20 must-read science fiction books

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Just before social distancing measures began in response to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, I made an impulse buy. In my virtual basket went one of those backpacks for pets, the ones with transparent domes that make your cat look like an astronaut. I’ve been using it every day since arriving to transform my cat into a space traveling feline as we roam the mostly empty areas around our apartment. She likes it. Me too. At the moment, it is not difficult to imagine that we are walking the lands of a distant and unknown planet. Our walks are almost adventures, pleasant little escapees from discomfort, anxiety and isolation. Maybe you are looking for that kind of escape too. You may wish for a trip to a distant corner of the galaxy or a jaunt through time and space. And you can want it without a lot of high stakes intergalactic warfare or land dystopias. You’re lucky. These 20 Heartwarming Sci-Fi Books will suit different tastes and moods, but they’re all comfort food of some variety.

Icy effect blanketChilling effect by Valérie Valdès

Appropriately, let’s start with psychic space cats. Hypnotic cats are part of the cargo La Sirena Negra, a ragged ship with a motley assorted crew. The woes and adventures of Captain Eva Innocente are told episodically, as she and her crew grudgingly race for the crime syndicate The Fridge. These races are dangerous but absurd, and it’s hard not to smile as Eva dodges the mind-blowing monks and cannibals of space.

This is how you lose the time war by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Could you use a forbidden romance? Red and Blue are opposing agents, working secretly to help their respective sides win a war in space and time. Through the expansive conflict, they alternate roles: sometimes predator, sometimes prey. But then something else. As we see through the letters, other feelings – impossible and awkward feelings – begin to bloom.

Space opera by Catherine M. Valente

Eurovision may have been canceled this year, but you can stream an equally wacky experience right to your home. An identical reading perfect for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Space opera finds Earth competing for its very existence in a competition of galactic talents. Our champions? British Wonders to a Success Decibel Jones & the Absolute Zeroes.

Finna by Nino Cipri

The premise is delicious: When a customer disappears through an interdimensional portal inside an IKEA furniture store, two (recent ex) employees must track her down, after consulting the moldy store guidelines for the situation. The performance is more poignant than burlesque, balancing the humor of the quest with meditations on grief and friendship.

The long way to an angry little planet by Becky Chambers

If you allow me to speak Star trek to you: this wacky and comfortable journey through space reads like a Star Trek: The Next Generation bottle episode with Deep Space New characters. The eccentric crew of the Traveler are on their way to an epic job digging wormholes, but their journey (and how they learn to interact with each other) is more important than their destination.

The AI ​​that loved me by Alyssa Cole

The title of this audiobook tells you what you need to know. Regina Hall and Mindy Kaling lead an ensemble voice cast for this romantic comedy tinged with sci-fi and feel-good. In the near future, Trinity Jordan becomes fascinated by Li Wei, the beefy but strange nephew of her neighbor. Turns out the guy next door is less human and more humanoid.

How Rory Thorne destroyed the multiverse by K. Eason

This duology starter was introduced as The princess to marry crossed with Princess Leia. (What could be more well-defined sci-fi?) In a clever twist, the classic story of a princess blessed (and cursed) by the gifts of the fairies takes place in a realm of space , not from the earth. And the princess? Well, she must save the prince from the galactic forces that would steal his throne.

Crosstalk coverageCrosstalk by Connie Willis

Do you think we live in an age of information overload? We have nothing on Briddey Flannigan, the star of Willis’ sci-fi romantic comedy. In the near future, Briddey and her boyfriend agree to undergo outpatient brain surgery designed to increase their connection and empathy. Things turn badly and Briddey comes out of the ordeal fully connected to someone else, with far more information than any brain can handle.

The prey of the gods by Nicky Drayden

And now for something completely different. Drayden’s debut novel is a crazy, meteoric race that mixes science fiction, fantasy and mythology. In a future South Africa, a cast of diverse characters converge as a sleeping demigoddess tries to regain her powers. The landscape is littered with an addicting new hallucinogen, an emerging AI uprising, and, naturally, a plague of dik-diks.

