Science fiction can take romance to new, mind-blowing heights. Just think of Han and Leia, Spock and Uhura, or Battlestar Galactica’s Starbuck and Apollo. Love stories set in alien worlds or futuristic sci-fi universes not only give us #AllTheFeels, they also deliver plenty of high-stakes action and thrills.
The twelve sci-fi romance books below represent some of our favorites in the sub-genre. Try one out next time you’re looking for a love story that will catapult you to another planet or dimension—even if it’s only in your head (and heart).
The Dancer from Atlantis
When Duncan Reid books a fancy cruise vacation, he gets much more than he bargained for. In fact, he never makes it to his destination, but is accidentally transported to 4000 BCE by a glitchy time machine. He isn’t the only one to find his or herself displaced: a 4th-century Hun, a medieval Russian, and a beautiful priestess named Erissa are in the same predicament. In order to return to their respective time periods, these wayward travelers must become active players in the doomed world of Atlantis. But is Duncan willing to risk his life for an era where there is no Erissa?
In this start to a four-book space saga, we’re introduced to Tess—sister to a powerful ruler of the Chapalii alien empire—who seeks a fresh start on the planet Rhui. Shortly after arriving, she meets the Jaran people, who have roots stretching back to the days of Earth’s independence. But as she slowly falls for their leader, Illya, their growing relationship is tested by the impending war. Will Tessa betray her brother and support the Jaran campaign? Or will she remain loyal to her blood, and turn her back on the man she’s come to love so deeply?
This 1982 cult classic has been praised by everyone from John Updike to The New Yorker, who called it “the perfect novel.” After a lonely housewife learns of a sea monster's escape from a local facility, she sees the creature walk through her own door—and, eventually, into her welcoming arms. The two begin a passionate affair that heals past wounds and gives them hope, though the possibility of discovery is a constant threat to their relationship. Quirky but heartwarming in its exploration of love, loss, and freedom, Mrs. Caliban is a must-read for fans of The Shape of Water.
Time After Time
Constance O'Day-Flannery was a pioneer of sci-fi romance books, being one of the first to write time travel love stories. In Time After Time, widowed Kelly is putting her life back together when she's suddenly thrown into the post-Civil War era. In New Orleans, she encounters Daniel, who looks remarkably like her late 20th-century husband. Adding to the oddness is the fact that Kelly looks like Daniel’s late spouse, too. But could all of this simply be a figment of Kelly’s distressed imagination? Or is her relationship with Daniel based in reality—and do they have a future together? Nora Roberts gave high praise to O’Day-Flannery’s time-traveling romances, saying, “She proves that love is timeless.” We agree!
Linnea Sinclair is one of the most popular authors of sci-fi romance, and this RITA-nominated novel is one of her best. While fixing her starfreighter, Tribly is inconvenienced in the most unexpected way—a military officer, Rhis, falls straight out of the sky. Though he's a Zafharin, Rhis defies all of Tribly's expectations—especially when they're forced into a shared fight for survival. But in trying to evade their enemies, will Tribly and Rhis ever confront the growing attraction between them?
If you’re still not quite sold on Finders Keepers, an Amazon review of the book described the main pairing like this: “Imagine Han Solo is a woman and Darth Vader isn’t really evil and isn’t more machine than man.” Now we’re talking!
Love and Gravity
Readers of unconventional love stories will adore Love and Gravity, which Library Journal praised for its "high romantic notes" and “novel explanation for the development of calculus.” Since she was a child, Andrea has watched a mysterious boy through a crack in her bedroom wall. As her affection increases over time, she comes to realize that he not only returns her feelings—but that he’s actually a young Isaac Newton. When he begins writing letters to Andrea, somehow passing them through the veil of time, their love only intensifies. But how can two people separated by the laws of physics hope to have a happy ever after?
Released as a multi-part serial, Angel Payne’s Bolt Saga is a perfect pick if you’re hot for superheroes. Emmalina is working at a hotel when she has a steamy night with Reece Richards, her boss and the bad-boy-son of a family dynasty. Their chemistry is like lightning in a bottle, but Reece is more than an accomplished lover—unbeknownst to Emmalina, he’s the superhero, Bolt, too. Enjoy their sizzling romance while you’re waiting for the next episode of The Flash.
Illona Andrews is actually a husband and wife team known for their bestselling fantasies. But in this second book of their Kinsmen series, they reach for the stars. Shipped off to a new planet, Claire must hide her status as a “psycher”—someone who can harm others with her mind—if she hopes to survive in such foreign surroundings. Too bad these surroundings also include Venturo Escana, a man who shares Claire’s dangerous gifts. But when Venturo becomes her boss, Claire will find that concealing her talents is as difficult as concealing her most ardent desires…
Naked in Death
Penned by Nora Roberts under the pseudonym J.D. Robb, the massive In Death series is what Entertainment Weekly calls “Law & Order: SVU—in the future.” Set in the year 2058, the first installment sees Eve Dallas, a tough New York detective, investigate a series of grisly murders. Things get more complicated as she gets closer to the wealthy Roarke, a man who’s not only her prime suspect—but who's also pretty darn irresistible. The ensuing sexual tension is truly toe-curling (what else can you expect from a romance superstar?), but fans of science fiction and suspense will find the world-building and plot especially riveting.
In the mood for an erotic alien romance? You'll get it in this steamy novel, which stars a woman who's abducted by the nefarious Anzon...On their planet, Ariel becomes the prize in a battle between males of a lesser alien race—one of whom is the formidable warrior, Ral. When he emerges as the victor, he expresses in no uncertain terms that he means to claim Ariel, body and soul, forevermore. But as their relationship burns hotter than any day on Venus, these two lovers must also face the challenges of living in a world that doesn’t respect their freedom.
Shards of Honor
Shards of Honor is the second book in Lois McMaster Bujold’s award-winning Vorkosigan Saga. It also happens to be one of the most romantic installments of the series: When survey captain Cordelia is taken prisoner by a Barrayan ship commander, she finds herself taking on the galaxy’s endless dangers at his side—and falls in love along the way.
In the year 2139, Tedra—a gorgeous but virginal Amazon—roams the stars, searching for a way to overthrow her misogynistic home government. Ironically, she stumbles upon a planet full of gruff, ignorant barbarians, where she unsuccessfully duels the sexy Challen Ly-San-Ter. Now at the mercy of his every wish, Tedra’s quest to save her planet takes a 30-day bedroom detour, during which Challen takes her places she’s never gone before. And no, we’re not talking about other galaxies.
Published in the 1990s, Warrior's Woman is the sort of old-school romance that takes us to the days we stole paperbacks from our mom's nightstand.
This post is sponsored by Open Road Media. Thank you for supporting our partners, who make it possible for The Portalist to continue publishing the stellar stories you love.
Featured photo: Cover of Bolt: Volume 3, by Angel Payne