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25 Best Far Future Science Fiction Books
Art by: ANTIFAN-REAL @ deviantART
Far future science fiction (usually meaning about 10,000 years from now) is the most optimistic SF subgenre because it assumes humanity will still be around in some recognizable form.
I’ve read that the most futuristic things you can put in a science fiction are technologies that are probably 50 years out: self-driving cars, total government surveillance, cyborgs a-plenty, Billy’s First Genetic Engineering Kit, and the like.
In the list below, I’m defining “far future” to mean that the stories occur around 10,000 A.D. or later. If they start earlier, I’ve included them because I thought they just felt all cool and far futurey.
by Kim Stanley Robinson – 2012
I’m starting this list off by breaking the 10,000-year rule because 2312 simply feels far-future. Author Robinson’s technological inventions are creative and wondrous, and it’s a delight to follow the characters around the solar system with him.
My only beef with this book is that the personalities of the characters cleave a little too closely to their planets of origin. That is, the character from Mercury is totally mercurial (she’s a whole playground of mood swings, which gets annoying), and the character from one of Saturn’s moon is purely saturnine (slow, steady, gloomy, which gets boring). It’s nice to have drama between characters, but I felt they were a little one-dimensional and predictable.
by Vernor Vinge – 1992
Thousands of years hence, many races inhabit a universe where a mind’s potential is determined by its location in space, from superintelligent entities in the Transcend, to the limited minds of the Unthinking Depths, where only simple creatures and technology can function. Nobody knows what strange force partitioned space into these “regions of thought,” but when the warring Straumli realm use an ancient Transcendent artifact as a weapon, they unwittingly unleash an awesome power that destroys thousands of worlds and enslaves all natural and artificial intelligence.Fleeing the threat, a family of scientists, including two children, are taken captive by the Tines, an alien race with a harsh medieval culture, and used as pawns in a ruthless power struggle. A rescue mission, composed not entirely of humans, must rescue the children—and a secret that may save the rest of interstellar civilization.
by Charles Stross – 2005
It is the era of the posthuman. Artificial intelligences have surpassed the limits of human intellect. Biotechnological beings have rendered people all but extinct. Molecular nanotechnology runs rampant, replicating and reprogramming at will. Contact with extraterrestrial life grows more imminent with each new day.
Struggling to survive and thrive in this accelerated world are three generations of the Macx clan: Manfred, an entrepreneur dealing in intelligence amplification technology whose mind is divided between his physical environment and the Internet; his daughter, Amber, on the run from her domineering mother and seeking her fortune in the outer system as an indentured astronaut; and Sirhan, Amber’s son, who finds his destiny linked to the fate of all humanity.
About the title: in Italian, accelerando means “speeding up” and is used as a tempo marking in musical notation. In Stross’s novel, it refers to the accelerating rate at which humanity in general, and/or the novel’s characters, head towards the technological singularity. The term was used earlier in this way by Kim Stanley Robinson in his 1985 novel The Memory of Whiteness and again in his 1992–96 Mars trilogy.
by Peter Watts – 2006
A derelict space probe hears whispers from a distant comet. Something talks out there: but not to us. Who should we send to meet the alien, when the alien doesn’t want to meet?
Send a linguist with multiple-personality disorder and a biologist so spliced with machinery that he can’t feel his own flesh. Send a pacifist warrior and a vampire recalled from the grave by the voodoo of paleogenetics. Send a man with half his mind gone since childhood. Send them to the edge of the solar system, praying you can trust such freaks and monsters with the fate of a world. You fear they may be more alien than the thing they’ve been sent to find—but you’d give anything for that to be true, if you knew what was waiting for them. . . .
by Aldous Huxley – 1932
Both Brave New World and 1984 saw dystopian futures, but Huxley seems to have gotten much of it right (though Orwell did nail the surveillance state). According to social critic Neil Postman:
“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism… Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.”
by Arthur C. Clarke – 1953
It looks like a good deal at first: a peaceful alien invasion by the mysterious Overlords, whose arrival ends all war, helps form a world government, and turns the planet into a near-utopia. However, they refuse to answer questions about themselves and govern from orbiting spaceships.Clarke has said that the idea for Childhood’s End may have come from the numerous blimps floating over London during World War II.
by Octavia E. Butler – 1984
In ancient Africa, a female demigod of nurture and fertility mates with a powerful, destructive male entity. Together they birth a race of madmen, visionaries, and psychics who cling to civilization’s margins and back alleys for millennia, coming together in a telepathic Pattern just as Earth is consumed by a cosmic invasion. Now these new beings—no longer merely human—will battle to rule the transfigured world.
by Frank Herbert – 1965
Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, who would become the mysterious man known as Muad’Dib. He would avenge the traitorous plot against his noble family and bring to fruition humankind’s most ancient and unattainable dream.
Dune is the world’s best-selling science fiction novel of all time, and often described as The Lord of the Rings of science fiction. If you’ve never read a science fiction book before, don’t start here, but make it your fifth.
by Isaac Asimov – 1951
Psychohistory is one of Asimov’s best inventions: using a combination of history, psychology, and statistics, one can accurately predict the behavior of large groups of people.
