Welcome, book lovers, to another list of fabulous titles to topple your TBR! Today we’re looking at some of the Best Science Fiction Books You’ve Never Heard of. [Insert “they’re out of this world” joke here, bah-dum tiss.] Now, obviously, some of you will have heard of some of these. Like, if you’re the author, for instance. Or the publisher, the editor, the publicist, a huge science fiction reader, etc. The title of this post is there to get your attention and get more eyes on these books — and it worked!
So, now, about the books! These are all great works of imagination set near and far that mostly have fewer than 1,000 ratings on Goodreads at the time this post went up. Some are slightly speculative, some are straight-up in outer space! Why this list? Because sometimes it’s fun to find something not everyone is reading. Hidden gems make for great reading. Or maybe you want to read more science fiction, but keep seeing the same books on the list’s of recommendations. It’s always fun to keep up with reading popular titles. But sometimes that wait list at the library is lonnnnnnnnng, so you need something else in the meantime. Whatever your reason, here are 20 great science fiction books to whisk you away from the real world. Who couldn’t use that???
Jillian vs Parasite Planet by Nicole Kornher-Stace
You may be familiar with Kornher-Stace’s sci-fi for older audiences, Archivist Wasp and Firebreak. But this middle grade adventure about an anxious girl is a freaking delight too. Jillian is excited when her astronaut parents take her to work one day. But when the trip goes wrong, she’s stuck in space with just herself and her nanobot friend left to figure out how to get them all back home.
Will Do Magic for Small Change by Andrea Hairston
This is an exciting story involving a young woman with dreams of acting, the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, and a possible book of alien magic. Cinnamon Jones will have to step up to figure out the mysteries of her family that may involve aliens from outer space. While this was released a while ago and is currently OOP (out of print), the good news is that it’s getting a rerelease this year!
The World Gives Way by Marissa Levien
This is one of my favorite sci-fi books from 2021 and I feel like so many people slept on it. It’s set in a future world where a woman born into servitude discovers the bodies of her employers. One of them lives long enough to tell her a devastating secret. She flees into the city, trying to figure out what to do with this news while the police search for her. It’s really dark and really good.
Anthropica by David Hollander
Sci-fi has always been great at predicting future versions of technology, governments, and societies, good or bad. This is a look into humanity and all its ills, its consumption, its violence, its destruction. The characters in this book might be acting independently — or are they fated to live out an apocalyptic end?
Rise of the Red Hand (The Mechanists #1) by Olivia Chadha
And a futuristic story of the haves and have nots! Set in a South Asian province, climate change has destroyed the world to dangerous levels for all. But the rich can afford to live inside safe utopias. It’s up to a street kid and the son of a politician to try to take down the government and make the city safe for all.
We Shall Sing a Song into the Deep by Andrew Kelly Stewart
I am a big fan of religious orders in space, like A Canticle for Leibowitz (my favorite sci-fi book of all time), Anathem, and Sisters of the Vast Black. But now I can add monks in submarines to my list of favorite settings! This is an imaginative novella about an order of monks sailing the seas after nuclear world war in the last active nuclear submarine.
Escape from Baghdad! by Saad Hossain
Okay, so this dark comedy falls a little closer to the fantasy side than sci-fi, but I just love it so much, I want to mention it. I talked about this book so much when it came out, and so many people I know have read it, that I was surprised to see how few ratings it has on Goodreads. Set during the U.S. invasion of Baghdad, it follows two black market dealers searching for Saddam Hussein’s hidden gold who find otherworldly wonders on the way.
Ten Low by Stark Holborn
This is another of my favorite sci-fi books of 2021. A soldier from the losing side of a war now lives in solitude in the desert. But when a ship crashes right in front of her carrying a child super soldier, she inadvertently becomes part of a dangerous government conspiracy. It’s a little Firefly, a little Mad Max, and a whole lot of fun.
The Warren by Brian Evenson
Evenson is an auto-read for me. While most of his stuff falls on the side of horror — and I recommend it all — this is a sci-fi novella. It’s about a man and a possibly not-real man who meet above the Warren and who will do anything to ensure the survival of their people.
Runtime by S.B. Divya
A poor young woman is determined to acquire all the necessary components to compete in the Minerva Sierra Challenge. She successfully acquires the bare necessities in terms of parts for her cybernetic suit and uses her school money for the entry fee. Now Marmeg is ready for the biggest race of the year, and winning will mean a better life for her family, but can she do it?
The Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee Mohamed
This one is set in a post-apocalyptic Alberta! In a land ravaged by climate change, a mind-altering fungi has invaded the brains of some of its citizens. Reid is one such citizen and must decide if she will take a lucrative job offer far away or stay with the family and community that relies on her.
The Liminal People by Ayize Jama-Everett
This is the first of an excellent three-book series! Taggert is in possession of special powers: he can heal — or hurt — with a touch. When the daughter of a woman he loved goes missing, he will go up against people he has relied on, and even otherworldly powers, to keep her safe.
Scattered All Over the Earth by Yoko Tawada, Margaret Mitsutani (Translator)
And this excellent dystopian novel is the first of what is going to be a trilogy. It’s set in a near future world where Japan has disappeared from the planet. Hiruko is a refugee living in Denmark and searching for people who can still speak her mother tongue. It leads her on some interesting adventures where she meets some unusual characters.
Sip by Brian Allen Carr
This book is another mashup of genres I love: sci-fi and westerns! It’s set in a desolate wasteland where society has figured out how to get high by “sipping” the shadows of living creatures. This leads to rampaging dependence, a rise in crime, and the harvesting of body parts. It’s all very wild and really great. Also, if you haven’t read Carr’s novella Motherfucking Sharks, you should correct that right now.
Ancient, Ancient by Kiini Ibura Salaam
It’s hard to believe this award-winning collection is already a decade old. Or that more people haven’t read it! These stories are about the human body and the powers and sensations and actions related to it. Set on Earth and in space, Salaam explores Black womanhood, gods, and more.
Wicked Wonders by Ellen Klages
And here’s another excellent story collection of strange and speculative tales! These are also set on Earth and in space. They follow the adventures of people as they deal with fairy tale villains, play dice with fairies, spend a last day on Earth, explore new dimensions, and more.
The Body Scout by Lincoln Michel
And here’s another of my favorite sci-fi books from last year. It’s like Blade Runner meets baseball. It also reminded me a bit of Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison. Kobo is a cybernetically-enhanced former baseball player who now scouts for the teams, since robot parts have been ruled illegal of the game. When his brother, also a ball player, dies on the field mysteriously, he must solve his death while avoiding some unusual loan sharks.
Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was by Angélica Gorodischer, Ursula K. Le Guin (Translator)
1. You should read everything Angélica Gorodischer writes. She is spectacular. 2. This one is a great story of several tellings of a famed empire that rises and falls multiple times. 3. This one is translated by none other than one of the giants of science fiction, Ursula K. Le Guin!
Elegy for the Undead by Matthew Vesely
And a sci-fi list wouldn’t be complete without some zombies! This is really a love story, though. It’s about a newlywed couple making the most of what little time they have left before one of the husbands turns into a zombie after an attack.
Ambiguity Machines by Vandana Singh
And last but not least, science fiction written by a scientist! These stories involve artificial intelligence, time travel, space travel, and more. It’s a fantastic collection about people navigating the unusual situations they find themselves in, whether by their own making or not.
And if you need more science fiction in your life, be sure to listen to the Book Riot podcast SFF Yeah! and sign up for our weekly newsletter Swords and Spaceships. And here are 12 Latine SFF Books You Should Definitely Read and Short Sci-Fi Novellas.