Isolation and loneliness are hard enough to deal with when you’re on Earth. If you’re isolated and alone in the far reaches of space, well…that’s another matter. You could be low on resources, for example, or your gear is malfunctioning, or you’re lost and drifting aimlessly through space. Who would help you? Who even knows you’re out there? Or even worse — you could discover you are not alone, but it’s definitely not the kind of company you were looking for. What’s that Alien quote? “In space, no one can hear you scream?” Yeah, that’s the one.
This list is dedicated to the astronauts and survivors who find themselves completely alone in the universe, either on a spaceship or on a different planet, like Watney from The Martian, which we left off this list because, well, everyone knows about The Martian. This kind of loneliness can span across genres, so we’ve divided this up into two categories: survival and horror. Naturally there can be some overlap between the two, but we placed the more hardcore, firmly-in-space-horror camp selections under that category in case you’re just looking to be scared absolutely silly by the things that will hunt or haunt you when you are isolated and very, very alone in the cold depths of space.
Happy reading, space travelers.
Alone in Space: Space Survival
The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James
Romy Silvers is the only survivor of her crew, hurtling through space on a ship destined for a new planet to establish a second home for humanity. Being alone for so long makes her desperate for any kind of human contact, which she gets — because a new ship launched from Earth, and it, too, only has one crew member: A boy named J. They can only communicate by email, with months’ long lag, but J is a lifeline for Romy…one that she’s falling in love with. But she doesn’t really know him, and she doesn’t understand why she’s receiving strange messages from Earth, and what that means for her.
Toxic by Lydia Kang
Hana has spent her entire life alone in a secret room of the bioship Cyclo. Her mother kept her whole existence a secret, but then her mother stopped showing up to her room. She is gone, and so is the entire crew. The ship tells Hana that she’s been abandoned, but her mother wouldn’t do that to her — because Cyclo is dying, and Hana will too if she can’t get off the ship. The only problem is the hired mercenaries who board to ensure that the ship goes down, one of them being Fenn. It’s his job to make sure this ship dies, but as he gets to know Hana, he doesn’t think he can let anything happen to her. He just doesn’t know how to save her.
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
Ryland Grace just woke up millions of miles from Earth. He doesn’t remember who he is or what he’s doing out here. His crewmates could have told him that, but they’re dead. And he’s running out of time to figure it out, because there’s a world ending threat looming, and he is the only one in a position to stop it. He just doesn’t know what to do yet, and he has to figure it out all alone. Or maybe not.
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
While Charles isn’t in space per se, he leads a remarkably lonely existence as a time machine repairman, where his only real company is TAMMY, an A.I. with self esteem issues. He occupies his time by spying on the other versions of himself living across dozens of alternate universes. That is, until he meets one of them. And shoots him in the stomach. All his other self was trying to do was give him a book (the very title of this book). Charles is now stuck in a time loop, because it’s pretty bad form to kill an alternate version of yourself, and this book holds the key to save him.
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
Binti is a mathematical genius, and her talents lead to her acceptance to Oomza University. The catch is that the university is far away from Earth, and she has to not only leave Earth behind, but also her home and the Himba customs and cultures that may not be recognized or respected in this new environment. Binti goes anyway, on a ship full of other prospective students…except the ship is attacked on the way. All of other students are slaughtered, leaving Binti alone with the pilot, faced with a hostile enemy determined to make Oomza pay for wrongdoings that had nothing to do with Binti. Can she make it to her final destination alive?
Alone in Space: Space Horror
The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling
Gyre Price wasn’t supposed to be on this mission. She falsified her way into the job because the money is good and it’ll get her closer to finding her mom. She expected the job to be no more dangerous than what cavers on any planet may come across: collapses, gear malfunctions. Normal stuff. Except Gyre’s surface team is Em, who knows her secret, and uses it to control Gyre from afar — altering her route, withholding important information, and turning Gyre around so badly that she’s now lost in a cave system she doesn’t know, on a planet she’s never been to before. And Gyre is not alone down there.
Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Gary Rendell always wanted to be an astronaut, and so he did what he set out to do — became an astronaut. Then, he even got lucky enough to be selected for the scientific mission to check out strange alien rock found in the Oort Cloud. Except it did not go well. And now Gary is separated from his team, alone and lost. And he’s not alone.
The Burning Dark by Adam Christopher
Captain Abraham Idaho Cleveland is a planet saving professional who fought machine intelligence capable of swallowing up whole worlds, and now he’s been shoved to the remote recesses of space to decommission a nearly deserted space station. Awesome. Cleveland can’t find the commander, the crew is hostile, everything’s malfunctioning, and there’s shadows and whispers plaguing the empty halls. He tries desperately to find some human connection through an old space radio, and picks up a signal: a woman’s voice. Who is it? Is it an old transmission…or a warning?
Salvation Day by Kali Wallace
There’s an abandoned ship out there that Zahra wants to get her hands on for her people, and she’s determined to do it — except she needs the sole survivor of the ship to help her board. Never mind that it was abandoned because a deadly virus ravaged the vessel and killed everyone on board. Everyone, that is, except Jaswinder Bhattacharya, who Zahra has to kidnap and bring back to the ship he survived. They’re about to find out why the ship was truly abandoned in the first place, and it may not let them leave alive.
Here’s hoping you never find yourself alone in space. For more out-of-this-world reads, check out these 50 must-reads.