Top 25 Science Fiction Books
This list presents my picks for the Top 25 Science Fiction Books. It’s a broad list that covers a lot of subgenres and draws from a number of “eras” from the early science fiction to hot-off-the press works that have garnered critical acclaim. These are the best in the genre and are the absolute “Must Reads.”
I know that just like my Best Fantasy Books list, you can’t please everyone. There will be some glaring omissions of some classics, but with these sort of lists you have to exclude more than you include especially if you want to include any recent science fiction. This list tries to balance "modern" science fiction with classic reads. Keep in mind that there will be a "Classics" list and a "Modern Classics" that will help fill out the "holes" that a list like this inveritably ends up with.
You can read my deeper look into the Science Fiction genre and my reasoning’s for my picks below, or you can just jump to the list.
This is a tricky one. The “best” science fiction books ideally combine fine story telling with brilliant, exploratory questions that have us asking all sorts of challenging questions about the fundamentals of everything – society, religion, politics, race relations, space, time, the destiny of man, our place in the universe, etc. I posit there is a lot more you can do with science fiction to ask deep questions than one can do with fantasy, if only because science fiction tries to cloak itself in the appearance of reality or at least a possible reality.
Of course, it’s easy to get so lost in ground breaking ideas that the actual mechanisms of storytelling become merely a vehicle to carry the idea; this is one of the problems with science fiction: ground breaking ideas, settings, and questions or strong plot with deep characters but rarely both. I try my best to pick out books with great ideas that have influenced the genre, but I also select based on the strength of the story and characters. Alas, some compromises have to be made, especially in this genre.
Many of the best “classics” science fictions are heavy on ground breaking ideas but pretty light on story and characters. Modern science fiction puts a lot more emphasis on story and characterization, however. I generally find science fiction written the past twenty years more entertaining (from a story standpoint) than some of the older classics due to the inclusion of things like a solid plot and strong characterization. But the older classics, light on story and plot that they might be, still deserve a place for the sheer influence they have had on the genre. True classics stand the test of time and the ideas presented still age well. Science Fiction has it a bit harder than other genres because the science in the books might end up wrong in light of recent discovery which then puts the book in an awkward place -- a classic for it's time but with faulty science.
These are my top 25 picks for the best science fiction books ever written. Some are well known, some are less so, but all are absolutely worth reading. I’ve tried to draw on a variety of different Science Fiction subgenres (Cyberpunk, Space Opera, Hard Science Fiction, Soft Science Fiction, Dystopian, Alternate History, etc.) from a variety of different periods, from the early period to the Golden Age of Science Fiction to Contemporary Picks that have been published within the past five years.
It's always a tough choice making a Top 25 list as it excludes so many good books.
To do justice to the
some of the other books that deserve to be on the list, I've included an Honorable Mentions list after the Top 25 Science Fiction Books List. If you read everything on the Top 25, definitely read the Honorable Mentions
So challenge your mind, get lost in another world, and read some of the best of what the genre offers.
You can view the crowd-ranked version of this list and vote on the entries at the bottom of this page.
Often quoted as “Science Fiction’s answer to Lord of the Rings”. And totally true. This is one hell of an epic novel. Pretty much everything is epic – huge ideas, huge scope, a story (if you count the sequel novels that spans millennia), compelling characters that leave their mark. The cast is huge and varied, a tapestry of flesh that includes the likes of noble desert fighters, messiahs, conniving ‘witches’, and greedy emperors. To top it off, there’s even giant sand worms ridden into battle. F**k Yea!
Did I miss anything? There’s politics between major powers, love, a war that spans planets, treachery of the foulest sort, boy heroes who rise from the dust (literally) and villains that you just love to hate and hate to love. And this fascinating mishmash of just about every concept and idea all centers around Spice, an almost magical substance that comes from one planet only – Arrakis, also known as Dune. It’s a substance that enables interplanetary travel, the most valuable resource in the galaxy. For he who controls Spice, controls the known world. He who controls Dune controls all.
If you haven’t read Dune yet, stop reading and get your grubby hands on it (or in this day and age, on your ebook reader). The pacing is slow and the ideas are grant, but give the book a chance and it sucks you in. There is a reason Dune features on just about every ‘Best Science Fiction” list out there.
This story is one of the major influences of the Star Wars films without the whole Jar Jar Binks screw ups. Think of it as Star Wars done right for a more discerning crowd.
Dune is one of those books that you can read even if you don’t like science fiction or you don’t like fantasy. The book has elements of “fantasy” and plenty of science fiction elements. But it’s considered science fiction.
What really stands out about “Dune” is that despite events that happen on an interplanetary scale between Emperors and great powers that control the mechanics of the society, the story is also a story on a personal, intensely intimate level of a boy, Paul and his struggle to make his way in a world that has given him the most rotten of poker hands. His intelligent musings, reflections, and his soul searching are fantastic to behold. And despite the fact that you are often following the story of a single young boy lost in a desert, surrounded by nothing, you get the sense that the struggles here have consequences at a much higher level.
For those who love literary themes and such, Dune offers enough to keep a College Lit Professor busy for at least a three semesters. There are not-so-subtle environmental and ecological themes going on, there’s a good look at terrorism from the viewpoint of the terrorists, and the whole story of Paul is itself a Monomyth archetype – the story of the Hero’s Journey.
There are 6 sequels to Dune and the 7th done by his son, Brian Herbert as Frank died before completing it. I find the series kind of dies after the third book and Jr. helps put the nail in the coffin with his rewriting of Dad's notes into a concluding novel. In general, Jr's mucking about in daddy's universe has really destroyed the name of Dune, turning it into a pseudo Star Wars style universe. The glory of Frank's original works are brought low. If you absolutely have to know everything about "Dune" and the characters and their decedents and family lines through the millennium, then perhaps the new dune books are worth reading. But if you want to keep the majesty of the original works in your mind without having the whole universe tainted, don't read them. Don't even think about it.
Dune is the start of an entire series. Frankly, I find the whole series declines shortly after the first novel. Some like the sequels, some don’t. You’ll probably like the first book so much you’ll delve into the sequel novels (there are 5 sequel novels with the 6th completed by Frank’s son, Brian). The first 2 books after Dune are excellent, the rest, so so. The last was a travesty that Brian should have left unfinished. There are also a number of prequel novels written by Brian Herbert and Keven J Anderson set in the same universe. These are popcorn reads that lack the substance and grandiose of Frank Herbert’s original works, but a few of them are entertaining enough even if Jr. has done a good job at mangling up daddy’s original IP. Read only if you really really want to know more about the Dune universe.
Frank Herbert’s sequels which are never as good as the first book, but well worth reading if you loved the first. Brian Herbert’s Dune novels, which milk the Dune name to death, but offer just enough for the Dune fanatic to be worth reading.
Lord of the Rings. Yes a fantasy series, but it’s Fantasy’s answer to Dune. Apart from that, nothing similar.
Dan Simmons' Hyperion. Another series that’s epic with lots of interplanetary politics and war stuff going on and some interesting narrative techniques. It’s also a novel that’s up close with personal stories of the characters while balancing the choices and actions those individuals made on the larger events going on between planets and races.
For another epic that spans history, closely following events made in the past to the future, the Foundation novels are about as close as you are going to get to the “Dune” series as a whole. It’s not the same in the way that dune is a mythological tale, but both series span history and look at the effects choices made by characters have on the future.
For a landscape like Dune with desert peoples, you might try CJ. Cherryh's Faded Sun trilogy. You’ll feel some similarities with the landscape and cultures.
For the Heroes Journey aspect of Dune (i.e. the story of Paul – i.e. Young man learns to be a warrior), give Miles Vorkosigan series a read. Of course, just about every single fantasy series features the boy to hero archetype; it’s less used in science fiction though. Peter Hamilton’s The Dreaming Void series incorporates the boy to hero archetype quite well, mixing a hard science fiction setting with a fantasy one in a novel way.
And of course, Star Wars has quite a few similarities being heavily influenced by Dune; Young boy destined for greatness, a desert landscape, evil emperors, etc.
