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Best Science Fiction Series

The Top 25 Best Science Fiction That's a Series

Most people find their first science fiction book in a disorganized accident. Picture yourself as a puberty-aged kid forced to go to some family gathering where the house smells of old people and there is absolutely nothing to do, for hours. Eventually you take refuge in the bathroom and there stacked on top of the toilet tank are a pile of dog-eared paperback books with swollen pages from too much moisture and covers that look like really bad quality comic books. So you sit down to do your business and thumb the old things open. One clings to your sticky fingers.

That's how they hook you, the writers of pulp fiction, when you are trapped in the void of your own mind. The price of admission is a big red ring on your ass and a plundered book stuffed into your underwear as you clandestinely seek out some isolated privacy to - read more. Every science fiction fan knows that the objective is to read everything, just not on the toilet. There's just too many for that level of privacy. Be selective. Go for the good ones first and avoid the swirlies.

So what counts as the best science fiction series? This is a tricky question to address indeed. Book favorites are like 'holes -- everyone's got one. I've tried to sort out the gold from the silt in the genre, drawing from a range of older classics and newer works from various science fiction subgenres.

For the rankings here, I look at the series as a whole, the level of impact the series has had on the genre, the quality mantained by the series as the books progress, the quality of ideas presented in the book, the quality of the characterization (something that earlier classic science fiction works had which newer works put a lot more emphasis on) and of course, how damn entertaining the plot itself is.

You can view the crowd-ranked version of this list and vote on the entries at the bottom of this page.

What a crazy ass ride this series is. Still wildly popular and selling off the shelves after nearly 50 years, the Dune series has spawned a movie, computer games, board games, and numerous authorized sequels (sic). The seminal first book in the series, Dune, is widely recognized as the world's best-selling science fiction novel. What makes it so good? Everything. Ok, you want some reasons. Mostly it's because Herbert delivered a masterfully crafted world so beautifully layered and rich in detail that it became the template for every "epic" science fiction series that came afterwards. It's so good that no one has managed to catch Herbert yet although many are trying. Winner of both the Hugo and the first Nebula award ever given, Dune was published in 1965. The series plunges you into the life of an imperial family in a feudal interstellar society. Yeah, you got it. Dune is both high-technology science fiction and feudal fantasy all woven into one epic braingasm series. Spinning at the center of this story are complex politics, religion, ecology, advanced technology and people behaving badly. All of this is set on a difficult desert planet that is home to massive worms and ‘spice' a drug-like substance that transforms humanity. Yea it's more a combination of space opera, planetary romance, and science fantasy than hard sci-fi. Yea yea, those grand blow-your-mind ideas present in some of the other classic works (like foundation) are not there. But dammit to hell, it's such a sweeping epic of character and enviroment struggling against each other that this series just can't be missed. The series does degrade after the first couple books. Overall, it's a towering epic that just must be read. The first three books are good reads but the series winds down and gets pretty bloaded by the time you reach the 6th book. The books cover generations, however, and you read about the decendents of characters you loved in the first one. Unless you are crazy about the Dune world, give a skip to the sequels written by Frank's son, Brian. Overall, they are an attempt to just milk the series and pretty dismal. Worth reading if you absolutely have to have your "Dune fix" but are really not even in the same class as daddy's origional works. You can't call yourself a science fiction fan if you haven't read the Dune series. So, get blown.
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.A Note About the (confusing) Miles Vorkosigan Series Order 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.

Books in Vorkosigan Saga Series (37)

Ever read a book that is good in spite of its author's controversial reputation? Card has landed himself in a lot of hot water for his political commentary, primarily driven by his personal religious viewpoint. This has alienated many fans. In spite of this, his Ender series is so good you shouldn't be dissuaded from reading it, despite the author's intrusive mormon ideas that leak through his pen. This is a series (rather the first book, Ender's Game) that seems to top pretty much every best 'sci-fi' list out there. And of course, there is very good reason for this. This series began as a militaristic science fiction short story that was published in the August 1977 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact. Card expanded the short story into the novel Ender's Game that was published in 1985. Think Lord of the Flies set in space with an alien threat, advanced computers, military strategy and guns thrown into the mix. What you don't get in a lot of science fiction is an authentic portrayal of children in the primary role and focus of the story. Card delivers. In fact he does this so well that it doesn't freaking matter what he says or does outside of the book. Read him anyway. The book is recommended reading for the American Marine Corps as a study in military training. Yeah, it's that good. The novel won both the Hugo and Nebula awards. There are five additional novels in this series plus another novella. Most people love the first book and the sequel (Speaker for the Dead) the best. The sequel is a radically different sort of book though. The other books in the series (and novellas) are good enough reads, but lack the brilliance of the first and second books. It's rare to find a series that remains strong the whole way through. The movie "Ender's Game" is due for release in late 2013. So, read the damn series.

