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Best Classic Science Fiction Books

Top 25 Best Classic Science Fiction Books | Best Science Fiction Books

When John W. Campbell took over as editor of Astounding in 1939, he instituted a new regime. Now, he told them, he wanted sound science, with the most formidable antagonist being the physical laws of the universe, and with mankind being at least the intellectual equal of any aliens encountered. (We will overlook, for the moment, his interest in psi and his devotion to the ideas of Dianetics.) Campbell knew exactly what he wanted, and would make his authors rewrite and rewrite until he got it, and the result was a major change in the character of science fiction.

Campbell ushered in what has become known as the Golden Age of science fiction, a period that saw the rise of what we recognise as hard sf.

By the early 50s, new magazines such as Galaxy, If and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction were emerging to challenge the dominance of Campbell's Astounding. They maintained the emphasis on hard sf that Campbell had initiated, but also encouraged a more humane and occasionally a more experimental approach. The style of science fiction that Campbell championed remained the dominant mode of science fiction until the emergence of the New Wave in the 1960s, but let's face it, when you think about science fiction you automatically call to mind the classic stories from Campbell's Golden Age.

Take a revenge plot borrowed from The Count of Monte Christo, set it in an extraordinarily colourful future, add in a few literary flourishes, and you have not only the best science fiction novel to have appeared during the Golden Age, but one of the best sf novels ever written.

Gully Foyle was a hundred and seventy days dying and not yet dead when the spaceship Vorga passed him by without rescuing him. Thus starts a madcap adventure in which Foyle sets out to exact revenge on the people who left him to die. Filled with jaunting and cargo cults and super-powerful corporations and incredible new weapons and insidious rhymes and a host of strong women, this is a novel that just doesn't let go. There's always a new invention, a new twist in the drama, a vivid scene that keeps you racing through the book.

Why it tops the list: There's hardly an sf author or fan who wouldn't include this in their all-time top ten, most would probably count it, as Samuel R. Delany does, as the greatest single sf novel. It was recognised as one of the origins of the New Wave, and just as much as one of the origins of cyberpunk. Which must make it one of the most influential sf novels ever. It's also great fun, you couldn't ask for better.

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Awards Won:1967 HUGO
Award Nominations:1966 NEBULA, 1966 HUGO

If The Stars My Destination is the best single novel to emerge from the Golden Age, Heinlein is undoubtedly the best writer. For thirty years or more he dominated the genre, so that the only problem is knowing which of his works to pick. Should it be one of his brilliant short stories, such as the exploration of time paradoxes in "By his Bootstraps" or future technology in "The Roads Must Roll", or novels such as the ultimate space war novel, Starship Troopers, or the cult classic, Stranger in a Strange Land?

In the end, this superb account of the revolt of the Lunar Colony probably best encapsulates the many strengths of Heinlein's writing. There's so much here that is Heinlein at his best, from his first mention of TANSTAAFL (There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch!) to the neat way the Loonies bombard Earth using rocks and gravity. The revolt of the Lunar Colony is, of course, a replay of the American War of Independence, but the quest for liberty that echoes through all of Heinlein's work never leads to an unalloyed utopia, he is a far more subtle writer than his critics might suggest.

Why it's on the list: This was Heinlein's fourth Hugo Award-winning novel, and is probably the best of them. It is a carefully thought-out and utterly convincing portrait of what life on a Lunar Colony might be like and how it might revolt. And it is full of original ideas, all deftly handled.

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451 degrees Fahrenheit is, according to the book, the temperature at which paper burns. And a lot of paper burns within this book. The job of a fireman has been reversed: instead of putting out fires, they are there to start them, to burn books that have all been outlawed in this future. But then one fireman, Montag, starts to read one of the books he is supposed to destroy. Before long, he's building up a secret horde of books, and when they are discovered he goes on the run, an enemy of the state.

