Frightening Worlds: The 20 Best Sci-Fi Horror Books

Science fiction and horror are, and I’m truly sorry for this, an out-of-this-world combination (hold the applause). It’s one of the classic genre bends, making that horror we would usually experience in a relatively safe, familiar place like Earth, but hurl it into the void of space for that extra spice.

Frightening Worlds: The 20 Best Sci-Fi Horror Books

These books will keep you on earth in future cities or on the edge of an unknown galaxy. Some will keep you guessing with anticipation and horror, while others will have you laughing at the ridiculous splatter. These terrors of science are some of the best sci-fi scares put to page.

Death Troopers by Joe Schreiber

Death Troopers: Star Wars Legends

We’re starting accessible with one of the most fun combinations to come out of the Star Wars Legends canon. A ship on the verge of breakdown finds a derelict star destroyer with seemingly all the crew gone. Only after getting deep into the ship does the crew realize the real danger at play.

Zombies meet Star Wars in a fun twist that’s thrilling from start to finish and features everyone’s favorite Star Wars duo of smugglers. There’s also a prequel novel called Red Harvest that explains the origin of the story’s Blackwing virus.

Buy it on Amazon

The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

The Luminous Dead: A Novel

A not-so-honest woman lies on her resume to get a job mapping unexplored cave systems on a distant planet, all guided in a suit that restricts her movements and is kept going by a handler above ground. This is isolation horror and paranoia at its finest with a little creature feature mixed in to tie everything together.

It’s also some of the most claustrophobia a book has made me feel in years.

Buy it on Amazon

The Girl With All The Gifts by Mike Carey

The Girl With All the Gifts

Fungal zombies are so in right now. Carey’s story of a young girl in post-apocalyptic Britain takes the zombie idea and puts a fun spin on it, with different levels of zombies able to maintain their intellect and reasoning ability outside the need to consume flesh.

The book goes through every range of emotions as humans try desperately to find a cure for the fungus while the main character, a young infected girl named Melanie, finds her abilities to control the other infected. It’s one of the more interesting takes on the zombie genre and the ending took me by surprise.

Buy it on Amazon

Blindsight by Peter Watts

BLINDSIGHT (Firefall, 1)

Blindsight takes some of everything and throws it into one wild spaceflight of a novel. After some alien intelligence makes contact with the earth from an unknown comet, humanity sends waves of probes and finally a ship of researchers to investigate the comet, eventually making contact with alien kind.

This would be a standard sci-fi if it wasn’t for one of the ship’s crew being a vampire and various other strange additions that all manage to work in sync and make one of the coolest, existentially dreadful sci-fi stories since 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Buy it on Amazon

Feed by Mira Grant

Feed (Newsflesh Book 1)

Feed presents itself as a traditional post-apocalyptic zombie novel before getting into the real sci-fi of things, with a near-future version of the world in 2040 and how society and technology evolved along with the virus.

Feed’s undead plague was brought about by humans bioengineering cures for cancer and the common cold, but the twist here is that everyone is infected and the virus is simply waiting for “amplification” which can be any time. Plus, the virus spreads to all mammals, leading to a pretty brutal horse zombie later in the story. 

Grant’s likable characters anchor the entire thing, bringing heart as blogger Georgia fights to unearth a global zombie conspiracy. There’s biting political satire along with sci-fi and bloody undead horror to round everything out.

Get the book on Amazon

The Void by Brett J Talley

The Void

Almost Lovecraftian, The Void focuses on a group of astronauts after humanity has discovered hyperspace travel, which requires travelers to sleep. That sleep though leaves anyone under it vulnerable to dreams that can do as much harm to you as an eldritch madness.

One of those “journey into the abyss” stories that satisfy that space exploration itch with a combo best described as Event Horizon meets “The Jaunt” by Stephen King.

Buy it on Amazon

The Cipher by Kathe Koja

The Cipher

There’s an urge that overtakes every human when we find a deep hole in the ground, and that urge is to throw something in and listen for the sound of it hitting bottom. What if said object never hits the bottom though?

