When you hear sci fi, do you normally think of H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, Jules Verne, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, or George Orwell? Or do some more recent authors come to mind?
In this article, we’ve compiled a list of the best science fiction books of all time. Happy reading!
How We Chose the Best Science Fiction Novels
To compile this list, we compiled some of the biggest reader polls from Goodreads and National Public Radio’s Books, which were voted on by thousands of devoted science fiction readers.
Best New Sci Fi Books of 2022
Science fiction is an old genre, but plenty of new writers are innovating and pushing the genre forward. Here are 15 of the best sci fi books of 2022.
1. A Desolation Called Peace, Arkady Martine
A must read if: you love epic space operas and explorations of alien cultures.
A Desolation Called Peace is the sequel to Martine’s spectacular debut A Memory Called Empire, which won the Hugo Award.
An alien armada is soon to breach the Teixcalaanli Empire. Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass must figure out how to communicate with aliens entirely different from anyone they’ve met before, or else risk the potential destruction of their empire.
2. Sea of Tranquility, Emily St. John Mandel
A must read if: you like character-driven books that blend literary fiction with time travel and metaphysics.
In Sea of Tranquility, Emily St. John Mandel deftly braids together three separate timelines: one in the Canadian wilderness in 1912, one in the 22nd century, and one in the distant future.
All three stories come together when a time traveler tries to discover the truth behind the strange anomalies that occur in each place and time.
3. Eyes of the Void, Adrian Tchaikovsky
A must read if: you love epic warfare set in space with the fate of the universe hanging in the balance.
The second book in Tchaikovsky’s The Final Architecture series, this space opera follows the Human Colonies who are under attack by the Architects. This book has everything you could want from an excellent space opera: interstellar travel, political wars, alien cultists, and everything in between.
4. How High We Go in the Dark, Sequoia Nagamatsu
A must read if: you want to process the pandemic through tender, character-driven stories.
In this series of vignettes, Nagamatsu paints a complex picture of a future society dealing with a pandemic. The darkest, strangest, and most tender aspects of human nature come to light in these brilliant stories.
5. A Prayer for the Crown-Shy, Becky Chambers
A must read if: you love cozy adventures with heart-warming characters.
The second book in Chambers’ Monk and Robot, A Prayer for the Crown-Shy follows Sibling Dex, a tea monk, and Mosscap, a robot, who journey together across the moon they call home to try to find philosophical answers about life and the universe.
This book is gentle, wholesome, and sweet.
6. The Candy House, Jennifer Egan
A must read if: you like thought-provoking fictional technologies.
Bix Bouton has invented a new technology, “Own Your Unconscious,” which allows you to access your memories and share them in exchange for access to the memories of others.
The Candy House explores the effects of this technology and what they say about privacy and intimacy.
7. The School for Good Mothers, Jessamine Chan
A must read if: you’ve ever been troubled by society’s restrictive norms for womanhood and motherhood.
On a particularly bad day, Frida Liu leaves her daughter at home unsupervised, which gets her sent to an institution that will teach her how to be a “good” mother. The School for Good Mothers is a chilling and timely read that examines societal norms in a new way.
8. The Kaiju Preservation Society, John Scalzi
A must read if: you like funny, fantastical adventures and strange creatures.
The Kaiju Preservation Society is an “animal rights organization” that protects animals from an alternate dimension. Scalzi brings together the best of science fiction, fantasy, and comedy in an exciting, genre-blending tale.
9. Dead Silence, S.A. Barnes
A must read if: you like horror stories and science fiction set in space.
Claire Kovalik and her crew pick up a distress signal in space and find the Aurora, a famous space-liner that vanished on its first voyage. As the crew explores the ship, they realize that something went very wrong. Dead Silence has been described as Titanic meets The Shining.
10. Tell Me an Ending, Jo Harkin
A must read if: you like Black Mirror and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
In Tell Me an Ending, thousands of people are shocked to learn that they once chose to have a memory erased from their minds, and now they have the opportunity to get that memory back.
This dystopian novel explores the consequences of leaving memories buried versus confronting them head-on.
11. Goliath, Tochi Onyebuchi
A must read if: you like science fiction that holds up a mirror to the racism and classism in our world.
In this powerful story, Onyebuchi explores a future where the rich have migrated to space colonies, forcing poorer, largely BIPOC populations to survive on an apocalyptic Earth. Goliath follows multiple characters as they search for meaning in a system that’s designed to push them down.
12. The Paradox Hotel, Rob Hart
A must read if: you like thrilling mystery stories and time-travel conspiracies.
The Paradox Hotel is an establishment where the rich can visit different eras of time, from the Jurassic Period to WWII and everything in between.
January Cole, the hotel’s head of security, must solve a murder on the hotel’s premises while ensuring nobody messes with the timeline.
13. Mickey7, Edward Ashton
A must read if: you like entertaining, witty stories with serious themes.
Mickey7 is an Expendable, a disposable employee sent on dangerous missions that nobody else is willing to undertake. Each time he dies, he gets put into a new body.