Books in Enderverse Series (2)

Starts with A Mote in God's Eye, the award winning first book in the series of 2 with the 3rd book written by one of the authors. Nothing will prepare you for this book. You will find this book on every damn list of great science fiction - ever. Technically this series is about first contact and it is hard science fiction. Are you tired of reading books where the aliens are basically humans wearing weird costumes? Then read this series -- one of the best about 'first contact' out there. This series puts a lot of effort into developing a fascinating human society and a complex and enthralling development of and entirely 'alien' alien society. There is just the right amount of mystery and suspense to keep you captivated the who way through. This stunningly good novel The Mote in God's Eye, written collaboratively by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle and first published in 1974 gave us the Moties. It's an older work, but it hasn't aged at all and is certainly readable even in the post 2013 era. Robert A Heinlein, one of the giants of science fiction was consulted on this book and he famously blurbed the book saying, "Possibly the finest science fiction novel I have ever read." He was right. Although nominated for all the big awards, the book never received any of them. Instead, it infected its readers with microscopic Moties who enter fan brains through reading. There are two sequels, The Gripping Hand and an authorized sequel by J.R. Pournelle, daughter of Jerry Pournelle. Get your alien on, go read you some Moties.

Books in Moties Series (2)

A crumbling interstellar empire, rebels and space battles, a mutant warlord, and a secret base that remains hidden away for millennia. It is said that Isaac Asimov based this groundbreaking space epic on Edward Gibbons's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, but really it's just a rumbustious space adventure that took all the scale and wonder of the old space operas and turned them into something far better than anyone might have expected.Originally published as a series of short stories during the 1940s, then collected as three volumes, Foundation, Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation in the early 50s, the trilogy has a grandeur and a scope that has been rarely matched even today. The writing can be stodgy, but it's still a great series to read. Just don't bother with Asimov's belated prequels and sequels, which try and tie all of his Robot stories and others into the same future history, they're not worth the effort.Why It Made the List At number 6 on our list of top hard science fiction books is Foundation by Issac Asimov. Why number two? Because we couldn't have a joint number one, that's why. Many of Asimov's books would have fitted the bill, but given Foundation is part of the original foundation (sorry) of modern science fiction, we thought it the best starting point. With it's sprawling, space-opera like setting, it's focus on science and history and Asimov's classic turn of phrase, it's no wonder this novel has remained popular for decades after it was first published. Foundation takes the familiar starting point of the fall of an Empire, sets it in space and adds in that vital ingredient - hope. Mixed together, we get a soaring epic that spans both space and time. Not only is the technology realistic, but so are the characters and society. Asimov is master of both story and science, and it's evident throughout this. The best part is, this is the first in a series! So you can read even more! The Foundation Trilogy won a one-off Hugo Award as the All-Time Best Series. It probably wouldn't win a similar award today, but it is still a wonderful example of the ambition and the scope of space opera at its very best.

Books in Foundation Series (9)

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Forty years after the first of the stories that became Foundation was published in Astounding, Asimov returned to the series with a sequel, Foundation's Edge, followed by a further sequel, Foundation and Earth. After this he wrote two prequels to the trilogy, Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation. To be honest, they're not a patch on the original trilogy, despite the fact that Foundation's Edge won both a Hugo and a Locus Award.

If you LOVE hard science fiction, there's been a lot that stands out since Foundation. For hard science fiction that's highly regarded, check out the Ringworld series by Larry Niven. For space opera science fiction with grand ideas about alien civilizations, read A Fire Upon the Deep

You might also want to check out the Revelation Space series by Alastair Reynolds. Both of these are not 'hard' science fiction, but some of the ideas are certainly realistic about space travel, alien civilizations, and contact.

