Best Science Fiction Books
This is a list of books that we consider to be the best Science Fiction books we’ve ever read. In making this list, we’re not trying to dictate what the best Science Fiction books ever might be. Although this list would likely overlap with that one to some extent, were we to make such a list. But we’re not. So there, Mr. Internet. Still, there’s a wide timeline that we’re trying to cover here, so don’t be surprised if there are some old ones on this list.
We likely need to mention that this list has the possibility (nay, probability) of changing as we read more books and/or decide that we like something else better. Funny thing. People are always writing new books. In general, we’ve found that most of those books we’ve listed here could very well be termed “classics”, as they were written some time ago. This doesn’t mean that we don’t like new science fiction books. Just that, even of all those we’ve read recently, we still think a lot of the oldies are the goodies. Even the besties, yeah? We’re still reading Science Fiction stuff today, and we plan on doing it until they close the casket and bury us in the ground, but even then expect that a few of our favorite dead-tree stories will be stacked around our cold, dead feet. You know. Just in case we come back as a zombie or something and can’t climb our way out of that claustrophobic prison. At least we’ll have something good to read.
Also, you should remember to not get too caught up on the ranking numbers. Google seems to like numbered lists, so that’s how we’ve assembled them here. In general though, those at the top of the list are better, in our not-so-humble opinions, than those at the bottom, but any strict comparisons are pretty much pointless.
You’ll also probably notice that not all of these books are the first of a series. Or the last books, for that matter. That’s by design, as these are the best Science Fiction books that we’ve ever read. So don’t necessarily read just these ones. Remember, most of these books that likely part of a REALLY GOOD book series as well. At least, it stands to reason.
If you have suggestions for our list, feel free to comment below, and we’ll see if we agree with you, or if we might have overlooked something (yes, it’s possible), or whatever. Even if you just have an opinion about one or more of the books we’ve listed here, we’d love to hear from you.
Regardless, this list is for all of you. So, happy reading.
#1 – Revelation Space
Despite the fact that we only recently put up a review of this book (*cough* TRAGEDY *cough*), we can pretty much safely say that this book belongs at the top of our list. This story brings together the vastness of space, the eons of the universe’s life, the complexity and brilliance of pure imagination, and a story so full of detail and fascination that we can’t help but stand in awe of it. At the same time though, it captures the power and nuance of character and emotion that tie us wholly to the story at large without losing readers in the science along the way. Yes, this is Hard Science Fiction, it does occasionally get dense, and that might intimidate some people. Don’t let it. Alastair Reynolds is not an author to miss out on. Especially if you love this genre as much as we do.EBR Review »
#2 – Dune
Dune is a brilliant book. Our reviewer, Allan, got it right when he uttered the term “Timeless” in association with it. We don’t think that any list of “best” Science Fiction books could be assembled (with any degree of validity to it) unless this book was placed on it. Even though lists like these are all opinion. Because in all honesty, if you’ve read this book, then you know how impressive it is. And if you haven’t, then, quite simply, you’re choosing to ignore one of the greats. Politics and Religion and Technology clash and roil across a massive stage, as the iconic character of Paul Atreides learns enough lessons for a lifetime and more. There is awe and wonder and complexity and texture in this story that is impossible to overlook. Today’s world might set such a book aside and say something akin to, “Eh. This one was written by some old white guy,” but we think that would be a grave error indeed. Has the world moved on? Yes. Has it moved on so far that this story no longer holds value. Hardly. Don’t miss out on this one.EBR Review »
#3 – A Civil Campaign
This book sits somewhere in the middle of the massive Miles Vorkosigan series that the author has been penning for over 30 years now. We know there are some that would say that there is likely no better science fiction author living today that does it better than Bujold. In fact we’ve seen others make such statments. She writes character on a level that is rarely even approached by others, and has built a world around Miles that a veritable hoard of people have come to love and enjoy.
