Most science fiction is irreligious — in most sci-fi stories, religion is simply not there. Some books, however, are implicitly or explicitly atheist: some have atheist characters, and some revolve around the conflicts of atheists with religious believers and religious institutions.
The following are the best atheist sci-fi novels that I can think of. I’m sure there are other good ones, and I’ll add them to the list as I discover them. If you have any favorites not listed here, please leave a comment about them.
The links in the following listings all go to reviews on this site.
Iain M. Banks
- Surface Detail (2010). A wonderful far-future novel dealing in part with the sheer viciousness of many religious believers.
- The rest of Banks’ “Culture” novels, all of which are set in a far-future explicitly atheist setting. Religion pops up only when there’s an “outbreak” of it somewhere.
G. Richard Bozarth
- Bible Tales for Ages 18 and Up (2014). A very funny, very revealing retelling of well known stories from one of the original, though very poorly plotted, fantasy novels. (Full disclosure: See Sharp Press published this one.)
- The Crucible of Time (1983). An inspiring novel about the rise of science and its eventual triumph over religion in an alien society.
- Protectorate (1985). Deals with cults in the context of authoritarian government. Not one of Farren’s better novels, but worth reading if you can find a copy for a buck or two.
- Their Master’s War (1987). An entertaining page-turner concerning militarism, imperialism, and religious manipulation.
- The Armageddon Crazy (1989). An all too timely and at times very funny novel about a fundamentalist takeover of the U.S. government. Probably Farren’s best sci-fi novel.
- Galactic Rapture (2000). Deals almost entirely with the harmful effects of religious belief, irrationality, and gullibility. The high points are the detailed descriptions of “psychic” scams.
James P. Hogan
- Code of the Lifemaker (1983). Very entertaining, very funny. A sharp look at a questioning attitude and rationality vs. credulousness and irrationality, with some sections exposing how “psychics” gull their victims. Probably the best sci-fi novel ever written about the conflict between science and religion, and definitely the funniest.
- The Immortality Option (1995). The sequel to Code of the Lifemaker. Well worth reading, but only after reading Code of the Lifemaker. It’s almost as funny as its predecessor.
- The Night Sessions (2008). A perceptive near-future look at the menace of fundamentalism.
- Intrusion (2012). A frighteningly plausible dystopian novel of an all-pervasive surveillance state. A modern 1984. The protagonists are both atheists, and the novel in part revolves around their conflicts with religious “nutters” and religious privilege.
- Blameless in Abaddon (1996). This is more fantasy than science fiction, but it’s worth including nonetheless. The second book in Morrow´s Godhead trilogy, Blameless in Abaddon revolves around the unstinting efforts of a terminally ill cancer patient to put God on trial at the Hague for crimes against humanity. Very dark but very funny. (I’ve read the other two books in the trilogy and would not recommend them; fortunately, Blameless in Abaddon works as a stand-alone novel.)
- Mind Game (1980). Science fiction related but not science fiction, this is sci-fi author Spinrad’s insightful treatment of a barely disguised Church of Scientology, and one of the best novels about cults ever written
- Kalki (1978). A terrifying look at religious fanaticism and the use of biological WMDs.
- Live from Golgotha (1993). A very funny short novel about time travel and live TV coverage of the crucifixion of J.C.
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