Generally-speaking, science-fiction is a genre where authors are allowed to virtually take as many liberties as they want in regards to realism without adverse consequences, so long as they do it correctly of course. This makes sense, too: most authors aren’t well-versed in scientific fields, and studying them would take years which many people simply don’t have.
As such, we’ve come to accept most science-fiction novels as being relatively close to fantasy, and we inherently accept to suspend our disbelief when we choose to read them. This has been the way until 1957 when John W. Campbell published Islands of Space. The term “hard science-fiction” was used to describe it in a review by P. Schuyler Miller, and things were never the same again.
Hard science-fiction novels make one of their primary concerns the maintenance of scientific accuracy and logic, no matter how futuristic or improbably any society or piece of technology might be. These novels lay a groundwork of hard realism to support their fantasy, to the point where they can feel as real and plausible as an actual peer-reviewed study.
Here you will find all types of hard science-fiction novels, from the classics of a few decades ago to modern bestsellers, as I try to single out the ones which really achieve an excellent balance between scientific accuracy, thought-provoking ideas, and relatable entertainment.
Alastair Reynolds has written more than a few epic science-fiction books over the course of his career, but it all began with the widely-acclaimed Revelation Space, marking the start of The Inhibitor Trilogy. It follows the story of a scientist-archaeologist who discovers an ancient alien artifact pointing to the existence of beings who put contingency measures in place should civilizations reach certain technological advancements.
Lem has left an indelible mark on the world of both literature and cinema when he published Solaris back in 1961. It tells the story of a psychologist, Kris Kelvin, sent on a mission to a distant space station for the purpose of studying an ocean which, so far, has managed to defy all scientific explanation. However, when he arrives the situation on the station seems strangely dire, and soon an unexpected visitor appears from thin air.
Peter Cawdron has devoted much of his authorship to exploring the topic of making a first contact with aliens, even penning a thematically-united series simply titled First Contact. In Wherever Seeds May Fall, he presents us with a scenario where an unknown object heading towards Earth ramps up speculations about a potential first contact, exploring the profound ramifications of such an event on all levels of our society.
Douglas E. Richards is fast becoming a prominent voice where science-fiction is concerned, exploring original ideas directly related to our modern world. In his latest novel, The Immortality Code, he tells a story revolving around a technological breakthrough which ultimately opens the way towards a discovery capable of bringing either an unimaginable utopia or total annihilation to mankind.
Isaac Asimov changed the landscape of science-fiction back in his day with the original Foundation trilogy, and the third novel, titled Second Foundation, brings the epic story to its conclusion. With the Mule seemingly reigning supreme over the galaxy, he has one final goal left to achieve before total domination: to find the elusive second Foundation, possibly the only ones capable of standing up to him.
Isaac Asimov has forever changed the landscape of science-fiction with the Foundation trilogy, tracing the attempt of relatively few humans to shorten an impending dark age of barbarism down to a thousand years. In the second book, Foundation and Empire, we witness as the people of the Foundation face off against a dying but dangerous Empire, as well as the arrival of a threat even the Seldon Plan couldn’t predict.
Isaac Asimov has exerted a nearly incalculable influence on the genre of science-fiction with the publication of his Foundation series, still discussed to this very day. In the first novel, simply titled Foundation, we witness the start of humanity’s collapse into barbarism and intellectual devolution, and one man’s ambitious plan to restore it back on the right track and preserve its incredibly advanced scientific knowledge.
Douglas Phillips has explored some of the more interesting frontiers of our knowledge in his Quantum Series, and in the third book, titled Quantum Time, we join Daniel Rice, a time traveller on a mission to stop a nuclear holocaust. After a dying man stumbles into a police station claiming to be from the future, a series of predictions come true, and it becomes clear the Earth is on the verge of truly unexpected peril.
Douglas Phillips began his unusual and highly-captivating exploration of quantum physics and space travel with the aptly-named Quantum Series, and in the second book, titled Quantum Void, he takes things one-step further. With the recent discovery allowing to compress space, intergalactic travel has been opened up to infinite possibilities, and the humanity is preparing to send six envoys to an alien civilization light-years away.
Despite having technically been in front of our eyes since our existence, the realm of particle physics still holds a vast and seemingly endless ocean of secrets from us. In Quantum Space by Douglas Phillips, the most bizarre event in human space flight occurs as a space capsule with there people aboard simply disappears upon reentry. With the solution somehow laying in the field of particle physics, the race against the clock begins to return the astronauts home.
David Koepp has taken a long time to transpose his screenwriter’s talents into the form of a novel, but in 2019 he finally did so with his first published work of fiction, Cold Storage. It tells the story of Roberto Diaz who once managed to contain an organism capable of causing a total extinction of humanity. Decades later, the organism has found its way out of containment, and the old Diaz has only the night to try and contain it, with his help being two unwitting security guards.
Blake Crouch has shown a remarkable ability to put humanity into inconceivable scenarios, and in Recursion he does so once again, pitting it against a nigh-incomprehensible invader. The story follows Barry Sutton, a New York cop tasked with investigating False Memory Syndrome, an affliction driving people mad with the memories of others. Digging deeper, however, only brings him closer to a nearly-undetectable invader, dead-set on tearing apart the fabric of the past and unmaking the world.
Adrian Tchaikovsky began a sensational science-fiction series with Children of Time, tracing the evolution of two civilizations under extreme conditions. With Children of Ruin he continues the series, venturing further into the future to explore a race of aliens who have developed on a very different footing from humanity, diverging from it in many ways rather than being a mirror. Though humanity and its spider allies attempt to contact them and make peace, different evolutionary paths make it exceptionally difficult, perhaps even impossible.
Adrian Tchaikovsky has for a long time been a prominent figure in the realm of science-fiction literature, and for many the pinnacle of his work, so far at least, can be found in Children of Time, winner of the 2016 Arthur C. Clarke Award. It tells the story of humanity’s last remnants as they leave a dying Earth in search of a new home. The new planet they find is perfect at first sight, but hope quickly turns to despair as the lethal dangers of the unknown world begin rising to the surface.
Tom DeLonge and AJ Hartley have begun a rather ambitious series not long ago, and with Sekret Machines Book 2: A Fire Within they have added a second entry to the saga of four connected people through time and space, marked by otherworldly alien powers. Now bonded by what they have all witnessed, they find themselves hunted by the ruthless black suits. While Alan and Barry test the limits of their powers in a military complex, Jennifer and Timika go on a quest for a tablet which may hold many more answers than humanity ever bargained for.
Tom DeLonge and Andrew James Hartley have achieved quite a bit of success in their own respective fields, and thus their collaboration in writing Chasing Shadows was an intriguing turn of events to say the least. In it, we are told the story of four different people who find themselves on a collision course with otherworldly alien technology. Each one of them will have to make hefty choices in the face of powers which could either change the course of human history for the best, or wipe it off the face of the galaxy.
Cixin Liu has broken many frontiers in international science-fiction with his highly-acclaimed Three-Body Problem trilogy, and it seems the rest of the world couldn’t get enough as another one of his inventive novels received a translation, titled Ball Lightning. In it, we follow the story of a young man who devotes his life to deciphering the unnatural phenomenon which took the life of his parents, the titular ball lightning. His search, however, takes him to an entirely new frontier where generals, physicists and madmen pursue scientific discovery, no matter the cost.
Peter Watts has won a number of awards for his tremendously original science-fiction stories, and few exhibit this quality with the same aplomb as his novel The Freeze-Frame Revolution. It follows a protagonist trapped on a starship with the intent of creating a massive human uprising. The only problems? He’s only awake one day out of a million, his potential allies keep changing from one shift to the next, and he’s facing an enemy who never sleeps, can see and hear everything. Is a successful revolution even possible under these circumstances, or is it yet another pipe dream for desperate humans?
Philip K. Dick has explored many profound themes through his multitude of science-fiction stories, always dwelling on the big questions that relate back to human nature in one way or the other.
In Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, he presents us with Jason Taverner, an internationally-famous show host who one day wakes up to find that nobody recognizes him and that he’s been completely erased from all the governmental databases. Unfortunately for him, he lives in a society where lack of identification is a very serious crime, and is forced to go on the run with a whole bunch of shady characters hiding from the regime.
Cory Doctorow has a gift for exploring the big questions that keep us all awake at night, and he does so in the most interesting and unexpected ways possible. Recently, he’s managed such a feat once again with his novel Walkaway that takes us into the near future and explores the kinds of societal and planetary changes our technologically-centred development will inflict.
In more precise terms, we follow two people who have become disillusioned with their lives and decide to live off the grid on their own terms. It doesn’t take long for many other people to start following their lead, and soon those “walkaways” (as they are called) find the secret which escaped the one percent for eternities: the conquest of death.
Cixin Liu’s marvellous science-fiction works have been kept from the West for far too long, but thanks to some brilliant translating we can now enjoy the groundbreaking Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy that takes us on a hardcore science-fiction journey set against the backdrop of China’s cultural revolution as alien invaders on the brink of destruction themselves come to Earth, seeing it as their chance to start all over again.
As was always the case though, humankind stands divided on the whole issue and those who can save it are regrettably few and far in-between.