SF CORE Best Lists
- Best Modern Science Fiction Books
- Best Science Fiction Series
- Best Stand Alone Science Fiction Books
- Top 25 Underrated Science Fiction Books
- Best Science Fiction by Women
- Best Science Fiction Books for Young Adults
- Best Science Fiction Books for Children
- The Alternative Top 25 Best Science Fiction List
- Top 25 Science Fiction Books
- Top 100 Best Science Fiction Books
- Top 50 Best Science Fiction Movies of All Time
- Best Sci-Fi Movies of the 21st Century
- Best Sci-Fi TV Shows of All Time
- Best Science Fiction Graphic Novels
SF ERA Best Lists
- Best Science Fiction Books of 2014
- Best Contemporary Science Fiction Books
- Best New Wave Science Fiction Books
- Best Classic Science Fiction Books
- Best Early Science Fiction Books
- Best Proto-Science Fiction
- Best Modern Science Fiction Classics
SF GENRE Best Lists
- Best Hard Science Fiction Books
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- Best Space Opera Books (OLD AND MERGED WITH NEW)
- Best Dystopian Science Fiction Books
- Best Post Apocalyptic Science Fiction Books
- Best Alternate History Books
- Best Time Travel Science Fiction Books
- Best Robot Science Fiction
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- Top 25 Best Mars Science Fiction Books
- Best Literary Science Fiction Books
- Best Books About Science Fiction
- Best Space Opera Books
- Top 25 Post Human Science Fiction Books
- Top 25 Best Science Fiction Mystery Books
- Top 25 Best Science Fiction Books About the Moon
- Best Non-English Science Fiction Books
- Best Science Fiction Games of All Time
- Best Science Fiction Comic Books
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- Top 25 Military SciFi Books
OTHER Best Lists
Best Classic Science Fiction Books
When John W. Campbell took over as editor of Astounding in 1939, he instituted a new regime. Now, he told them, he wanted sound science, with the most formidable antagonist being the physical laws of the universe, and with mankind being at least the intellectual equal of any aliens encountered. (We will overlook, for the moment, his interest in psi and his devotion to the ideas of Dianetics.) Campbell knew exactly what he wanted, and would make his authors rewrite and rewrite until he got it, and the result was a major change in the character of science fiction.
Campbell ushered in what has become known as the Golden Age of science fiction, a period that saw the rise of what we recognise as hard sf.
By the early 50s, new magazines such as Galaxy, If and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction were emerging to challenge the dominance of Campbell's Astounding. They maintained the emphasis on hard sf that Campbell had initiated, but also encouraged a more humane and occasionally a more experimental approach. The style of science fiction that Campbell championed remained the dominant mode of science fiction until the emergence of the New Wave in the 1960s, but let's face it, when you think about science fiction you automatically call to mind the classic stories from Campbell's Golden Age.
Bester's other great novel is The Demolished Man, which won the very first Hugo Award. It asks the question: how do you get away with murder in a society in which telepathy is so common that the police can know everything going on in your mind? Told in a free and easy manner, with lots of wordplay and typographical tricks, it is another novel that clearly deserves to be recognised as a classic.
If you are fascinated by Bester's adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo, you should also check out Spirit: or the Princess of Bois Dormant by Gwyneth Jones, which also uses the Dumas novel as a model for a story of interstellar adventure. In this case it's also a sequel to her award-winning Aleutian Trilogy.
For another modern space opera with Bester's fingerprints all over it, check out The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey: Leviathan Wakes, Caliban's War, Abaddon's Gate and Cibola Burn. The co-author, Daniel Abraham, acknowledges Bester as a major influence then 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 like Heinlein then you should read more books by Heinlein of course. But what to read next? Well, there's so much work by Heinlein that everyone interested in science fiction should read, but here's a selection.
The Door into Summer is a novel that explores Heinlein's fascination with time travel. When inventor D.B. Davis is tricked out of his company, his former partners put him into cold sleep. But when he awakes, years later, he finds that many of the innovations in the world are credited to one D.B. Davis. Finding someone who has invented time travel, he goes back knowing how to change the world.
Starship Troopers, another Hugo ward winning novel, is one of the best known of Heinlein's books, a military adventure that traces the career of the central character from recruitment up to an interstellar war.
