Sci-fi is one of those genres that a lot of people seem to want to get into, but are intimidated by the idea that everything will be super heavy on the science. I love a detailed space opera, but that’s not all sci-fi has to offer; in fact I’d say any reader will be able to find a sci-fi with elements that intrigue them. This is a list of sci-fi for beginners to the genre. I’ve included books that combine other genres such as romance, thriller, and horror. I’ve also listed some books which tackle more traditional sci-fi themes, but in a way that’s not too complicated for someone new to the genre. I hope you find something you’ll love!
Adult Time Travel Sci-Fi
Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading. Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.
Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war.
This Is How You Lose The Time War is a gorgeous book that would appeal to people who love poetic writing, perhaps those who lean more into literary fiction. It follows two rivals on opposite sides of a time war as their relationship grows through a series of letters that they leave peppered through time.
Adult Space Opera Sci-Fi
Follow a motley crew on an exciting journey through space—and one adventurous young explorer who discovers the meaning of family in the far reaches of the universe—in this light-hearted debut space opera from a rising sci-fi star.
Rosemary Harper doesn’t expect much when she joins the crew of the aging Wayfarer. While the patched-up ship has seen better days, it offers her a bed, a chance to explore the far-off corners of the galaxy, and most importantly, some distance from her past. An introspective young woman who learned early to keep to herself, she’s never met anyone remotely like the ship’s diverse crew, including Sissix, the exotic reptilian pilot, chatty engineers Kizzy and Jenks who keep the ship running, and Ashby, their noble captain.
Life aboard the Wayfarer is chaotic and crazy—exactly what Rosemary wants. It’s also about to get extremely dangerous when the crew is offered the job of a lifetime. Tunneling wormholes through space to a distant planet is definitely lucrative and will keep them comfortable for years. But risking her life wasn’t part of the plan. In the far reaches of deep space, the tiny Wayfarer crew will confront a host of unexpected mishaps and thrilling adventures that force them to depend on each other. To survive, Rosemary’s got to learn how to rely on this assortment of oddballs—an experience that teaches her about love and trust, and that having a family isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the universe.
If the reason you’re unsure about sci-fi is because you prefer gentle stories with found family that feel profoundly human; this is the book for you. The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet may seem like a typical space opera, and it does have a cast of aliens, a spaceship, and detailed worldbuilding. However, the focus on personal relationships, cultural differences, and hopefulness make it the perfect read for people who don’t want to be thrown heavily into action.
Adult Space Opera Sci-Fi
In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.
But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.
On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid—a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.
But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.
All Systems Red is the first of the Murderbot Diaries, a series of novellas (and one full length book) about an grumpy, relatable android trying to save its humans. This series has such an entertaining voice to it that it’s perfect for beginners to the genre. If a TV loving, anxious android who is great at killing things sounds like a character you’d love, it’s time to pick up this book.
Adult Space Opera Sci-Fi
This first book in a feminist space opera duology follows seven resistance fighters who will free the galaxy from the ruthless Tholosian Empire — or die trying.
When Eris faked her death, she thought she had left her old life as the heir to the galaxy’s most ruthless empire behind. But her recruitment by the Novantaen Resistance, an organization opposed to the empire’s voracious expansion, throws her right back into the fray.
Eris has been assigned a new mission: to infiltrate a spaceship ferrying deadly cargo and return the intelligence gathered to the Resistance. But her partner for the mission, mechanic and hotshot pilot Cloelia, bears an old grudge against Eris, making an already difficult infiltration even more complicated.
When they find the ship, they discover more than they bargained for: three fugitives with firsthand knowledge of the corrupt empire’s inner workings.
Together, these women possess the knowledge and capabilities to bring the empire to its knees. But the clock is ticking: the new heir to the empire plans to disrupt a peace summit with the only remaining alien empire, ensuring the empire’s continued expansion. If they can find a way to stop him, they will save the galaxy. If they can’t, millions may die.
