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The Best Sci-Fi Books of All Time

Kathy Edens
Copywriter, ghostwriter, and content strategy specialist
Published Aug 08, 2019

The Essential SciFi Reading List

When you hear Sci-Fi, do your normally think of J.R.R. Tolkien, H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, Jules Verne, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, or George Orwell? Or do some more recent authors come to mind?

We culled some of the biggest reader polls from Goodreads and National Public Radio’s Books. The following top 25 best Science Fiction books ever published were voted on by thousands of devoted science fiction readers. Click on any title below to go to its Goodreads page if you want to know more.

1. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien

A must read if: you love an epic quest and fantastical characters.

Frodo the hobbit and his companions set out on an epic quest to destroy the Ring of Power and restore peace to middle earth. Made into a hugely popular motion picture, The Lord of the Rings trilogy stands the test of time and sets the bar for all fantasy/sci-fi.

2. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

A must read if: you want to meet some of the funniest and original aliens in the universe.

First in this comedy sci-fi series, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy follows Arthur Dent in his adventures through the galaxy. As the only survivor after Earth is destroyed to make way for an intergalactic bypass, Dent runs into a motley cast of aliens including Zaphod Beeblebrox, President of the Galaxy, and Marvin the depressed android.

3. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card

A must read if: you love the in-depth strategy of space wars.

In this 1985 military sci-fi novel, Ender Wiggin is a genius who gets drafted to Battle School to train for the interplanetary war against the alien Buggers. Card creates a multi-layered world full of fascinating alien technology.

4. Dune, Frank Herbert

A must read if: you love delving deep into the politics and factions of interstellar noble houses.

Set in the distant future, where life and culture revolve around the use and exchange of the spice melange. Dune follows young Paul Atreides, heir of House Atreides, and explores the complex politics, religion, ecology, and technology among the many factions vying for control of the spice trade.

5. A Song of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin

A must read if: you loved the HBO series and want to go deeper.

No list would be thorough without the Game of Thrones saga. Get drawn into the world of the royal Stark family, the Lannisters, and the Neverborn demons, barbarian hordes, and other threats.

6. 1984, George Orwell

A must read if: the ubiquity of technology and government surveillance concerns you.

A futuristic society where a totalitarian government watches over all citizens and orchestrates all activities. With themes of nationalism, censorship, and surveillance, the story is just as relevant today as it was when it was published in 1949.

7. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

A must read if: you've ever been horrified by someone wanting to ban a book.

Television dominates and books are outlawed. Sounds like a nightmare, but this popular book is still touted as a favorite. One fireman whose job it is to start fires begins to see the value of printed works.

8. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley

A must read if: you've ever worried about technology controlling the masses.

A classic prophetic novel, Brave New World describes the horrors of a future world with no individual freedom at all—one where material comfort and physical pleasure provided by drugs and sex are the only concerns.

9. Animal Farm, George Orwell

A must read if: you want to experience the greatest allegory ever written.

Animals on a farm overthrow their human owners and set up a deeply flawed government that seems weirdly familiar. An interesting and engaging critique of the Russian Revolution of 1917, every kid still has to read Animal Farm in high school.

10. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov

A must read if: you love world-saving intrigue and intergalactic coup d'etats.

A band of psychologists led by psychohistorian Hard Seldon, plan a colony that encourages art, science, and technology on the declining Galactic Empire to preserve mankind’s knowledge. The plan is to build Foundations that will reduce the Dark Age from 30,000 years to 1,000 years.

11. Neuromancer, William Gibson

A must read if: you want to know where the terms "cyberspace" and "the Matrix" came from.

Case, a burned-out computer whiz, steals a security code locked in the most heavily guarded databank in the solar system. Neuromancer is complete with the rise of megacorporations and Cold War espionage, military conspiracy and sociopathic hologram creators, and much more.

12. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein

A must read if: you want to challenge your social and cultural norms.

Valentine Michael Smith, born and raised on Mars, comes to Earth and stuns Western culture with his superhuman abilities. Mike has a claim to legal ownership of Mars, which makes him a valuable commodity to Earth's government.

13. Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut

A must read if: you want to understand the effects of war and get a few laughs at the same time.

Billy Pilgrim returns home from World War II only to be kidnapped by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore, who teach him that time is an eternal present. Billy travels back and forth in time, visiting his birth, death, all the moments in between repeatedly and out of order.

14 Kindred

A must read if: you want a complex story that is part slave memoir, part fantasy, and part historical fiction.

