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These novels will feed your extraterrestrial obsession with pitch-perfect plots and captivating interstellar worlds.
Alien stories, and science fiction as we currently know it, have a long history. American publisher Hugo Gernsback is often credited with creating the genre (the famous Hugo Awards are named for him!) in 1920, meaning we’ve been crazy for scientific wonderment for at least the last hundred years. And while science fiction itself has lots of subgenres—space opera, steampunk, Westerns, and more—there’s a special place in American pop culture for aliens.
Whether we’re talking about benevolent beings like E.T. or the horror-inducing thrill ride of Alien, extraterrestrials are a common theme of science fiction, and the well of inspiration doesn’t seem to be drying up any time soon. From dressing up in alien-themed Halloween costumes to binging alien movies deep into the night, we can’t get enough of this particular thrill. And much of that inspiration comes from our books. So we rounded up 20 can’t-miss alien books for the extraterrestrial obsession in all of us. From new favorites like Andy Weir’s Project Hail Mary to the forever-classic Alien, these alien-focused books will help feel your craving for all things interstellar. Whether you prefer to binge hard science fiction or humorous escapes, this list is sure to have an alien book for everyone.
We’ve all been waiting anxiously for the next book by The Martian author Andy Weir, and Project Hail Mary delivers! Ryland is the sole survivor of a last-chance mission—with the fate of Earth itself hanging in the balance. Except Ryland can’t remember a thing. All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a long time. He just woke up and now has to figure out an impossible scientific mystery and save humanity, and he’s completely alone. Or is he?
The New York Times bestselling author Christopher Paolini has returned with the story of Kira, who has spent her whole life dreaming of new worlds. But on a routine mission to an uncolonized planet, she finds an alien relic. Then the ancient dust around her begins to move. But first contact isn’t what Kira bargained for, and the events that unfold will push her in ways she never envisioned.
April is walking through the city one day when she stumbles upon a gigantic sculpture that looks like a Transformer mixed with a Gundam. So she does what any person would do: She takes a video of it and posts it online. Only, April is the first one to post proof of this new alien life-form—a Carl—and she’s an instant celebrity. April now has to deal with the consequences her newfound stardom has created, and everyone wants her to answer the biggest question of all: What do the Carls want from us?
Two years ago, the Ilori invaded Earth. Today, 17-year-old Ellie lives in an Ilori-controlled center in New York City, where emotional expression can get you killed, so music, art, and books are illegal—and Ellie’s secret library is a risk that could cost her her life. When an Ilori commander finds it but can’t bring himself to turn her in, the two run for their lives with a bag of books and their favorite albums in tow.
You may have seen the movie, but did you know that the Alien universe started in book form and spans numerous titles and spinoff series? Start with the original, Alien, which tells the story of a crew woken from a cryogenic sleep because of mysterious signals coming from an unknown planet. The crew answers the distress signal, but when they reboard their ship, they won’t be alone…
This gritty young adult spinoff of the Alien franchise follows the story of Olivia and her twin sister Viola, who have traveled all over the universe with their parents, xenobiologists who research obscure alien biology. But when the family settles on a new planet, they discover an alien threat unlike anything they’ve ever seen.
Carl Sagan’s Contact is a beloved book and film that explores the topics of faith, family, and science. When Ellie discovers a signal from far beyond our solar system, she will join a multinational team of scientists trying to find the source—no matter the risk to themselves.
A fan favorite and multi-award-winning series, Binti is the story of an extraordinary girl who leaves her home to attend a prestigious university, an interstellar journey that becomes an entirely different kind of trip when the spaceship is attacked, leaving Binti completely alone. Now living on a ship full of the beings who murdered the crew, Binti will have to use all her smarts to find a way to survive.
