The best sci-fi books of 2021

We take a look at the most exciting new sci-fi books of 2021, the best sci-fi books of 2020, as well as the best science fiction novels of all time.

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From spectacular sequels and award-winning novels to continuing adventures in science fiction's most popular universes, we take a look ahead to some of the most anticipated new sci-fi books of 2021. No matter what kind of science fiction fan you are, we're sure you'll find something to add to your reading list. We also take a look back at some of the best sci-fi books of 2020, and for even more inspiration, we share some of the best sci-fi novels of all time. 

Looking for your next fantasy novel? Read our edit of the very best new fantasy books, here.​

The best new sci-fi books of 2021

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

by Douglas Adams

Book cover for Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

Dirk is a self-styled private investigator at the Holistic Detective Agency, whose mission is to prove the essential connectedness of everything – linking a computer whizz kid with a dead cat, an Electric Monk, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and lots and lots of pizza. He also plans to save the human race – at no extra cost.

This classic novel by Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, has given birth to endless radio, television, theatre and comic book adaptations – look for our forthcoming audiobook voiced by Stephen Mangan, who played Dirk Gently in the BBC adaptation. 

Stephen Mangan on Dirk Gently by Douglas Adams

Deep Wheel Orcadia

by Harry Josephine Giles

Book cover for Deep Wheel Orcadia

Discover a quirky science-fiction read like no other . . .

Deep Wheel Orcadia is a remote and failing space station that is struggling for survival as the pace of change threatens to leave the community behind. It is here that Astrid and Darling first meet – Astrid on her way home from art school on Mars and searching for inspiration, and Darling, fleeing a life that never fit, searching for somewhere to hide . . .

The strikingly unusual sci-fi setting is mirrored in the unique form of this verse novel, which is written in the dialect of the Orkney islands, with a parallel English translation. Magical and compellingly readable, Deep Wheel Orcadia is an outstanding literary creation by Orcadian poet and performer Harry Josephine Giles.

The Saints of Salvation

by Peter F. Hamilton

Book cover for The Saints of Salvation

The Olyix have laid siege to Earth, harvesting people for their god. Cities are falling to their devastating weaponry and millions have either fled to seek refuge in space or are fighting a war that seems unwinnable. As Earth's defeat draws ever closer, a team are sent to infiltrate the Olyix's arkship. Their plan? To signal its location to future generations and bring the battle to the enemy . . . This is the final sci-fi novel in Peter F. Hamilton's stunning series The Salvation Sequence

Discover all Peter F. Hamilton's books and series.

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars

by Christopher Paolini

Book cover for To Sleep in a Sea of Stars

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars is the masterful epic science fiction novel from New York Times and Sunday Times bestselling author, Christopher Paolini. 

The novel follows xenobiologist Kira Navárez as she discovers an alien relic that thrusts her into the wonders and nightmares of first contact. Epic space battles for the fate of humanity ensue, taking her to the farthest reaches of the galaxy and, in the process, transform not only her – but the entire course of history.

Read Christopher Paolini on why he was inspired to write about first contact.

A Desolation Called Peace

by Arkady Martine

Book cover for A Desolation Called Peace

This spectacular sequel to Arkady Martine’s Hugo Award-winning debut sci-fi book sees the Teixcalaanli Empire facing an alien threat which could bring about its complete destruction. Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is all that stands between the empire and all-out war, so in desperation, he sends an envoy to negotiate with the mysterious invaders . . . Arkady Martine’s Teixcalaan duology s a must-read for fans of epic space opera. 

Jack Four

by Neal Asher

Book cover for Jack Four

Jack Four – one of twenty human clones – has been created to be sold. His purchasers are the alien prador and they only want him for their experimentation program. But there is something different about Jack. No clone should possess the knowledge that’s been loaded into his mind. And no normal citizen of humanity’s Polity worlds would have this information. . .

Jack Four is the thrilling new standalone novel set in Neal Asher's acclaimed Polity Universe. If you're looking for more of Neal's high-octane sci-fi, read our guide to all of the Polity Universe books, here.


by Terry Miles

Book cover for Rabbits

Described by Nicholas Eames as 'Murakami meets Ready Player One', Terry Miles' novel Rabbits is an electrifying, compulsive read based on the hit podcast from the Public Radio Alliance – perfect for fans of Stranger Things and Black Mirror.

Rabbits is a secret, dangerous and sometimes fatal underground game. The rewards for winning are unclear, but there are rumours of money, CIA recruitment or even immortality. Or it might unlock the universe’s greatest secrets. But everyone knows that the deeper you get, the more deadly the game becomes – and the body count is rising. Since the game first started, ten iterations have taken place. The eleventh round is about to begin, and what happens in the game, stays in the game . . . 