A young black woman living in 1970s California suddenly and inexplicably finds herself in 1815 on a slave plantation in Maryland. When she saves a white child from drowning, she realizes that he is her ancestor and, even though he grows into a despicable, slave-owning man, she must protect his life if she ever hopes to be born.

15. The Handmaid’s Tale

A must read if: you are terrified by the prospect of men controlling women's reproductive systems.

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead, which was once the United States. Gilead is now an oppressive world where women may not read and are valued only as long as they are viable for reproduction.

16. 2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke

A must-read if: you're interested in intelligent people who care about intelligence.

2001: A Space Odyssey follows two astronauts on their journey into space and how their lives are jeopardized by the jealousy of their computer, HAL. A tense showdown between man and machine results in a mind-bending trek through space and time.

17. The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins

A must read if: you love young adult literature with a revolutionary appeal.

Katniss Everdeen takes the place of her sister in the Hunger Games where tributes from each of the world's 12 districts fight against each other until only one stands alive at the end. Katniss must weigh her own survival against love.

18. Ready Player One, Ernest Cline

A must read if: you're interested in films and games from the 1980s.

Wade Watts feels best when he’s in the virtual world called OASIS. He tries to solve its creator’s complicated game to win the ultimate prize—and to confront the real world he wants to escape.

19. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.

A must read if: you don't see complicated issues in black and white.

Winner of the 1961 Hugo Award for Best Novel, A Canticle for Leibowitz takes a chilling and provocative look at a post-apocalyptic future. The Monks of the Order of St. Leibowitz attempt to preserve remnants of civilization.

20. The Time Machine, H.G. Wells

A must read if: you're interested in the relationship between space and time travel.

A British inventor creates a time machine that sends him far into the future, A.D. 802,701, where subterranean Morlocks prey on the childlike Eloi. The Time Machine is a warning that things don't always get better as time goes on; they just become different.

21. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne

A must read if: you want a futuristic (and often terrifying) undersea adventure.

Professor Arronax and his two companions are trapped abroad a fantastic submarine with the deranged Captain Nemo. They get to see exotic ocean creatures and strange sights hidden from those above.

22. The War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells

A must read if: you like your socks scared off by alien invasions.

The War of the Worlds was broadcast over radio in the U.S. Some people panicked when they thought real aliens from another planet were taking over Earth, not realizing it was Wells’ famous story.

23. Hyperion, Dan Simmons

A must read if: "a creature which defied physical laws and which communicated only through death" frightens or intrigues you.

Seven pilgrims undertake a voyage to the world of Hyperion. Dominated by a fearsome and mysterious creature, the Shrike, the pilgrims hope to learn the secret to save humanity.

24. I, Robot, Isaac Asimov

A must read if: you are worried about the "singularity", the point where artificial intelligence exceeds human capacity.

I, Robot shows the development of robots from their primitive origins to the present where their ultimate perfection in the not-too-distant future might render humanity obsolete.

25. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman

A must read if: you like military sci-fi that comments on why we need war and soldiers.

Private William Mandella is drafted into an elite military unit sent through space and time to fight the thousand-year conflict. As he tries to survive and return home, Mandella is aging months while the Earth he left behind is aging centuries.

26. Flowers For Algernon, Daniel Keyes

A must read if: you don't mind ugly crying while reading.

Experimental brain surgery makes a mouse into a genius. Then it works for dull-witted Charlie Gordon, who becomes intelligent and interesting, but soon the mouse begins to regress.

Contents:
  1. Editor’s Choice
  2. Conclusion

Editor’s Choice

Our list wouldn’t be complete without adding our top 5 editor’s choice books:

1. Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Haruki Murakami

A must read if: you love science fiction, detective stories, and post-modern manifesto all rolled into one.

Tracking one man’s descent into the Kafkaesque underworld of contemporary Tokyo, Murakami unites East and West, tragedy and farce, compassion and detachment, slang and philosophy.

2. A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle

A must read if: you love quantum physics, fractions, and megaparsecs.

Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and their new friend Calvin travel through space and time continuum. They're on a quest to rescue Meg and Charles's father who is being kept captive by evil forces. New movie coming in March 2018.

3. The Road, Cormac McCarthy

A must read if: you ponder the big questions like what does it mean to be "civilized"?

A father and son walk alone through burned America to reach the coast. Nothing moves, it’s cold and dark, and they have nothing but a pistol to defend themselves, the clothes they’re wearing, and a can of scavenged food.

4. The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger

A must read if: you haven't had a good cry in a while and need the emotional release.