Check out the following crowd-ranked lists which contain Dune
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Soft Science Fiction Books
One of the best science fiction books ever written and a modern classic, through and through. Ender’s game is the story of a young boy placed in a situation where there is no winning, a game that is of course a metaphor for life. Some might call it Lord of the Flies in space and it is to a certain extent, but beyond some of the surface similarities, Ender’s Game is a different beast.
There’s a lot going on, plot-wise and theme-wise in this story. A relentless alien threat, a young child thrown into a controlled futuristic version of a Lord of the Flies setting, and one of the best plot twists in the science fiction genre.
It’s an understatement to say that Ender’s shares similarities with Lord of the Flies. The premise of the story centers on a Game, a terminal game where children are forced to compete/survive against each other. The children might be children, but through the course of the novel quickly develop a cold almost military cunning in their efforts to at first survive then win the Game. The kids are ostensibly competing as a form of training to hone their skills against an implacable alien enemy; however, on top of all the training, the kids must also deal with the common rivalries and petty jealousies that kids deal with. It’s a kid’s world mashed in with the harsh realities of a modern war. Kids can die and kids can kill is the lesson here. And life, the children quickly find out, is a contest to be either won or lost. The book handles all this brilliantly.
This is number two on the list because of the vast influence the book has had on an entire generation of writers and readers. It’s hard to find any sort of “Best Science Fiction” list without seeing Ender’s Game near the top.
There’s a number of sequels Card has written that continue the story. Frankly, like most sequels, none of them live up to the original brilliance of the first with maybe the exception of th 2nd book (Speaker for the Dead) which people seem to hype up a bit. Some interesting themes are explored and some interesting questions asked, but they are not MUST read material.
If you haven’t read this book, do so now even if you don’t like Science Fiction. This is one of those books that can appeal to all readers.
There are 4 books in the Ender Quartet which deal with Ender directly. The first book is the best with the second book also quite good. Book 3 and 4 are so so.
There are books that are "parallel" to the Ender Quartet, following Bean and Ender's older brother. Then there are some short stories that are set in the Ender universe.
Everyone thinks I'm a genius.
Everyone is wrong.
Sure, I finished Harvard at eighteen and now make crazy money at a hedge fund. But that's not because I'm unusually smart or hard-working.
It's because I cheat.
You see, I have a unique ability. I can go outside time into my own personal version of reality—the place I call “the Quiet”--where I can explore my surroundings while the rest of the world stands still.
I thought I was the only one who could do this--until I met her.
My name is Darren, and this is how I became entangled with all the Russians and learned that I'm a Reader.
Starship Troopers is classic Heinlein and my fill for one of his best novels written. It won the Hugo Award and deservedly so. Unfortunately, most people know this book through the shamefully produced movie. Really, forget the movie ever existed as it’s got nothing on the book itself; the only similarities shared are the character names, the bugs, and the power suits.
The quick and dirty summary of the book is that it’s a metaphorical look at war, both the cost of war and the pleasure of war. Like every “classic”, the message is just as relevant now as it was decades ago when first published.
The novel provides that perfect blend of grand philosophical ideas about the nature of society and politics and a superb action-packed story of a young man’s journey from a military boot camp to the harsh battlefields light years from Earth. Intense combat scenes mix with a young man’s almost innocent view of the world. The whole thing is so well done you never are taken out of the moment yet you can’t help but to consider the deeper questions about society, government, the military, and war.
One of the best Military SF books out there.
War and duty and battle are glorious says the novel. And indeed, after reading the novel, you'll want to put on your own powersuit and go slay some evil bugs. Apparently the military is working on a prototype exoskeleton powersuit of their own, so we may not be too far off.
Some have questioned Heinlein’s motives and say the story is a subversion of warfare, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Heinlein provides an honest look at both the positive and negatives of war.
Starship Troopers stands as number three on this list due to the wide ranging influence its had on an entire generation of writers, the cultural impact (it’s spawned a movie), the intelligent discourse on war that's aged well, and for the raw, exciting story. This is not one of those novels that’s filled with ideas and intelligent social commentary but a lackluster story. It’s raw, it’s vivid, and it’s a page turner. It’s also aged pretty damn well.
You could easily substitute The Moon is a Harsh Mistress or Stranger in a Strange Land for this spot. My vote would go to The Moon is a Harsh Mistress as his best story while Stranger in a Strange Land would be his magnum opus with its sharp insight into society. Starship Troopers, however, is his most exciting read – action packed from beginning to the end.
Read this and I promise you will think deep thoughts about war. You’ll also enjoy a hell of a story.
Forever War by Joe Haldman is a direct discourse with Starship Troopers. Absolute must read if you like ST.
Armor by John Steakly. About as close as you are ever going to get to Starship Troopers in terms of surface details (armored power suit, killer bugs, hero fighting against impossible odds), though a different set of themes are explored despite the general plot and setting similarities.
Old Man’s War is also another (recent) novel in a similar vein that feels like a classic Heinlein novel in voice and some of the settings.
And for more Heinlein, his best works are Stranger in Strange Land and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.
A pinnacle of Science Fiction literature, Foundation stands at the top. Many will argue Foundation is the greatest work in the genre while just as many wonder why others love it. It's roundly regarded as a classic in the genre by one of the grandmasters science fiction writers.
The series has garned a slew of awards included a one-time Hugo award for "Best All Time Series" in 1966.
Grand concepts and epic storylines abound in this novel. This is not so much a story of personal characters but of grand ideas. If you like to “think” when you read science fiction, Foundation will deliver.
The core of the Foundations is the story concept of Psychohistory, which is a fictional branch of science that combines elements of sociology, history, and mathematics to predict the future. And the current galactic empire is doomed to a long dark age according to the mathematical model predicted by Seldon, the protagonist of the first book, unless certain steps to preserve human knowledge are taken to reduce the period before another great civilization rises.
Now the theory behind the whole concept, Psychohistory, seems a bit dated when looking through the lens of the 21st century, but you can safely ignore that fact and still enjoy the series.
This is not a series of action and war – most of that stuff happens “off screen” as it is. But it’s a riveting read full of some gob stopping ideas. If you are the type of science fiction reader that feeds on action, politics, and grand schemes, you might be more suited to a novel like Dune. But if you want a novel of ideas, then Foundation is near the top.
This book/series makes the top five because of its seminal influence on the Science Fiction genre. It’s impossible not to mention Hard SF and Foundation in the same sentence such has been the impact of Asimov’s series. Foundation helped shape the shape of the science fiction genre and because of this is pretty much required on this list.
If you have not read this series you owe it to yourself to pick it up and see just why everyone calls it a masterwork of the genre.
The best Foundation novels are by far the original trilogy. A couple decades later Asimov wrote a number of other Foundation novels, both as sequels and prequels. Non of them have the genius of the original works. I suggest you read the original trilogy then if you want to dillydally in the Foundation universe, read the others.
For a grand series that spans millennia with each novel showing the effect of the choices made by past characters, read the Dune series.
Check out the following crowd-ranked lists which contain Foundation
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A stunning classic that's influenced a generation of writers and sub genres, including the Cyberpunk movement. The Stars My Destination broke away from the main stream SF about supermen, heroes, and good guys. Instead of the handsome, altruistic good guy, we have a character who's rather repugnant, both physically and morally; an amoral black hole who manages to suck out the good around him without spitting anything of value back into the universe. And despite this,we get it; we understand what makes this man tick. And by golly,we actually emphasis with him -- which is the real genius of Bester.
The story centers on a wonderfully ruthless and tortured protagonist who has a major revenge hard-on. The quest for revenge begins when the protagonist is near-death and adrift in space in a starship a ship approaches that could help instead flies away leaving him to die. The novel is basically Gay Foyle’s obsessive revenge quest against the owners of said ship. Foyle is a flawed individual – lazy to the point of only doing enough to get by and no more, a man with potential but without the will to harness it. His lackadaisical view on life changed when he’s suddenly marooned in space; his flaws prevent him from improving his situation and he’s resigned himself to a slow death until a rescue ship deliberately ignores him. This one act galvanizes Foyle into saving himself and wrecking a horrible vengeance on the owners of said ship.