If you love sci-fi like Star Wars and want to get into sci-fi books, this one is a great place to start! Seven Devils is an action-packed take-down-the-evil-empire story with a cast of amazing, diverse women. It’s fast-paced and easy to fall into, a perfect start for beginners to space opera.
Adult Sci-Fi Romance
While the Iskat Empire has long dominated the system through treaties and political alliances, several planets, including Thea, have begun to chafe under Iskat’s rule. When tragedy befalls Imperial Prince Taam, his Thean widower, Jainan, is rushed into an arranged marriage with Taam’s cousin, the disreputable Kiem, in a bid to keep the rising hostilities between the two worlds under control.
But when it comes to light that Prince Taam’s death may not have been an accident, and that Jainan himself may be a suspect, the unlikely pair must overcome their misgivings and learn to trust one another as they navigate the perils of the Iskat court, try to solve a murder, and prevent an interplanetary war… all while dealing with their growing feelings for each other.
Romance lovers, this is the book for you! Winter’s Orbit is to sci-fi what fantasy romance is to fantasy. It has all of the fun stuff like political intrigue and some empire shenanigans, while also focusing heavily on the romance between Jainan and Kiem! Arranged marriage anyone? Miscommunication that’s actually fun? A ‘get close to keep warm’ scene? What more could you need. (Please be aware this has a content warning for past abusive relationships).
Young Adult Space Opera Sci-Fi
Outsmart Your Enemies. Outrun the Galaxy.
Tina never worries about being ‘ordinary’—she doesn’t have to, since she’s known practically forever that she’s not just Tina Mains, average teenager and beloved daughter. She’s also the keeper of an interplanetary rescue beacon, and one day soon, it’s going to activate, and then her dreams of saving all the worlds and adventuring among the stars will finally be possible. Tina’s legacy, after all, is intergalactic—she is the hidden clone of a famed alien hero, left on Earth disguised as a human to give the universe another chance to defeat a terrible evil.
But when the beacon activates, it turns out that Tina’s destiny isn’t quite what she expected. Things are far more dangerous than she ever assumed. Luckily, Tina is surrounded by a crew she can trust, and her best friend Rachael, and she is still determined to save all the worlds. But first she’ll have to save herself.
Another story perfect for fans of franchises like Star Wars! Sometimes I find reading Young Adult to be a great way of introducing yourself to a genre- you can count on it being a compelling, fast-paced read. I loved how diverse this book was, how it had a heavy dose of suspicion of authority, and the amazing twist it had on the chosen one trope. Sometimes you want to stick some present-day humans in space, at least everything’s as new to them as it is to you!
Young Adult Dystopian Cli-fi
Cee has been trapped on an abandoned island for three years without any recollection of how she arrived, or memories from her life prior. All she knows is that somewhere out there, beyond the horizon, she has a sister named Kay, and it’s up to Cee to cross the ocean and find her.
In a world apart, 16-year-old STEM prodigy Kasey Mizuhara lives in an eco-city built for people who protected the planet―and now need protecting from it. With natural disasters on the rise due to climate change, eco-cities provide clean air, water, and shelter. Their residents, in exchange, must spend at least a third of their time in stasis pods, conducting business virtually whenever possible to reduce their environmental footprint. While Kasey, an introvert and loner, doesn’t mind the lifestyle, her sister Celia hated it. Popular and lovable, Celia much preferred the outside world. But no one could have predicted that Celia would take a boat out to sea, never to return.
Now it’s been three months since Celia’s disappearance, and Kasey has given up hope. Logic says that her sister must be dead. But nevertheless, she decides to retrace Celia’s last steps. Where they’ll lead her, she does not know. Her sister was full of secrets. But Kasey has a secret of her own.