The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday by Saad Hossein

Fantasy meets science fiction in this short story about an awakened jinn in a future Kathmandu. After a millennium of slumber, Melek Ahmar descends on a city now controlled by an almighty AI, whose advanced karma point system has shaped a surface utopia. The jinn is brought into the system by an outlaw soldier; theirs is a couple who will shake up the status quo.

All systems red by Martha Wells

It’s hard not to feel a connection to Murderbot. The nickname was self-assigned by a corporate security bot that hacked into its governor module and became self-aware. Rather than doing the company auctions, Murderbot would rather be left alone in his quarters to catch up on the soap operas. But when a mission goes off the rails, this droid can’t stand totally detached.

How to Live Safely in a Sci-Fi Universe by Charles Yu

Conceptually, Yu’s metafiction work is part Doctor Who and part of Jasper Fforde next Thursday series. Charles Yu (the character) is a time travel technician in a world where the boundaries between fiction and reality are more fluid. It’s a story of incidents in time and space, but it’s also a book about father-son relationships, with Charles constantly on the hunt for his missing father.

Blanket of the Empress of EternityEmpress of Eternity by Max Gladstone

The feelings of found family and the hijinks fuel this space opera. When tech mogul Vivian Liao tries to get off the grid, she certainly succeeds. In the middle of a hack, Viv is transported millennia to the future by a mysterious radiant woman. She lands in the middle of a firefight, which she later learns is just a small incident in a larger showdown with the Empress, the all-powerful ruler of the galaxy.

The tea master and the detective by Aliette de Bodard

Sherlock Holmes in spaaaace. This autonomous news in Bodard’s Xuya universe is a satisfying mystery. In this tribute to Holmes, Watson is The shadow child, a sensitive mind who earns a living as an herbalist. Enter Long Chau, a gender-reverse consultant detective who comes to The shadow child for help with (what turns out to be) a murder investigation.

Calculating stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

The first book in the Lady Astronaut series combines two wonderfully heartwarming things: a space race just in the vein of Hidden characters and competent crisis management. In 1952, a meteor struck Earth, leveling most of the Chesapeake Bay area, including Washington, DC. Suddenly our house is no longer hospitable and the race begins to send men – or, indeed, women – to colonize the stars.

Oona down by Margarita Montimoore

The New Year is a time when many hope to become new versions of themselves. Oona Lockhart experiences this more literally than most. When the clock strikes midnight on New Years Eve 1982, Oona is about to turn 19. But she wakes up at 51 in 2015. Every January 1, Oona finds herself at a different time in her own life, learning her identity in very different fits, starts, and hairstyles.

Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi

It’s not often that a space opera is conducted by a queer woman of color with a chronic illness. But this is Alana Quick, one of the best surgeons in the sky. Skills aside, she is still barely able to make ends meet. When the crew of the Entangled axon arrives in search of her sister, Alana flies aboard the ship in the hope of landing a job. Instead, she finds herself on a baffling adventure.

Just one damn thing after another by Jodi Taylor

The St. Mary’s Historical Research Institute isn’t filled with cheesy academics as the name suggests. The researchers at St. Mary’s are adventurers, documenting major moments in history from the scenes themselves and, you know, trying not to die in the process. This first book takes you from the Cretaceous to World War I, but the misadventures continue in 10 more books and a handful of short stories.

Gideon Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

The most fun you can have with your flesh. You might think that a book on Death Gods and Necromancer Space Politics isn’t “heartwarming science fiction,” but you’d be wrong. In a world of death arts, the Emperor organizes a competition that will confer power and immortality on the winner. Disgruntled swordsman Gideon is harangued for helping his nemesis Harrow in the competition. The result is coarse, ossifying perfection.

Here and now and then by Mike Chen

Time travel agent Kin Stewart has been trapped in our time for 18 years. Since getting stuck on a mission in 1996, he has carved out a life for himself in modern San Francisco with a wife and daughter. Now, his fellow officers from the Office of Temporal Corruption have come to “rescue” him and bring him back to 2142, thus wiping out all traces of his life in the 20th century. But Kin is not yet ready to lose his family.


It’s science fiction that feels good. But are you looking for even more recommendations? Try these choices related to Book Riot.


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