The best sci-fi books of 2020

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

by Douglas Adams

Book cover for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Towels at the ready and DON'T PANIC, but yes, Douglas Adams' science-fiction classic really did celebrate its 42nd anniversary in 2020. 

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy began life as a Radio 4 show in 1978 and has since spawned adaptations across almost every format, making it a staple on every respectable list of the best sci-fi books. Following the galactic adventures of Arthur Dent after his house's untimely demolition to make way for a new hyperspace express route, this new edition of 'The Guide' features exclusive bonus archive material and a new introduction from Russell T. Davies. This classic science fiction novel is a must-read for fans of the genre. 

Don't miss our complete guide to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books.

The Doors of Eden

by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Book cover for The Doors of Eden

A new sci-fi novel from Adrian Tchaikovsky to get excited about, The Doors of Eden is a standalone adventure set in the world of MI5 investigations and in the depths of Bodmin Moor. Following an attack on a government physicist and rumours of monsters and missing people, the British security forces are sent to investigate. When they discover that there are cracks between our world and countless others it shatters everything they previously thought about the universe.


by Rian Hughes

Book cover for XX

Rian Hughes’s novel uses the full narrative potential of graphic design, using twenty-first-century visual culture to ask who we are, and where we may be going next. When an extraterrestrial signal is detected, artificial intelligence expert Jack Fenwick is sure he can decode it. But when he finds a way into an alien realm, he finds it already inhabited by ghostly entities that may come from our own past. This unique novel includes NASA transcripts, news and magazine articles and books within books. There is no book quite like this.


by Ted Chiang

Book cover for Exhalation

Named in Barack Obama's 2019 summer reading list, this groundbreaking collection of science fiction short stories is the second from acclaimed author Ted Chiang. In these nine stunningly original and poignant stories, we encounter a portal through time in ancient Baghdad, a scientist who makes a shocking discovery that will affect all of humanity and a woman who cares for an AI ‘pet’ for over twenty years. Addressing, among others, essential questions around the nature of the universe and what it means to be human, this is science fiction writing at its most thoughtful.

Children of Ruin

by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Book cover for Children of Ruin

Following on from Tchaikovsky’s Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning sci-fi novel, Children of TimeChildren of Ruin finds modern humanity dealing with the consequences of Earth’s ancient empire building. A terraforming program transforms the world of Nod, with unplanned and ominous side effects. Aeons later, an exploration mission finally discovers this part of space. They are hoping to find cousins from old Earth, but realise that something else entirely awaits.

The Last Emperox

by John Scalzi

Book cover for The Last Emperox

In the conclusion to the Interdependency series from sci-fi great, John Scalzi, the pathways that connect the stars are collapsing rapidly, accelerating the fall of civilization, and threatening to leave billions of people stranded. The evidence is insurmountable, but many people are in denial and even seeking to profit from this disaster. 

Emperox Grayland II finally has control over her empire, but as she works to save her people, others are desperate to topple her from the throne . . . Will she save civilization?

Discover all John Scalzi's books in order.

The Human

by Neal Asher

Book cover for The Human

The epic finale to the Rise of the Jain trilogyThe Human opens with the fate of an entire galaxy hanging in the balance. A Jain warship has risen from a five million year old prison, determined to catch an old enemy, and willing to destroy anything in its path. Orlandine must once again fight the seemingly unstoppable Jain and their ancient yet lethal technology, to save humanity, and herself. 

The best sci-fi books of all time

Lovecraft Country

by Matt Ruff

Book cover for Lovecraft Country

An imaginative blend of magic, power, hope, and freedom that stretches across time, touching diverse members of two black families, Matt Ruff's sci-fi horror is a devastating kaleidoscopic portrait of racism – the terrifying specter that continues to haunt us today.

The Time Machine

by H. G. Wells

Book cover for The Time Machine

H. G. Wells was among the first to express a plausible scientific method of time travel, and he also coined the term ‘time machine’ in this science fiction novella. The book has been adapted into three different films, and still influences science fiction writers today. The Time Machine is a pioneering classic that is considered by many to be the most influential sci-fi book of all time.


by Blake Crouch

Book cover for Recursion

This high concept sci-fi thriller asks the question: what if someone could rewrite your entire life? When Detective Barry Sutton is called to help a woman threatening to jump from a building, he’s unaware of the series of events the incident will trigger. Unable to stop the woman taking her own life, the last words she says to him are ‘My son has been erased.’ As Barry begins to investigate her case, he finds she’s not the only one making such claims. All over the country, people are waking up to different lives, an epidemic the media have dubbed ‘False Memory Syndrome’. But what if the cause is more sinister than a disease?

Blake Crouch shares his all-time favourite science fiction.  

