Choosing a list of the best science fiction books is no easy task. Excuse the pun, but there's a whole universe of great sci fi out there. Maybe multiple universes! While we couldn't include each and every book we'd like to, we've presented a balanced selection of some of the best science fiction from across the genre.
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Dune by Frank Herbert set the standard for serious science fiction epics. It’s rare in the sense that is satisfies the most ardent sci-fi purists, as well as mainstream fans who may have encountered it through its big screen adaptations. The first installment was released back in 1965, originally in the form of a serialized work. Herbert went on to write a number of sequels to Dune, and it remains as much of an essential sci-fi read today as ever before.
Isaac Asimov is a true titan of the science fiction world. His contributions to both literature and science at large are numerous and significant. Foundation is one of his best loved works. It is the start of the series with the same name. Originally published in the 1940s, Foundation evolved from trilogy to series, with Asimov adding to the work in both sequel and prequel form.
Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?
Philip K Dick
The basis for the all-time classic Blade Runner, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick helped to establish many conventions within science fiction. It is a seminal work of cyberpunk, and helped to establish the mood, conventions and tropes which would go on to be seen in many classic stories. Do Androids Dream… is a fine example of the type of science fiction story that is able to both satisfy the mind and the soul, being intellectually and emotionally impactful in equal measure.
2001 - A Space Odyssey
Arthur C Clarke
Many people first encountered the power of Arthur C Clarke’s storytelling through the film version of 2001 A Space Odyssey, but the novel has plenty of merit of its own. Without spoiling anything, 2001 asks questions relating to humanity, technology, and the meaning of sentience. It is scientifically serious while also packing a powerful literary punch. A must read, especially for fans of the film who haven’t read the book.
Orson Scott Card
Orson Scott Card originally released Ender’s Game as a short story back in 1977, and went on to expand it into the full-length and much-loved story we are familiar with today. Ender’s Game is one of the most important works of military science fiction ever released, and is even on the reading list for many elite real life armies! The story is epic and immersive, and forces the reader to question the nature of war and what it truly means for mankind.
Stranger In A Strange Land
No list of the best sci fi books would be complete without a Robert Heinlein story, and Stranger In A Strange Land is widely regarded as one of his best. The story’s prestige cannot be overstated, having even been named officially as one of the books that ‘shaped America’. It raises quintessential sci fi questions, such as what it means to be human, and contains many literary illusions, including Biblical references. Essential reading, and a fine way to discover Heinlein.
William Gibson has had a massive impact on the world of science fiction, and wider popular culture. Neuromancer is one of his most essential works, gaining both critical acclaim as well as love from sci fi fans. Gibson’s novel helped to establish the cyberpunk genre, and won prestigious titles including the Nebula, Hugo, and Philip K Dick awards. Although Neuromancer is the best known of Gibson’s books, it is the first of the Sprawl series, so is an ideal jumping off point for newcomers.
The Martian Chronicles
Ray Bradbury is one of the most critically acclaimed and imaginative science fiction authors to ever pick up a pen. The Martian Chronicles took the familiar path of many popular sci fi tales, originally being serialized before being expanded upon and published in a single volume. The vignette style of The Martian Chronicles makes it a fantastic choice to dip in and out of, as the stories were originally released as standalone works. A great example of Bradbury’s style.
Ready Player One
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is proof that science fiction continues to innovate and push the boundaries of genre. Many mainstream fans will be familiar with the tale through the Spielberg movie adaptation, but the book is very different, offering a darker and nerdier take on the story. Ready Player One works as an exciting read in its own right, and also offers an extra layer of joy for readers familiar with its endless array of pop culture references.
The Forever War
The Forever War by Joe Haldeman is widely regarded as one of the best and most serious examples of military science fiction out there. The author’s own experience of the Vietnam war grants it a level of realism and detail that is missing from many other sci fi stories. The first book went on to inspire a range of sequels and stories set in the same universe. Fans of potent, military science fiction will find a lot to love here.
The Martian is one of the best-loved science fiction stories of the modern era, and is also a fine example of the power of modern publishing. Originally released piece by piece, Weir gave in to fan demand and released The Martian as a conventional book. Sci fi fans tend to praise the immersive detail found in the story as well as the dry humor featured throughout. An imaginative and gripping work of survival science fiction.
A Wrinkle In Time
Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time is one of the most definitive works of time travel sci fi out there, and is an example of the best science fiction that is able to appeal to a wide range of readers. Unlike many sci fi stories, A Wrinkle In Time offers a layer of depth and character that will emotionally engage the reader. The time-travel premise is also fascinating, and is sure to play on the imagination of the reader long after the final chapter.