This is a violent story and the author makes no apologies for it. This is a rewrite of an old staple, the Count of Monte Cristo. A man who’s been betrayed becomes transformed into a different character by that very betrayal and returns to wreck vengeance on the culprits under a different identity. This is no common revenge tale though. The language is evocative with a rather unique journey, set in a fascinating world of unfamiliarity. The hero is thoroughly villain; he’s not some good guy who’s been wronged who turns the other check or some bad guy wrong who becomes a good guy in the process of revenge; no, he’s a bad guy who’s been wronged and motivated by one single thing: revenge.>
The Stars My Destination preceded the whole Cyberpunk movement, founded by Gibson in his seminal novel Neuromancer, but anticipates some of the cyberpunk staples: mega corporations that are the equal of governments, the cybernetic augmentation of the body, building the human mind and body according to specs, a dark unfriendly world, and a lone hero/anarchist. Because of these Cyberpunk staples, The Stars My Destination functions as a sort of proto cyberpunk novel.
The author writes in the same sort of idea-exploring way of Heinlein, but with a darker voice and a darker, completely unpredictable hero. Bester’s experimental yet wonderfully evocative prose, vivid revenge story, dark, brutal world, flawed (arguably unbalanced) yet always interesting characters make this one of the Best Science Fiction books ever written. It’s a classic among classics. If you only ever read five science fiction books, this should be one of them.
Absolutely read his one and only other novel, the Demolished Man.
For a modern space opera (only a couple years old) with plenty of Bester’s fingerprints all over it, check out The Expanse series by James Corey. The author (Daniel Abraham) actually acknowledges Bester as a major influences then future goes on to list what elements of the story are owed to The Stars My Destination: http://www.danielabraham.com/2012/01/30/paying-tribute-the-stars-my-destination/
If you liked the anti-hero aspect of Foyle (i.e. he’s a bad man that makes no apologies but comes to an understanding about himself and the world by the end) you should check out Steven Donaldson’s gloriously dark Gap series; a mega anti-hero there, heroes that are villains and villains that are heroes.
Elements of Bester are present in some of Philip K Dick’s novels. You might try Through a Scanner, Darkly, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep
Bester was a major influence on the so called “New Wave” of science fiction. It makes sense that you should check out works by New Wave writers who were directly influenced by him. This includes: J.G. Ballard, Harlan Ellison, Michael Moorcock, Brian Aldiss, and Samuel Delaney
You might want to look at the early Roger Zelazny works such as Lord of Light or Isle of the Dead. Zelazy is a writer who writes fast-moving plots that are well written but sort of pulpy and he’s willing to experiment in the same vein that Bester was.
One of those genre defining, pop-culture inseminating books that’s practically on every ‘best of’ science Fiction list out there.
Besides all that, this is the novel that spawned that way cool famous phrase “I'm sorry, Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that." A big Thank You for that. Now you know when your little iRobot starts spouting that phrase when asked to vacuum the floor, you're royally fucked.
Outside the annals of science fiction, people are familiar with the title from the cult-hit Stanley Kubrick-directed film. Many have seen the film, but fewer have read the actual book. The movie and book are quite tied together as things go, with Author C. Clark working closely with Stanley Kubrick on the movie script and then adopting it to novel afterwards. The movie and book were meant to complement each other.
Back to the book: there’ a lot to love here for any science fiction fan and it’s an understatement to say it deals in lofty themes.
The premise of the story is centered on mankind’s “first” contact with an alien race and complexities this brings to the human race. Some of the big questions are asked – where we came from and where we are going. What it means to be human and the perils of technology, specifically when you allow that technology to think for itself.
The message is clear: the more you think you know about yourself, the world, and the universe at large, the more you actually don’t know.
A must read for anyone who wants to an engrossing read asking lofty questions about the ultimate destiny (and history) of mankind. This is not an action read, nor it is a novel of characters and plot. It’s a novel of ideas; grand ideas that may change your perspective on the world if you’ve never encountered them before.
This novel is over 40 years old but it’s just as relevant as fresh as any so called “modern” science fiction read today.
For another “contact” novel where a mysterious object appears (Big Dumb Object) in space leaving human kind scrambling from the same author, read Rendezvous with Rama. Different lofty themes, but might be up your alley.
Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey is a recent science fiction that deals with alien contact. It doesn't try to be one those blow your mind idea spawning books, but it does have deep characters and an addicting plot.
A fantastic Hugo-winning space opera that merges the narrative element of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales with a futuristic space opera set in the distant future. The whole series (not just the first book) is based on the assumption that man’s conquering the stars is inevitable and the complexities and troubles this brings. It’s a wild, wild ride and one of the best damn science fiction books/series ever written.
This is a modern science fiction read that’s absolutely destined to be a classic.
The story centers on six pilgrims and their tales. We find out parts of their history and the needs that drive them to this pilgrimage – a pilgrimage which is a certain death sentence. For these pilgrims are seeking out the Shrike, a god like creature that legend says will kill all but one pilgrim, granting the one survivor a wish.
Each tale is a fascinating portrait of a tortured soul – completely different in style and form – that introduces a piece to the whole narrative. Every pilgrim is connected in some way to the greater story and trying to figure out what all the threads are and how they intertwine is part of the fun.
This is a dark novel, a novel that explores the suffering of the human soul – both physical, emotional, and spiritual. Don’t go reading this if you are looking for a light, happy go lucky read. Star Wars this is not – there are plenty of adult themes here and tragedy that will shock those who watched “The Empire Strikes Back” and thought it was depressing. So don’t think about this book if you want something happy.
The entire story depicts one grand hall of suffering, from the decrepit, dying world that’s on the verge of collapse, to the tortured pilgrims who’ve given up all hope and are gambling their lives on a pipe dream shot of hope, to the “messiah of hope” the pilgrims seeking, which is in fact in itself a missionary of pain and suffering with less empathy than one of the Greek gods.
There’s a lot going on in the novel – like a hell of a lot. Galactic civilization is on the brink, alien forces – both human and non – threaten the fabric of society; politics and war abound, and yet this is all just noise compared to the compelling tales told by each pilgrim-- you are pulled into the fabric of each pilgrim’s tale of suffering and slowly the whole plot emerges. The whole thing is a mishmash of Science Fiction and Canterbury Tales.
And damn it, what other author could combine the likes of Canterbury Tales, poems by John Keats, with a vast Space Opera setting and get away with it? Simmons can apparently – if that’s not serious literary talent, I don’t know what is.
It’s brilliant and I hazard to say the best damn space opera science fiction out there.
The sequel novels carry on in the same universe but is not a direct sequel to the events in the first story. They take place far into the future and explore a whole different set of issues such as the costs of traveling the stars over long periods of time, government control, and the like.
Read the sequel series. Different, less depressing with more hope, maybe not as good as the first two books, but still a hell of a read.
You might also want to give his other science fiction duology a read: Illuim and Olympus. Fantastic books that, like Hyperion, borrow literary conceits and reuse them in a science fiction setting. This Simmons takes on the Odyssey and the Illiad in futuristic setting. Hell there's even discussion about Shakespeare by some of the characters. A must read.
For a wild ride into big space opera territory, give Peter Hamilton’s works a go. You could start with Hamilton’s “Night’s Dawn”– it’s an absolutely massive space opera series with a gripping plot that keeps you glued to the page from the start to the very end. For a vast space opera with a huge universe, massive cast of characters, a quality story, take a good look at Peter Hamilton’s Commonwealth series. There are two trilogies set in that universe. I prefer Night’s Dawn over his Commonwealth books. Like Hyperion (well at least one of the story threads in the first two books of Hyperion), Night’s Dawn deals with a theme of death and rebirth.
Hyperion Cantos is a dark series with themes of death, suffering, and tragedy pervading the story. For the ultimate “downer” science fiction space opera, give the Gap series a go. Its deal with adult themes and the world presented is not a sugar-coated “the future is bright and human kind is good” kind that most space operas follow.