The fate of the world is literally in the hands of a teenager. In We Are the Ants, Henry is given an ultimatum by the aliens who have routinely abducted him over the years: The world will end in 144 days. All Henry has to do to stop it is push a big red button. But life hasn’t been great for Henry. Does he want to push the button? Contemplating the question thoroughly and logically, he begins to look for pros and cons…
Annihilation is the first book in the Southern Reach Trilogy, a Nebula Award–winning novel about a place known as Area X. The first expedition into Area X returned with a description that rivaled Eden; the second ended in mass suicide; the third stopped when its members turned on one another….Now on expedition 12, the all-female group sets off to map the terrain, observe their surroundings, and, most of all, avoid being mysteriously changed by Area X itself.
After the Internet breaks the story that aliens have landed on Earth, the military, religious leaders, thieves, and more attempt to control the message. Humanity’s best hope is an alien ambassador, a biologist, a rapper, a soldier, and a myth. The Guardian says Lagoon mixes the traditional tropes of science fiction—”first contact with visitors from the stars—with African magical realism to create a lyrical, poetic mash-up examining social deprivation, religious excess, and the power of story on our lives.”
The acclaimed award-winning series by science fiction master Octavia E. Butler starts with Lilith’s Brood, the story of Lilith. While mourning the death of her family, a war destroys the Earth. Centuries later, she is resurrected by powerful unearthly beings called Oankali. Driven by the need to heal others, the Oankali rescue Earth by merging with mankind. But Lilith—and humanity— must now share the world with the alien creatures: their children.
The Three-Body Problem is another award-winning book with aliens at its center, written by one of China’s premiere science fiction authors. During China’s Cultural Revolution, the military attempts establish contact with aliens—and they succeed, creating a plan to invade Earth. But back on Earth, not everyone can agree on how to handle the invading force.
In Extraterrestrial, Harvard’s top astronomer explains his controversial theory that our solar system was visited—recently!—by advanced alien technology. Extraterrestrial takes readers inside the story of the first interstellar visitor to be spotted in our solar system—and its profound implications.
A Goodreads Choice award finalist, The Lives of Tao is the story of out-of-shape Roen, who woke with strange new voices in his head and assumed (like we all would!) that he was losing it. Only he wasn’t. An ancient alien life-form called Tao had taken up residence in his brain. Tao is part of an alien presence in the middle of a civil war, as the two sides fight to decide how best to get off Earth fastest. Naturally, Roen has to start training to be the ultimate secret agent. Let the hijinks ensue!
A stalwart classic, The War of the Worlds is the story of a Martian invasion of Earth, when huge creatures land and chaos erupts. The only question is: Will mankind survive?
Ted Chiang’s spellbinding short story that became the basis for the film Arrival was first published as part of a larger collection called Stories of Your Life and Others. In it, he explores the story of a linguist who is hired to help communicate with a group of aliens in order to learn their intentions. But her new knowledge of their language changes not only her perception of the aliens, but the entire way she views and interacts with the world, the past, and her own future.
A truly groundbreaking work of science fiction and multi-award-winning story, The Left Hand of Darkness is Usula K. Le Guin’s tale of the planet of Winter, a world without sexual prejudice and a place where gender is fluid. A visitor arrives with the goal of helping Winter join together with a growing intergalactic civilization. But first, he’ll have to confront his own views and emotions regarding this alien-to-him culture, so different from his own.
Ran Bradbury is a regular on high school reading lists with Fahrenheit 451, and The Martian Chronicles is worth a read as well. It tells the tale of humanity’s attempts to colonize the red planet, and all the dreams, diseases, and desires that accompany our attempts.
In 2380, the graduates of Aurora Academy get their first missions, and Tyler is ready to pursue his dreams. Instead he’s stuck with a sarcastic diplomat, a sociopath scientist, an arrogant tech whiz, an angry alien warrior, and a tomboy pilot. But their biggest problem isn’t each other’s attitudes. It’s Aurora. Trapped in cryo-sleep for centuries, Aurora is the key to a war millions of years in the making. And Tyler’s squad just found her.