Old Man's War
John Scalzi managed to unite both critics and genre fans in praise for Old Man’s War when it was originally released back in 2005. It is widely regarded as one of the finest works of science fiction in the entire 21st century. It offers a fresh take on the military sci-fi genre, and also mixes in plenty of hard sci fi concepts including nanotechnology and DNA modification. Hardcore sci-fi fans are sure to enjoy Old Man’s War, and even fans of literature in general will find much to admire in this work.
Ringworld by Larry Niven achieved all the most desirable science fiction plaudits, including Nebula, Hugo, and Locus awards, and the author went on to create a number of sequels and prequels. However, Ringworld is arguably the finest of them all. Although the original version of Ringworld contains a few minor scientific errors, it more than makes up for these in terms of its imagination and scope. A great introduction for newcomers to Niven, and an essential sci fi read in general.
As loved as Carl Sagan is within the world of popular culture, many people haven’t had the pleasure of reading the novel version of Contact. It is more in-depth than the cinematic release, and packs real emotional potency. Sagan revealed the source material for some of the book’s most affecting moments - none other than grief over his parents departing. Contact is an imaginative, gripping, and moving story. A must-read for fans of Sagan in particular or science fiction in general.
How Were The Best Science Fiction Books Chosen?
Trying to pick a list of the best 15 science fiction books is almost impossible. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. There are some authors on this list who have released close to 15 classics all on their own! Naturally, there are some authors who many feel should be included here.
However, don’t consider this a definitive list of the absolute best sci fi. Instead, think of it a little like a taster menu. There is something for everyone here. Every author, and every sci fi book, has been chosen as it is considered something of a classic by at least a large part of the sci fi fandom.
In addition to being widely-loved, and having stood the test of time, the books selected for this list of the top science fiction have been selected due to:
Status. We wanted each and every book to be regarded as a true heavyweight by at least a large portion of the science fiction reader community. We haven’t been as sterile as to tally up awards or sales, although many of the books on here are indeed multiple award winners and bestsellers.
Breadth. Elsewhere on this site you can find our dedicated lists of best subgenre science fiction reads, so here we tried to cast a broad net. When compiling the list, we wanted to give newcomers to sci fi a sample of the many flavors the genre contains, and old fans the chance to witness a grouping of the all-time heavyweights.
Classics. We feel that all of these best science fiction books either have or will stand the test of time. We’ve tried to mix together all-time classic authors, such as Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein together with modern classics, such as Ernest Cline and John Scalzi.
Passion. Every book on this list has a diehard fandom behind it. There’s something a little bit special about science fiction which inspires such fervent love, and we wanted to tap into that vibe with this list.
Fun. Ultimately, there are more technical and serious science fiction books than those found here. However, if hard science fiction is your thing, you are probably immersed in it already. Rather than risk alienating people looking for a selection of the best sci fi, we tried to ensure this list struck the right balance between scientific seriousness, and enjoyable readability.
Which Books Almost Made It Onto The List Of The Best Sci Fi?
Honestly, this list could probably contain over 100 books and still be worthy of the title. However, there is such a thing as information overload.
Naturally, there were tons of books, and plenty of authors, who are worthy of a mention on the list but didn’t make it. Some of them include:
H.P Lovecraft. Lovecraft wrote some of the most iconic science fiction and fantasy ever. He basically spawned the entire genre of cosmic horror. However, Lovecraft’s literary style is not for everyone. His use of archaic language is off-putting to many modern and non-English readers, and we wanted this list to have the widest possible appeal.
Liu Cixin. Liu Cixin is perhaps the best example of an amazing and talented hard sci-fi author who was almost included here, but didn’t quite make it. Ultimately, we feel that hard science fiction is something of an acquired taste. Readers who are ready for it are more likely to seek it out specifically, rather than looking for more generalized examples of the best sci fi.
Margaret Atwood. You will find Atwood’s work in a number of the genre lists here on Top Sci Fi Books, and rightly so. However, as much as she is able to masterfully paint a dystopian picture, Atwood has publicly stated she doesn’t consider her own work to be science fiction. As much as we might disagree, we have to respect her own classification.
Jack Vance. Pulp science fiction is very much a controversial subgenre. Although it is fun, and many of the best sci fi authors published in the pulp style, we can’t put our hand on our heart and call it the best example of science fiction. Therefore, purely pulp authors such as Jack Vance did not make the list.
Writing a list of the best sci fi books is truly an impossible task. Let’s hope there are multiple universes, each containing a slightly different version of this list! Because, let’s face it, there is a whole host of fantastic science fiction out there.
Thanks for checking out our taster of the best of the best, and we hope you find something to love here.
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