Released in 1984, Neuromancer is widely considered the progenitor of the Cyberpunk genre and the first science fiction to simultaneously win the “Triple Crown” awards (Nebula, Hugo, and Philip K. Dick award). This seminal novel brought many ideas that have seeped into our collective consciousness, including inventing now-used terms such as “cyberspace.”
It’s an ambitious novel full of unique ideas. The pose is complex and full of technical jargon which may be off-putting to some (more than a few people have picked the book up only to put it down after a few pages). But this is a novel that if you push through becomes an electrifying read.
Neuromancer has all the conventions of the cyberpunk genre that you’ve (now) come to expect: a film noir story, hacker heroes, a bleak landscape where corporations are the government, dilapidated neighborhoods infested with crime, and a network of data that connects everything.
The genius of Gibson is that many of the concepts have become reality; he envisions a computerized world that actually exists, a world that was far-fetched in 1984. Reading the book will give you Goosebumps when you realize it was published over 20 years ago.
You should read the sequel books, Count Zero and Mono Lisa Overdrive. All three form the “Sprawl Trilogy.” Give his latest great work, Pattern Recognition a read as well. It’s less futuristic than some of Gibson’s older works, but just as good.
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson of course. If Neuromancer started the Cyberpunk movement, Snow Crash helped cement its final form.
For some new blood in the genre, give Ready Player One a read. Some elements similar to Snow Crash. It’s a page-turning read that hearkens back to the 80’s with a fresh take on the “jacked in” cyberpunk conceits. However, the prose is amateurish as is the plotting. A fun read, but don't expect anything deep or significant like Stephenson's writings.
For an epic series about Virtual Reality, read William’s Otherland. A real ride that one, if a bit long.
If you like the "Jacked In" aspect of Neuromancer, where humans are linked to computer systems/AI systems via wetware/biological modifications read some of Peter Hamilton's works which combine a lot of computer/AI/Biological systems interfaced with humans. Oh and there's a shit load of action tossed in there. A good novel to "feel" Hamilton out without too much commitment (he has a tendency to write grand space operas) would be standalone's Fallen Dragon or (his newest of as 2013) The Great North Road.
For a hard-boiled futuristic detective cyberpunk read, give Altered Carbon a good read. There is a “somewhat” similar plot on some levels. Also, almost every entity in Altered Carbon maps over to someone in Neuromancer. An action-packed read and one of the best modern science fiction reads.
A novel of seminal importance that’s influenced society and pop culture like few others. 1984 is the novel that invented the term Big Brother (and no, we’re not talking about that uber crappy reality TV show that locks half a dozen sex-starved drug addicts into a room for a month).
1984 has often been used as a battleground tool in the war waged by the supports of personal privacy against the forces that push for more government control in our daily lives. It’s a stark warning for the 21 century against the pitfalls of government control.
The pacing of the book is slow and often methodical, building on ideas and concepts that are now so familiar you don’t even bat an eye. Back in the day, these were the cutting edge of controversy.
What’s ironic is that 1984 was considered a work of dystopian “horror” when first released, yet many of the ideas and concepts present in the novel have been so seriously subsumed by culture that many parts of the book (parts that decades ago would have been horrific invasions of privacy) simply details what amount to the average day of life for a 2013 American.
Frankly, this book has had so much impact on society, has been so bloody right (if a bit over zealous in its early prediction of 1984; had Orwell named it to 2084, he might be pretty close to the mark) that it should be a must read for everyone. I rate this up there with the Bible in terms of cultural significance. At the very least you should read it so you know what all those references mean.
The book is certainly not a novel for the faint of heart. But it must be read.
You should read Animal Farm, Orwell’s other dystopia novel.
If you like the Dystopia aspect being used to critique society, look at some of the top dystopias: A Brave New World (similar theme as 1984 but instead of Big Brother takeover, a relinquishing of personal freedom), Fahrenheit 451, Lord of the Flies, A Clockwork Orange, the Children of Men, and the Handmaid’s Tale, the last two being more modern works. For a dystopia about the corporate takeover of crops in a post-oil world, read the recent Windup Girl which garned critical praise.
Anthem by Ayn Rand has a similar theme.
You might look at WE which directly influenced 1984.
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A comedic take on the whole science fiction genre that pokes fun of just about everything. This work has transcended the genre to become part of pop culture. The novel is one long tongue in cheek event – from the characters, to the plot, to the setting. The humor is as British as they come which can lose more than a few that don’t get British humor. This entry on the list is our ode to the Comedic subgenre of SF.
It’s a journey through space and time that will have you laughing the whole way through that’s practically cackling with energy the whole way. A must read for everyone if only so you can get the cultural references that refer to the book!
The sequel novels. There is really nothing quite like the Hitchhiker series. The closest style perhaps would be to read Terry Pratchett's comedic fantasy series, Discworld. Note that Discworld is decidedly fantasy and not science fiction, however.
What is a best science fiction list without the inclusion of one of the greatest science fiction writers ever? Yes, I’m talking about Philip K. Dick, a man ignored in his time but now Hollywood’s golden boy when it comes to drumming up new science fiction films that star A list actors.
The typical entry on a top list would be Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, a seminal science fiction short story that has influenced pop culture like few others. Blade Runner, for one, was based closely on the short story. And we all know how much that film influenced future films. Pretty much every new science fiction film that features an urban city rips out the dirty, vertical urban city sprawl depicted in Blade Runner.
While Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep was a seminal influence on the genre, Dick’s best work is actually a much lesser known work known as Ubik.
Ubik features the classic Dick themes of questioning the meaning of reality, gallows humor in the face of a reality that’s unraveling, and an everyman protagonist you can identify with. Ubik was a major influence on the Matrix films.
The story centers on the idea that a few unique humans have psychic powers. These are not lauded as heroes by the public, but rather feared by the public as a potential source of privacy invasion. Then come in another group of special humans, a sort of counter-psychic group who block the powers of the first group. A group of anti-physics embark on a mission that goes horribly wrong, barely escaping with their lives. They find on their return, however, that things are starting to go wrong – reality is wrong; coffee is stale, phone directories are out of date, etc.
It’s an exciting read that makes you question the nature of reality. This is one of those books that will have you thinking about it long after you turn the final page.
For sure, other Dick reads that deal with similar themes of reality coming undone: Minority Report, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, A Scanner Darkly, and Total Recall.
A futuristic account of an endless war that ends only to return home again to everything has changed so much you don’t fit in. To say this is an allegory for the real world would be an understatement. The novel gives a stunning look into the potential future of humankind and how society might evolve.
The Forever War won both a Hugo and Nebula award.
If there was a novel written for veterans, this would be it. And given that the author himself served in the Vietnam War, the novel reflects his own loose metaphoric experiences in the story. This novel is a direct discourse with Starship Troopers in the way that it takes an anti-military stance the whole way through. It’s a very sharp look at the whole Vietnam War if you read between the lines.
This is a novel that asks, even challenges, some of the fundamental questions that warfare brings; but it’s also the starkly personal narrative of a man just caught up in a war and trying to make sense of the changes around him. Some sharp writing in this one combined with great ideas.
Read the sequel, Forever Peace.
If you like books about war, then Starship Troopers is a good read. It explores different issues (war, the cost of war, how to wage war while still keeping your soul, etc.). For a more depressing look at war along the same lines of The Forever War, read Armor by John Steakly. It’s probably the best look at the cost of war on a personal level.
Old Man's War. A modern classic in the making that shares some similarities with The Forever War (including the Powered Suit combat).
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A novel of startling ideas that influenced a generation of writers and pop culture. Some of the best cyberpunk science fiction out there. Fans of dystopian fiction and cyberpunk will love this one especially those who adore the setting present in Blade Runner - a dilapidated futuristic Asian metropolis with little law and even less order.
The writing is sharp, the wit sharper, and the sarcasm even more so. Stephenson brings you into HIS world, a world where society has been redefined and the rules of living are vastly changed. It’s a distant future that’s somewhat familiar while also alien.
