The best science fiction books to add to your summer 2022 reading list
The best science fiction books will let you escape to new worlds, and explore new ideas
There are whole worlds contained within the best science fiction books, but we don't just read sci-fi for glimpses of alternate realities and distant planets.
Fundamentally, good science fiction books are about ideas. They can provide a framework to make points about our current society, but authors can also let their imaginations expand and give readers something strange and wonderful.
How does it feel to be on the first starship leaving Earth to search for a new colony? What happens when a small group of islands in the North Sea are run entirely by women? Who are the different personalities you'll find within a beehive? The books we've chosen can answer all of those questions.
Our picks span standouts from the last two years, as well as some of the best books of 2022 and some older classics that should definitely be added to your book club reading list. Your journey to another world launches here.
The best science fiction books to read in 2022
1. How High We Go In The Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu
The Arctic permafrost is melting and researchers are digging into ground that has been inaccessible for thousands of years. The virus they release will change life on Earth for generations.
How High We Go In The Dark is Nagamatsu's debut novel and combines poetic and thoughtful writing with inventive ideas. Written before the Covid-19 pandemic, the novel is structured as a series of interconnected short stories stretching from the present day to the far future. Through the various protagonists we see what kind of world the virus has created, including theme parks for the dying and a pig that develops speech and a moral conscience.
But underneath it all are the human relationships, love developing and love lost. A sad but beautiful book, How High We Go In The Dark will expand your mind whilst also deepening your appreciation of small, everyday joys.
2. Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
St. John Mandel's first book, 2014's Station Eleven, was an optimistic view of a post-apocalyptic world, where art and community still held value. Sea of Tranquility, her third book, picks up similar themes and also invites readers to spot patterns and work out a mystery as the characters do.
It begins in 1912, with young man Edwin St. Andrew cast out of polite English society and sent to try his luck in Canada. Two centuries later, writer Olive Llewellyn and inhabitant of the second moon colony, is travelling Earth on a book tour. What links the two? Sea of Tranquility explores parallel worlds and time travel, but will also be a compelling and satisfying read for those who don't usually engage with science fiction.
3. Cwen by Alice Albinia
What would happen if women were in charge? With Cwen, Alice Albinia creates a world that initially doesn't seem too far from our own, but that invites a great deal of speculation.
On a small group of islands off the eastern coast of the UK, Eva Levi invested her fortune in creating a society where almost every decision - how money is spent, how the children are educated, how businesses run - is made by women. When Eva disappears the community faces internal splits and outside incursions, but on one of the smaller islands waits Cwen, ancient and unmoving...
4. Doors of Sleep by Tim Pratt
How often does a protagonist tumble into a new universe with nothing more than a desire to make it a better place than it was before? On his home world Zax was a harmonizer, highly adept at resolving conflict. Then one morning he opened his eyes to an alien sky. Now every time he falls asleep he wakes up in a new universe, only able to take the people or things he is touching as he becomes unconscious.
Doors of Sleep has new, alien worlds to spare, each one vividly described. Zax and his companions are also drawn with color; they are well-motivated, likeable and easy to root for as they discover they are being pursued in their seemingly random journey across space and time. This is a tremendously fun novel, exciting, thoughtful and full of new ideas.
5. Under The Blue by Oana Aristide
Having inexplicably survived a disease that has killed everyone around them, middle-aged artist Harry and 20-something sisters Ash and Jessie set off across a deserted Europe, aiming for Africa and relative safety from potential nuclear accidents.
Intertwining with this road trip at the end of the world is another story. Two scientists on a remote research station talk like proud parents about the artificial consciousness they are creating and teaching. But, with growing speed, the AI being outstrips the intellectual capacities of the people who made it.
Under The Blue focuses on what happens when the worst already has, but its tone is more dreamlike than bleak. Brilliantly written with a lot to consider.
6. Klara And The Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
You may know Kazuo Ishiguro from his Booker Prize-winning novel Remains Of The Day, or from being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2017. He writes across many genres and his science fiction - such as 2005's Never Let Me Go - always focuses on questions around what it means to be human. Klara And The Sun is a love story, a love story where the central character Klara is an android. At first she waits in a shop window, taking nourishment from the sun. Then she is picked to be a companion to sick and isolated teenager Josie and her world shifts radically. Do Klara's ideas about love work in a human world? A startling, tender and beautiful story.