A Memory Called Empire

by Arkady Martine

Book cover for A Memory Called Empire

Arkady Martine's debut sci-fi book is an immersive political space opera for fans of Ann Leckie and Iain M. Banks. A Memory Called Empire introduces the idea of a technology by which a select few can carry their predecessors in their minds and take advantage of their wisdom and memories - a fascinating theme for the reader to wrap their head around. The first book in the Texicalaan duology, fans will be eagerly awaiting news of the second novel from this exciting new science-fiction writer.


by Peter F. Hamilton

Book cover for Salvation

The first book in bestselling science fiction author Peter F. Hamilton’s series the Salvation Sequence boasts genetically engineered soldiers, alien shipwrecks and voyages across the galaxy – what more could a space opera fan want? 

It’s AD 2204, and a mysterious shipwreck appears on a planet at the edge of the galaxy. Its cargo is troubling, so a team led by Security Director Feriton Kayne is sent to investigate. But what they discover raises bewildering questions – and could predict humanity’s demise.

War of the Worlds

by H. G. Wells

Book cover for War of the Worlds

The inspiration for countless science fiction stories and novels, H. G. Wells’s sci-fi classic is a must for any science fiction fan’s bookshelf. Written in semi-documentary style, the 1938 radio adaptation famously caused panic when listeners believed the fictional new bulletins were real, and this novel about a terrifying alien invasion still grips readers to this day. 

Journey to the Centre of the Earth

by Jules Verne

Book cover for Journey to the Centre of the Earth

When the chance discovery of an ancient cryptogram reveals a path to the Underworld, the adventurous Professor Otto Lidenbrock sets off to Iceland, determined to reach the centre of the earth. But nothing can prepare him and his nephew Axel for what they will find beneath the ground; measureless caverns and vast subterranean seas reveal all of the earth's known history and more, while dinosaurs do battle, giant men herd mastodons, and danger and excitement wait around every corner.

Pandora’s Star

by Peter F. Hamilton

Book cover for Pandora’s Star

Peter F. Hamilton’s epic Commonwealth Saga duology begins with the galaxy-spanning sci-fi novel Panora’s Star. Humanity has spread across the galaxy, colonising hundreds of planets linked by wormholes. Finally, there is peace. But when stars thousands of light-years away start to vanish, ex-NASA astronaut Wilson Kime is sent to discover the cause.

Travelling in his faster-than-light spaceship, Kime arrives to find the stars imprisoned in an immense force-field. Entire star systems are sealed off. But who could possess this technology? And were they trying to keep us out . . . or keep something else in?

Parable of the Sower


Book cover for Parable of the Sower

No list of the best sci-fi books is complete without Octavia Butler’s science fiction classic Parable of the Sower. Set in a dystopian Los Angeles in a crumbling America, Lauren Olamina struggles to survive in a world destroyed by drugs, disease and war as she battles with hyperempathy, a condition that makes her extraordinarily sensitive to the pain of others.

Zone One


Book cover for Zone One

 Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Colson Whitehead was inspired to write this apocalyptic sci-fi novel because of his teenage fascination with the work of Stephen King and Issac Asimov. A plague has ravaged the planet, and the population is divided into the living and the living dead. Mark Spitz is working on a task force to clear the infested from ‘Zone One’, but things quickly go from bad to worse . . . 



Book cover for Binti

Binti is the first person in her family to be accepted at the prestigious Oomza University, but to take up the place will mean leaving all she knows for a new life travelling among the stars. And there are dangers in this new life, for the university has long warred with a nightmare alien race called the Meduse . . . This Hugo Award-winning novella is the first in Nnedi Okorafor’s science fiction series. 



Book cover for Dune

Frank Herbert’s science fiction classic is one of the bestselling sci-fi books of all time and was adapted into the film of the same name directed by David Lynch. Set 20,000 years in the future, the universe depends on the supply of Melange, a rare element, which can be used for everything from extending life-spans to interstellar travel. This precious element is found on only a single planet, Arrakis. And whoever controls Arrakis controls the universe . . . 

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

by Jules Verne

Book cover for Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

The Macmillan Collector’s Library edition of this classic sci-fi book is beautifully illustrated by the French painter Édouard Riou, who worked with Jules Verne on six of his novels. When three adventurers set out to kill a sea monster, all is not what it seems . . . 


by Mary Shelley

Book cover for Frankenstein

Mary Shelley's story of a man who creates a monster he cannot control was a precursor of modern science fiction and a must-read for any sci-fi fans wanting to understand the history of the genre. 

 Victor Frankenstein, a brilliant but wayward scientist, builds a human from dead flesh. Horrified at what he has done, he abandons his creation. The hideous creature learns language and becomes civilized but society rejects him. Spurned, he seeks vengeance on his creator. 

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