This book happens to be one of those in the series that we just particularly enjoyed. There is humor and romance and politics and science that is all so well put together that readers will easily find themselves transported (figuratively people; I know we’re talking science fiction here, but really…) into the world of Miles’s life. This would be an especially important read for all of our male readers out there. As Bujold does romance in science fiction so incredibly right, and you could likely only do worse by looking for a good example from someone else.A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold (Amazon)
#4 – Iron Gold
Pierce Brown has done nothing but good for the genre of Science Fiction. He’s come a long ways since the days of Red Rising, which was a really good debut novel (yeesh, that still spins our noggins around), and these days he’s bringing more and more of his apocalyptic solar system to our hearts and minds. Cutting it down to the nubbins, his story is mostly “Romans and Vikings in space”, and if that doesn’t tickle your whistle at least a little bit, then you might want to check that you still have a heartbeat. By the time this novel rolls around, Darrow and his band of misfits have come a very long ways indeed. There is widespread war and slaughter, political uprising, love and betrayal, the rise and fall of nobility. SO MUCH! Our elitist brains can scarcely hold it all in some times. This novel took things to another level. Not only for the story, but for the author as well. Darrow was the sole focus of the story in the first three books, but in this one, the story is split between four, and we learn just how great of an author Pierce Brown really is. But don’t take our word for it. Read it. Only, you know, start with the first one. 🙂EBR Review »
#5 – Hyperion
Dan Simmons has incredible control of the English language, and this is one of our favorites of his. Hyperion has scope and vastness like so many of the other science fiction books at the top of our list. Is there such a thing as “Epic Science Fiction”? We’re not exactly sure if the term applies. Almost sounds redundant, because of the sense of wonder and amazement that is so important to the heart of true science fiction. Regardless, this book has it, and shows it off in good measure as the Hegemony of Man interacts with the powerful being known as the Shrike. We keep wondering if the adaptation for TV will ever get off the ground. Here’s to hoping.Hyperion by Dan Simmons (Amazon)
#6 – Abaddon’s Gate
James S.A. Corey’s Expanse series is one of the best ongoing science fiction series out there right now. The fact that it’s getting close to ending is just about debilitating to our fragile desires. So much of this series has just been brilliant, but this book was the one that opened up the series and made it just… MASSIVE. Really, we could have picked just about any of the books in this series and been perfectly fine with the decision, as nearly every book in this series has been brilliant sci-fi fun. The author’s ability to balance the personal story with the epic scale of humanity (and more) has been one of our favorite parts of this series. It’s a story about people. Both good and bad. About weird, alien technology and the “expanse” of what just might be out there. One thing is for certain, we can’t wait to see what this dynamic duo comes up with next.EBR Review »
#7 – Ender's Game/Shadow
The story told in this pair of books has been at the top of the science fiction palette for decades, and there’s a reason why it isn’t going anywhere soon. Ender’s experience in GAME and then again seen through the eyes of Bean in SHADOW brings youth and maturity together in a way not experienced in very many places. Dan once heard a bookstore employee pitching Ender’s Game to a customer, and along the way the employee decided to give away the ending. Made his heart hurt for the loss of that reader’s experience. And yet, despite how great the story is in that book, so many people that we’ve talked to (and we tend to agree) the story is even better yet in SHADOW. Even though we know how the experience ends, Card was able to bring the character and story of Bean to his readers in prime fashion and make the story surrounding Ender Wiggin that much better. It’d be tough to make a list like this without including Ender. Don’t let it stay off of yours.Ender's Game/Shadow by Orson Scott Card (Amazon)
#8 – Snow Crash
This could very well be the quintessential Neal Stephenson. Well, this one or Cryptonomicon, yeah? He’s written a lot of stuff over the years that has the ability to blow people’s minds, and it’s always so well written and laid out to perfection. Sometimes he can really go off on a tangent though. Lol. Still, Snow Crash lights up some of the best aspects of what can be termed “cyberpunk” and science fiction in general. There are scenes and imagery from this book that just haven’t left our minds, lo these many years after having read it. He just treats science fiction right, and we can’t help but be glad that he’s around to put stuff like this into our heads.Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (Amazon)
#9 – 2001: A Space Odyssey
Whether you’re a fan of the book or the movie, 2001 is some great science fiction. Clarke and Kubrick co-authored the movie script based off of some of Clarke’s short stories, at the time, and then the novel was penned as a result. The stories twines itself around the creation of a machine that thinks beyond it’s programming and becomes more than it’s creators can control. Early science fiction at it’s finest.2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke (Amazon)
#10 – Foundation
Who could forget the infamous mathematician Hari Seldon and his theory of psychohistory? We certainly haven’t, and we don’t think you should either. The development of this story, across thousands of years, is one of our favorites classics of science fiction. His treatment of the individual and the galactic empire both give bookends to our potential as a species. This is classic sci fi at its finest.Foundation by Isaac Asimov (Amazon)
#11 – The Martian
