If you are searching for escapism by reading books about a universe far, far away, or simply seeking a mind-expanding journey into a different dimension, then science fiction is the genre for you. For the best sci fi of the past year (2022), most people look to the shortlist of the Arthur C Clarke Award for Science Fiction: the prize's director, Tom Hunter, talks us through their choices.
The classics of sci fi are covered by Adam Roberts, who recommends his top five science fiction classics. If you've never read any science fiction but are keen to give it a go, we have a special interview on the best science fiction books for beginners, recommended by Nicholas Whyte of the Hugo Awards.
Sci fi is heavily dependent on science, which itself is advancing rapidly. We also have a book list of sci fi books recommended by scientists.
Books that have been so frequently recommended on Five Books that they are eligible for a best sci fi of all-time list include: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks, and Ursula K Le Guin's gender-bending classic of interplanetary diplomacy Left Hand of Darkness.
Our sci-fi section is curated by Five Books deputy editor Cal Flyn, who talks us through her own thoughts about science fiction novels in this 5-minute clip.
The Best Science Fiction of 2022: The Arthur C. Clarke Award Shortlist, recommended by Andrew M. Butler
Every year, the judges for the Arthur C. Clarke Award select the best of the latest batch of new scifi books. In 2022, the science fiction award’s shortlist includes new work from Nobel Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro, a novel-in-verse from the Scottish writer Harry Josephine Giles, and a new title in Arkady Martine’s beloved Teixcalaan series. Andrew M. Butler, academic and chair of the judges, talks us through the finalists.
The Best Sci Fi Books for Beginners, recommended by Nicholas Whyte
Interested in science fiction, but not sure where to begin? Sceptical of spaceships, but never really given them a chance? We asked Nicholas Whyte, administrator of the World Science Fiction Society’s renowned annual Hugo Awards, to recommend five of the best sci fi books that should appeal to readers new to the genre
The Best Science Fiction Books About Aliens, recommended by Jaime Green
Science fiction helps us work through not only the possibilities of the cosmos but also the nature of humanity itself, argues Jaime Green—science writer and author of a new book on the search for alien biology, The Possibility of Life. Here she highlights five classic works of sci-fi that explore ideas of consciousness and communication in the setting of outer space.
The Best Books for an Introduction to Octavia Butler, selected by Nisi Shawl
In 1995, Octavia Butler became the first science fiction and fantasy author to be awarded a Macarthur ‘genius’ grant. Her writing often dealt with the moral complexities of survival, and foregrounded African American characters at a time where Black protagonists were few. Nisi Shawl, a personal friend and editor of Butler’s collected works, selects five of the best books to read for an introduction to Octavia Butler’s writing.
The Best of Speculative Fiction, recommended by Ken Liu
Ken Liu, the multi-award winning author of The Paper Menagerie, explains how using elements of fantasy and science fiction can help us examine deep truths about the human condition, as he recommends the best of contemporary speculative fiction.
The Best Apocalyptic Fiction, recommended by Elliot Ackerman
“Imagination is a national security imperative,” according to acclaimed novelist, journalist and decorated US Marine Elliot Ackerman. He’s written a novel with retired Admiral Jim Stavridis, about what would happen if the US went to war with China. Here, he talks us through his favourite books of apocalyptic fiction—and the truths they reveal about war, humanity, and literature.
Science Fiction Classics, recommended by Adam Roberts
The best sci-fi explores humanity’s anxieties and concerns and is in some sense about the future. But it doesn’t try to predict what’s to come. The literature professor and sci-fi writer recommends five classics of the genre.
The Best Sci Fi Books on Space Settlement, recommended by Erika Nesvold
We look to the stars and imagine a new home for humanity, an escape from the troubles that plague us here on Earth, but as astrophysicist Erika Nesvold points out, many of our problems will join us on our voyage. Here, she selects five science fiction books that illuminate the challenges and possible conflicts we’ll face if we head for this new frontier.
The Best Ursula Le Guin Books, recommended by Sherryl Vint
Ursula Le Guin’s most groundbreaking books are considered landmark texts in speculative fiction, exploring themes of colonisation, gender, nationalism and environmentalism through allegorical means. Here, the science fiction scholar Sherryl Vint selects five of the best books by Ursula Le Guin and examines her legacy as one of the great American writers.
The best books on Parallel Worlds, recommended by Joanna Kavenna
The highly respected author who has held fellowships at both Oxford and Cambridge universities discusses books that focus on parallel realities. Comes up with some great lesser-known must-read fiction
The Best Time Travel Books, recommended by Annalee Newitz
If you could go back, or forward, in time — would you? Science journalist and sci-fi novelist Annalee Newitz recommends some of the best time travel books and talks us through the dangers and delights of the genre, which take us from the Ordovician period through to the present day.
The Best H G Wells Books, recommended by Roger Luckhurst
Often described as the ‘father of science fiction’, H G Wells was a man of extraordinary charisma and vivid imagination. Yet he suffered terribly from class anxiety and subscribed to political beliefs we now find abhorrent, says the editor and author Roger Luckhurst. He recommends the best books to learn more about the life and work of the British writer H G Wells.
