So! You've heard a lot about this so-called "science fiction" genre and you're interested in checking it out. Or you're tired of your usual genres, and you're looking for a change. Or you've heard about a great new sci-fi book— but you're not so interested in grim-dark dystopias or little green men. Where to start? What to read? Science fiction is a huge genre. It includes everything from Mary Shelley's gothic horror novels to Janelle Monáe's music videos. There is silly science fiction, sure, and there's science fiction about grand space empires. But there's also comedic sci-fi and romantic sci-fi and historical sci-fi and pretty much every other kind of sci-fi that a reader could possibly want. Here are a few new sci-fi books to read if you've never tried sci-fi before, because the genre has got something in it for you.
Whenever I talk to people who don't like science fiction, or who haven't read it before, I find that they're often objecting to the culture surrounding science fiction. They're not interested in memorizing spaceship schematics, or they feel like there's not much room in the sci-fi fan club for anyone who's not a white man. A lot of the most exciting new science fiction books being written today are completely reinventing the genre, though, adding new perspectives and creating entirely new worlds for readers to discover:
'Tell the Machine Goodnight' by Katie Williams
Pearl makes people happy. Specifically, she works for the creators of Apricity, a device that tells you precisely what you need to be happier. She's good at her job, too. She just doesn't know what to do about her own son, who seems to enjoy wallowing in his unhappiness more than anything else. Tell the Machine Goodnight is smart speculative fiction without a whole mess of wormholes or intergalactic wars, so it's an excellent place to start if you're looking for a lighter science fiction touch.
'Space Opera' by Catherynne M. Valente
Don't let the title Space Opera scare you off. This book has space and grand, sweeping plot implications, yes, but it also has literal singing. In Catherynne M. Valente's version of the classic space opera, contestants must compete in a high stakes concert extravaganza, which is also sort of a beauty pageant and a gladiatorial contest. It's a humorous, glitter-filled take on sci-fi, for anyone who's ever loved/hated the worlds of glam rock and reality TV.
'Before Mars' by Emma Newman
Anna Kubrin has just arrived on Mars to act as geologist and artist-in-residence. She's already worried about losing connection with her family back home, and she's prepared to throw herself into her work for the next year and change. But when she discovers a mysterious note of warning in her own handwriting, she begins to realize that her job is going to be a whole lot more than what she signed up for.
'The Calculating Stars' by Mary Robinette Kowal
A meteorite has wiped out the United States government, and Earth is about to become inhospitable to the human race. Humanity needs to find a new planet, and fast. Elma York wants to be part of the crew that eventually journeys out into space. She's smart, experienced, and has all the right credentials... but she's also a woman. And becoming the first Lady Astronaut in this alternate history universe is going to be no mean feat.
'The Book of M' by Peng Shepherd
Shadows are disappearing all over the globe. There is no scientific explanation as of yet—but the people without shadows are undergoing a strange, impossible set of symptoms: they gain new powers at the cost of losing all of their memories. In the midst of this is Ory and Max, a couple bent on surviving this bizarre new plague in their hideaway deep in the woods... until the day that Max's shadow goes missing, too.
'Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach' by Kelly Robson
It's 2267, and humans are finally moving back to the surface of the planet. Minh is part of the generation that has been working to make Earth's environment livable once again; her whole life has been spent on the restoration of river ecosystems. Her long-term projects are on hold, though, due to the invention of time travel, which means that Minh might be headed back to 2000 BCE to survey the rivers of the ancient Earth (and get to the bottom of this shadowy time travel organization once and for all).
'Suicide Club' by Rachel Heng
If Lea plays her cards right, she might live forever. She's a "lifer," a person born with the possibility of achieving immortality, and she's determined to have a healthy, successful, eternal life full of juice cleanses and low-impact exercise. When she crosses paths with her estranged father, however, she's pulled into a world utterly unlike the perfect life she's accustomed to, where people actually want to live until they die.
'Provenance' by Ann Leckie
Yes, Ann Leckie's books are closer to the traditional "space opera" genre, complete with travel between planets and interstellar conflict. But if you enjoy political intrigue, daring prison breaks, and epic tales of war and thievery, then you're going to enjoy Provenance. It's part comedy of manners, part mystery, all science fiction adventure.
'Record of a Spaceborn Few' by Becky Chambers
It's been a long time since the human race left Earth, and humanity has finally been accepted into the wider galactic community. Some are more than ready to ditch their spaceship fleet for life in alien cities. Others don't want to leave the only home they've ever known—even as disaster approaches. Chambers' sci-fi is both funny and inventive, a great jumping off point for anyone who feels iffy about leaving their home atmosphere.
'A Study in Honor' by Claire O'Dell
A Study in Honor is the answer to that age-old question: what if Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson were two black, queer women living in a cyberpunk future America? And they have to secure justice for the fallen soldiers of the New Civil War? If you like classic mysteries and you're interested in dipping your toes in the proverbial science fiction waters, this is the place to start.
'The Night Masquerade' by Nnedi Okorafor
You should really go back and read the first two books in the Binti series, but The Night Masquerade is the newest installment of Binti's story. Our protagonist has returned to her home planet after surviving the violent threat of the Meduse, but what she finds is far from a peaceful, pleasant hero's welcome. Instead, Binti is now up against a foe that can hardly communicate. The Binti series is truly creative science fiction, full of wildly weird world-building and a complex main character with a whole lot on her plate.