Bradbury wrote this novel at a time when Senator McCarthy was in full flow, and it is a powerful statement in support of freedom and knowledge. But in fact it speaks to every single one of us who reads books. I defy you to read this novel and not shiver in dread at the thought that all our books, all the things they say to us, might be taken away.

Why it's on the list: Fahrenheit 451 won a fistful of awards, including a Retro Hugo. It has been filmed, dramatized for radio, taught as a set book in schools. In fact it's one of those books we all know whether or not we've ever read it. It is in short one of the best and most important American novels of the 1950s.

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A venture capitalist with a brain-damaged mother. A technology that can transform the world. A ruthless enemy with a dark agenda.

Packed to the brim with non-stop action and thought-provoking science, Mind Machines is an intensely complex sci-fi thriller you don’t want to miss. The unpredictable plot hooks you immediately, and the snarky narration lightens even the darkest scenes. The inventive Brainocyte technology will appeal to die-hard fans of the genre as well as casual readers. 

The characters are well-developed and the relationships are realistic. As entertaining as it is clever, Mind Machines is a story you won’t soon forget. Get the Kindle ebook copy here, paperback here or audiobook here.

The post-war period was a great time for dystopias, and none is more powerful than 1984. Supposedly based on Orwell's wartime experiences working for the BBC, and clearly modelled on Yevgeny Zamiatin's We, this is a story of bureaucracy creeping into every aspect of our daily lives. Even at home, the television is watching you. And if you don't think the way the state wants you to think, they have ways of making you change.

This is the story of Winston Smith, a small cog in the Ministry of Truth, whose job it is to go back and change old newspaper articles so that however much the state may change its position, it would appear that everything has always been the same. Right from the start, we know that the more the state controls the further away we are from anything resembling truth. Then Winston meets Julia, and as they begin a love affair they dream of rebelling against Big Brother, but they are captured by the Thought Police and tortured so that they betray each other, and eventually recognise their love for Big Brother.

Why it's on the list: Big Brother, Newspeak, Thought Police, Room 101, Doublethink, Ministry of Truth: few novels have contributed so many terms to our language. It's a measure of how thoroughly the book has seeped into the popular imagination. Indeed, it appears in the top ten of practically every list of the best books of the century. It is one of the most essential works of the imagination.

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While Campbell was inventing hard sf in America, science fiction in Britain was taking a very different course. Building on a tradition of scientific romance that stretched back to Mary Shelley and Richard Jeffries, a form of fiction was emerging that Brian Aldiss would call the cosy catastrophe, though the best examples were far from cosy. And the very best was one of the first, John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids.

Actually there are two catastrophes in the novel: a strange meteor shower, that may have been triggered by atomic weapons, renders a large portion of the population blind; at the same time, carnivorous, bio-engineered plants, triffids, menace the survivors. Bill Masen is one of the people who still has his sight, and the story follows his attempts to form a community of survivors.

Why it's on the list: The story has been filmed, adapted for television and radio, even turned into a Marvel comic, and it has been a set book in schools, which makes it one of the few science fiction novels widely known even to people who never read science fiction. That is perhaps why it remains an incredibly influential novel, not least because the word "triffid" has entered the language.

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Not all British science fiction followed the pattern of the cosy catastrophe, of course. Arthur C. Clarke established himself as one of the most important writers in the history of science fiction through a series of technically and scientifically accurate stories that opened up a stunning and enduring future. From the account of the last city on Earth a billion years in the future in The City and the Stars to the spectacular journey through the star gate in 2001, A Space Odyssey, Clarke's gift for creating vivid yet believable futures made him one of the towering figures in science fiction.

Of all his early novels, Childhood's End is the one that probably most sticks in the mind. It tells of mysterious aliens who arrive above Earth to usher in a period of peace. At first, no humans ever see the aliens, and we eventually discover that this is because they resemble the traditional image of demons. But the Overlords are no demons, rather they provide a way for humans to join what is known as the Overmind, but this transcendence can only be achieved at a dreadful cost.