Banks himself once described the plot of Consider Phlebas as: "a shipwrecked sailor falls in with a gang of pirates and goes in search of buried treasure." And that's precisely what it is, a colourful romantic adventure full of derring do and hair's breadth escapes and startling escapades. Only it's all played out against a vast backcloth of galactic warfare and huge faster-than-light ships and exploding Orbitals. In other words: it's big. The scale of the thing just makes us gasp with amazement. It was Consider Phlebas that introduced us to the Culture, which has to be the best space opera setting in science fiction. Honestly, if the Culture doesn't fill you with wonder, nothing will. And we could have included other Culture novels on this list, like Excession with all those brilliant ships, or Matter with those nested worlds, or The Player of Games just because. But Consider Phlebas came first, so it has to be first on this list. Why It Made The ListIt wasn't the first Culture novel written, but it was the first published. And you can say that it didn't just start the Culture, it started the British Renaissance, it started the New Space Opera, and it started an awful lot of people seeing just how mid-bogglingly good space opera can be. So it really has to come top of the list.The Culture series is an amazing set of novels and if it wasn't already considered a classic in the sci-fi genre, Iain M. Banks' recent departure from this world will definitely solidify that status. If you didn't know Iain M. Banks before this list, you need to give yourself a slap with a glove, because the recently departed man was considered such an asset to science fiction, that he's had an asteroid named after him. Consider Phlebas tells the epic, intergalactic tale of the Idiran-Culture War and the different levels of conflict that the War creates. One of the characteristics of the Culture series that makes it so interesting compared to your run-of-the-mill space opera series, is that it's told from the perspective of the antagonist of the tale. Battles, betrayal, action, and ship to ship combat abounds. Consider Phlebas is a great segway into the culture series -- regarded as some of the finest science fiction around.

Books in Culture Series (11)

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Ever bought some electronic thing and two days later discovered it was already obsolete? Sucks. This whole idea about broken things is defined by the concept of The Singularity -- a field that Vinge is the master of. Basically this means that as civilization accelerates it is also abandoning things, ideas and people who can't keep up. And the Zones of Thought books are all about this concept. Vinge is a retired professor of mathematics, best known for his exceptional science fiction vision. His Zone of Thought series includes A Fire Upon The Deep, published in 1992 and winner of the Hugo, A Deepness In The Sky, winner of the Prometheus and The Children Of The Sky. Don't be scared by his credentials - save that for his dark vision of the singularity-driven future. Vinge explores super intelligence, artificial life forms and group minds. His novels also examine how technology accelerates human evolution in sometimes disastrous ways. All this pseudo scientific babbled aside, these books are fraking good reads. They are compelling, fascinating, and a thrill ride from start to finish. These are NOT dry old books full of visionary concepts but dull on action, plot, and characters. No, they are exciting. The first book is awesome, the second even better. The third is a let down and rumor is there will be another book coming out in the series. All in all, this is one of the very best science fiction series ever written and one of those series that you see topping all the best list charts for good reason. Bar non, the Zone of Thought books are probably the best portrayal of how a true galactic society might actually work. No other series comes close to portraying this as accurately as the 'Zone' books. The series is space opera with a twist of the hard science and dash of social science fiction sprinkled in. Asking why you should read this series is really quite stupid. You don't want to be left behind do you?

Books in Zones Of Thought Series (2)

Science fiction isnât always meant to be comfortable or easy reading. Quite the opposite, any literature so based on ideas must challenge the reader, make them think differently (if only for as long as it takes to read the book), and that is what Octavia Butler did with her fiction. Being both black and a woman shines out in her work, which constantly makes us rethink our notions of gender and race. This pattern of daring us to think the unthinkable comes out particularly in the three volumes, Dawn, Adulthood Rites and Imago that make up this sequence, later retitled Lilithâs Brood. It starts with military adventurers unleashing a nuclear war that wipes out most of Earth. The few survivors are rescued by an alien race, the Oankali. The Oankali are physically repulsive, instead of eyes, ears and other familiar sense organs, their bodies are covered with tentacles with which they perceive the world. Moreover, they have three sexes, male, female, and a third sex, ooloi, who are able to directly manipulate genetic material. When, centuries later, the humans are roused from stasis, they find the Oankali have made the Earth habitable again. The Oankali are ready to help the humans survive on the planet without their old technology, but in return they want to interbreed and raise a hybrid race. The balance between the repulsiveness of the aliens and the survival of humanity lies at the heart of the work. When the Oankali and the humans do settle on the renewed Earth, the ooloi make sure that humans are infertile so that the only children born are hybrids. This leads to inevitable tensions between the two races until, by the end of the trilogy, the genetic value of the hybrid race is proved.  Why It Made the List Octavia Butler received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the PEN American Center and a MacArthur Genius Grant, which shows how highly regarded her work was. And this really is a genius of a story that makes you think harder than just about any other science fiction.

