As we swing through a disorienting sequence of COVID-related isolation, then opening up, then back to hunkering down again, I’ve found myself enjoying more and more science fiction stories of survival and self-reliance.
Beyond being exciting reads, these stories remind me of what I have—including food, easy communication with friends, and lots of entertainment. And they also make me grateful for what I don’t have to deal with—including vampires, killer clones, or wearing an EVA suit every time I want to go outside.
Read on for five great novels of separation and survival.
The Martian by Andy Weir
When astronaut Mark Watney revives on the surface of Mars, he realizes he’s been left for dead and he’ll need to survive—by himself, with very little food—for years before rescue. Oh, and he has no way of telling NASA that he’s alive. As Watney solves an endless stream of potentially deadly problems, you’ll appreciate the simple joys of calling a friend or listening to music other than disco.
Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty
In Muir’s SF thriller, people can resurrect in a clone of themselves after they die, with their memories of their former life intact. But when Maria awakens in her cloning vat on her spaceship, three things are immediately alarming: she seems to be missing decades’ worth of her memories, she can’t remember how she died, and she’s surrounded by the bloody, dead bodies of her crew mates. And as the other clones awaken, it becomes clear that someone among them is a murderer who plans to strike again. Few things are lonelier than being surrounded by people you can’t trust.
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
Matheson’s book—turned into a very different film starring Will Smith—sets a single survivor against the vampires who have taken over his town. Robert Neville strings garlic around his house, sharpens stakes, and occasionally ventures out during the daytime to gather more supplies. But he never goes out at night. Being alone has never seemed so hopeless. A great read perfect for when you’re annoyed with family you’ve seen way too much—or when you take Amazon Prime Video or Netflix for granted. (Neville has to set up a movie projector every time he wants film entertainment in this novel set in 1976.)
The Last One by Alexandra Oliva
Contestants in a reality TV show are dropped off in a remote location and expected to find their way back to civilization. But as they each battle through the wilderness, catastrophe hits the rest of the world, truly cutting them off. But none of them know it. There’s an especially chilling scene in this book that I’ve never shake when the main character enters a town and believes that the TV show has staged a disaster just to see how she’ll react. The result will haunt you as much as it does her.
Beacon 23 by Hugh Howey
In Beacon 23, an unnamed protagonist works at one of the deep-space beacons that safely guide spaceships to their destinations. Haunted by actions he took during the still-continuing war against aliens, the protagonist has sought isolation to battle his own demons of depression and PTSD. Bare vulnerability, flashes of humor, and the sense that all might not be as it seems make this an emotionally riveting page-turner. If you liked Hugh Howey’s Wool, do not pass up reading Beacon 23.
With killer clones and apocalyptic events, these science fiction novels put their isolated protagonists through the wringer.