Koja’s The Cipher is a classic, with strange characters and an interesting twist on the unexplained doorway trope. Just try not to giggle every time they call the portal the “Funhole” like I did.

Buy it on Amazon

Leech by Hiron Ennes


I love a fun paranoid thriller, especially in the vein of The Thing. Leech gives the paranoia of “the monster could be anyone” combined with a cold, unfeeling medical school for a setting. There’s something gothic and dreadful about the entire mood of the book, but that’s before the kill count racks up and Ennes hits the gas hard.

Buy it on Amazon

Dead Silence by SA Barnes

Dead Silence

Space salvage crew takes on one last job that could save their business, only to find an abandoned luxury galaxy cruise with no sign of life. It’s not a Futurama episode, and it’s way more terrifying.

It’s a classic ghost ship tale with an amazing sci-fi update to it, with equally terrifying cosmic terrors behind the disappearances on the ship.

Buy it on Amazon

Hyperion by Dan Simmons


Hyperion could easily be a space opera to rival Star Wars and Dune if anyone would give it the proper care. There’s so much going for it here on just the sci-fi adventure front that you almost get lost when looking at the horror of the world.

The Shrike is easily one of the most terrifying characters in science fiction, and one of the coolest examples of a techno-organic monster in any fiction. The horror may not be present all the time, but this is something that doesn’t need to be missed by anyone.

Buy it on Amazon

Bioshock: Rapture by John Shirley

Bioshock - Rapture

The Bioshock video game is a classic, and this prequel is no different. John Shirley brings Rapture to life from the original idea in Andrew Ryan’s dream after World War 2 up to the underwater city’s bloody, drug-induced collapse. It’s at once a tragedy and philosophical horror about man’s folly and playing God. 

Buy it on Amazon

We Have Always Been Here by Lena Nguyen

We Have Always Been Here

Paranoid androids, waking nightmares of madness-inducing terror, and cabin fever in a failing ship on an alien planet. A lot is going on here and it’s packed into one pressurized ship that could pop at any moment.

The book is tense and gives an even worse sense of that closed-in feeling with the ship used for the main setting having no windows to look outside. It becomes a game throughout the book of “are we seeing the truth?”

Buy it on Amazon

Terra Formars by Yu Sasuga

Terra Formars, Vol. 1 (1)

You will not be prepared for anything Terra Formars throws at you. Humans trying to terraform and colonize Mars with a combo of algae and roaches return to the planet years later to find the roaches have evolved and mutated into massive, deadly monsters. What follows is a saga of the desperate fight to claim Mars for humanity.

Terra Formars became a quick classic when it was released, and nailed the perfect combo of space and horror that so few mangas have done. The violence is bloody, nobody is safe, and anything can happen.

Game of Thrones doesn’t even measure up to the kill count here.

Buy it on Amazon

Contagion by Erin Bowman

Contagion (Contagion, 1)

Contagion is one of the few books that gave me the same creeping dread and tense fear every time someone turned a corner. It reminded me of the old survival horror games I would stay up late to play on my Playstation as a kid like Resident Evil (Did you know that there are Resident Evil books? Find out more here). 

There’s the typical “search and rescue goes wrong” story at the core, but it changes and sets itself apart with an actual contagion and alien virus as opposed to monsters. The sequel is good too but veers more into intergalactic thriller than horror.

Buy it on Amazon

Hell Divers by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Hell Divers

Hell Divers is a really cool futuristic sci-fi horror. Taking place two hundred years after World War III when, surprise, humanity completely ruined the earth and the last remnants live on massive airships in the sky. The thing is most of the airships have already fallen apart and the last two could go any day.

That’s where the Hell Divers come in, specially trained individuals that skydive down to the planet’s decimated surface to scavenge for supplies. There’s a whole series of ten so far, with each one expanding the lore and worldbuilding for a terrifying vision of a future where earth in itself is a deathtrap.