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The themes that run through all of Octavia Butlerâs work are perhaps at their clearest in Kindred, a time travel story in which a black woman from the present finds herself back in 19th century Maryland, where she meets Alice, a black woman who was born free but forced into slavery, and Rufus, a vicious white slaveholder, both of whom prove to be her ancestors.I

f you are interested in the ways that biology can shape us, you should also try A Door into Ocean by Joan Slonczewski. Set on a world entirely covered by water, the inhabitants of Shora are all women, who use genetic engineering to control the ecology of their world. But when contact with an alien race threatens their society, they have to find out if someone from outside can adopt to their way of life in order to protect their world from invasion. A Door into Ocean won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.
One of the finest space opera series out there. No, one of the finest Science Fiction books ever written. Hyperion stands on the top of many science fiction lists. Simmons, a genius writer, manages to use an archaic English literary device as the main story telling method (an allusion to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales). Hyperion features some of the most tortured and interesting characters in the history of science fiction. Combined with some really superb writing, a plot drags you along, and an exciting, action-packed plot. If science fiction has perfection, Hyperion is nearly the poster-boy for such.The Hyperion Cantos consists of two duologies for a total of 4 books. The second duology takes place many years after the first duology. Most agree that the first book, Hyperion, is the jewel of the series with the direct sequel, 'Fall of Hyperion.' The sequel series is not nearly as good, though still stands better than most of the other science fiction out there.

Books in Hyperion Cantos Series (3)

Throughout its history, one of the strongest and most interesting aspects of science fiction has been its use in satire. And this is just about the most stunning of contemporary satires, one that is still remarkable apposite. It's set in a near-future America where the Christian right has won. Civil rights have been eroded, and in particular the rights of women have been completely removed. Following the coup, a family try to escape from America but are captured; the woman is separated from her husband and child (who she does not see again) and becomes a handmaid, that is a concubine. Her name is changed to "Offred" because she is literally the property of Fred. The novel reveals the workings of this dystopian state through the experiences of Offred in this household as she is alternately helped and misused by Fred and by his wife, and also her growing awareness of a resistance movement, though how helpful that movement might be is left ambiguous at the end of her tale. Why It Made the List The Handmaid's Tale won the very first Arthur C. Clarke Award and was also shortlist for a host of other science fiction and mainstream awards. It has since been made into a film and into an opera. This is one of the most powerful works of feminist science fiction you are likely to read, an absolutely essential book. Alternative Choice Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, in which three male explorers happen upon an isolated community consisting entirely of women, who have long since learned to reproduce by parthenogenesis. The story concerns the very different attitudes towards women of the three men, and the ways they come to terms with the utopian society that the women have established.

Books in Revelation Space Series (4)

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House of Suns is another epic, set six million years in the future, with long-lived clones who regularly circumnavigate the entire galaxy and a race of sentient robots, there are ambushes and betrayals, and a high-speed chase that lasts thousands of years and takes us as far as the Andromeda Galaxy. If that's not enough to excite your sense of wonder, you really shouldn't be reading science fiction.

Reynolds's most recent work is also on a grand scale. The Poseidon's Children trilogy starts, in Blue Remembered Earth, in a near future when Africa is the world's leading technological power, and two members of a powerful African clan gather cryptic clues that lead them to the outer reaches of the solar system. By the time of the second volume, On the Steel Breeze, it is 200 years later and a fleet of generation starships are approaching a world where mysterious signals have been observed, but there's treachery afoot, while the legacy of events from the first volume still linger. The third volume, Poseidon's Wake, takes us yet further into the future and out to other stars to encounter the mysterious aliens hinted at in the first two books.

If you're in to space opera, don't forget the granddaddy of them all, E.E. "Doc" Smith, whose seven volume Lensman series begins with two galaxies colliding, and just gets bigger. By the end of the series suns and planets are being tossed about as weapons in a massive interstellar war.