There’s a lot of ideas in Snow Crash and complex ones at that. Stephenson looks at the not-too distant future; it’s a dismal place with no laws, private corporations controlling everything, and the Mob having their hands in the rest – including Pizza Delivery services.
Key part of this future is the Metaverse, Stephenson’s futuristic version of the Internet where people “log on” via virtual goggles. Everything is conducted through the Metaverse, from business to dating. Stephenson not only presents us with a very realistic look at what could be, but there are some subtle social observations about the way things are different and the same. Stephenson frames the modern social constructs intruding into this cyberworld; ones’ social wealth is judged by the look of the avatar they use to interact with the Metaverse, with the wealthy being able to afford custom while the “poor” use off the shelf.
This book has it all, from hacker heroes who wield Samurai sword destruction by night in the Metaverse and deliver pizza by day for the Mob, governments and police controlled by private corporations, and a conspiracy that might the world needs some saving from.
And like the protagonist takes the win for most awesome name ever: Hiro Protagonist.
I feel The Diamond Age, Stephenson's other big Cyberpunk work is actually a better novel with more grand concepts and better social critiques, one that shows Stephenson's maturity as a writer. But Snow Crash is what made it happen and was a highly influential novel on the genre, so it gets my recommendation as "The Must Read".
Neuromancer. This is often lauded as THE book that started the cyberpunk genre. It’s an oldie but has aged surprisingly well. It’s more of a reserved cool, calculated read when you want to really think. Stephenson’s Snow Crash is pumped full of energy, a white hot read that keeps you on edge.
Read Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, his other great Cyberpunk work. Probably the “closest” you are going to get to Snow Crash.
Altered Carbon, a bit of snow crash, a bit of Neuromancer, and a shipload of action. Awesome on every level.
You might give Peter F. Hamilton's Commonwealth saga a read. While it is space opera and not cyberpunk, but there's lots of in the words of the Penny Arcade Forum member “locomotiveman” “badasses being badass with the aid of gadgetry, cybernetic and otherwise, while overall being really cool, likable and at times quite funny.” An apt description I think. Give it a read if you like reading about heroes who kick ass with the aid of gadgets.
If you like the entertaining dialogue present in Snow Crash, you might want to give Neal Asher’s Spatterjay book a read.
This stands as one of the best damn space operas ever created, standing shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Hyperion. It’s packed with incredible ideas and interesting characters and wrapped around with high adventure. Folks, it doesn’t get better than this. So read the damn thing.
A Fire Upon the Deep is one of those books that some love and some hate, but needs to be read. It’s a book with an incredible vision of the galaxy and man’s future among the stars, but it’s also a rip roaring tale that doesn’t get lost in all that “vastness”. A perfect combination between story and ideas. This book won the Hugo Award and it’s pretty easy to see why it did.
There’s a lot of “back story” going on, but the basic premise is this: the galaxy is divided up into various zones. The more sophisticated the technology, the further zones you can go. The laws of physics are relaxed in the zones which make computing and technology such as faster than light travel possible that’s not possible in the Slow Zones. Earth is stuck in the Slow Zone but humanity has in fact made it into the Beyond and founded a few civilizations. The irony is that when you have made it to the Beyond, it’s hard to reach the Slow Zone because the laws of physics are more restrictive. The perfect utopia of the Beyond comes to a grinding halt when human scientists accidentally unleash an ancient evil that basically gobbles up the known world. And the fight to save the universe is on.
A Fire Upon the Deep is a fantastic read for anyone who loves old school Space Opera with plenty of hard science fiction mixed in. Indeed, there’s a hell of a lot thrown into the basket which includes physics, hard sci-fi technology, different races, galactic history, political wrangling and betrayals, conspiracy, a passionate war thriller, and even romance.
There’s an awesome prequel to this and as of 2012, a long awaited twenty years in coming sequel “Children of the Sky” was released. So there’s plenty of fodder in this universe to be entertained by.
Fans of Space Opera and/or Hard Sci-Fi will love this one. If you are a fan of Author C Clark, Larry Niven, or Peter Hamilton, Simmon’s Hyperion, read it. Even if you are not, read it!
Greg Bear's Blood Music for a grand hard sci fi space opera that takes a vast look at the universe. The Common Wealth books by Peter F Hamilton.
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A recent work that’s undoubtedly destined to be a classic. This is one of the best science fictions to come out the past decade. With a strong homage to classic Heinlein but with its own personality, Old Man’s War is a refreshing mix of the old and the new.
The bare-bones premise of the story is that humans have found a means to travel between stars. They also find we are not alone and that valuable planets are a very rare and sought-after commodity. Space, it turns out, is not bright world where a collective of Star-Trek like evolved races work together for the good of the galaxy. Rather it’s a dog-eat-dog world where stronger races prey on weaker ones as a matter of principal. And there are several unfriendly races in the human neck of the woods. To help protect Earth’s colony’s against invasions, the Colonial Defense Force enlists everyone, including elderly citizens. The hero of the story happens to be one of these “elderlies”.
A lot to love about this novel. Strong, strong characterization, a detailed look at man’s destiny in the stars, and some interesting questions about human-alien race relations and not the usual sort of conclusions that most science fiction tends towards.
Lovers of military science fiction (especially those that tend towards hard science fiction concepts) will think this novel the second coming.
Every few pages you’ll be blown out of the water with new ideas. This is a novel about war and stuff but there’s a lot of personality to it. One of the greatest flaws (if you can call this a flaw) is that science fiction can be pretty dry; lots and lots of concept, but no emotion; stories can feel simply like a vehicle to carry an idea and no more. Old Man’s War doesn’t fall into this; Scalzi knows how to write proper characters who live and breathe.
Certainly a must read if you love military science fiction classics like Haldman’s Forever War, Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, Steakly’s Armor, and planet-spanning epics like Dune.
Starship Troopers for which Old Man's War shares a lot of similarities with in tone, setting, and style. The Forever War for another action pack take on "war", though one that asks deeper questions. Armor by John Steakly which is a depressing yet fascinating counter-war novel set in space that features powered suit combat.
Part Film-Noir mystery, part cyberpunk, all goodness. Altered Carbon made a big splash when released. Combining gritty detective noir and cyberpunk, this novel is one hell of a thrill ride from start to end.
While there is a strong cyberpunk element to it, you could class this directly in the future noir / science fiction aubgenre.
The premise is simple, but unique: death has been conquered and humans wear different bodies, called sleeves. The Hero, Kovacs, an ex-member of the UN Envoys, a feared international killing squad sent out to do the UN’s dirty work, is brought in to investigate why Bancroft, one of the wealthiest men on Earth, was murdered. Bancroft, brought back from a digital copy rejects the explanation of his death by suicide. Kovacs, brought back in the body that all too well known. And with both the underworld and police gunning for him, a simple investigation will pit Kovacs against a conspiracy.
There’s a heavy dash of cyberpunk in this one. Some of the typical cyberpunk tropes are there: a bleak futuristic San Francisco, crime infested slums, corrupt law enforcement agencies, mega corporations pulling the strings, virtual reality that’s reality, a beautiful woman in distress, and a mystery to solve.
Morgan ups the ante with an electrifying amount of violence and sex, with a cocktail of grittiness and gloom to throw into the mix. This is not a happy book, but by golly, it’s one fracking hell of a ride from start to finish.
Some interesting concepts in this one: humans can be restored from digital backups, endless torture in virtual reality, a slave trade in rented or stolen bodies to name a few.
If you like detective noir mixed with cyberpunk and a lot of violence, this gets my pick. It might not have the startling ideas presented in Neuromancer or the intelligent social commentaries of Snow Crash, but it more than makes up with some novel ideas combined with action and a non-stop plot.
Closest Picks: The sequel novels to Altered Carbon of course. Pashazade novels by Jom Courtenay Grimwood. Also read Spin State for a similar setting and plot.
If you like the Cyberpunk / Biopunk aspect:
Neuromancer for which Altered Carbon shares a few similarities with the Cyberpunk aspect. Snow Crash which has plenty of action and an exciting story with a cyber punk setting. You might want to checkout Peter F Hamilton's Great North Road for an action packed futuristic detective novel with elements of cyberpunk with plenty of bio/ribo punk. And of course, read Morgan's other novels like Market Forces and Black Man. The proto cyberpunk The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester might also be something to look at.