But when something goes wrong on a scouting mission and he realizes he’s been replaced by Mickey8, Mickey7 must figure out how to avoid dying for good.
14. Upgrade, Blake Crouch
A must read if: you like thrilling, fast-paced stories about genetic engineering.
Logan Ramsey’s genome has been hacked, causing his body to change in unexpected ways: he can concentrate better, read faster, and more. In order to defeat the enemy at hand, he’s going to have to become something other than human.
15. Hunt the Stars, Jessie Mihalik
A must read if: you like your sci fi with a side of romance.
Octavia Zarola and her bounty hunting crew accept a job for a price they can’t refuse. But they soon realize that they might be on the verge of starting a new war. This exciting sci fi romance is full of plot twists and found family.
Best Sci Fi Books of All Time
Now it’s time to look at some of the best sci fi books of all time. These classics have been beloved for generations.
1. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
A must read if: you like literature that examines the prejudices inherent in human psychology and society.
First published in 1969, The Left Hand of Darkness follows a human ambassador sent to a planet free of sexism, where all inhabitants have fluid genders and believe in fairer philosophies than human societies do.
Half a century later, this landmark novel is still considered one of the greatest science fiction masterpieces of all time.
2. 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, this classic science fiction novel is just as relevant today as it was when it was published in 1949.
3. The Hitch-Hiker’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 Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy follows Arthur Dent on 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.
This might be one of the funniest and wittiest books in the science fiction genre.
4. 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 child prodigy 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 and themes related to the consequences of prejudice and war.
5. 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.
6. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
A must read if: you've ever been horrified by someone wanting to ban a book.
In this 1953 dystopian novel, television dominates and books are outlawed. Sounds like a nightmare, but this controversial book is still a favorite.
One fireman, whose job it is to start fires, begins to see the value of printed literature. Profound and heart wrenching, Fahrenheit 451 is widely regarded as one of Ray Bradbury’s best works.
7. 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.
8. 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. This book is an interesting and engaging critique of the Russian Revolution of 1917.
Many high schools still require students to read Animal Farm, because it’s such a classic work of science fiction.
9. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov
A must read if: you love world-saving heroes and intergalactic coups.
A band of psychologists, led by psycho-historian Hard Seldon, plan a colony that encourages art, science, and technology on the declining Galactic Empire to preserve humankind’s knowledge.
The plan is to build Foundations that will reduce the Dark Age from 30,000 years to 1,000 years.
10. Neuromancer, William Gibson
A must read if: you want to know where the terms “cyberspace” and “the Matrix” came from.
A burned-out computer whiz steals a security code locked in the most heavily guarded databank in the solar system.
William Gibson’s Neuromancer is complete with the rise of megacorporations, Cold War espionage, military conspiracies, and much more.
11.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.
Stranger in a Strange Land is a classic critique of political systems and organized religion.
12. Kindred, Octavia Butler
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.
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, and all the moments in between repeatedly and out of order.
14. The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
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.
Thirty years after its publication, The Handmaid’s Tale remains terrifyingly relevant to American women today.
15. 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.
16. The Three Body Problem, Cixin Liu
A must-read if: you like science fiction that draws from real physics in creative ways.
In The Three Body Problem, Liu depicts a future where Earth is awaiting an invasion from the nearest star system, which consists of three stars that orbit each other. The Earth-like planet in this system is being juggled between all three stars, affecting the evolution of its civilizations.
This book was the first Asian novel to win a Hugo Award, and it is widely acclaimed as one of the best Chinese science fiction novels of all time.
17. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
A must-read if: you liked Bladerunner and want to read the original story.
In a world where androids are so sophisticated that it’s nearly impossible to tell them apart from organic humans, Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter, makes a living finding rogue androids and “retiring” them. But sometimes, the androids fight back.
This 1968 novel is a widely acclaimed masterpiece.
18. Cyteen, C.J. Cherryh
A must-read if: you like clone stories with deep, complex characters and themes.
Ariane Emory is a scientist and politician who runs a cloning research facility on Cyteen, the home planet of the Union. Her task is to create an army of genetically engineered soldiers for the Union.
Cyteen explores the nature of humankind and the ethics of cloning in a nuanced and deeply original story.
19. The City and the City, China Miéville
A must-read if: you like mind-bending genre-busters.
Inspector Tyador Borlú investigates a murder by traveling from Beszel to Ul Qoma. But the journey between these two cities is strange and terrifying. This genre-bending book lies somewhere on the edge between mystery, science fiction, and fantasy.
20. Shards of Honor, Lois McMaster Bujold
A must-read if: you like romance, comedy, and space operas.
The first full-length novel in the Vorkosigan Saga, Shards of Honor follows Cordelia Naismith, the captain of a survey ship, who gets marooned on a planet with Captain Lord Aral Vorkosigan.
Faced with deadly aliens, dwindling rations, and the differences between their societies, they will have to learn how to cooperate in order to survive.
21. Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
A must-read if: you like cyberpunk and want to read the book that coined the term “metaverse.”
