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Looking for hidden sci-fi gems?
When looking for a good sci-fi book, most of us don’t need to be told the classics. Dune, Foundation, Neuromancer–you already know those, and most likely have read them. The true gold is in the books someone tells you they read and loved and yet you have never heard of them. That’s where you find the gems.
So with a small hope that maybe you could find a couple gems here, I present my top 27 most underrated science-fiction books that I have read.
SEE: My picks of the top five titles from this sci-fi reading list.
Clans of the Alphane Moon by Philip K. Dick
You think you know Philip K. Dick because you’ve seen Total Recall, Blade Runner, and Minority Report, right? I submit that you don’t really know Philip K. Dick until you read Clans of the Alphane Moon. The book is set on a planet that is also a mental institution where clans have arisen centered around their diagnosis. It features a slime mold named Lord Running Clam.
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
Sometimes people ask what would happen if the Jesuits led space exploration. No, seriously, sometimes people ask that. And when they do I tell them to read tThe Sparrow.
Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
Not enough people saw the movie tArrival, but those that did loved it. Even fewer read the source story that is the title of Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang–and it may not even be the best of the nine stories collected here, which includes three Nebula Award winners, one of which also won a Hugo.
Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds
An optimistic future in which humanity has begun to repair the Earth and explore the stars. tBlue Remembered Earth includes one of the most interesting devices to overcome the speed of light delay in long distance communications that I have ever read.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
Fans of tStar Trek and Firefly often claim they are good because you love everyone in the crew. I love everyone on the Wayfarer. Even Corbin. Read The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers.
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
Connie Willis’s time travel works are not well-known enough; even among her fans, the first in this series, Doomsday Book, is often excused as being a little stiff. So forget I said that because, if you don’t know any better, you’ll think you just read one of the best time-travel adventures written. You will be right.
Ringworld by Larry Niven
If you’ve ever seen an episode of a science-fiction TV show of any kind, you’ve probably seen one of Larry Niven’s tRingworld concepts. OK, maybe not ALL episodes but certainly a large percentage of Star Trek is inspired by various aspects of this book.
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
1Q84 tells the story of what happens if you get out of your taxi in a traffic jam to complete your assasination assignment, only to change the nature of reality. Plus, the title is a pun in two languages.
The Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson
Many people try to read this trilogy of historical science fiction and many fail. But if you persevere, you will be rewarded with a new perspective where Charles Babbage and Isaac Newton seem like your friends.
Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
Steampunk zombies in a fictional Seattle. It makes Amazon and Microsoft’s troubles look like a walk in the park–or a bicycle in the park, maybe. Read Boneshaker by Cherie Priest.
After On by Rob Reid
If you’ve read tech news for the past 5-10 years, you must read After On. Superintelligence, quantum computing, and biohacking are just the base of modern trends that form a fun adventure as a Silicon Valley startup tries to convince a budding AI that she can trust them.
Memoirs Found in a Bathtub by Stanislaw Lem
Do not read Memoirs Found in a Bathtub if you already think they are watching you. Do read it if you want to see the paranoia of the security state taken to its logical extreme. I’ve already said too much.
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
In How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, there’s a murder and time machines and a woman who relives the same hour of her life over and over on purpose. Oh, and the time travel paradoxes. You think you know. But you don’t.
Simulacron 3 by Daniel F. Galouye
A virtual city is developed for market research–which is fine until one inhabitant realizes it. Do not use Facebook within three hours after reading Simulacron 3.
Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi
John Scalzi wins lots of awards, and he deserves them. But people sometimes forget this little gem, which he wrote as an exercise. Fuzzy Nation is a reboot of H. Beam Piper’s 1962 novel, Little Fuzzy, published with the authorization of the Piper estate. It starts with a man being fired for letting his dog set off explosives. Again.
Phasma by Delilah S. Dawson
Delilah S. Dawson, an author best known for steampunk paranormal romance, kills it telling a compelling backstory for one of Star Wars’ most underutilized movie characters. Not only will Captain Phasma make more sense after you read Phasma, but you get an amazing story of a postapocalyptic society unaware of the advanced universe surrounding it.
The Life Engineered by J-F Dubeau
In The Life Engineered, human beings are long gone, and the universe is filled with robots who refer to themselves by the much more dignified term of u0106apek. A newly-formed u0106apek, fascinated with the legendary humans, tries to figure out who killed her mother.
Dawn by Octavia E. Butler
Too few people know about the Lilith’s Brood series, which has one of the best alien contact stories yet told. If you cringe when you see aliens in TV and movies who just act like humans, Dawn will definitely satisfy you.
Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott
Flatland is too often classified as a math text, but honestly it’s one of the best inter-dimensional stories ever made and will definitely change your perception of the 3D world around you.
Station Breaker by Andrew Mayne
In Station Breaker, a gun fight breaks out in orbit, and David Dixon needs to get out of there. So he makes his way back to Earth while still on the run. SpaceX meets Jason Bourne.
Daemon by Daniel Suarez
Daemon rose to great fame on the internet when it first appeared, but like Mahir and “Leave Britney Alone” it has faded and been replaced by other internet trends, which is wrong, because this book feels as relevant and predictive today as it did when it hit big on Slashdot 10 years ago.
The Rookie by Scott Sigler
The Rookie is a book that became beloved as a podcast. Yes, there is planetary colonization and conquest, and interspecies warfare. But there’s also football 700 years in the future. And humans are only one of a handful of major species who play in the GFL.
Lost Stars by Claudia Gray
Forget that Lost Stars is a Star Wars book, and read it for the excellent love story of two people trying to make their lives better while achieving their dreams of serving aboard and piloting spaceships. Then put them in the Empire and add in cameos from Star Wars legends. It’s so good.
Marrow by Robert Reed
An alien structure the size of Jupiter appears with little clue who built it, so humans turn it into a cruise ship for all aliens–but it turns out there’s a whole planet hidden inside. It’s a really big ship, so it took awhile to notice. Read Marrow by Robert Reed.
Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
Like alternate history? Or pulp fiction? Or film history? Or cyberpunk? How about all in one with a mystery to boot? Radiance is weird and interesting and inventive and just plain enjoyable.
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Voyage of the Dogs
Voyage of the Dogs is pitched as young adult, and yes, it’s about dogs operating a spaceship after the human crew abandons it during an emergency. But it’s not all cute and cuddly. Though there are scritches. And there’s a believable reason the dogs could do all this.