If you like the hard hitting science fiction detective noir aspect of Altered Carbon: Check out Pashazade: The First Arabesk by Jon Courtenay Grimwood which is a future noir science fiction that brings to mind quite a few similarities to Alered Carbon. On the future noir side of things check out David Brin's Kiln People, Asimov's classic Caves of Steel. Check out When Gravity Falls, Dick's classic Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Lethem's Gun, With Occasional Music, and KOP by Hammond. For one of the most fascinating detective noir books in a psuedo science fiction setting, check out Meilville's The City and the City.
A critically acclaimed science fantasy – a thoroughly extraordinary series that’s set far far into the distant future.
This is an epic that’s set in the distant future – millions of years into the future to be precise – when the world is now old yet startlingly new in other ways. The protagonist, Severian, lives a secluded life as a torturer until he’s exiled from his guild after falling in love with a woman he tortures. As he journeys out from a familiar world into the unfamiliar, seeking the far city of Thrax, we the audience are taken along with him and exposed to an exciting and distant world that’s as alien as it is familiar.
At times the world evokes similarities to Vance’s Dying Earth and Peak’s Gormenghast – both worlds that are a labyrinth of possibility that seem made almost from a half remembered dream.
This is a book that straddles both science fiction and fantasy. I would readily award this novel the greatest literary science fiction book out there on par with Jack Vance’s Dying Earth series.
Often described as a literary science fiction epic. Immense futurity, travel through space and time, palaces within palaces, swordplay, wordplay, mercy that kills, lies becoming truths with the passing of time, etc.
If you are looking for some hard science fiction or a grand space opera, look elsewhere, but if you want a book that makes you think deeply, that forces you to pay attention to every word to find the deeper story within the story, this is your book.
It’s a layered novel of themes; one with astounding prose. Indeed, the prose is terrific, something of a rarely in the science fiction world where ideas seem to trump the language used; it’s what you say and not how you say it that seems to matter. Well this is a book that does both: the ideas are there and the prose is equally as great.
This is a novel for thinkers – those who love layered prose, grand ideas, and personal details. If you’re the type who burns through words without really thinking about the meaning behind them, then this book probably won’t be for you. Paying attention to the prose, what’s said, and how it’s said is key to understanding the story. You see, the narrator is not exactly reliable and you are left wondering whether to trust his descriptions or not – one example among many of the layered complexity to the novel.
Series InformationWolfe's magnum opus are the first two books of the New Sun and follow the journey of Severian. The Urth of the New Sun takes is a follow up years later, featuring the same protagonist. The Long Sun books feature a different protagonist Paterna Silk and take place aboard a vast Generation Ship. The Short Sun Books take place on a different setting, a star system with 2 habitable planets. The plot of the books follow the narrator's search for Silk, the hero of the Long Sun Series
The Book of the New Sun
Book of the Long Sun
The Book of the Short Sun
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Probably the best of Ian Bank’s Culture novels. Strong characters and a light-hearted tone to the novel despite the “seriousness” of the actual plot make this an easy, addicting read. Come on people, as much as we like reading about world-shattering ideas, end of the universe problems, and defeat impossible alien invader odds, sometimes you just want to a fast read that doesn’t require too much commitment on your part. Player of Games is just that type of novel – you can jump into a rich world without committing to too much. And despite how easy it is to read, it’s a pretty damn good read to boot.
The Culture novels are about a Galactic spanning empire of hedonistic evolved humans where all supposed problems have been solved. This society and the workings of it are highly detailed by Banks.
The story centers on Gurgeh, Culture’s top strategy game player. Gurgeh becomes bored of life due to a lack of competition. He ends up getting blackmailed into traveling to a distant system ruled by a barbaric medieval empire who play the most complex strategy game ever devised – a perfect job to utilize Gurgeh’s game skills on. Gurgeh finds out -- too late -- that losing not only results in loss of respect, but actual torture and death; it’s a game where the very stakes are your life and the prize is to be crowned emperor.
The novel in some ways brings to mind one of those action anime series where the conflict between hero and villain is hyped up over and over through a series of battles in and out of a grand tournament with a variety of skilled underlings until the final, anticipated showdown with the main villain.
The strategy and action in the game sequences are as exciting as the action outside the games. The longer Gurgeh stays in the tournament, the more he discovers about this alien civilization which is quite proud of its cruelty and violence. The extremes of the Azad civilization make you think about issues of race, gender, and morals. If you want to read a fun and exciting book that also makes you think, The Player of Games should be at the top of your list.
The strategy and action are exciting both in the game and outside the game. The extremes cruelty of the Azad Empire force you to ask questions about race, gender, and morals.
Compared to Bank’s other works (especially his flagship novel, Consider Phlebas), it’s more of a personal story than a Space Opera, but it’s also a lot more fun because of it.
I know some will ask why I chose this over Bank’s more famous Consider Phlebas, which is a more space opera of grand ideas than Player of Games. Player of Games is a more focused with smaller settings; you are offered more of a slice of the pie than the whole pie itself; sometimes a slice is better than the whole pie. If you like the “Culture” idea of a perfect utopia society, Player of Games is a good, perhaps the best, introduction to the series, even though it’s the “second” book in the series.
If you want a flawed novel of grand ideas and deeper questions, you might want to choose Consider Phlebas as your introduction to the Culture universe. However, it you want an easier-to-read novel with a page-turning plot that still asks enough deep questions to make you think, The Player of Games is a good choice for anyone who has at least a passing interest in science fiction.
What's interesting about the Culture Series is that Banks often has to go outside of "Culture" (which is Banks version of a perfectly evolved society where solutions to every problem have been found) to find story worth writing about because well, a perfect world is pretty f*king dull if you ask me.
Hamilton’s best work – a magnificent space opera that’s as expansively epic as it is exciting. Hamilton’s later works are perhaps more refined and writing better, but this is his best work still. This is not a work of grand ideas along the lines of Foundation or Dune (though Hamilton creates a compelling vision of a humanity who’s conquered to void of space yet finds it is not the master after all) but it’s one hell of an adventure that tackles the death, the afterlife, and man’s primal fears.
On a distant planet humans find a mysterious device of potentially alien origin. Things go wrong when humans tinkering with it unleashes man’s darkest nightmare on the galaxy. Man though he conquered the void. But now the void is conquering back.
This is one of the most exciting reads in the genre if you can look past some of the flaws.
A science fiction that mixes horror, political intrigue, and classic space opera, this is one that you’ll want to pick up. Be warned, there is a lot of graphic everything, from sex to violence. Very little moral ambiguity here, the good is good and the bad is really fracking bad. Hamilton excels at writing good characters; they are not merely engine parts to keep the story machine rolling, but realistic and compelling entities in their own write. Hamilton knows how to write heroes you love to root for and villains you love to hate. There’s a huge cast of characters, massive space battles, and a million other things going on. Not to mention, this is a six book series.
The one downfall to this series (and Hamilton) is that he readily invokes a disturbing amount of dues ex machina to solve problems – something that’s quite unforgivable in some circles. But if you can look past these failings, an exciting story awaits.
If you are a fan of grand space operas in the vein of Hyperion, Brin’s Uplift Saga, Dune and Corey’s The Expanse, you’ll probably love this one.
Commonwealth Saga, Hyperion, The Expanse, Dune
For a superb science fiction tale that straddles the perfect mix between hard and soft science fiction, Gateway take the cake. Gateway is a real page turner – something that many science fictions novels fail at. This is one of them more accessible science fiction reads out there; no need to wade through staggering concepts or follow along with dull characters and thin plot threads.
The critics loved it too; Gateway won the Nebula, Hugo, Locus, and Campbell awards in 1977/78.
Gateway features an everyman character you can relate to, plenty of humor, and healthy dose of suspense that keeps the suspense up throughout the whole story. The prose too is good; concise and easy to read.
