The Best Sci-Fi Spaceships from Across the Galaxies
The best sci-fi spaceships are more than transport. The best are often characters themselves; maybe not the main character, but often stealing the show. They can be fast and powerful, ready to save the day. They can be beautiful, with a sleek style and iconic look that inspires a range of toys and fan art. They can be powerful, lumbering into a battlefield and annihilating anything threatening their crew and/or mission. There’s also an entire sub-genre for sentient/living spaceships. It’s totally a thing, and there are some absolutely weird concoctions out there. No matter which category includes your favourite spaceship, there is one common element: The best sci-fi spaceships are memorable. They stand out from the rest of the crowd, and they make us look up at the stars. They light up the sky and ignite our dreams of one day travelling out there.
They also tell the best stories. Some of the best spaceships in science fiction are found across multiple mediums. Some start in books, inspiring majestic designs in graphic novels or big-screen movies. Others start on smaller screens before developing their lore further in subsequent novels. And then there is the utmost respect for the fan art that somehow combines all the little bits of information and captures it in one magnificent image. Special thanks to all of the artists out there because there are so many different things that make up the best spaceships. Let’s take a look.
The First Spaceship in Sci-Fi Books
Before Jules Verne inspired us with his spaceship ideas in From the Earth to the Moon, many writers struggled to conceive of any travel beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. However, credit should be given to the first spaceship in science fiction literature almost a hundred years earlier. The book was Le Philosophe Sans Prétention, ou L’homme rare by Louis-Guillaume de La Folie, published in 1775. The narrator in this tale is a man named Nadir (pun intended), who shares the story of a traveller from Mercury named Ormisais. He has travelled in a spaceship created by a fellow Mercurian, Scintilla, made from wheels, glass globes, wires, springs, and many other parts. Not exactly the most realistic and quite outrageous considering what we know today about Mercury and space travel. However, it was definitely the best spaceship in science fiction stories at the time and slowly inspired a new style of science fiction for readers of the future.
The Fastest Spaceship
The best sci-fi spaceships are fast spaceships. And the fastest spaceship in all of the sci-fi genre is SDF-1 Macross. Fans of Robotech might recognise the source material here: Super Dimension Fortress Macross was the basis for two anime franchises — Macross in Japan and Robotech in the USA (and other western audiences like Australia). Anime came first in 1982, with the manga published in 2009. This is the beginning of transforming mecha, such as Gundam and yes, Transformers. The main character is the spaceship: SDF-1 Macross, built by reverse-engineering an alien spacecraft that crashed on Earth. Scientists were eager to build upon the technology that allowed the spaceship to fold space, making it one of the fastest spaceships in the Universe.
Arguably, warp speed and ‘folding space technology’ can make any ship fast. What if you’re looking for a spaceship that’s fast and nimble in close-range situations? Like ‘The Milano’ from Guardians of the Galaxy. This darlin’ was first introduced in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, but it swiftly moved to the comics and has been chased across the stars ever since. The Milano is named after Peter Quill’s teenage crush, Alyssa Milano, and was originally a Ravager M-Ship. However, over the years, Quill has made some modifications to help with quick getaways when he screws up — which is often. The Milano can make multiple jumps through time and space, including from planet to planet in mere seconds. That’s definitely worthy as one of the best sci-fi spaceships.
Most Powerful Spaceship
I know it started with a TV show, but the title of Most Powerful Spaceship in Books goes to the TARDIS from Doctor Who. And not just any TARDIS, but the Battle TARDISes. These spaceships/time machines are armed to the teeth with time torpedoes, used to freeze time and suspend their target into the time vortex. The outer shell is made of living metal, allowing it to morph into any shape of shield with instant guns. The average everyday TARDIS can hold an inconceivably massive structure inside its outer structure; imagine what the Battle TARDIS is capable of.
