You’ll find that the canon of science fiction changes all the time, and how each person comes up with their own will be different. There are, of course, a lot of great books in this genre, like Frank Herbert’s Dune or Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers or Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. These books are well-known not only for giving readers a lot to think about, but also for having an impact on the writers who follow them, changing their subject matter, technique, and point of view.
It’s clear that science fiction is going through a big change right now. There are more people writing stories than ever before, from all kinds of backgrounds, and on a lot of new platforms that weren’t there before. A lot of books have broken through and changed how science fiction looks during this time.
These are some of the most important and groundbreaking books that have come out in the last few years. They changed the rules or tropes that authors used, blazed a trail or made a new thing popular, or were hugely popular with readers all over the world, so they’re on this list.
Blindsight by Peter Watts (2006)
A big part of science fiction is when humans meet extraterrestrials for the first time. They range from aliens with weird noses to people who are truly alien. Peter Watts’ novel Blindsight comes out after the planet is hit by a group of strange objects that send out a single broadcast before going dark. They send a team of five trans-human specialists, including a vampire, to investigate a comet outside of the solar system when they get another transmission from it.
Alien-like hive-mind intelligence is what they find. It’s part of a much bigger group of people. There are many sci-fi stories that deal with humanity’s introduction to a galactic civilization in which we become equal partners/citizens. Watts, on the other hand, says that there is interstellar intelligence that is truly alien, and that humanity is providing to be a major nuisance and threat to them. You should read it because it was a ground-breaking book that helped authors think about how we fit in the universe in a new way.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008)
Adult and young adult science fiction is often sold to very different groups of people, and both sides look down on the other. It’s a silly barrier, and Suzanne Collins’ book The Hunger Games shows that the YA label doesn’t mean that the author is talking down to the people who read it.
As punishment for failing to overthrow the United States, children from each of the country’s twelve districts are chosen to fight to the death every ten years in a brutal competition. This is called “The Hunger Games.”
There are many important issues that Collins talks about in his book. They include things like violence and trauma, poverty, and revolution. With its release in 2008, the book became a big hit and spawned a flood of dystopian-themed YA novels that looked at the darker parts of modern society.
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (2009)
Climate change has been at the top of people’s minds in the last decade because of major hurricanes, huge wildfires, and the fact that the world’s temperature is going up. When Paolo Bacigalupi wrote The Windup Girl in 2009, science fiction took a big step forward by putting a world with a very different climate in the middle of the story.
Bacigalupi’s story takes place in a world where oil is no longer a thing and where mega agricorps control the world’s food supply with genetically modified crops. Because Thailand has been able to keep outsiders out, it hasn’t had crop failures or famine. If you’re an agricorp, you’re working to get your hands on the seedbank of the country so you can solve some of your problems. A genetically-modified woman is trying to get out of sexual slavery as war looms.
Climate change is a good subject for fiction, but this book isn’t just disaster porn. The Windup Girl looks at how capitalism and its abuses are the root cause of the climate disaster.
The Red trilogy, Linda Nagata
2020 is the 100th anniversary of the term “robotics.” Over the years, we’ve seen authors write about robots that were both good and bad, like C-3P0 or Robbie from Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot (Hal, from 2001: A Space Odyssey.)
So, too, have the stories we’ve told about robotics and AI over the years. A military thriller set in the near future by Linda Nagata, called The Red, is one of the best books about artificial intelligence that I have read. This is the story of Lieutenant James Shelley, a soldier who is part of a group that has been “cyberneticized.” He has a voice in his head that helps him get out of trouble.
That voice turns out to be a huge, distributed artificial intelligence that has popped up in the world’s many systems. It uses soldiers like Shelley to carry out its plans, especially when there are threats to human civilization, like nuclear warheads. Nagata’s vision for artificial intelligence is scary and realistic. It’s a powerful, unknown force that has the power to change our lives in ways we don’t expect, and it’s very different from the robots and AIs that have come before it.
Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (2011)
Friends told Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, who write under the name James S.A. Corey, that they should write epic fantasy instead of space opera. They were told that space opera didn’t sell. Advice: They didn’t listen. They wanted “beer and pizza money,” but they ended up with a novel that mixed hard science fiction and noir mystery as the specter of war loomed over the sun system.
It’s the first book in Corey’s The Expanse series, which is a huge project that looks at humanity’s future in space. It looks at both the dangers of balkanization and being marginalized in society, and the dangerous and perilous possibilities that a galactic migration could have for humanity.
As long as space opera didn’t die out, Leviathan Wakes has helped bring the story back to life. It has set the stage for other authors to explore space and learn more about humanity as they go.
The Martian by Andy Weir (2011)
Andy Weir’s The Martian has one of the luckiest beginning stories. Programmer: Weir worked for a lot of software companies in his early years. He always wrote short stories on the side, like The Egg, which he put on his website in 2009. A year or two later: He began to write about an astronaut who was stuck on Mars. In this story he worked out how a real mission to Mars would go.
One reason that The Martian was so popular is because it’s very realistic, and Weir spent a lot of time making sure that the mission to Mars was done right. Mark Watney, the astronaut, had to figure out how to communicate with Earth, grow his own food, and escape from the planet.
In addition, The Martian showed how self-publishing can work. The novel didn’t sell to a publisher, so Weir started serializing it on his website for free. Then, he started selling it on Amazon, where it sold well. quickly became a best seller, which led to a big publishing deal and then the making of a big movie by Ridley Scott.
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (2013)
When Ann Leckie came out with her first science fiction book, Ancillary Justice, people were both excited and angry about one of her stylistic choices: a civilization that didn’t use traditional pronouns.
In the very distant future, the Radchaai Galactic Empire rules over a lot of different worlds with the help of powerful AIs that control starships full of dead soldiers. One of the shipminds, the Justice of Toren, is destroyed. She lives on in the mind of one soldier, who sets out to get revenge for her death.
Leckie made two things more popular. She created a civilization that didn’t follow the rules about gender and identity. Because of the book, science fiction authors have become more and more free to explore a more complex field of gender identity and portrayal. She wasn’t the first to use these tropes.
Also, Ancillary Justice looked at the nature of a galactic empire not through the lens of building an interstellar civilization, but through the lens of imperialism, colonization, and subjectification, which are all things that happen in a galactic empire.