Stranger in a Strange Land is a Hugo Award winning novel that became a cult classic during the 1960s, and was named as one of the "Books that Shaped America" by the Library of Congress. It's the story of a human raised on Mars who returns to Earth and ends up transforming human society.
If you're fascinated by Heinlein's account of lunar colonies in revolt from Earth, you should check out Time Out of Joint by Philip K. Dick, which tells the story from the other side. RagelGumm lives in a 1950s small town where he makes his living winning newspaper competitions. But strange things start to happen; a soft drinks stand disappears leaving a slip of paper with the words SOFT DRINKS STAND written on it. Gradually, Gumm works out that the small town is not real, and that the newspaper competition is actually a way of predicting where the rebelling lunar colonies will bombard next. It's a novel full of Dick's typical undermining of reality, but it makes a fascinating counterpoint to Heinlein's novel.
Animal Farm is Orwell's other great dystopian novel. Disguised as a rather charming fable about animals taking over the running of their farm, it is really a chilling account of Soviet Russia as the pigs, particularly Napoleon, become all-powerful rulers indistinguishable from the humans they have displaced. And the great rallying cry: all animals are created equal, is subtly changed to read: all animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others.
We by Yevgeny Zamiatin (which appears elsewhere on this list) is the inspiration behind much of Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (which also appears elsewhere on this list) is the other great dystopian novel of the period.
One by David Karp is set in a near-future America that believes itself to be approaching perfection, though it is in fact a dystopia. An incredibly complex bureaucracy is in place to keep control of all citizens by encouraging a vast network of informers, but when one informer falls foul of the system he finds himself rounded up and subjected to torture.
The Trial by Franz Kafka gave us the word "Kafkaesque" for any nonsensical bureaucracy which gives no reasonable way forward. Although it is a contemporary mainstream novel, the way that the protagonist, Josef K, finds himself arrested for an unspecified crime by agents of an unspecified force, and brought to trial in the attic of a huge tenement building where the procedures remain ever mysterious to him, all adds up to a powerful and haunting dystopia.
Books in Triffids Series (1)
Wyndham wrote a string of engaging catastrophe stories, of which one of the best if least typical is probably The Chrysalids. Set in a post-apocalyptic Labrador, where a technologically limited religious society is in place and anyone who displays mutations, known as "Blasphemies", is cast out, it concerns a group of children who discover they have telepathic powers, which leads them to question the nature of their society.
Telepathic children also feature, rather more eerily, in The Midwich Cuckoos. A small village in England is cut off for a day by strange gas that renders everyone unconscious. When the gas dissipates, everything seems to return to normal until, some months later, every woman of child-bearing age in the village finds she is pregnant. The children are all pale, with golden eyes and telepathic abilities, and they mature remarkably quickly. It's obvious that they are not human, but how can they be dealt with when they can control anyone who threatens them?
The sort of catastrophe that Wyndham wrote about can also be found in the work of several other British writers, including Keith Roberts, whoseThe Furies is clearly modelled on The Day of the Triffids. Nuclear tests go wrong, disrupting the landscape, while at the same time giant alien wasps invade.
In The Death of Grass by John Christopher, the catastrophe is a mutated virus that attacks all forms of grass, including wheat and barley, leading to a devastated landscape and mass famine.
Books in Dune Chronicles Series (7)
Don't let the bloat of the later Dune novels put you off. You really should read some of Frank Herbert's other novels.
The Dragon in the Sea is another novel of depleted natural resources, in this case oil following a decade-long war between West and East. But the nuclear submarines that the West is using to harvest the scarce oil are simply disappearing. It's not the great world-building epic of Dune, but it is a gripping thriller with a strong message.
The Eyes of Heisenberg is set in a future in which the majority of people on Earth are ruled by the genetically superior Optimen. In the main the rule seems benevolent, despite the fact that the Optimen have dramatically restricted technological development, but a resistance movement is starting to develop. The future world is very vividly drawn, and this is another of the gripping plots that Herbert seemed to produce effortlessly.
Hellstrom's Hive takes what Herbert called "the most horrible kind of civilization you could imagine", and then makes them into the good guys. The horrible civilization is the sort of regimented, highly structured life of social insects; but when a group of humans try to live this way, they are disrupted by the intrusion of government agents.
Dune is a one-off, there is no other novel quite like it. But if you are looking for a novel set in a richly imagined desert landscape with a serious ecological message, you could turn to The Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson.