Now, if you think the TARDIS is a tad OP (overpowered), let’s step back a little and consider the Tomb Ships from Warhammer 40K. These are the primary ships of the Necrons in the board and video game franchise, however, Warhammer 40K also comes with tomes of lore for the readers amongst us. Tomb Ships are HEAVILY armoured and weaponised, creating the ultimate battleship. They also have a hyperspeed drive, allowing them to travel at interstellar speeds without the need for Warp (which helps avoid an extra level of magic and chaos within this franchise). Despite the size and weight of all the battle additions, Tomb Ships are designed to maintain handling at high speeds without sacrificing agility or precision.
Most Aesthetically Pleasing
A ship that caters for everything and smells like a fresh forest. I’m in. Just look at this treehouse of intergalactic beauty! When we first met The Rocketship in Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, it seemed too good to be true. And then we learnt it was the last of its kind, with its surrounding forest home destroyed by the conflict between Wreath and landfall. That’s why we can’t have nice things.
This last Rocketship becomes the primary method of transport for the main characters, providing almost everything they ever wanted. The ship is an organic entity, filled with abundant plant life and its own preferences to travel. There are multiple rooms, including a kitchen, bedrooms with multiple sleeping pods, and a bathroom with a shower that Alana claims has “the greatest water pressure I’ve ever experienced in my adult life.” A mandatory requirement for the best spaceships in science fiction books. Or just spaceships in general.
Most Realistic Spaceship
I couldn’t find a separate image of this one, but it’s featured on this version of the cover so it’ll do! There’s a lot of space in Space. This means, if you have a breakdown, you could be waiting awhile for a mobile mechanic. The best sci-fi spaceships are the ones that survive; you can tell by the resilient mix of parts, like that on the starship Wayfarer from The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. That hodgepodge of transport is ugly, but it is also home to a crew of misfits as mismatched as the spaceship. Then again, it’s not here to win a beauty contest (the crew would probably abandon the ship if it did). The Wayfarer is here to do a job: house the crew and keep them alive. Fortunately, it does the job and does it well. Like any good space opera, the crew bond like a family and their ship is the star of the show.
I also don’t have an image of the spaceship in Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina Rather, which is an absolute shame because I love sentient living ships. And while I’m not religious, I do appreciate a good quandary about the imposition of religion on our sexuality and whether or not we want to procreate. Who can show this better than a sentient spaceship wanting to get jiggy and make some adorable spaceship babies? Unfortunately, the crew of nuns seem to have a problem with this. The Order of St Rita is a group of nuns travelling to rural colony planets for charity work. There are some deep philosophical issues discussed in this novella, brought to a quick end with a sequel released last year (2022).
The Fine Line Between Science Fiction and Science Fantasy
Next we have the Heart of Gold from A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Legend says it was designed by an engineer who was a “superintelligent shade of the colour blue.” I mean, how else do you make one of the best sci-fi spaceships ever. No one quite knows how it works beyond the knowledge that it has an Infinite Improbability Drive, a small golden box at the heart of the ship. It allows the ship to pass through every point in the known Universe and simply stop wherever they want.
And then there are space fish. Gorgeous floaty fish that look a bit like Betta fish. They are the most outrageous spaceships in any sci-fi comic, and I love them. On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden started as a webcomic and is now available in hard copy. Walden’s soft artwork captures the grace of floating space fish, hiding that it is also the home of a crew with their own volatile energy. It’s not unique to make spaceships out of living creatures. Consider Moya from Farscape, or Space-Dolphins from Startide Rising by David Brin. However, Walden does it best. The spaceships are graceful and fit neatly within the expansive environment for space travel. It’s outrageous, it’s fantastical, and it is an absolute pleasure to read.
For more spacefaring reading, check out Rachel’s 20 Must-Read Spacefaring Comics and Graphic Novels here. It’s filled with spaceship mysteries and ragtag crews. You can also catch a ride with any Space Western books, like our favourites here. And if you’re still certain we’ve missed your favourite of the best sci-fi spaceships, let us know in the socials.