Frederick Pohl is one of those rare science fiction writers that stands between hard science fiction and soft; you get the grand ideas WITH plenty of compelling characters and story to move those ideas along while still providing plenty of entertainment for the reader. Gateway is probably his best novel.
The story centers on the idea of an alien Gateway – a hallowed out asteroid that functions as a sort of launching pad for a fleet of mysterious ships. The Gateway was designed by a vanished alien race; it contains nearly a thousand ships, each programmed to travel to a different part of the universe. Humanity does not understand the technology and utilizes so called “volunteers” to man the ships as they launch on their unknown destinations. This is usually a suicide mission; all but a few humans return, but those that do might become enormously wealthy with their discoveries.
The story follows Robinette Broadhead, an enormously wealthy ex miner who took on of the Gateway missions, as he tells his physiologist his life story. It’s a story of hope, love, and tragedy. All we know at the beginning is Rob made it through his mission and became rich as a result of his discovery, but we don’t know any of the details. The book is Rob’s recounting of his tale.
For anyone who wants a science fiction that puts heavy emphasis on story and characters just as much as it does on grand concepts and hard science, Gateway is one of the best in the genre. Full of imagination and emotion, this is one hell of a read. The superb story will absolutely captivate you; this is one book that with both impress with the story and the concepts.
A novel of characters and ideas, one that melds to two together fluidly. It’s one of the best science fiction novels written in the “2000’s” and while it’s not yet a “classic”, it’s probably destined for classic status. Overall, this a wonderful read for those who want science fiction that not only tugs forth novel ideas but tugs on your emotions too.
This Hugo award winner poses the question if the earth remained static while the universe around it aged 100 million years for each earth year that passes. This is the premise of the story with a mysterious shield that suddenly surrounds the earth, while the universe “spins” through time around it. It’s a grand concept that brings with it a number of smaller issues such as with each passing year the chances of earth being destroyed by an outside force increases.
The human drama created by this Spin results from the motivations of the powers who installed the shield and the ultimate purpose of it. Then there is the rich emotional drama of how the ultimate End will impact humanity.
The story follows the protagonist Tyler Dupree after the stars suddenly disappear, a world-changing event that impact the lives of every single person on earth. It’s a change that changes people and society.
Robert Wilson is not a traditional hard science fiction writer in the same vein of Asimov or Carke. He’s more interested in finding out how people react to major changes in both their lives and the environment. He writes a compelling story with believable characters – a remarkable achievement in a genre that’s renowned for grand ideas but wooden characters and dry plots.
What’s so impressive about this is it’s one of those science fiction stories that has you forgetting that it’s science fiction; you just get lost in the emotional story of the characters trapped behind Spin. But those who like to pay attention to grand ideas and deep concepts will feed to full in this book.
This might not have the seminal influence that some of the “classics’ have on this list, but it’s a damn impressive novel – rich and atmospheric. The setting is a near future dystopia. All those bad things that you’ve heard can happen to the environment have happened and the world has been shaken up and new rules are in place.
The setting is unique and evocative, a futuristic Bangkok. The world is post-oil where there is very little petroleum and energy is provided by using genetically modified animals to wind up springs which are then used to power an array of machines. It’s a sort of steampunkish look at a future of sorts, but completely different than the usual blade-runnerish, vertical cities, flying cars, media-everywhere visions of the future present in most future-looking science fiction.
This is a world controlled by the “calorie companies”, corporate like food entities that control large-scale crop production but genetically modified so they cannot reproduce so you have to keep buying more. One of the more unique novels out there and a stand-alone novel – no need to pump through multiple books to get an ending here.
I won’t rate this over some of the seminal works in the field, but it’s still a damn impressive read. If you are looking for a more modern work of science fiction that asks some interesting questions, provides an almost realistic look at a possible future, and strong characterization, this novel will deliver. There are two types of science fiction: novels of ideas and novels of emotion. This is more of the later with some of the former. But unlike most science fiction, it managers to find an excellent balance between the two.
Wow, what a ride from beginning to end. True to a Neal Stephenson tradition, it ties a number of completely different ideas and themes together into a (somehow) working thread.
Stephenson returns to the science fiction genre after nearly 13 years and manages to reinvent the old wheel, but improve on it in many ways.
I know Stephenson has been mentioned on this list already with Snow Crash and there are a LOT of classics that could take this place; but Anathem was one of the best recent science fiction releases and because of that is on this list.
Science Fiction is not interested with extrapolation, but variation on existing ideas. Big Object hurtling towards earth. Parallel universes. Artificial Intelligence. That’s not to say contemporary science fiction hasn’t produced some outstanding works that explore these ideas more fully than the pioneers of the genre did, but the fact remains that very few “new” concepts are being explored.
Stephenson bucks the current trend by not borrowing from overused science fiction tropes but instead goes back to drawing board and re-invents them pretty much from scratch. Stephenson incorporates work from a variety of sources – physics, mathematics, philosophy, and even literary theory to meld together a big book about everything.
It’s a strange intoxicating mix that feels both literary and scientific. It’s as if you know you are reading a non-fiction book about real ideas and hard science but also fiction. To me it hearkens back to the science fiction days of the 40’s and 50’s of grand ideas yet with the modern sensibilities of the 2000’s. It’s a strange mix that just works.
Cutting edge quantum physics, parallel universes, alien menace, monks, and more bleed from the pages of this story. Yet all that aside, it’s also a coming of age story of a young man full of angst in a strange world that’s just as familiar as it is different from our own. Funky, crazy, epic, and intensely personal come to mind when reading Anathem. It really is one hell of a ride. For something different yet familiar, read this work.
Rumor is there may be a sequel novel. And that my friends is damn good news.
Nominated for Hugo award, this is a “First Contact” novel that focuses just as much on a cast of troubled, flawed characters as it does on the alien contact premise. It’s a wonderful read and should be read if you want a different sort of First Contact story than the usual Science Fiction. This is one of the best Hard Science fiction novels of the past decade.
The story centers on Siri Keaton, a human with half a brain. He’s a member of the Theseus, a research vessel crewed by a number of superhuman misfits – all genetically and technologically modified to work in deep space. The crew quite accidentally encounter an alien lie form during a routine trip. It’s a novel of first contact that calls into question not the otherness of something not human, but the inhumanity that lies in a human. Watt’s gives a cold clinical view of the universe, yet at the same time breathes a deep life into his wounded characters.
This novel works on several levels. On the most surface level, the language is spectacular and almost poetic. Watts is a writer who can really write, able to put to pen beautiful prose that will take your break away. He’s got a way with descriptions, from detailing the vast aloneness of space, to the claustrophobic atmosphere of the ship, to the tortured mental spaces that each character occupies. But a way with words is not the only trick Watt’s has up his bag; the premise of the story is brilliant as is sharp. The plot is involving, the atmosphere intense, creepy, and almost lovcraftian, and the story challenges the readers’ perception of the world.
When you are done with the novel, you will have a new insight into the way you yourself interact with the novel; something achieved by only the very best of literature.
And hell, you can even read the book for free on Watt’s website. With an offer like that, how can you NOT resist?
Certainly one of my picks for one of the best science fiction reads of the past decade and likely to be a modern classic in a few years’ time.
There’s a time for everything. There’s a time to read heavy novels filled with grand ideas and space, the universe, and the destiny of mankind through Hard Science Fiction. There’s a time to read meaningful discourse on the human condition through Soft Science Fiction. Then there’s just a time to sit back and read something that’s just pretty damn fun without having to think complex thoughts. Miles Vorkosigan is that read.
This is heroic, romantic space opera that has the best character writing and development in the entire genre.
The series follows the rise of prodigy Miles Vorkosigan, a young man with a crippled body but a brilliant mind, through his rise in the ranks as he takes on and conquers impossible odds with genius strategy. This is character-driven Space Opera that mixes in humor, comedy, tragedy and loss, politics,, military, and romance in various proportions. Lots of action, lots of adventure, and always fun, this is one of science fiction’s most endearing and enduring series. The first book was published in 1986 and the most recent in 2012.
