale of queerness, identity and what is meant by “inhabiting a body”, rather than “being” one, from our modern day to the cyber-lit nights of a distant future.


The beginning of a new human colony must face tyrannical leaders, revolution, crippling instability, and an unknown alien planet that could easily destroy them all.

Comments


bottom of page