Hard science fiction is for serious fans of the genre only.
Make no mistake. This isn’t your accessible, mass-market friendly science fiction. They're in-depth, technically rich stories packed with advanced concepts and knowledge.
That sure as heck doesn’t make it any less entertaining.
In fact, SciFi fans who take the time to wrap their minds around hard science fiction find some of the best stories Science Fiction as a whole has to offer.
So... Which stories are on TopSciFi’s sample platter of the best hard science fiction out there?
If you want to check out any of these titles for free, you can do so with Audible's one month free trial.
Arthur C. Clarke
2001 has rightly earned its status as a science fiction classic in the popular imagination--largely in part to Kubrick's interpretation on the big screen. However, the printed page version of the story is definitely worth your attention. The novel has far more breathing room for the hard SciFi aspects of the tale which is sure to reward serious science fans.
The first installment of Reynolds’ Revelation Space series is packed with mind-blowing scientific concepts. In addition to its epic plot-line and engaging characters, the book features realistic theories of hard SciFi including:
- Evolution of alien species,
- Impact of cyborgs on day to day life
- Suppression of historical truth.
Plus, Revelation Space is a pretty sweet adventure! So, give this a read when you get a chance.
Yoon Ha Leee
Ninefox Gambit is the first part of the Machineries of Empire series and a worthy introduction to Lee’s hard SciFi style. As a reader, you are transported into a complex space empire where complex mathematical concepts have a magic-like hold on the inhabitants. Aside from the scientific clout and mathematical marvels, there are epic wars and memorable characters to encounter. And some of the weaponry found in this book won;t be found anywhere else. This hard SciFi novel is truly unique.
The Three-Body Problem
The three body problem by Cixin Liu is widely praised as one of the best examples of hard science fiction in existence. It also is a front-runner for the Chinese Sci-Fi genre. Be warned, however. The Three Body Problem is no easy read. It deals with some punishing scientific concepts in precise detail. Yet, for those prepared to go the distance with this yarn, they are rewarded with a rich and gripping story. The Three Body Problem is perfect proof that science fiction can blend serious scientific concepts with a captivating story.
The Enemy Stars
Poul Anderson’s The Enemy Stars is one of the older hard SciFi tales on the list. But don't let it fool you. It's a fine example of how the genre has evolved and improved over the years. The scientific concepts include considerations of the speed of light, the nature of matter, and intergalactic travel. One of the most impressive aspects of Anderson’s work is the fact that he rewrote the tale to update the scientific info found within it. An important read for those who wish to gain a historical perspective on the hard SciFi genre.
Blindsight is one of the most critically acclaimed hard science fiction stories of recent years. It was a finalist for multiple prizes within the genre including a Hugo Award. The list of scientific concepts found within Blindsight is extensive and includes:
- The idea of free will,
- Exploration of consciousness,
- And even Game Theory!
The story centers on the investigation of a mysterious comet. And throughout, the narrative and hard SciFi elements blend wonderfully to reward the reader.
Robert L Forward
Dragon’s Egg is a truly fascinating hard science-fiction tale. It deals with astonishing concepts such as Neutron Stars and the evolution of theoretical lifeforms. Forward’s tale is rightly regarded as a classic within the hard science-fiction world. It paints a gripping but believable picture of the development of civilizations and unknown lifeforms. Anyone with an interest in evolution, alien civilization, and the interaction between different lifeforms will find a lot to enjoy here.
There is no disputing Asimov’s status as a true titan of the science fiction world. And Foundation may be one of his absolute best. It's such a perfect example of hard science fiction as it features complex and developed yet entirely fictional scientific disciplines. For added genre points, the story’s protagonist is a mathematician. Foundation asks questions such as the nature of destiny and the ability of mathematics to predict societal change.
Mission of Gravity
You know you’re in for a hard SciFi ride to enjoy when you find scientific ideas cropping up in a book’s title. And that definitely holds true for Mission of Gravity. The serious science found in the tale is nicely balanced. This is partly due to the fact that the book was originally serialized (meaning its narrative structure was originally intended to keep readers coming back for more). Mission of Gravity has a lot to savor for hard SciFi fans--including theoretical alien races and planets where the laws of gravity differ with fascinating consequences.
Kim Stanley Robinson
Red Mars is the product of author Kim Stanley Robinson’s personal obsession and fascination with the red planet. In fact, it’s widely accepted that Robinson had studied Mars for around fifteen years before putting pen to paper. And the story absolutely reflects this level of detail. Readers are treated to an enticing story that makes the exploration and adaption to Mars seem both fascinating and plausible.