Boy meets girl with a fantastic twist: he’s a time traveler who slips in and out of time. Henry and Clare meet each other throughout time as Henry pursues Clare until they’re finally in a place where their ages are right and they can marry. But time travel really takes it out of Henry.

5. The Chrysalids, John Wyndham

A must read if: you're at the stage of life wondering where you fit in this world.

This is a great way to bring older children to the genre. In this 1950s sci-fi classic, a fundamentalist Christian society believes any aberration from normality is a sign of blasphemy. When a group of children show signs of mutation in the form of telepathy, they must keep it a secret to avoid being banished or even killed.

Conclusion

Another long post, but it wouldn’t be complete if we left any of the above books out.

Let us know in the comments below if we missed your favorite Sci-Fi book. Or let us know if the book was better than the movie or vice versa.

Love reading? Check out these other book lists!

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Kathy Edens
Copywriter, ghostwriter, and content strategy specialist

Kathy Edens is a blogger, a ghost writer, and content master who loves writing about anything and everything. Check out her books: The Novel-Writing Training Plan: 17 Steps to Get Your Ideas in Shape for the Marathon of Writing and Creating Legends: How to Craft Characters Readers Adore... or Despise.

AE vanVogt, James Blish, Henry Kuttner, William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson, Karen Haber, Robert Silverberg, Pierce Brown, Neal Shusterman, WD Shipley, Alan E Nourse.
By methosorigins on 11 January 2018, 10:47 AM
And Frank Herbert and Isaac Asimov.
By methosorigins on 11 January 2018, 10:48 AM
Day of the Triffids All of Asimov
By Eileenb on 11 January 2018, 10:53 PM
Your list fails to include People of Color. Any list that fails to atleast include Octavia Butler is woefully lacking.
By bjjonesesquire on 12 January 2018, 02:51 AM
You are completely right - how could we have forgotten Kindred!? I'll add it now. Thank you.
By writersneed2 on 12 January 2018, 09:22 AM
Why is nothing from Iain M Banks on this list?
By Lewis1 on 12 January 2018, 08:41 PM
Seriously? Nothing by Dick, Simak, Moorcock, Gaiman, Pratchett?
By Em1234 on 28 February 2018, 03:03 PM
A lot of those will be included in an upcoming Fantasy list!
By writersneed2 on 28 February 2018, 03:33 PM
"The Lord of the Rings" and "A Song of Fire and Ice"? Not to be Mr. Picky, but those are in no way sci-fi. 🙂🙂🙂
By Hoosierfella on 31 May 2018, 05:03 AM
Lafferty's "Past Master" is a must read.
By dan12328 on 15 November 2018, 05:33 PM
The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis is an extraordinary tale of time travel in an academic setting. Exhaustively researched.
By Margaretlariviere2 on 18 November 2018, 08:22 PM
You obviously dont know the difference between SF and Fantasy.
By moor12 on 23 December 2018, 04:33 PM
Anything by Ursula Le Guin, especially The Left Hand of Darkness
By dufresnel on 10 May 2019, 02:46 PM
Hi! I just finished The City and the City by China Miéville. I've been reading sci-fi for over 6 decades, and though that this book ranks as one of the most brilliant concepts realized in writing that I've ever read.
By msnw07 on 21 June 2019, 06:41 PM
One of the best is The Demolished Man by Albert Bester. And yes, half of you list is either fantasy or anti-utopia/apocalypse books like Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale.
By margarita_1_20001 on 31 July 2019, 05:14 PM
Talking about People of Color (is this the latest eufemism? is asian people included?) latest addition Liu Cixin The Three-Body Problem
By margarita_1_20001 on 31 July 2019, 05:23 PM
And where is Stanisław Lem with his Solaris and Memoirs Found in a Bathtub
By margarita_1_20001 on 31 July 2019, 05:28 PM
I liked this list. Never long enough to satisfy everyone. I would consider Roadside Picnic by the Strugatskys.
By Carrielearn on 04 September 2019, 02:47 PM
You missed one: "Stand on Zanzibar" by John Brunner. This was written in the late '60s and won the Hugo for best novel. It's a unique work, using an updated version of the style created by John Dos Passos for his "USA Trilogy," in which Brunner present two narrative lines interspersed with chapters full of facts, media bit, commentary from a misanthropic sociologist, and snippets of the lives of other characters. It paints a detailed look at what the future might contain—a picture that is now astonishing in its accuracy. It also has one of the best closing lines of any novel I've read: sardonic, hilarious and perfect. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stand_on_Zanzibar
By JCarls on 04 October 2019, 01:42 PM