Sci-fi & fantasy books

I read a lot of sci-fi and fantasy books. Exploring fictional universes – with different rules and realities – not only helps me to relax, but also helps me to think about how our world could be different.

Stretching my imagination in unexpected directions helps me when I’m developing ideas, content and strategies. It’s creativity fuel.

My favourite books are those which explore unique ideas or perspectives, and which changed my perspective or thinking as a result. Here are some of the highlights (in no particular order).

Children Of Time series by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Children Of Time, by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Follows the evolution of a species of spider-like creatures to accelerated sentience following a botched terraforming attempt. Incredible and unique perspective over multiple generations as the species and individuals mature to dominate their planet and become a space-faring race. Sequels go deeper, further, and broader to explore other species, concepts of identity, and more.

The Malazan Book Of The Fallen series by Steven Erikson

An enormous fantasy epic, which brutally and unforgivingly omits any kind of exposition whatsoever – but in exchange provides some of the most in-depth high-fantasy I’ve ever read. Develops from small-scale swords-and-sorcery into a race for ascension to godhood, and culminates in an interplanetary magical war between interdimensional beings.

The Ember War by Richard Fox

A sci-fi war to protect the last of humanity and an alliance of dwindling races from an overwhelming incursion into our galaxy from trillions of seemingly invulnerable alien drones. Balances hack-and-slash, hand-to-hand marine combat with darker undertones of what it means to be human, and how far we should compromise those values, as a species, in order to survive.

The Game Is Life series by Terry Schott

What if everything we experience is just part of a simulation? Starts off lightly, and gets very deep; with some of the most challenging ideas (and the biggest spoiler/surprise) I’ve ever read in fiction. Discovering universes-within-universes and exploring questions around multiple identities and the nature of ‘self’ is just the beginning.

The Red Rising series by Pierce Brown

Described as “Ender’s Game meets The Hunger Games”, the series is a sci-fi extravaganza that follows one man’s journey to tear down a society built on a rigid class system from deep within it, whilst avoiding becoming everything he hates.

The Shadows Of The Apt series by Adrian Tchaikovsky

A world populated by city-states where the inhabitants have skills, powers and capabilities modelled after insect species; as an unfolding industrial revolution challenges the decline of magic. A story woven throughout a global conflict as the imperialistic wasps and their subjugated allies march across the world, thwarted only by the industrious beetles and their fragmented resistance – all underpinned by a darker war between technology and magic.

The Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson

A fantasy epic with a unique magic system, where powers and abilities are granted based on the ingestion of different types of metals. Some excellent twists, and gets deeper and darker as side-stories and the subsequent trilogies explore more of the universe(s).

The Painted Man series by Peter V. Brett

The only defence against the demons which arise from the earth each night to terrorise humanity are the magical wards that we inscribe and maintain around our towns and villages. One man’s discovery and newfound ability to fight back changes everything leads to the gradual revelation of the inner workings of the demon society – revealing a much deeper truth.

The Syncronicity War series by Dietmar Wehr

Humanity is losing an interstellar war until we start receiving visions from the future, which shift the course of events in our favour. It becomes apparent that, at some point in the future, both sides in the war develop the ability to send messages back in time – requiring them to develop strategies to fight in both time and space, and across multiple realities.

The Nightside series by Simon R Green

A private eye operates out of the Nightside; an alternate reality London created by Lilith as an immutable space outside of the control and influence of heaven and hell. Often cheesy and gimmicky, but jam-packed with fascinating ideas, concepts, and plot twists.

The Godslayer series by James Clemens

Set in a world where 100 immortal gods carved out and rule territories in relative stability until one of them is killed, in a plot to disrupt the status quo. Magic and science are powered by the bodily fluids of gods; blood, sweat and tears (and beyond) are harvested, distilled, and used in everything from medicine to industry.

The Black Prism series by Brent Weeks

The Black Prism, by Brent Weeks

Set in a world where magic and technology are based on the ability of individuals to manipulate different colours of light, amid an unfolding civil/religious war. Has some slow moments, but the scope is enormous, and the twist in one of the later books completely resets your whole perspective and lends a dark lens to the whole series.

The Crystal Singer trilogy by Anne McCAffrey

Crystal powers technology, communication, travel, and society. It’s mined, uniquely, by ‘crystal singers’ on the world of Ballybran. Crystal singing is dangerous, addictive, and erodes memory and personality. The heart-breaking trilogy follows the life and experience of Killashandra Ree as a crystal singer and addict.

The Farseer Trilogy (and following trilogies) by Robin Hobb

One of the richest, most immersive fantasy series I’ve ever read. Unashamed to admit that these books filled my heart with joy and moved me to tears more than once.

The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson

An enormous fantasy epic set between warring nations, in a richly constructed world. Loads of depth to the magic system, religion, and societies. More swords, sorcery and societal exploration than you can shake a hefty series of novels at.

The Dark Intelligence Trilogy (or pretty much anything) by Neal Asher

Evil aliens, rogue AIs, space marines and body horror combine in an incredibly dark, addictive, and Lovecraftian universe. Compelling reading, rich characters, and writing which delivers addictive, can’t-put-down thrills. These are the best books in a much larger universe, which you may wish to read from the beginning.

The Gentlemen Bastards series by Scott Lynch

A surprisingly deep, rich and compelling yarn of thieves, con men and continual one-upmanship. Itinerant and delightful, with spatterings of whodunnit, swords, sorcery, politics and more, all in perfect balance.

The Broken Earth series by N.K. Jemisin

The Fifth Season drops the reader into a society that is as turbulent as the earthquake-riddled, post-apocalyptic world it inhabits. A subtle blend of fantasy and science fiction leaves you yearning to know more about how this broken world works. As good as the hype would have you believe.

Honourable mentions

  • The Skyward series, where a struggling colony of human survivors looks to the stars.
  • The Bear and The Nightingale. Dark Russian folklore at its finest.
  • The ‘Silo’ series, where a dystopian society subsists in an underground bunker, following an armageddon event.
  • The ‘Bobiverse’ series, where the simulated personality of a tech entrepreneur becomes a von Neumann probe.
  • The Moth Saga, where a world-stopped-spinning creates two distinct cultures; of night, and of day.
  • To Your Scattered Bodies Go, where the whole of humanity finds itself resurrected in small groups on an alien planet, alongside an infinitely long winding river.
  • The Vampyricon – A dark, Lovecraftian vampire trilogy (somewhat off-piste from my usual preferences, but unexpectedly good), exploring a war throughout the Dark Ages between forces from beyond the vale of reality. A great balance of high-concept fantasy, and sword-and-sorcery romp.
  • Dogs Of War – A fun exploration of what happens when bio-engineered, cyborg dog soldiers wonder if there might be more to life than killing.
  • The Cradle series, where ‘sacred artists’ practice magical skills, and ‘level up’ as they progress. In the background, an intergalactic war rages between gods and demons.
  • The Tide Child Trilogy, where condemned pirates try to eke out survival on ships made from the bones of dead dragons.