Cli-Fi is a type of science fiction that looks specifically at climate or other ecological issues; it’s gaining a lot of traction at the moment. The Ones We’re Meant To Find is purposefully confusing at times, with it’s split narrative and haziness around what’s real, but the plot twists, sisterly relationship, and sci-fi elements are truly fantastic. If you love mystery books that are twisty, with unreliable narrators and shrouded truths, this sci-fi might be for you.
Adult Sci-Fi Thriller
I’m embarrassed, still, by how long it took me to notice. Everything was right there in the open, right there in front of me, but it still took me so long to see the person I had married.
It took me so long to hate him.
Martine is a genetically cloned replica made from Evelyn Caldwell’s award-winning research. She’s patient and gentle and obedient. She’s everything Evelyn swore she’d never be.
And she’s having an affair with Evelyn’s husband.
Now, the cheating bastard is dead, and both Caldwell wives have a mess to clean up.
Good thing Evelyn Caldwell is used to getting her hands dirty.
If you love thrillers, you’ll love this book! It reads like a domestic thriller, but mix in some clones. Evelyn’s husband created a clone of her, and then cheated on her with the clone. If that doesn’t make you want to kill the man, what could?
Adult Sci-Fi Horror
When Gyre Price lied her way into this expedition, she thought she’d be mapping mineral deposits, and that her biggest problems would be cave collapses and gear malfunctions. She also thought that the fat paycheck—enough to get her off-planet and on the trail of her mother—meant she’d get a skilled surface team, monitoring her suit and environment, keeping her safe. Keeping her sane.
Instead, she got Em.
Em sees nothing wrong with controlling Gyre’s body with drugs or withholding critical information to “ensure the smooth operation” of her expedition. Em knows all about Gyre’s falsified credentials, and has no qualms using them as a leash—and a lash. And Em has secrets, too . . .
As Gyre descends, little inconsistencies—missing supplies, unexpected changes in the route, and, worst of all, shifts in Em’s motivations—drive her out of her depths. Lost and disoriented, Gyre finds her sense of control giving way to paranoia and anger. On her own in this mysterious, deadly place, surrounded by darkness and the unknown, Gyre must overcome more than just the dangerous terrain and the Tunneler which calls underground its home if she wants to make it out alive—she must confront the ghosts in her own head.
But how come she can’t shake the feeling she’s being followed?
This one mixed horror with sci-fi so masterfully! It has all of the exploration and background of a sci-fi novel, but instead of being among the stars the main character is deep underground. It’s a slow-burn, claustrophobic horror that I loved. Also, sapphic!
Young Adult Dystopian Sci-Fi
Two years ago, a misunderstanding between the leaders of Earth and the invading Ilori resulted in the deaths of one-third of the world’s population.
Seventeen-year-old Janelle “Ellie” Baker survives in an Ilori-controlled center in New York City. With humans deemed dangerously volatile because of their initial reaction to the invasion, emotional expression can be grounds for execution. Music, art and books are illegal, but Ellie breaks the rules by keeping a secret library. When a book goes missing, Ellie is terrified that the Ilori will track it back to her and kill her.
Born in a lab, M0Rr1S was raised to be emotionless. When he finds Ellie’s illegal library, he’s duty-bound to deliver her for execution. The trouble is, he finds himself drawn to human music and in desperate need of more. They’re both breaking the rules for the love of art—and Ellie inspires the same feelings in him that music does.
Ellie’s—and humanity’s—fate rests in the hands of an alien she should fear. M0Rr1S has a lot of secrets, but also a potential solution—thousands of miles away. The two embark on a wild and dangerous road trip with a bag of books and their favorite albums, all the while creating a story and a song of their own that just might save them both
This was a beautiful book which somehow made an alien invasion soft with its love letter to the arts and, especially, stories. I truly believe even people who aren’t fans of sci-fi will have a great time with this read. This book also features a plus-sized, biracial, demisexual main character and I loved seeing that representation in a young adult book. Also get hyped for this author’s next release coming out in 2022, The Kindred!!