Foundation covers the beginning of the Galactic Empire’s collapse, and one man’s plan to reignite civilization after years of barbarism.
Asimov’s characters tend be one-dimensional, but his stories are so entertaining that it’s easy to forgive that lapse.
by Kurt Vonnegut – 1985
Narrated by a ghost that watches over the million-year evolution of the last group of humans on the planet, Galápagos questions the merit of the human brain from an evolutionary perspective.
Some critics consider it one of Vonnegut’s worst novels, but I strongly disagree. It’s funny, clever, and asks questions most post-apocalyptic books skip.
by Dan Simmons – 1989
Few science fiction books can claim to use the same structure as The Canterbury Tales and still be kick-ass sci-fi, but Hyperion pulls it off.
On the world called Hyperion, beyond the law of the Hegemony of Man, there waits the creature called the Shrike. There are those who worship it. There are those who fear it. And there are those who have vowed to destroy it. In the Valley of the Time Tombs, where huge, brooding structures move backward through time, the Shrike waits for them all. On the eve of Armageddon, with the entire galaxy at war, seven pilgrims set forth on a final voyage to Hyperion seeking the answers to the unsolved riddles of their lives. Each carries a desperate hope—and a terrible secret. And one may hold the fate of humanity in his hands.
by Harlan Ellison – 1967
Pissing off science fiction writers everywhere, Ellison wrote the story “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” in a single night in 1966, making virtually no changes from the first draft. He won a Hugo award for it, too. Bastard.
by Stephen Baxter – 1999
This is hard SF—lots of science and what one reviewer called “mind candy,” but not much character development.
The year is 2010. More than a century of ecological damage, industrial and technological expansion, and unchecked population growth have left the Earth on the brink of devastation. As the world’s governments turn inward, one man dares to envision a bolder, brighter future. That man, Reid Malenfant, has a very different solution to the problems plaguing the planet: the exploration and colonization of space. Now Malenfant gambles the very existence of time on a single desperate throw of the dice. Battling national sabotage and international outcry, as apocalyptic riots sweep the globe, he builds a spacecraft and launches it into deep space. The odds are a trillion to one against him. Or are they?
by Charles Stross – 2013
The year is AD 7000. The human species is nearly extinct—for the fourth time—due to its fragile nature.
Krina Alizond-114 is metahuman, descended from the robots that once served humanity. She’s on a journey to the water world of Shin-Tethys to find her sister Ana. But her trip is interrupted when pirates capture her ship. Their leader, the enigmatic Count Rudi, believes that there’s more to Krina’s search than meets the eye.
He’s correct: Krina and Ana each possess half of the fabled Atlantis Carnet, a lost financial instrument of unbelievable value—capable of bringing down entire civilizations. Krina doesn’t know that Count Rudi suspects her motives, so she accepts his offer to get her to Shin-Tethys in exchange for an introduction to Ana.
And what neither of them suspects is that a ruthless body-double assassin has stalked Krina across the galaxy, ready to take the carnet once it is whole—and leave no witnesses alive to tell the tale…
As always, Stross feels like the smartest guy in the room, pushing the boundaries of identity and humanity while offering up what may be the first epic tale of futuristic macroeconomics.
by Samuel R. Delany – 1968
Given that the suns of Draco stretch almost sixteen light years from end to end, it stands to reason that the cost of transportation is the most important factor of the 32nd century. And since Illyrion is the element most needed for space travel, Lorq von Ray is plenty willing to fly through the core of a recently imploded sun in order to obtain seven tons of it. The potential for profit is so great that Lorq has little difficulty cobbling together an alluring crew that includes a gypsy musician and a moon-obsessed scholar interested in the ancient art of writing a novel. What the crew doesn’t know, though, is that Lorq’s quest is actually fueled by a private revenge so consuming that he’ll stop at nothing to achieve it.
by John Scalzi – 2005
The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets that are fit to live on are scarce—and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So we fight, both to defend Earth, and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, and unyielding.
Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity’s resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Force. Everybody knows that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don’t want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living. You’ll be taken off Earth and never allowed to return. You’ll serve two years at the front. And if you survive, you’ll be given a generous homestead stake of your own, on one of our hard-won colony planets.
On his 75th birthday John Perry did two things: First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the CDF. He has only the vaguest idea what to expect, because the actual fight, light-years from home, is far, far harder than he can imagine—and what he will become is far stranger.
by Peter F. Hamilton – 2004
The human race has had wormhole technology for over 300 years and has colonized several hundred planets.
Over one thousand light-years away, a star . . . vanishes. It does not go supernova. It does not collapse into a black hole. It simply disappears. Since the location is too distant to reach by wormhole, a faster-than-light starship, the Second Chance, is dispatched to learn what has occurred and whether it represents a threat. In command is Wilson Kime, a five-time rejuvenated ex-NASA pilot whose glory days are centuries behind him.