Part of the pleasure of reading this saga is rooting for the underdog, the titular hero of the story Miles Vorkosigan. Miles is the definition of an underdog, a man who’s bound by serious physical limitations but with a brilliant mind. It’s the juxtaposition of Mile’s clear physical inadequacies (his bones are fragile as glass and he’s under five feet tall) and the strength of his mind that fuel the emotional conflicts of this novel. Miles is forever the underdog, both in physical contests and strategic ones; he also faces serious prejudice because of his physical appearance, prejudice he is able to overcome through his own heroic efforts, though he must deal with them at an emotional level.
If the fact that Miles Vorkosigan is a pretty thrilling read from start to finished with astoundingly deep characterization of the hero (and other characters) isn’t enough, then perhaps the fact that Lois McMaster Bujold has won Four Hugo awards, two Nebula awards, two Locus awards and countless nominations for books in the series over the twenty-five year history might help convince you; indeed, if it comes down to a “who has the bigger Hugo collection” brags, only Robert H. Heinlein has tied Lois McMaster Bujold with each having 5 Nebulas.
Bottom line: if you want an extraordinarily entertaining series that’s fueled some suburb characterization and a lot of politics, action, and adventure, you absolutely have to read this series. This series definitely takes the cake for some of the most entertaining science fiction reads in the genre.
We've given the internal chronological order of the series below. This is a different order than the publishing order as Bujold has published a number of novels and novellas from different periods, not always following the publishing order. The author herself suggests that you follow the internal chronological order.
Note that not every novel in the series stars the titular hero, Miles. There are also a number of short stories / novellas inter-spliced between the novels. We've the strict internal chronological order.
As for recommended reading order, you should probably start out with the "first" book where Miles (rather than start out with the prequel story that takes place before Miles birth) is the (main) protagonist to at least get a feel for the series. This book is "The Warrior's Apprentice" and really marks the point where "the series takes off." If you like the first few Miles books, you can read the prequel series than start following the chronological order.
Honor Harrington by David Weber
These are the books that almost made it onto the Top 25 list and for many people certainly would be on their own Top 25 list. If you didn't see your favorite on the Top 25, check this list. Or if you've read every book on the Top 25 Best list, work your way through these -- they are all phenomenal reads and chances are more than a few will be on your personal Top 25.
A great idea with a so/so story. Certainly for fans of pure Hard Science Fiction, this is one of the best. Ringworld ends up on many a Top Science Fiction Books lists because of the vast scope of Larry Niven’s ideas. I personally found the story incredibly boring and the characters thin as paper. There are a number of sequels and prequels though that flesh things out. If you are a Hard Science Fiction fan, this is a must read. While I don’t rate this as one of the Top 25 Best Science Fiction books, it certainly would end up on a Top 100 list. Defiantly worth reading, but maybe not a must read.
Another take on the Military SF subgenre and together with Starship Troopers and Forever War is one of the best. A look at the personal cost of battle. Like all quality Science Fiction tales, explores the implications of war on the personal and societal levels. It’s also got some of the best heart-pumping combat scenes I’ve ever read.
Shares nothing at all with the Will Smith movie. Banish that dirty image from your mind please. The novel, by Asimov, helped define our modern perception (and the science fiction standard) of robots by formulating the three laws of Robotics:
1) A robot may not injure a human being or through inaction allow a human being to come to harm.
2) A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
The fun starts when the three laws start conflicted with each other. The novel is essentially about the relationship between human and robot
Asimov is one of the great masters of the genre with high-flying, ground breaking ideas, especially considering the time period in which he wrote his stories (computers were not yet ubiquitous).
The Left Hand of Darkness
Hands down one of the best soft science fiction books ever written and a serious contender for the Top 25.
If you are looking for some old school space opera where mankind has spread through the solar system and fractured into different power groups (Earth, Mars, Asteroid Belt) on the brink of war, then throw in a good old fashion mysterious alien menace and a cast of troubled characters including a down-and-out ex-cop you get a page turning read. This space opera is old school while still including modern science fiction conventions (sharp prose, an interesting plot, a cast of flawed characters with real motivations) which makes it a fantastic read. By far one of the more entertaining science fiction reads to come out the past decade. Those who love grand space opera by Hamilton will be right at home here. It's a great modern take on the old school space opera formula, but not enough to land it on the best of the best.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep
Visionary. Cultural Impacting – much more so than Ubik. Atmospheric. Many would add this book to their Top 10. I choose not to include it simply for the fact that it’s not PKD’s best story.
Brave New World
A dystopia in the vein of 1984 that’s often featured on various best book lists. I choose 1984 as the most influential dystopia in terms of sheer impact on society to feature on this list but some might add a Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, or Clockwork Orange as the pick.
The Time Machine
One of the science fiction classics that actually ages somewhat well despite it's age. With the vast number of great science fiction reads out there, I wouldn't rate it as the Top 25 outside of the historical significance. If we are looking only at the "classics", then The Time Machine would absolutely be on the list.
A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ
A heartwarming story with religious implications that never comes off as too preachy. This one tops many “Best Lists.”
One of the most cerebral science fiction novels in the genre and one of the first non-English science fictions that received critical acclaim. The Clooney movie does some justice for the book, but the book is by far more cerebral and deep than the movie.
A well-regarded classic that pulls just as hard on the heartstrings as it does stimulate your mind. Some awesome idea in this one. Much better than the movie adaption.
The Gone Away World
If you like books about Mars you won't find a "better" one than the "Mars Trilogy" (Red Mars, Blue Mars, Green Mars). Some of the best hard sci-fi about world terraforming The story is epic and follows the lives of several characters as Mars undergoes a terraforming transformation over centuries. Highly detailed look at the process and what it does to the relationships between characters. The ideas are awesome and there is a crazy amount of detail; however at times the story itself drags on and the characters are a bit thin. One of those "ideas" over "character" novels.
Another Clarke classic. This one is about humanity's "growing up" and finding their real place in the universe. A well-done novel (a classic by all measure of things) that asks some interesting questions about the future of mankind and how we get to that future. This is not a book strong on characters and story but ideas.
Rendervous with Rama
An absolute classic. Like all of Clarke's ideas, this is a novel about vast ideas and their impact on humanity and not about relationships or characters. So if you love Hard Science Fiction that's thin on characterization, story, or plot, then it's a great read.
Princess of Mars
A science fantasy romantic about a man name John Carter who mysteriously finds himself on mars. Highly influential on the Science Fiction genre as a whole. This is regarded as a classic of the genre and while it doesn't "age well" it's still a highly entertaining story, especially if you love pulp reads about heroes saving the day.
The Uplift Series
An interesting Hard Science fiction with some astounding ideas. One of my favorite reads. The first two books in the series are the best while the sequel books lack the greatness. This one manages to combine a thrilling story, some great characters, and vast ideas.
The Mote in Gods Eye
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
One of the books that helped shape the then formative Science Fiction genre. An absolute classic. While the "science" aspect of this story is thin and does not at all age, it's a resounding "adventure" story, the likes of which influenced later writers in the genre.
To Your Scattered Bodies Go
Flowers for Algernon
Dune (Frank Herbert)
Ender's Game(Orson Scott Card)
Starship Troopers (Robert Heinlein)
Foundation (Issac Asimov)
The Stars My Destination (Alfred Besters)
2001: A Space Odyssey (Author C. Clarke)
Hyperion Cantos (Dan Simmons)
Neuromancer (William Gibson)
1984 (George Orwell)
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
Ubik (Philip K. Dick)
The Forever War (Joe Haldman)
Snow Crash (Neal Stephenson)
A Fire Upon the Deep (Vernor Vinge)
Old Man's War (John Scalzi)
Altered Carbon (Richard Morgan)
Book of the New Sun (Gene Wolfe)
Player of Games (Ian Banks)
The Night's Dawn (Peter F. Hamilton)
Gateway (Frederick Pohl)
Spin (Robert Charles Wilson)
The Windup Girl (Paolo Bacigalupi)
Anathem (Neal Stephenson)
Blindsight (Peter Watts)
Miles Vorkosigan Saga (Lois McMaster Bujold)