Buy it on Amazon

Ship of Fools by Richard Paul Russo

Ship of Fools

I’m urging everyone who can to go into this book completely unspoiled. I promise it’s worth it, and you’ll never guess where the story is going to go next. Themes of class struggle underlie most of the first half, focusing on the mystery of an alien planet found by a wandering ark of humanity.

That’s pretty much all I can give away without any other spoilers. It’s simultaneously like Snowpiercer’s commentary on the class divide mixed with the sci-fi horror influenced by everyone from Ridley Scott to David Cronenberg. It’s a favorite, and in my opinion an absolute must-read.

Buy it on Amazon

The Running Man by Stephen King

The Running Man

Sure, he wrote it under the Richard Bachmann pen name, but King released some of the most influential works of dystopian sci-fi horror under the pseudonym.

The Running Man is nothing like the old movie, giving instead a scathing critique of capitalism, the class divide, and the American media’s habit of sensationalizing and glorifying violence. The book still follows one man who enters the titular Running Man television show, which challenges players to survive as long as possible while encouraging the entire country to kill them for a bounty. There’s a 99% chance this will never be adapted faithfully to a film due to the ending.

That said, I can’t NOT mention another of his Bachman books, The Long Walk. A dystopian United States with a yearly contest that the military dictatorship deems as entertainment, making teenage boys walk across the country without stopping, killing those that do. It’s a terrifying psychological horror and a quick read that may leave you feeling sick and hollow. Worth it.

Buy it on Amazon

Death Warrant by Bryan Johnston

Death Warrant

Take the basic premise of The Running Man with a reality show that pays big but the contestant is assassinated on live television. Anytime, anywhere. The book follows a new contestant, using the show as a way to help clear her brother’s debt while agreeing to the Death Warrant.

Did I mention contestants have their memories wiped after signing the warrant? So they have no idea they’ve signed themselves up to die, no idea someone is out there, watching, broadcasting and waiting for the perfect moment to assassinate.

Buy it on Amazon

Hellstar Remina by Junji Ito

Remina (Junji Ito)

A new planet appears at the edge of the solar system, baffling researchers and most of humanity as the newly-named Remina is visible to all. This would be a neat scientific discovery except Remina is steadily making its way toward earth, devouring any planets it comes across on the way.

Ito’s artwork is both beautifully intricate and grotesquely weird at the same time. The story follows Remina, whose father first discovered the planet and named it. Humanity reverts to violence so quickly when the true nature of the planet is discovered, leading to terrifying cosmic horror.

Buy it on Amazon

The Skinner by Neal Asher

The Skinner (Spatterjay)

I would read an entire textbook of the lore and worldbuilding around Asher’s Spatterjay series. An alien world covered in water, terrifying monsters inhabiting said planet, and humanity confined to a single, domed city. The entire world has a history to it, with the initial novel picking up 700 years after a massive war.

One of our main characters is a survivor of that war, hunting down the criminal that committed vile war crimes. There are two other protagonists in this entry too, and the series is classic pulpy sci-fi within a terrifying galaxy hostile to humans.

Buy it on Amazon

Whether it’s in the cold void of space or just our normal world suddenly beset by strange events beyond our earth (sounds familiar), these sci-fi horrors should give you that terror of the yet-to-be-known.

Frequently Asked Questions

What makes a sci-fi horror?

A lot of things can. Whether it just be surviving a futuristic, post-apocalyptic world, or facing some terror that intersects. between machine or man-made, or isolation in the cold, unfeeling void of space. Odds are if there’s a science fiction setting, there’s a pretty fertile soil for horror to bloom in.

Where did sci-fi horror start?

There’s always been some variation on sci-fi, but most can agree the first major instance of sci-fi horror is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in 1818. It’s grown from there into the massive genre it is today.

Who would be the best sci-fi horror writers to start with?

I still really enjoy the classics like Richard Matheson and Ray Bradbury. Both were innovative in their time but had some fantastic sci-fi horror that was both subtly progressive and downright terrifying. A recommendation is The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street by Rod Serling or any of The Twilight Zone scripts or adaptations.

YouTube video
Ross Tyson