Hard science fiction is an increasingly popular genre. Movies like The Martian have become huge blockbusters and hard science fiction in general is probably the sci-fi sub-genre with the broadest appeal.
Here are our top ten hard sci-fi novels that everyone should read. These novels value scientific accuracy highly, often using scientific fact to create believable worlds and situations.
Rendezvous With Rama
Rendezvous with Rama is an award-winning hard science fiction novel from one of the masters of the genre, Arthur C. Clarke.
A 30-mile spaceship has found its way into our solar system, and a group of scientists are sent to investigate. Once inside, they find the ship remains unfathomable despite their scientific probing.
Rendezvous with Rama isn’t a novel you should read if you are looking for a plot. But it gives you a glimpse of the wonder you might feel if you found an alien vessel wandering across the cosmos.
The Ringworld is a vast artificial world that literally rings a sun. Imagine the Earth being at every point of its orbit around the sun at the same time.
Travelling to this world is the 200-year-old human Louis Wu, the genetically lucky human Teela, Pierson’s Puppeteer Nessus and a tigerlike Kzin called Speaker-to-Animals.
Like The Martian or Rendezvous with Rama, Ringworld’s plot is essentially a series of problems to be overcome by the application of science.
Ringworld excels in its worldbuilding on top of the hard science. The sheer size of the Ringworld is awesome in the true sense of the word, and exploring it is a great experience.
You can read our full review of Ringworld here.
Revelation Space is a strange mix of hard sci-fi, space opera, and cyberpunk. The novel taking place in a future where humanity’s technological advancement is only matched by its decay. Humans augment themselves beyond recognition, yet retain only a shred of their humanity.
Calvin Sylveste is a brilliant, but flawed, archaeologist trying to unravel the mystery of the Amarantin; a bird-like species of alien that inhabited the planet of Resurgem thousands of years prior to humanity’s arrival. All the while, The ‘Light Hugger’ Nostalgia for Infinity and its crew of killers and criminals are making the long trip across the universe to meet him.
The world of Revelation Space is dark and overbearing, but it made its mark on the science fiction genre as soon as it was released.
The Forever War
Written by a former Vietnam veteran, Joe Haldeman, few science fiction novels better capture the futility of war as The Forever War.
Private Mandella is in the first wave of an interstellar war. The interstellar aspect of this war being key to the plot.
The journey to and from each battle taking so long that the world Mandella fought to protect is unrecognisable from the finds on his return. It’s not hard to see the parallels between Mandella’s experiences and those of Haldeman when he returned from Vietnam.
You can read our review of The Forever War here.
A self-published hard science fiction novel that became a huge success.
The Martian is essentially a castaway novel in space. With astronaut Mark Watney stranded by his team on the Red Planet. He has to figure out how to survive until his rescue with nothing but his problem-solving abilities to help him.
Much of the enjoyment in reading The Martian comes from the way in which the problems the protagonists face are solved in a methodical, scientific fashion. If you like your sci-fi hard, The Martian is a must-read.
The first of Hugh Howey’s fantastically popular Silo Series.
Set in a post-apocalyptic future where humanity has been forced into a subterranean existence. The plot taking place in a silo dug 144 stories deep into the earth. Wool is a richly textured dystopian novel that took the science fiction world by storm on its release. I strongly suggest you read it.
Isaac Asimov is one of the godfathers of science fiction. And Foundation is one of the building blocks of modern science fiction.
At its heart Foundation is about the battle between determinism and free will. It’s also one of the most important books in science fiction.
Foundation introduced the concept of psychohistory, a science that predicts the fates of billions of people over a huge period of time. The protagonist, Hari Seldon, uses this science to foresee the rise and subsequent fall of a vast empire. In reaction to this Seldon creates a plan that spans a thousand years in an attempt to avert this future.
World War Z
It seems like cheating to have a zombie book on a list of hard science fiction novels. But Max Brook’s detailing of the worldwide outbreak of the zombie virus certainly qualifies.
The story is told through a series of interviews with the survivors of the zombie apocalypse. Each detailing different, and practical, aspects of what living through an outbreak and rebuilding society would entail.
World War Z will make you wonder, seriously and in detail, how you survive the outbreak. And for that reason alone it’s worth a read.
Perhaps a sentimental choice, as this was one of the first science fiction novels I read. But if you can’t include sentimental choices in your recommended reading lists, what’s the point of having a sci-fi blog?
Asimov uses I, Robot to examine the practical and moral implications of human-robot interaction. But perhaps I, Robot is most famous for introducing the world to Asimov’s three laws of robotics:
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
The Diamond Age
Neal Stephenson is a challenging writer. In this novel, he challenges you by asking you to consider what a post-scarcity society would look like. It also delves into themes of educational philosophy and artificial intelligence. It’s also way more fun than that makes it sound.
The Diamond Age is both a hard science fiction novel and classic work of cyberpunk. If you’re looking to be stimulated, and don’t require easy answers, then The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson is a great choice.
You can read our full review of the novel here.
If you enjoyed this you may also be interested in our ultimate science fiction book or another of our best of lists: