Science Fiction Recommended by Scientists

“The best science fiction is heavy on science and light on fiction,” Professor Chris Mason told us in his interview on science fiction and space travel. A geneticist and computational biologist at Cornell, he is just one of several scientists who have recommended sci-fi books on our site. Below, we’ve collected all our sci-fi books recommended by scientists—good choices for readers who love their fiction scientific.

The Martian by Andy Weir
“It’s a fabulous book of something that will likely be in our near future. The book started as chapters that were released for free and everyone was effusive in their praise for the accuracy of the technical details and the acumen of the writer to get everything just right. Even though it’s fiction, everything’s based on technology and methods that exist. It required no new technology that we don’t have right now.” Read more…

Space Travel and Science Fiction Books

Christopher Mason,

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson Diaspora by Greg Egan
“It is a masterwork of science fiction, and the deepest account I’ve seen of how much the human condition could change. The book opens almost 1,000 years into the future. But at some point, much closer to the present day, humanity had worked out how to create digital minds, living in virtual worlds. And the book is primarily an exploration of how profoundly such a development would change things. Many age-old challenges of social arrangement would become moot. For instance, the people of this future are effectively immortal and cannot come to any bodily harm unless they will it. So in these virtual worlds, violent crime is not against the law, but against the laws of physics.” Read more…

The best books on Big History

Toby Ord,

The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu
“In the first book of the trilogy, science basically stops working on Earth, and there’s a big puzzle as to why. Particle accelerators start giving random results, and a bunch of scientists commit suicide. It is then revealed that an alien civilisation is at the origin of those events. These aliens themselves are going through a systemic collapse, and they create an AI that they send across space to take control of another civilisation…all of this is the setup of The Dark Forest, in which humanity realises the scale of the potential risk, and learn that they have 400 years to prepare before the alien fleet arrives. They know that the adversary is more technologically-advanced than them, but not by how much.” Read more…

The best books on Existential Risks

The Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, Scientist

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer
“The Southern Reach is a research institution set up to investigate the mysterious ‘Area X’, an exclusion zone with strange and frightening effects on the human mind. We follow ‘the biologist’, one member of a four-woman team that has been dispatched into the zone. Long abandoned and fenced off, it has grown into a pristine wilderness – but it is haunted by traces of the expeditions that have gone before them. I can’t tell you how eerie and absorbing it is.” Read more…

The best books on Abandoned Places

Cal Flyn, Journalist

Permutation City by Greg Egan
“This book is by Greg Egan, an Australian science fiction writer. He’s well known in circles that think about what I’ve been talking about and pretty much unknown outside them. To my mind, he’s written better about AI than any other writer, because he takes it seriously. He recognizes it represents enormous change. Permutation City is about a time in history when uploading becomes possible and very rich people can upload themselves into machines which operate quickly and in real time. Poorer people have to upload themselves into machines which process very slowly and so they live very slow versions of life” Read more…

The best books on Artificial Intelligence

Calum Chace, Novelist

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A Heinlein
“In the book, people who live on the moon are called Loonies. Their bodies have adapted to the lack of gravity and they have lighter bones. It’s basically a penal colony, because once you spend too long there, you can’t go back to Earth. I just like the idea of the adaptation in the biology of humans to different gravities and things like that which I’m sure would happen if people were growing up or living on the moon or on Mars.” Read more…

Space Travel and Science Fiction Books

Christopher Mason,

Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov
“It’s a very beautifully written book imagining that humans were so broadly successful in the universe that they’re in multiple galaxies and working at an interplanetary scale. The protagonist in the book is something called a psychohistorian. He has studied history so well that he can try and predict what will happen next.” Read more…

Space Travel and Science Fiction Books

Christopher Mason,

Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne
“The book has just enough science that it seems real. If you read it as a kid and re-read it as a geologist, you think there are some very interesting things in there.He plays around with certain facts. He comes up with a very interesting theory to explain that it doesn’t get hot as you go deeper underground (which was in vogue at the time), but the book imagines the preservation of prehistoric life in the subsurface and that’s something we’re still looking at. Many of the organisms that we find down there today look to be, from an evolutionary point of view, extremely primitive. The conditions we find them in are very much what the surface of the Earth used to look like, three billion years ago. There is no oxygen and three billion years ago there was very little oxygen on the surface of our planet.” Read more…

The best books on Life Below the Surface of the Earth

Tullis Onstott, Environmentalist

Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino
“It’s a series of short stories, or a novel really. But he’s doing something that no other novelist has ever done. He looks at the history of the universe, the history of life on Earth – all the major milestones – and he makes it human.” Read more…

The best books on Cosmology

Marcus Chown, Science Writer

Science Fiction Recommended by Scientists

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