Whether or not you come from an academic science background, particularly in engineering or physics, there’s a lot to love about hard science-fiction.

This sci-fi subgenre draws its tension and what-if scenarios from believable, technically-detailed information and speculation, making some of these tales just as thrilling and realistic as NASA’s first lunar landing.

Whether dealing with faster-than-light technology, sentient computers, or genetic experimentation, hard sci-fi builds its worlds in a credible and awe-inspiring manner. They may not be light reading, but if you’re seeking a dose of mind-blowing fiction, then look no further.

Here are the top 10 best hard science fiction books of the genre:

1. ‘Rendezvous with Rama’ by Arthur C. Clarke

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This 1973 novel’s plot is something out of a Hollywood blockbuster: an enormous and impossibly fast alien vessel appears near Jupiter, and shows no signs of slowing down as it approaches the Sun.

When a team of human explorers is dispatched to investigate the ship, they find an abandoned world beyond understanding, an ocean populated by organic machines, and humanity’s first glimpse of life beyond the stars. Instead of focusing on an intergalactic war, Clarke used Rendezvous with Rama to highlight the intrigue and unknowable nature of distant life forms.

2. ‘Blindsight’ by Peter Watts

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Most acclaimed hard sci-fi works have been around for decades, but Blindsight, a 2006 release featuring space-faring vampires and uploaded consciousness, redefined the genre as a latecomer. Blindsight features a decidedly varied ship crew that’s ordered to make contact with an alien race, and along the way, Watts explores the changing nature of humanity, the value of being “conscious” versus merely alive, and the implications of transcending the need for physical bodies. As far as first contact novels go, Blindsight is a must-read hard science-fiction book.

3. ‘The Forever War’ by Joe Haldeman

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For the conscripted soldiers of Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War, space travel is alive and well. There’s only one catch, however: time dilation. With every high-speed “jump” through space, time passes ten, twenty, or even a hundred times slower for those onboard the ships.

After only one campaign against the distant Tauran species, most of the novel’s soldiers return home to deceased families and a world that has advanced beyond measure during their absence. War can be difficult to pull off in hard sci-fi, but Haldeman sells this universe with his emphasis on the unfeeling and dehumanizing impact of a high-tech conflict. The Forever War is one of the best sci-fi books to read.

4. ‘Gateway’ by Frederik Pohl

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Most sci-fi novels aren’t told from the inside of a psychiatrist’s office, but Gateway’s nail-biting conclusion makes this setting perfectly understandable. The travelers in Pohl’s story are the pioneers of a cryptic alien transportation system – a station known as Gateway – that was constructed by the long-gone, advanced species known as the Heechee.

There’s no telling what lies on the other side of the titular Gateway, however. The novel is one part intrigue, one part adventure tale, and ten parts sheer terror, making it one of the best science fiction books of all time.

5. ‘Foundation ’ by Isaac Asimov

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Even those who aren’t familiar with Asimov’s writing have probably seen the film I, Robot, which toyed with some of Asimov’s famous laws for sentient machines. Foundation has a broader scope to its storytelling, linking five short stories together for an unforgettable and cerebral experience. Asimov wove everything from collective thinking to wars spanning thousands of years into this sprawling sci-fi classic, and even if the writing can be dense to work through, there’s a rewarding story to be found within its pages.


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