Why it's on the list: Universally praised, Childhood's End became a best seller almost from the moment it was published, ad it has remained in print ever since as one of the undoubted classics of science fiction.

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A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

The Three Laws of Robotics are one of the most famous inventions in all of science fiction. Robots were traditionally presented as a threat to humanity, an underclass that would inevitably revolt. Asimov thought that idea was nonsense, and devised the Three Laws as a way of showing robots as sympathetic. Naturally, he then spent most of his robot stories trying to subvert or undermine the Three Laws, but they still provided the guiding principle not just of the stories collected in I, Robot and The Rest of the Robots, but in novels like Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun.

One of the later robot stories, "The Bicentennial Man" which won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novelette, features a robot who becomes human, but that was the trajectory of all of his robot stories. They are a fascinating study in characters who start out as machines but always prove themselves to be something more.

Why it's on the list: Asimov's robot stories changed the game. Everyone who wrote about robots afterwards recognized the Three Laws, either explicitly or implicitly. Even work written in opposition to Asimov, such as John Sladek's Roderick, still pays homage to the influence of Asimov's work. Still today you'll find references to asimov circuits or positronic games; even in the real world there's now a company called iRobot and a Japanese robot named Asimo. The whole enterprise of robotics, real and fictional, owes a debt of gratitude to Isaac Asimov.

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We often tend to slip into the notion that before the advent of writers like Ursula Le Guin and Joanna Russ, science fiction was an exclusively masculine domain; certainly in the 1940s and 50s there are fewer prominent women in the genre than either before or since.

But there have always been women who played a prominent part in the literature. C.L. Moore is a case in point. With her very first sale, "Shambleau", in 1933, she created one of the creepiest and most effective of all weird tales, with a story of a planetary adventurer and his encounter with a beautiful but deadly alien vampire. She was just as adept with straight science fiction stories, such as the wonderful "No Woman Born", which tells the story of a glamorous and celebrated performer who is killed in a fire; but her brain is preserved and put into a specially-designed robot body.

For the men in her life she thus becomes an object of fear, a powerful woman that they cannot control, but for the performer herself she suddenly realises that she can achieve so much more than she ever did before. With her husband, Henry Kuttner, Moore also collaborated on classic stories such as "Mimsy Were the Borogoves" and "Vintage Season", which were written as by Lewis Padgett or Laurence O'Donnell.

Practically everything she wrote was at short story length, and as the title suggests the best of them have been brought together in this collection.

Why it's on the list:

From the 1930s through to the 1950s, C.L. Moore was one of the leading genre writers who had a profound influence on the shape of weird fiction as well as "golden age" science fiction.

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Very few straight-down-the-line science fiction novels have a life outside the genre, but Dune certainly does. It is one of a handful of works that could be named by people who never read science fiction.

On the surface it's a straightforward adventure story: a young man is cheated out of his inheritance, hides out in the desert and secretly builds an army that will allow him to reclaim his rightful position. But under the surface there's a lot more going on, including a powerful environmental message as Paul Atreides has to learn how to live in the barren lands of Arrakis where water and all other resources are rare and precious. There's a mystical, spiritual undertone, too, with the sisterhood of the Bene Gesserit, and Paul's rise to become a messiah-like figure among the Fremen of the desert.

Why it's on the list: Dune, which won both the Hugo and the inaugural Nebula Awards, is reckoned to be the best-selling science fiction novel of all time. And deservedly so, it's a compelling story full of fascinating ideas and profound insights. Okay, the five subsequent Dune novels that Frank Herbert wrote got inceasingly flabby and tedious, and the interminable series later written by his son Brian Herbert in collaboration with Kevin J. Anderson are even worse. But that doesn't take anything away from the first book, which is simply magnificent.

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These were the great years of the sf short story; magazines like Astounding, F&SF, Galaxy and If were in their pomp and most of the brilliant novels of the period began their life as short stories. It would be easy to fill this list with short stories which together captured the classic years of science fiction perfectly, but there is one story that really stands out. If you were looking for one story that defined hard sf it would have to be "The Cold Equations" by Tom Godwin.