The Best Science Fiction Books for 8-12 Year Olds, recommended by Dan Smith
There needs to be a lot more sci-fi for kids, especially if it’s got a good dose of horror, argues Dan Smith, author of the sci-fi mystery series Crooked Oak. He recommends five works of science fiction for 8 to 12 year olds, from books written more than half a century ago to more recent jewels.
Science Fiction and Philosophy, recommended by Eric Schwitzgebel
Serious philosophy need not take the form of a journal article or monograph, argues the philosopher and U.C. Riverside professor Eric Schwitzgebel, as he selects five science fiction books that succeed both as novels and provocative thought experiments that push us to consider deep philosophical questions from every angle.
The Best Cli-Fi Books, recommended by Dan Bloom
Fiction that explores issues of climate change is growing at an unprecedented rate today, says the journalist who coined the phrase ‘cli-fi’, Dan Bloom. Here, he picks the five best books of the field, and introduces us to a globally important, underexplored literary genre
The best books on Zombies, recommended by Greg Garrett
Zombies have returned with a vengeance in recent years, the secret to their undying popularity lying in their ability to embody many different kinds of menace, from social unrest to pandemics, financial insecurity to international terrorism. Greg Garrett, author of Living with the Living Dead, recommends five books to help you prepare for the zombie apocalypse
The Best Science Fiction of 2021: The Arthur C Clarke Award Shortlist, recommended by Tom Hunter
Every year, the director of the Arthur C Clarke Award talks us through their six book shortlist. The 2021 crop of the best science fiction books features a “deliciously pulpy” space opera, a time travel story for young adults, and a cacophonous tale of talking animals. What they all have in common is that they are by debut authors, says Tom Hunter: they represent a new generation of sci fi writing.
The Best Science Fiction of 2020, recommended by Tom Hunter
Sci fi is booming, says Tom Hunter, the director of the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Science Fiction, as he discusses their 2020 shortlist: six novels that embrace classic sci fi narratives, while subverting or reimagining them for a contemporary audience.
The Best Sci Fi Books of 2019: The Arthur C Clarke Award Shortlist, recommended by Tom Hunter
If you’re hoping to travel to a galaxy far, far away with your next book, these six excellent sci fi novels will help you on your way. Tom Hunter, the director of the Arthur C Clarke Award for science fiction books, discusses the 2019 prize shortlist.
The best books on Science Fiction, recommended by Orson Scott Card
The sci-fi author tells us how the genre evolved from “gosh-wow” novels of the 1920s into some of the most inventive fiction being written today. He recommends five books sure to get new readers hooked
Space Travel and Science Fiction Books, recommended by Christopher Mason
Space travel may be the stuff of science fiction but some of it is getting closer and closer to becoming reality. What’s more, we have a duty to pursue it, says Christopher Mason, Professor of Genomics, Physiology, and Biophysics at Weill Cornell Medicine and author of The Next 500 Years, a blueprint of how to set about leaving our solar system. Here, he recommends his favourite science fiction about space travel, and an essential philosophy book.
P W Singer and August Cole choose the best books on World War III
What will the next global conflict look like? Two of America’s leading defence experts, P W Singer and August Cole, turned to science fiction to explore the prospect of a future war, and how existing technology might be used in one. Here, they choose five novels depicting a fictional World War Three that served as inspiration.
The Best Climate Change Novels, recommended by James Bradley
The best fiction allows us to hold ideas in our heads about time and space and causality and connection that are difficult to articulate in other ways, argues the Australian author James Bradley. It helps its readers engage with dangers and possibilities that are at the very edge of imagination
The best books on Existential Risks, recommended by The Centre for the Study of Existential Risk
In the rapidly-emerging field of existential risks, researchers study the mitigation of threats that could lead to human extinction or civilisational collapse. We met with four researchers from The Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge, to discuss their recommendations of the best books to get a grasp of this dense subject.
The Best Young Adult Science Fiction Books, recommended by Estelle Francis
Young adult science fiction extends far beyond the typical dystopian novels which immediately come to mind. Estelle Francis, a teenage author who recently published her first book, shares her favourite reads on this topic.
Best Science Fiction and Fantasy for Young Adults, recommended by Philip Reeve
Award-winning author Philip Reeve talks us through the science fiction and fantasy books that shaped him and his work in profound ways; among indubitable classics are vibrant lesser-known works awaiting our discovery.
The best books on Alternative Futures, recommended by Catherine Mayer
Catherine Mayer—author, journalist and president of the Women’s Equality Party—talks to Five Books about her optimism for a more equal future for society by way of her favourite science fiction visionaries and their work.
The best books on Surrealism and the Brain, recommended by Bradley Voytek
Neurological disorders lead to far more surreal stories than those we find in science fiction, argues University of California neuroscientist Bradley Voytek.
The best books on Dystopia and Utopia, recommended by Chan Koonchung
Warnings about the future of society contained in novels such as Nineteen Eighty-Four may seem less important since the fall of the Soviet Union, but they are all too relevant to China today, argues the Chinese writer
The best books on Robotics, recommended by Daniel H Wilson
These days robotic technology is developing so fast that sci-fi is having a hard time keeping up, says best-selling author and roboticist, Daniel H Wilson. He picks the best books on robotics.