Best 21st Century Hard Science Fiction Novels

Best 21st Century Hard Science Fiction Novels

Hard science fiction is a sub-genre of sci-fiction that exists within the realm of possibility. Characterized by an emphasis on realism, scientific accuracy, and technical detail, these are stories that are extensively researched and thoroughly fact-checked and whisk you away on epic adventures without bending any rules. If you roll your eyes every time a novel gets its science and facts wrong, we guarantee you'll love the novels on this list.

1. Blindsight by Peter Watts (2006)


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The discovery of a mysterious, distant comet broadcasting radio signals to an unidentified destination, just months after thousands of large, coordinated alien objects of unknown origin go up in a blaze in the Earth's atmosphere, suggests an undeniable extraterrestrial presence. It is 2082, and a motley crew of astronauts - a linguist with multiple personality disorder, a biologist who is part machine, a man with half his brain removed, and a vampire resurrected from the grave using the science of paleogenetics - is sent to the outer reaches of the solar system investigate the comet. The fate of the world rests in the hands of this ragtag group of astronauts and hinges on their discovery. Blindsight is one of the most critically acclaimed hard science fiction novels of recent years, it is a dark, gripping, and disquieting novel that probes themes of free will, artificial intelligence, evolution, biology, identity, and consciousness, and has been a finalist for multiple prizes within the genre, including the Hugo Award, the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, and the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.

2. Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds (2000)

Revelation Space

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Written by Alastair Reynolds, an author with a PhD in astronomy and several years of experience under his belt working for the European Space Agency, Revelation Space is set in the eponymous fictional universe which is the setting for a number of his novels and short stories. The novel follows the story of Dan Sylveste, an archaeologist who is determined to uncover the truth behind the cataclysm that wiped out the ancient Amarantin civilization nine hundred thousand years ago. Set in a future version of our world where dramatically advanced technology exists, the story is deeply compelling with its engaging characters and its epic plot. Revelation Space was nominated for the 2000 BSFA and the prestigious Arthur C. Clarke Award.

3. The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu (2014)

The Three Body Problem

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Set against the backdrop of China's Cultural Revolution, Cixin Liu's Three-Body Problem is a novel of enormous scope and ambition. It follows the story of a secret military project attempting to communicate with extraterrestrials by sending signals into space, only to be intercepted by an alien civilization on the verge of extinction. As the alien civilization decides to invade and conquer Earth, the human race is divided into factions, as some plan to welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world they see as decadent and corrupt, and others prepare to resist the invasion. Widely praised and celebrated as one of the best examples of hard science-fiction, this is the only Asian novel to have won a Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2015. The Three-Body Problem was also shortlisted for the 2014 Nebula Award for best novel.

4. Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge (2006)

Rainbow's End

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Winner of the 2007 Hugo Award for Best Novel, Rainbows End is the embodiment of hard-science fiction. Grounded in reality, this novel is set in the near-future in San Diego. The year is 2025 and technology has advanced by leaps and bounds, allowing 75 year old Robert Gu to recover from Alzheimer's disease. As he recuperates, Robert must struggle to adapt to a new world where everything is connected and networked, where homeland security monitors your every move, and where the virtual and real are intertwined. The novel explores augmented reality, belief circles, future-shock, technology-shock, and the security versus privacy conundrum. Increasingly relevant in a world with rapidly developing tech, this is a read every science fiction fan will thoroughly enjoy.

5. Seveneves by Neal Stephenson (2015)


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When an apocalyptic event results in the disintegration of Earth's moon into seven pieces and threatens all life, the humans are thrown into an urgent and harrowing struggle to survive, terraform Earth, and build a new society from scratch. The novel focuses on subjects such as astronomy, astronautics, biology, genetic engineering, and is replete with moral dilemmas, insurmountable odds, and grand scale politics. With an intense focus on hard technical details and complex ideas, Neal Stephenson's Seveneves is a thoughtful and imaginative book that will forever change the way you think about the future.

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