A spaceship pilot is delivering urgently needed medical supplies when he discovers a young girl stowaway. Her extra weight means that his ship will not have the fuel necessary to reach its destination, so in the end he has no alternative but to jettison her. This is exactly what hard sf is all about: the laws of the universe are immutable, the only enemy is space itself. It is short, succinct, and unforgettable, an object lesson in what John W, Campbell wanted from the science fiction he published.

Why it's on the list: Okay, the story is nonsense: no ship designed for such missions would be engineered to such ridiculously fine margins; no interstellar craft would have such lax security that a young girl could just wander unchallenged onto the ship; and there would inevitably be other objects aboard that could be jettisoned to make up for the not very great weight of a young girl. Let us not ignore, either, the blatant misogyny of the story, or the fact that Tom Godwin rewrote the story numerous times to find ways of saving the girl but Campbell wouldn't accept any of them. Even so, the story still generates impassioned debate today, some 60 years after it was first published. It is, like it or not, a story that has lasted and that has shaped our understanding of science fiction.

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Awards Won:1961 HUGO

This was an age of nuclear dread: the US and the USSR were bristling with more than enough weapons to destroy the entire Earth several times over, and most people assumed that that was exactly what would happen. So it was a time when science fiction was full of post-apocalyptic scenarios, whether specifically ascribed to nuclear war or not. Books like Davy by Edgar Pangborn or Earth Abides by George R. Stewart (both of which came within an ace of making this list) are classic examples, but the one that stands out most of all has to be the only novel Walter Miller published during his lifetime: A Canticle for Leibowitz.

The novel begins in a remote desert where a Catholic monastery clings to life, preserving texts from before the nuclear holocaust. Their most precious relic is a shopping list written by the order's founder, Saint Leibowitz. The novel then traces the development of the monastery over the next thousand years, as learning slowly begins to return to the world, only for this to lead to another nuclear war.

Why it's on the list: A sly, subtle work in which the Catholic church stands for the ambiguous relationship between learning and ignorance, between preserving the past and avoiding its mistakes, that holds a mirror up to the madness of the Cold War.

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Hard science fiction in its purest form didn't have villains; the implacable laws of the universe were enemy enough for anyone. After all, who needs enemies when you're faced with an oblate planet where gravity is 3g at the equator but a massively crippling 700g at the pole? That's what Hal Clement created with the planet Mesklin in his greatest novel, Mission of Gravity.

A human probe has fallen at the pole, and team member Charles Lackland has to get it back. But he can scarcely stand at the equator, so he has to recruit a local trader to do the job for him. This is Barlennan, a centipede-like being who is terrified of even small heights, because any fall in 700g would be fatal. The story very simply tells of his mission, and the ways he must overcome the simple, practical obstacles that nature puts in his way.

Why it's on the list: This is the definitive example of worldbuilding in science fiction. Clement carefully worked out the physical characteristics of his world, then wrote a story simply designed to explore those characteristics. As a story in which we slowly come to recognise the truly alien, an environment that is incredibly hostile, the novel is surprisingly tense and full of interest.

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Well we said that John W. Campbell liked psi, and so did a lot of other writers of the time. None more so that A.E. Van Vogt, whose tale of telepathic superior beings hunted by ordinary humans really struck a nerve with his readers. "Fans Are Slans" they used to say, meaning that a liking for science fiction made you special but despised by ordinary mortals. Kind of a silly idea, but then, early science fiction readers were looking for anything that made them feel special.

This novel certainly fit the bill. Slans have superior intellectual powers, and little golden tendrils that allow them to communicate telepathically. Unfortunately, ordinary humans are so afraid of the Slans that they try to wipe them out. Which means that nine-year-old Jommy Cross has to run for his life, carrying with him his father's brilliant inventions, which make him the last hope to save his race from genocide.