In the real world, Hiro Protagonist is a pizza delivery driver, but in the Metaverse, he’s a hacker and a warrior prince. He has to discover the source of the drug “Snow Crash,” which is so powerful that it can reprogram your brain.
Published in 1992, Snow Crash was ahead of its time in predicting the effects of the internet and the metaverse on human psychology.
22. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, Becky Chambers
A must read if: you like heartwarming stories about misfits in space.
The first book in Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series, this book follows the ragtag crew of the Wayfarer and their adventures in deep space. This feel-good, character-driven novel is full of aliens and humans that you can relate to and root for.
23. Children of Time, Adrian Tchaikovsky
A must read if: you love ambitious first-contact stories and you’re not afraid of spiders.
Humankind has escaped a dying Earth to find a new home among the stars, and they find a world terraformed and ready for human life.
But a new race already lives here—intelligent spiders that have created complex technology. Children of Time is a story about what happens when two civilizations collide.
24. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
A must read if: you want to read one of the first books in the genres of science fiction and horror.
It’s hard to believe that Shelley wrote Frankenstein when she was only 18. This classic tale follows Dr. Victor Frankenstein who creates a monster in his lab. Shelley then explores the psychology of the monster as he realizes he’s all alone in the world.
Published in 1818, and widely acclaimed as the first science fiction book, Frankenstein not only created a new genre but also endures the test of time.
25. 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 change.
26. 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 aboard a fantastic submarine with the deranged Captain Nemo. They get to see exotic ocean creatures and strange sights hidden from those above.
Originally published in 1870, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea remains an exciting and relatable adventure.
27. The War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells
A must read if: you like your socks scared off by alien invasions.
In The War of the Worlds, aliens with advanced technology launch an invasion of Earth, threatening the future of humanity. An ordinary man and his brother fight to survive.
28. 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.
Ready Player One was one of the most well-reviewed books of 2011, captivating the hearts of thousands of readers, and was adapted into a Steven Spielberg film in 2018.
29. Red Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson
A must read if: you love the planet Mars.
Red Mars is the first novel in the Mars trilogy, which documents the settlement and terraforming of the red planet over the course of two centuries. Kim Stanley Robinson shows us how humans can establish a new cultural identity in a new environment.
30. 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.
31. Hyperion, Dan Simmons
A must read if: the phrase “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 called the Shrike, the pilgrims hope to learn the secret to save humanity.
32. The Road, Cormac McCarthy
A must read if: you ponder the big questions, such as what it means 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.
This post-apocalyptic science fiction novel is terrifying but profound.
33. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Haruki Murakami
A must read if: you love science fiction and detective stories rolled into one.
Tracking one man’s descent into the Kafkaesque underworld of contemporary Tokyo, Japanese writer Haruki Murakami unites East and West, tragedy and farce, compassion and detachment, slang and philosophy.
This 1985 novel won the Tanizaki Prize and is deeply imaginative.
34. The Chrysalids, John Wyndham
A must read if: you're at the stage of life wondering where you fit in this world.
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.
35. Solaris, Stanislaw Lem
A must read if: you like deep, philosophical stories about strange new planets.
Polish writer Stanislaw Lem explores deep philosophical questions in this 1961 novel. Solaris follows a team of humans on a space station trying to explore a planet with a strange, mysterious ocean.
Editor’s Top 5 Picks of Best Sci Fi Books
Our list wouldn’t be complete without adding our editor’s top 5 books:
1. A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle
A must read if: you want to learn about quantum physics on a level that even kids can relate to.
Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and their new friend Calvin travel through the space and time continuum. They're on a quest to rescue Meg and Charles“s father who is being kept captive by evil forces.
A Wrinkle in Time was one of my favorite books as a child, and continues to captivate children around the world.
2. The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin
A must-read if: you like extraordinary worldbuilding and powerful, heartbreaking epics.
The Fifth Season is set on the Stillness, a world where earthquakes are common and potentially apocalyptic. Those with the power to control the earth are enslaved and forced to protect the rest of civilization.
This Hugo Award-winning novel is categorized as a science fantasy novel, rather than pure science fiction, but Jemisin draws on real-world geology and physics in this brilliant and groundbreaking work of literature.
3. The Calculating Stars, Mary Robinette Kowal
A must read if: you like alternate histories and complex female characters.
What if a meteorite fell to Earth in 1952, threatening the future of the planet and forcing humankind to accelerate their space program? In this alternate history novel, Elma York becomes a Lady Astronaut who joins the space race.
The Calculating Stars won both the Hugo and the Nebula in 2019, for good reason.
4. The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger
A must read if: you haven't had a good cry in a while and need an 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, until they’re finally in a place where their ages match and they can marry. But time travel really takes it out of Henry.
The Time Traveler’s Wife is a romantic, tender, and deeply heartbreaking novel.
5. 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.
Flowers for Algernon, first published in 1959, will send you an emotional roller coaster.
We know this was a lengthy post but we had to make sure that we included all the top contenders.
Of course, you may have your own ideas to add so let us know your top picks in the comments below.