Let’s look at some books focusing on different worlds and alien ecosystems with completely different laws and ways of society. I’ve made a small list of the best Sci-Fi books with exotic ecosystems.
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1. Dune by Frank Herbert
Heir to the noble Atreides family, Paul was meant to take over the unhospitable planet his family rules. The only thing of value on this planet is the ‘spice’ melange which is the most coveted thing in the galaxy as it can extend a person’s life.
But, when his family gets betrayed, he is forced to flee and abandon his father to embark on a journey to become the most powerful man in the galaxy and attain mankind’s oldest dream.
2. The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin
Essun was living an ordinary life in a small town until her husband killed their son and kidnapped their daughter. The same day two more tragedies occurred that shook the entire world.
The mighty civilization Sanze fell in one day as most of its citizens were killed, and a great red rift was torn in The Stillness spreading ashes throughout the world and darkening the skies for decades to come.
A war breaks out between nations, not for wealth or land but for the basic resources necessary for survival. But, none of that matters to Essun as her only goal in life now is to save her daughter while the world falls apart.
3. Hyperion by Dan Simmons
Humans have spread throughout space and one of the planets they now live on is Hyperion.
On Hyperion lives a creature called the Shrike. Some people worship him and his power, some fear him, and some have vowed to destroy him. In the Valley of the Time Tombs, he waits for them all.
A Consul of Hyperion is ordered to join five other people on a pilgrimage to the Time Tombs to visit the Shrike. He joins a priest, a soldier, a scholar, a detective, a poet, and the captain of a giant time-traveling tree. On their journey, they tell their stories and their connection to the Shrike
4. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin
Genly’s mission is to travel to an alien planet called Gethen and persuade its government to join humans in a galactic alliance called the Ekumen Union.
This would have been an easy job for him if only the Gethenians weren’t so different from him and everything he knew. There is no concept of gender among them and they would only grow a reproductive organ for a small period of time each year.
If he wants to complete his mission, he must first understand them. Fortunately, his new Gethian friend can help him.
5. Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer
It has been decades since Area X has been cut off completely from the rest of the world. Scientists sent an expedition to study the area and if it’s ready to be reclaimed. They described Area X as a pristine utopia.
But, the second expedition they sent committed mass suicide after coming back. The members of the third one turned on each other and hailed gunfire. Every team they sent died one way or another including the eleventh team which died of cancer weeks after coming back.
We follow a group of women who will be the twelfth team to enter Area X. Their mission is to map the terrain, collect data about the area, and make sure not to die.
6. Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Most of humanity has perished. What remains has left a dying Earth on a spaceship looking for a new home. Fortunately, they find an old world that was terraformed for human survival and was later abandoned.
But, the world isn’t exactly how humans left it. There are new masters of the planet and they’re not happy about their visitors. Both sides would do anything to claim the planet as their own.
As the two civilizations collide, what does fate have in store for the last hope of humanity? Who will be the next heir to this new world?
7. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
Humans finally have proof of an alien life when a listening post picks up what seems to be singing from a distant planet.
While nations debate on how to make the first contact with the life on the planet they now call Rakhat, the society of Jesus has already organized an eight-person mission to the planet. The believers of Jesus soon find a world beyond their comprehension.
Will they get the answers they seek to the age-old questions of God, religion, and what it means to be humans?
8. The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin
The One Who Walk Away From Omelas is a short story by Ursula K. Le Guin. It raises the question, Is the happiness of every inhabitant of a peaceful kingdom more important than the suffering of one innocent kid?
For reasons unknown, the kingdom is peaceful and everyone is happy only because one kid is chained up in a dark place, malnourished, covered in its own feces, waiting for death.
Everyone has accepted it and would rather the child suffer than them. But, there are still some people who think of the child and decide to walk away from such happiness.
9. A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge
A human civilization called Qeng Ho discovers an alien species they call Spiders because of the similarities between the two. They see this as an opportunity for new scientific discoveries, but they’re not the only ones who know about Spiders.
Another civilization called Emergents is also interested in them and they have something the Qeng Ho don’t, superhuman with concentration power comparable to the best computers, and their plans are far more sinister than the Qeng Ho can imagine.
The two civilizations are on a collision course. Which one will emerge victorious?
10. The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin
This is the third book by Ursula K. Le Guin on this list as she was one of the best Sci-Fi authors and most of her books focus on an exotic ecosystem.
Set in the far future, Terrans have taken over a new planet and its local inhabitants called Athshe who rely on & respect the forest, and have no concept of war or slavery.
The Terrans take their land, turn them into slaves, and destroy their forests until an act of rebellion finally takes place.
11. House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds
Millions of years ago, Abigail Gentian created thousands of male and female clones of herself and called them the Shatterlings. They all have very long life spans and over the years, they all drifted apart. Even though they all look similar, their experiences in life make them completely different people.
Campion and Purslane are two shatterlings who meet and fall in love with each other. They share forbidden experiences and wish to have a life together, but then, someone starts hunting down all the shatterlings scattered throughout space and killing them.
Before they become the killer’s next target, they must find out who exactly wants them dead and why.
12. Dragon’s Egg by Robert L. Forward
Humans discover a neutron star and on it, they find a life form. They named this star Dragon’s Egg and the alien species, the Cheela.
Scientists make contact with the Cheela but time flows differently on Earth and the star. One hour for humans is hundreds of years for them. Humans observe as they evolve from beings savages to learning about science and making discoveries.
They build religions, wage wars, kill each other, build civilizations, and for a brief moment, humans become their teachers.
13. Semiosis by Sue Burke
Humans are fleeing from a dying earth and they are forced to land on a planet they’re not prepared for. They first try to co-exist with the sentient plant life, then with an alien race that has already colonized the planet.
The planet is more bizarre than they imagined as it gives edible and healthy fruits one day and poisons the other. They also find ruins of an ancient civilization entwined in the roots of a strange alien plant.
The novel follows different generations of humans as they make first contact with an alien race that may be much smarter than them.