Why it's on the list:

Slan caught the imagination of sf readers like no other science fiction novel of the time. It was undoubtedly the pre-eminent novel about psi-powers published at the time.

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Back in 1950 an obscure sf magazine published the first story by a writer with the odd pseudonym of Cordwainer Smith. It would have sunk without trace, but Frederik Pohl happened to notice it, and republished it. It was five years before another Cordwainer Smith story appeared, but then they came out regularly throughout the 50s and 60s. Quirky, lyrical, with an odd incantatory rhythm, they were like nothing else being published in science fiction at the time, full of haunting, graceful images: cats and dogs who had been remade into people, revolution stirring amid soaring architecture, journeys into space that undermined the psychology of the traveller.

The titles alone displayed the curious quality of the stories: "Mother Hittons Littul Kittons", "The Lady Who Sailed the Soul", "The Ballad of Lost C'Mell", "The Colonel Came Back From The Nothing-At-All". Cats fight the mysterious monsters that inhabited interstellar space; a machine makes extraordinarily accurate predictions at the end of the shattered Alpha Ralpha Boulevard; the martyrdom of the dog person D'Joan leads to a rebirth of religion. These unique stories acquired a devoted fan following ever eager to find out more about the strange Instrumentality of Mankind.

Why it's on the list: The belated collection, The Rediscovery of Man, was the first time that all of Cordwainer Smith's psychologically acute and poetically written stories had been gathered together. It is a collection to be cherished by everyone who loves science fiction.

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Award Nominations:1959 HUGO

At the height of Cold War paranoia, Algis Budrys wrote a novel that perfectly captured the doubts and distrusts of the time.

There is an explosion at an allied research station close to the Iron Curtain, and leading scientist Lucas Martino is either rescued or kidnapped (depending on your point of view) by the Soviets. Eventually they return him to the West, or at least, they return someone who might be Lucas Martino. He has an advanced metal prosthetic arm and his face has been replaced by a featureless metal plate, he is literally a man in an iron mask, but is he who he claims to be. Whatever the allies do, they can never be certain that this really is Lucas Martino, and, indeed, by the end even the man claiming to be Lucas Martino is no longer sure of his own identity.

Why it's on the list: It isn't often that science fiction, existential puzzle and spy thriller all combine so effectively, but this novel is guaranteed to keep you gripped right to the very end.

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Award Nominations:1964 HUGO

Andre Norton was one of the most prolific writers of science fiction and fantasy throughout the 1950s and 60s, but the two strands of her career came together in the extended series that began with Witch World.

The novel opens on Earth, where Simon Tregarth is a former soldier who has become a black marketer. On the run from the authorities and from other criminals, he is given the opportunity to flee through a gateway to another world. What he finds there reads like a standard fantasy adventure, full of warring tribes and witches and colourful escapades, but towards the end we realise that the people Tregarth is fighting have also arrived from another universe, though one with a higher level of technology than Earth.

Why it's on the list:

Andre Norton's colourful planetary adventures were responsible for introducing an extraordinary number of readers to science fiction. And in the long Witch World series, that eventually became a setting shared with other writers, she combined the most engaging aspects of her fantasy and her science fiction.

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When it first appeared, The Space Merchants was hailed as the best science fiction satire since Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Even sixty years later, it's hard to disagree with that judgement. If anything, the novel seems more prescient than ever.

It's a world where business has effectively taken over from government, where the vast mass of the population are just gullible consumers conned by all-powerful advertising agencies into believing that everything is wonderful even when basic amenities like water and fuel are in short supply. Our hero is a top copywriter responsible for convincing people that the inhospitable surface of Venus is actually a great place to live, but in the course of his work he starts to uncover some of the uncomfortable truths behind the advertising. As a result he is shanghaied and has his identity stolen so he can't resume his usual place in society, but he turns to using his copywriting skills for the benefit of the revolutionary underclass.