Hamilton’s exhilarating new opus proves that “intelligent space opera” isn’t an oxymoron.
– Publisher’s Weekly
by Iain M. Banks – 1988
Iain M. Banks is my second-favorite SF author (after Stanislaw Lem), and The Player of Games was my first Banks book, so I’m always happy to recommend it.
The Culture – a human/machine symbiotic society – has thrown up many great Game Players, and one of the greatest is Gurgeh. Jernau Morat Gurgeh. The Player of Games. Master of every board, computer and strategy. Bored with success, Gurgeh travels to the cruel and incredibly wealthy Empire of Azad, to try their fabulous game…a game so complex, so like life itself, that the winner becomes emperor. Mocked, blackmailed, almost murdered, Gurgeh accepts the game, and with it the challenge of his life—and very possibly his death.
by Alastair Reynolds – 2000
Alastair Reynolds’s first novel is “hard” SF on an epic scale, crammed with technological marvels and immensities.
One man probes a galaxy-wide enigma: why does space-faring humanity encounter so few remnants of intelligent life?
“Reynolds’s vision of a future dominated by artificial intelligence trembles with the ultimate cold of the dark between the stars.”
by Larry Niven – 1970
Ringworld is considered a science fiction classic, and it won the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards while spawning three sequels and four prequels.
An expedition’s goal is to explore a ringworld: an artificial ring about one million miles wide and approximately the diameter of Earth’s orbit (which makes it about 600 million miles in circumference), encircling a sunlike star. It rotates, providing artificial gravity that is 99.2% as strong as Earth’s gravity through the action of centrifugal force. The ringworld has a habitable, flat inner surface equivalent in area to approximately three million Earth-sized planets. Night is provided by an inner ring of shadow squares which are connected to each other by thin, ultra-strong wire.
by Jack Vance – 1950
Another classic on this list, Tales of the Dying Earth is an omnibus volume comprising all four books in the dying Earth series: The Dying Earth, The Eyes of the Overworld, Cugel’s Saga, and Rialto the Magnificent.
A fascinating, baroque tale set on a far-future Earth, under a giant red sun that is soon to go out forever. Note that these books are also classified as fantasy.
by Ursula K. Le Guin – 1974
Le Guin’s won the Hugo Award, Nebula Award, Locus Award, and World Fantasy Award, each more than once, but she wasn’t always successful. From 1951 to 1961 she wrote five novels, which publishers rejected because they seemed inaccessible (The Dispossessed isn’t one of those five).
Shevek, a brilliant physicist, decides to take action. He will seek answers, question the unquestionable, and attempt to tear down the walls of hatred that have isolated his planet of anarchists from the rest of the civilized universe. To do this dangerous task will mean giving up his family and possibly his life. Shevek must make the unprecedented journey to the utopian mother planet, Anarres, to challenge the complex structures of life and living, and ignite the fires of change.
by Hannu Rajaniemi – 2010
Jean le Flambeur gets up in the morning and has to kill himself before his other self can kill him first. Just another day in the Dilemma Prison. Rescued by the mysterious Mieli and her flirtatious spacecraft, Jean is taken to the Oubliette, the Moving City of Mars, where time is a currency, memories are treasures, and a moon-turned-singularity lights the night. Meanwhile, investigator Isidore Beautrelet, called in to investigate the murder of a chocolatier, finds himself on the trail of an arch-criminal, a man named le Flambeur….
Indeed, in his many lives, the entity called Jean le Flambeur has been a thief, a confidence artist, a posthuman mind-burglar, and more. His origins are shrouded in mystery, but his deeds are known throughout the Heterarchy—from breaking into the vast Zeusbrains of the Inner System to stealing rare Earth antiques from the aristocrats of Mars. In his last exploit, he managed the supreme feat of hiding the truth about himself from the one person in the solar system hardest to hide from: himself. Now he has the chance to regain himself in all his power—in exchange for finishing the one heist he never quite managed.
by H.G. Wells – 1895
A great old classic that invented the phrase “time machine.”
Just don’t watch the modern movie, because that ends in a fistfight for some reason.
by Paolo Bacigalupi – 2009
Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen’s Calorie Man in Thailand. Undercover as a factory manager, Anderson combs Bangkok’s street markets in search of foodstuffs thought to be extinct, hoping to reap the bounty of history’s lost calories. There, he encounters Emiko. Emiko is the Windup Girl, a strange and beautiful creature. One of the New People, Emiko is not human; instead, she is an engineered being, creche-grown and programmed to satisfy the decadent whims of a Kyoto businessman, but now abandoned to the streets of Bangkok. Regarded as soulless beings by some, devils by others, New People are slaves, soldiers, and toys of the rich in a chilling near future in which calorie companies rule the world, the oil age has passed, and the side effects of bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe.
I linked to this post from reddit, and got some excellent suggestions (some more polite than others) about books that should have been on this list:
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25 Best Far Future Science Fiction Books
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