Rendezvous With Rama
Arthur C. Clarke
Clarke makes his second appearance on our rundown of worthwhile hard science fiction and rightly so. Rendezvous with Rama won both the Hugo and Nebula awards when it was released, and is still a gripping read over 40 years on. Along with its epic storyline, Rendezvous with Rama deals with hard science concepts. Astronomy and ecological/societal impacts of humanity’s interactions with intergalactic objects are just a few.
Peter Watts begins his Rifters series with Starfish. It's a hard SciFi tale combining ideas from bio-engineering and future capitalism wrapped up in a magnetic plot. Like all the best science fiction, Starfish makes the reader reflect deeply upon the type of world we are building and the consequences of this. Whether you’re a fan of serious scientific theory or incredible characters and mystery, Starfish has plenty to offer.
One of the most intriguing scientific ideas of our time is the singularity. Accelerando by Charles Stross is arguably the finest fictional treatment of the singularity concept out there. It consists of interconnected short stories which explore the impact of a singularity from several historical perspectives. Stross creates a believable and absorbing world in this unique telling. For anyone interested in singularity notions or of innovatively structured science-fiction, Accelerando is an essential read.
The Diamond Age
The Diamond Age defies easy genre classification. But its effective use of ideas related to nanotechnology makes it great for hard SciFi fans. As well as looking at conventional scientific concepts, Neal Stephenson treads into sociological territory. He considers ideas such as class and ethnicity through a science fiction lens. Many have likened The Diamond Age to a Dickensian science fiction story.
Diaspora is a fine example of a hard science fiction story which pulls no punches. It forces the reader to engage with the concepts provided. Greg Egan deals with scientific ideas--including several incredibly complex physics paradigms theorized by Egan himself. In addition to the typical hard sci-fi ideas, Diaspora focuses on contemporary issues such as the meaning of gender and humanity’s relentless pursuit of self-enhancement.
What Is A Hard Science Fiction Book?
Hard science fiction is a type of science fiction story that doesn’t shy away from dealing with challenging concepts such as the laws of physics or theoretical science.
This type of science fiction is widely regarded as "for serious fans only". To get the most out of a hard science fiction story, it’s necessary for readers to engage with the science found within. A genuine interest in scientific ideas is a prerequisite for truly enjoying the genre.
What Type Of Science Does Hard SciFi Cover?
If there is an intellectual discipline out there, you can bet that it’s been covered to some extent by a hard science-fiction author at one time or another. The level of depth with regards to the scientific rigor varies from author to author and story to story. This means that readers of all ability and knowledge levels will be able to find a hard SciFi story that is a suitable fit for them.
So what are some of the concepts found within hard SciFi, and how do the authors make use of them to enhance and enrich their storytelling?
Common Sciences Covered by Hard SciFi
One hallmark of hard science fiction is its willingness to explore physics. Broadly, this can happen in two ways. Either they use a real-world physics concept within the story, or authors come up with their own theoretical physics. This leads to some fascinating “what-if” scenarios where the reader needs to grapple with a world that plays by entirely different rules to our own.
If you consider Earth’s biodiversity as inspiration, you can imagine how scientifically minded authors create their own universes. Hard SciFi is for anyone interested in species interactions, impacts of technology on evolution, or how different groups evolve and adapt.
For lovers of math, hard science-fiction will be a natural home. Mathematicians are frequent protagonists within the genre. The best part is that math is not treated as something to intimidate non-mathematical readers. Instead, the mathematical mind creates interesting stories. And investing more time with math oriented hard SciFi, you may find a greater appreciation of the numerical disciplines.
Unsurprisingly for science fiction, hard SciFi has a lot of fascinating points to make about technology. This can take familiar forms, such as intergalactic travel, and more hypothetical explorations, such as pondering on the proposed singularity. Some of the coolest and most mind bending hard SciFi deals with concepts which we may witness within our lifetimes, but have not arrived in the real world. If you’re a lover of technology who enjoys looking ahead to the coming decades, it binds you to find a lot to love within the hard SciFi world.
Get These Best Hard Science Fiction Books for Free!
If you want to check out these hard sci fi titles, the following services have got you covered:
1. Signup with Audible's One Month Free Trial: By signing up for Audible's free month trial you can download any two books you choose for free. If you decide you like Audible then you can pay a small monthly fee of $14.95 and get one book a month. If you decide you do not like Audible you can cancel your trial and keep your two free books.
2. If you want to try something other than Audible you could also try Playster. Playster's One Month Free Trial works with either ebooks or audiobooks. You can pay for a membership at $14.95 per month and receive unlimited books. However Playster does not offer as many book options. If you would like to listen to all of Playsters books you will need to use the premium which is $29.95.