Why it's on the list: The Space Merchants is remarkably prescient, in many ways Pohl and Kornbluth seem to be writing about the world we know today. After all, among other things, the novel is credited with introducing the terms R&D and muzak. It is a brilliant satire on our business-oriented society.

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Awards Won:1959 HUGO

From Arthur C. Clarke's "The Star" to Walter M. Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz, there was something of a trend in the 1950s for bringing Catholicism into a science fiction context, usually to the detriment of the religion. But even in that company, A Case of Conscience stands out; it was the only one that paid serious attention to Catholic doctrine and theology.

A Jesuit priest, who is also a world-class biologist, is part of the four-man team sent to explore the world of Lithia. The Lithians live in what seems to be a utopia, there's no crime or war, they have a highly developed moral sense and yet they have no religion. One of the team wants to exploit the planet for its mineral wealth, but the priest feels they must place it in quarantine: the absence of God means it is the work of the devil. When they return to Earth, the priest's own faith is tested as his commitment to Catholicism comes under question. But when, at the end, Lithia is destroyed, it is ambiguous whether this is the result of carelessness in the mineral extraction or because of the priest's exorcism.

Why it's on the list: A Case of Conscience didn't just win the Hugo Award for best novel, but the original novella that formed the first part of the novel would later win a Retro Hugo, a unique double that speaks volumes for how powerfully this novel set scientific rationality against religious belief.

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Awards Won:1963 HUGO

Philip K. Dick's science fiction grew out of the pulp milieu of the 1950s, which meant it consisted of rather garish adventure and often extravagant creation, but this was mixed with a dark sense of humour and a subversive questioning of reality and identity. That blend is clearly in evidence in the only novel for which he won a Hugo Award.

Building on a trend for alternate history represented by works such as Bring the Jubilee by Ward Moore (another novel which very nearly made this list), The Man in the High Castle depicts a world in which the Axis powers won the Second World War. Greater Germany now rules the eastern part of America, while the western portion is occupied by Japan, with a narrow buffer state in between. And yet, within this world, there is a popular novel, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, that was written by consulting the I Ching, and which in turn depicts a world in which the Axis lost the war (although this is clearly not our reality). Thus the nature of the world is in question right from the start, while the plot involves fake American antiquities, people travelling under false names or pretending to be someone else, deceptions and more, all of which suggest that nothing can be taken at face value.

Why it's on the list: Dick's work deserved more than just one Hugo Award, nevertheless this is the one that won the award. It is funny, complex, rich, disturbing, and is still recognised as one of the best of all alternate histories.

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Award Nominations:1960 HUGO

This is the novel in which we first encounter some of the themes and ideas that would later emerge in Slaughterhouse-Five. There are Tralfamadorians, there's the familiar resignation in the face of the inevitability of fate, there's a central character who is cut loose in time, in this case because he is caught in a chrono-synclastic infundibulum.

Salo, the Tralfamadorian, has been trapped on Titan for two billion years since his craft broke down. In the course of the novel we discover that the entirety of human history has been manipulated by the Tralfamadorians in order to create the situation in which Malachi Constant, the richest man on earth, arrives on Titan with exactly the small part Salo needs to repair his craft. Why it's on the list: It's funny, it's clever, it's brilliantly written, and it's a key influence on The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, what more do you need?

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This short novel introduced an endless war between two time travelling races known, for reasons that no one can now remember, as the Snakes and the Spiders. They fight their war by changing the outcome of historic events, which is why Leiber called it the Change War.

The foot soldiers in this war, human or alien, can be plucked from any moment in history. In a bubble outside time, a small group of these soldiers are gathered, not really knowing who is on the same side or who is on the other side, not really knowing which side might be good and which bad, or if it even matters any more. Having been disconnected from their own time, they have no real stake in history anyway, so when we learn that a recent skirmish has changed the outcome of the Second World War the horror for all those now caught under totalitarianism is seen to be of little concern in the grand scheme of things.

Why it's on the list: The Big Time won the Hugo Award for Best Novel. Later, Poul Anderson would create his own time war series, and other writers like John Brunner would write about time police, but it was here that the whole idea was set in motion.