7. The Galaxy And The Ground Within by Becky Chamber
The final instalment in Becky Chambers’ hugely popular Wayfarers series is set on the planet of Gora, a bleak place which lacks air, water and native life. The one benefit is does have is its proximity to larger planets and wormholes, making it the perfect place for a pit stop. It is on Gora, at an establishment called Five-Hop One-Stop, that three weary travellers meet and their lives collide. A boundlessly imaginative and fantastical conclusion to a thrilling series of novels.
8. Skyward Inn by Aliya Whiteley
Set in a post-apocalyptic world where the Earth has made contact with and declared war on the seemingly peaceful planet Qita, the novel examines the idea of humanity, of history and of self.
The Skyward Inn is a place of safety, a sanctuary where people come to share stories of their lives before the war. Innkeepers Jem and Isley are veterans from either side of the conflict, but both keep their battle scars deeply buried. That is, until a mysterious former acquaintance turns up. An accomplished literary read that is as unsettling as it is captivating.
9. Spares by Michael Marshall Smith
First published in 1998, Spares has a cult following and remains a standout star in the science fiction genre pool. Set in a wildly futuristic world of flying shopping malls and talking fridges, it follows Jack Randall, a down-on-his-luck janitor working at a human clone farm known as Spares. People are being processed there as body-part fodder for the wealthy and affluent, and Jack knows that it’s wrong. But there’s nothing he can do about it – is there? Cutting unnervingly close to an alternative reality that feels scarily plausible, Spares does what all great science fiction should by begging the question: what if?
10. Q by Christina Dalcher
Q, the second novel by the bestselling author of Vox, takes place in a dystopian world that is obsessed with perfection. Elena Fairchild works as a teacher at one of the government’s elite schools for children with high ‘Q’ scores, and she believes in the system. That is, until her own daughter fails to make the grade and is taken away from her. Elena feels she has no choice but to follow her child to the mysterious institute, only to discover that perfection really does come at a huge and horrifying cost.
11. The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August by Claire North
This multi-award-winning novel was a Waterstones and BBC Radio 2 Book Club pick and a Richard & Judy recommended read – with good reason. No matter what Harry August does, how well or how shabbily he chooses to live, he always knows what will happen when life reaches an end – he will return to childhood with all the knowledge he has accumulated during his prior lives. However, upon reaching the end of his eleventh such life, something new happens to Harry; a girl appears by his bedside with a message about a mystery that must be unravelled. A wonderful one-of-a-kind novel.
12. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
he Time Traveller's Wife is both a sci-fi novel and a heart-wrenching read. Henry met his wife Clare when she was six and he was 36, yet they married when she was 22 and he 30. How this is possible and what it means for the characters is explored with intelligence and heart in this original and haunting novel, which grips from the start and does not let up until its devastating final scene.
13. The Martian by Andy Weir
The best selling book behind the massive Matt Damon film is, in our minds, one of the best book to movie adaptions. It focuses on an astronaut who is stranded on Mars and trapped in a habitat designed to last only 31 days, Mark knows that he is at risk of dying from either hunger, thirst or suffocation – and that’s if he’s lucky enough not to be blown apart. Mark has no way of communicating with Earth or the crew that left him behind, believing him to be dead, and until he can work out how to send a message, he must find a way to survive. Pulse-thumpingly tense and gloriously rich in detail, this is a sci-fi fan’s dream read.
14. The Bees by Laline Paull
Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, living only to serve, obey, and clean the hive. She must be ready at any time to sacrifice herself for the Queen. But unlike other mutated bees, Flora has skills that mark her out as different, and she is eventually permitted to feed the young before being upgraded to pollen collection. Before long, Flora finds herself in the inner sanctum, permitted within the orbit of the Queen herself, and it is then that her life takes a dangerous turn. Ambitious and imaginative, The Bees asks a lot from its reader – but the rewards are miraculous.
15. The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray
The year is 2059 and the Earth has stopped turning. Half the planet bakes in the burning sun while the other shivers in the freezing dark. The only area humans can survive is in the sparse region between the two sides, and it is here, in an isolated Britain, that scientist Ellen Hopper receives a letter from a dying man. He has a secret to share, and it is one that those in power will stop at nothing to conceal. Thrilling, twisty, fast-paced and smart, this dystopian yet believable tale is packed with suspense.
Isabelle Broom is the author of eight escapist fiction novels. She won the Romantic Novelist’s Association Best Contemporary Romance Novel award in 2019 and The Great British Write Off short story competition in 2015, with her winning entry, The Wedding Speech, later being adapted into a short film.
As well as heading off on adventures abroad—a pastime she now gets to call ‘research’—Isabelle is lucky enough to write book reviews and travel features on a freelance basis.
- Anna FieldingContributing Lifestyle Editor
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