So this book is almost a cheater. I mean, how many other science fiction novels had the benefit of first being published online, critiqued by a bunch of NASA space engineers, and then picked apart by a solid editor before ever being slated for traditional publication? Dude had a lot of help along the way with this one, but what resulted was some seriously good stuff. The whole premise surrounds Mark Watney, an astronaut that inadvertently gets stranded on the surface of Mars after a landing mission gone wrong. Like a wilderness survival story on massive amounts of steroids. Sound like fun? We definitely thought so. You will too.EBR Review »
#12 – The Forever War
This one is the soldier’s story. It’s built upon a simple concept that those who fight in war are forever changed, and very few places is the story relayed better of those changed soliders coming home to Earth. While it may be true that there is a lot of biography built into this book, it is also the story of all soldiers in their attempts to return to the lives they once held. In today’s world, amidst science fiction novels that are literal door-stoppers, the limited page count of this book surprises us every time we take note of it. A sign of less story? Or perhaps, just better than the average. You decide. Just don’t miss it.The Forever War by Joe Haldeman (Amazon)
#13 – Old Man's War
The story of John Perry. A 75-year “old man” that is given renewed life in a younger body and then thrust into a war that will redefine who he is. Scalzi has always impressed us with his ability to relay science while sticking to the things that are important, like engaging character and solid story. This is another example of why we like his stuff so much. This one was built upon the lessons the author learned from another great: Heinlein. They’re both authors that we could learn a lot from about how to build a great story.Old Man's War by John Scalzi (Amazon)
#14 – The Player of Games
This is a really interesting one, from within the novels of The Culture. Gurgeh, bored with his life of success, travels to the Empire of Azad while learning how to play their complicated societal game, also Azad, that dictates where it’s players land in the social and political hierarchies of the empire. Banks has always pushed our buttons when it comes to science and character. If anything, he at times doesn’t really pull everything together in terms of solid character impact, but by-and-large his novels are large and loads of fun to read. This is one of his really good ones.The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks (Amazon)
#15 – Gateway
If you happened to come upon a station of old tech, out among the stars, comprising hundreds of starships that would launch you off into outer space without any understanding of where you would go or how long you would be gone… would you jump into one? Let it take you off into the blackness? This is the premise of GATEWAY, and is the novel that introduces to humanity the alien species of the Heechee. Unsurprisingly, this is another one of those classic books that tells a solid character story amidst the backdrop of this massive gateway to the stars. Absolutely not a book to miss, if you’re looking for solid Science Fiction from this decade or that of yesteryear.Gateway by Frederik Pohl (Amazon)
#16 – Neuromancer
This is another cyberpunk novel, and it definitely shows it in it’s similarities to Snow Crash that we highlighted above. If anything though, this book throws even more crazy cyber ideas at the reader per unit volume than does Snow Crash. Even reading a synopsis/summary of this book feels like you’re surfing a particularly wicked acid trip from the late 80s. Absolutely great mind warp of a novel, and one that you’ll likely have to read more than once to figure out what all is going on inside it. Confession time: it took us more than one read. Yeah. Cool stuff.EBR Review »
#17 – Ursula K. Le Guin Short Fiction
You know, we almost decided to put LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS on this list instead, but then decided that the compilation of short fiction by this superb author just gave us a little bit more of exactly what we love about her stuff. Great writing. Well-wrought characters. Complex stories. And there’s something of just about everything for just about every reader of science fiction in this collection. Yes, we know, this is kind of a cheat. All the rest of these books are singular with single stories inside them. Nothing quite so large and varied. But we love short fiction here too, and thought this would be a great way to help you all remember that. Life survives in the small and microcosm as well as the large, and in this case, short fiction shows that it can thrive in full measure.EBR Review »
#18 – A Fire Upon the Deep
Our head honcho, Steve, described this book as “a slow, dense Space Opera with awesome alien characters, sweet ideas, and accessible writing”. Whatever you do, don’t read the prologue and then decide to bail. You may even want to skip the prologue. That way you won’t think that we don’t just have a bunch of kooks running around here behind the scenes. The good stuff chronicles the accidental waking of a superintelligence and the dangers of what it might pose to the masses of humanity now spread throughout the galaxy.EBR Review »
#19 – The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
It might come as a surprise to some of you that for nearly a century, the continent of Australia was used as a penal colony for the British Empire. In this book, the moon is used for the same purpose, and becomes very important when a computer technician finds out that the main computer system on the planet, through which ultimate authority is maintained, has become self-aware. An early tale of AI. Although in this case, the machine intelligence decides to try and keep humanity from dying, instead of deciding that humanity is the disease that must be eradicated. It gets a little goofy at times, but overall is a great read and great example of science fiction at its best.The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein (Amazon)
Parent page: Best-of Lists