Books in St. Leibowitz Series (1)
Shortly before his death, Miller wrote a sequel, Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman, which was completed by Terry Bisson. Unfortunately, like many belated sequels, it doesn't really have the power or the quality of the original.
Among the post-apocalyptic stories from around the same time, you should also check out Davy by Edgar Pangborn, a beautifully written and quite enchanting account of a young man growing up in a pseudo-medieval society centuries after an atomic war, where the all-powerful Church actively suppresses technology.
Books in Mesklin Series (2)
Books in Instrumentality Of Mankind Series (7)
Apart from his spectacular stories, Cordwainer Smith wrote only one novel, Norstrilia, which is also set in the future of the Instrumentality of Mankind, and which is also eminently readable. The hero amasses the biggest fortune in the history of the universe thanks to stroon, a drug that allows people to live extended lifespans. He is so rich that he is rumoured to have bought Old Earth, the legendary home of humanity. Touring Earth in the company of the bewitching cat woman C'Mell, he puts his immense fortune towards campaigning for the rights of the under people.
If you are looking for other distinctive voices in science fiction, you would do well to try the stories of R.A. Lafferty, for instance in Nine Hundred Grandmothers or Does Anyone Else have Something Further to Add? Idiosyncratic, wacky, weird, his stories are funny but unsettling, as if the only way to make sense of what happened is to accept that the world doesn't make sense. In the superb, "Narrow Valley", for instance, an old indian preserves his land from unscrupulous dealers by folding the landscape so the valley can only be seen by those who know it's there. Or in "Thus We Frustrate Charlemagne" a group of scientists use a time machine to change the past, but because everything has changed they don't realise it was successful, so they try again, and again.
Books in The Space Merchants Series (2)
Together and apart, Pohl and Kornbluth were absolute masters of sharp, effective science fiction. Their wonderful collaborations include Gladiator-at-Law, which makes a great companion piece with The Space Merchants, only in this novel it's the lawyers who rule the world, with gladiatorial contests staged to please the masses.
Kornbluth's best solo novel is probably The Syndic, in which America is ruled by rival criminal gangs, although for most people daily life is pretty much unchanged so long as their protection money is paid on time.
Pohl's solo novels include Man Plus, which won the Nebula Award. It's the story of a man being altered to allow him to survive on Mars, but the more he is changed the more distant he becomes from his human self. However, Pohl's very best novel is our Alternative Choice.
Gateway, which won the Hugo, Nebula, Locus and John W. Campbell Memorial Awards, is one of those fascinating novels, like Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama, which explores the alien without any aliens actually appearing. Gateway is a space station built by a long-vanished race, the Heechee. There are hundreds of alien craft abandoned around Gateway, but humans have no idea how to operate them. Slowly, by trial and error, they learn to master some of the controls, but the results can still be disastrous. The novel tells the story of one volunteer who becomes phenomenally rich as a result of his mission, but only at the cost of his friends and colleagues being sent into a black hole. Gateway was the first of the Heechee novels, with five other books following, but like the Rama novels the series becomes far less interesting once the actual aliens put in an appearance.
Books in After Such Knowledge Series (3)
It's tempting to just tell you to go away and read anything by Philip K. Dick that you can lay your hands on. You won't regret it. But here's a few you should definitely check out.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is the novel that Blade Runner was based on, but there's an awful lot in the novel that didn't make it into the film. It's set after World War Terminus, when radiation poisoning has killed most animals, so owning a live animal is a major social status, and most people cheat with robots that are indistinguishable from the real thing. But there are robots that are indistinguishable from humans, too, and they are making their way back to Earth where it is bounty hunter Rick Deckard's job to eliminate them.
Ubik concerns a group of psychics trapped in an explosion on the moon who consequently find themselves imprisoned in a fake reality that resembles 1930s America.
A Scanner Darkly was, Dick considered, his best novel. It tells the story of an undercover narcotics agent whose own mind is damaged by the drug he is investigating, so that he ends up investigating himself.If you are intrigued by the alternate history of The Man in the High Castle, then there are a host of great works you need to know about. For a start there's Pavane by Keith Roberts, in which the Spanish Armada successfully invaded England and now, in the 1960s, it is a backward country held back by the power of the Church, a country in which highwaymen attack road trains, in which there are still fairies in the countryside, and in which the Inquisition still tortures any dissenters.