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Award Nominations:1963 HUGO

Piper committed suicide before he could know how successful his novels would be, which is a great pity because in Little Fuzzy he had created one of the most delightful of all sf novels.

The planet Zarathustra is owned by a corporation that makes a very tidy living from the sunstones mined by people like Jack Holloway. But Jack comes upon a tiny, furry creature that he calls Little Fuzzy. Having struck up a friendship, Jack comes to believe that Little Fuzzy is intelligent, which is unfortunate because if there is intelligent life on the planet the Zarathustra Corporation will lose their right to exploit it. So the novel turns on a quest to prove that Fuzzy is intelligent, with an underlying message about the importance of independence and sincerity as opposed to corporate politics.

Why it's on the list: Let's face it, cats are everyone's favourite aliens, and science fiction has any number of alien beings that are really just cats. But none are quite as engaging as H. Beam Piper's Fuzzies, which is why there have been loads of sequels by other hands since Piper shot himself, most recently the authorised reboot, Fuzzy Nation, by John Scalzi.

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If you had to name one science fiction movie that encapsulated America's national paranoia in the mid-50s it would have to be Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and this is the original novel upon which that film is based.

At the time, conformity seemed to fill people with dread, whether it was the idea of being swallowed by the faceless forces of bureaucracy (as in David Karp's One) or being turned into mindless slaves by a communist takeover. Finney took that dread and turned it into one of the most effective novels of the decade. Here was typical, small town America, people living dull, routine lives, when pods start to arrive from outer space. The pods give birth to perfect physical replicas of the humans, while the real people turn to dust. This, it is suggested, is just what humans do, using up resources, indigenous peoples, ecosystems, purely for their own short-term gain. When the story was made into a film, the moral was lost, but the horror remains.

Why it's on the list: Finney was a competent writer of crime stories and science fiction, but on a couple of occasions (this novel and his later time travel romance, Time And Again) his work really took flight. And as the basis for one of the key science fiction films of the 50s, this novel more than earns its place on this list.

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This is a fix-up composed of three long stories, only the middle one of which had previously been published. It is the story of a gestalt, a group mind that is more than the sum of its parts.

We begin with Lone who is, as the name suggests, a loner, someone that people assume to be an idiot, though he has telepathic abilities. In the first story he gathers an unlikely group around him, three runaway girls and a newborn baby with phenomenal mental capacity, and he realises that the group is actually one being, with powers beyond any individual human. When Lone is killed in an accident, his place is taken by a street kid, Gerry, who ends up killing in order to keep the group together. Finally another member joins the group, a man with no particular talents but who provides the conscience the group needs in order to be complete.

Why it's on the list: Sturgeon was an occasionally mannered, occasionally poetic writer who was one of the most distinctive voices in 1950s science fiction, and this novel, which builds on his fascination with freaks and loners, is one of his best. It won the International Fantasy Award, and has been included in several best sf lists.

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In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, it wasn't uncommon to believe that humans were just incapable of getting along peacefully with themselves or others. It's a theme ideally suited to Simak's particular style and interests and he adopted it into a sequence of linked stories that were eventually gathered together as his classic novel City.

In fact, City isn't about cities at all, but rather about the abandonment of cities. In the early stories, people move away from the city, initially running away from the threat of nuclear holocaust, but gradually they come to like the isolation.

In successive tales, as urban civilisation breaks down, mutants begin to emerge and dogs are given the power of speech. When a human and his faithful dog take on the temporary form of the beings on Jupiter, they discover that they prefer to be like this, and when the rest of humanity finds out about it most elect to take on the new form. Eventually, dogs are left to build their own civilisation, and tell their tales about the mythical humans.

Why it's on the list:

City won the International Fantasy Award, and remains one of the best-loved novels from the 1940s. Simak's elegiac tone and the rather sentimental portrayal of the dogs mean that this book remains popular up to the present.

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