The first volume in this quartet starts amid dark, forbidding towers, where young Severian is apprenticed to a Guild of Torturers. Sound like fantasy? Wrong! Because those towers are actually long-abandoned rocket ships. The picture of a man in armour that we see inside one of the towers is actually a famous photograph of Buzz Aldrin taken on the moon. This, we realise, is the far future, a future where the world is starting to run down and the people await a saviour who will renew the sun. When Severian is expelled from the guild for putting one prisoner out of her misery, we follow him into a society that is crowded and colourful and mysterious. Here there are aliens, though for a while we don't realise they are aliens because everyone is so used to them that they don't pay them any special attention. Here there are augmented people, and strange technological advances, but knowledge of these has long been lost. As we pick our way through the story we realise that there is a huge amount of stuff going on that we only glimpse out of the corner of the eye, and each time you re-read the work you notice something else so that the story becomes ever richer and more rewarding. Our narrator, Severian, has a perfect memory, but don't let that fool you into thinking he's a reliable narrator; he leaves things out so that there are always surprises awaiting the reader. But there is so much going on in the story that you sometimes don't notice when he's left things out, because there are wars and betrayals and miracles and mysteries and people raised from the dead, and Severian's journey includes companions who may or may not be reliable, assassins attempting to kill him for reasons he doesn't understand, attacks by terrifying creatures, and the staggering revelation that he is actually the next autarch.Why It's on the list Gene Wolfe is the finest stylist writing in science fiction, it is always a pleasure to read his books. But The Book of the New Sun marks the high point of his career, a subtle and brilliantly readable blending of science fiction and fantasy, which is reflected in the fact that all four volumes won at least one major award. The Shadow of the Torturer received the BSFA Award and the World Fantasy Award; The Claw of the Conciliator won the Nebula and Locus Awards; The Sword of the Lictor won the Locus and British Fantasy Awards; and The Citadel of the Autarch won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.

Books in The Book Of The New Sun Series (7)

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The Book of the New Sun was only the start of the story, Gene Wolfe went on to write a further volume about Severian and then two further series set in the same universe.

The Urth of the New Sun is set several years after the events recounted in the quartet. Severian is now travelling in a massive spaceship to meet the all-powerful alien who can rejuvenate Urth's dying sun. Along the way he has to encounter all the dead people he has known, and, upon his return to Urth, he finds himself once again facing the enemies he had to battle in the first quartet.

The Book of the Long Sun is another four-book series, Nightside the Long Sun, The Lake of the Long Sun, Call of the Long Sun and Exodus from the Long Sun, which follows the adventures of Patera Silk. As the series opens he is a lowly priest in a small neighbourhood 'manteion', but in his efforts to save the manteion he discovers that he is actually aborad a generation starship now nearing its destination.

The Book of the Short Sun concludes what has been known as the 'Solar Cycle' with three novels, On Blue's Waters, In Green's Jungles and Return to the Whorl. A direct sequel to The Book of the Long Sun, the plot concerns the search for Patera Silk across the two habitable worlds, Blue and Green, that the generation starship Whorl has reached. By the end of the sequence we realise that these events immediately precede 

If you love Gene Wolfe's allusive writing and subtle world building, then don't miss The Fifth Head of Cerberus. These three linked novellas concern two planets once colonised by the French, where the population has a rich if rather decadent lifestyle. But there's a mystery concerning the aboriginal inhabitants of the planets who seem to have disappeared, but who are rumoured to have been shapeshifters. Could the humans actually be the natives in disguise?

As The Fifth Head of Cerberus indicates, before he embarked on The Book of the New Sun Gene Wolfe was best known for his multiple award-winning stories, many of which are gathered in The Best of Gene Wolfe; look out in particular for "The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories", "The Death of Doctor Island", "Seven American Nights", and "The Hero as Werwolf".

The dying earth that we encounter in The Book of the New Sun has a long tradition in science fiction. Don't miss the book that gave its name to the subgenre, The Dying Earth by Jack Vance, set in a distant future when the Moon has disappeared, the sun is burning out, and predatory monsters from another age now infest the cold and barren landscapes of Earth.

Do you like your science fiction with overtones of Humphrey Bogart? That's noir, baby. No-one does it better than Morgan. He writes noir-style cyberpunk with the terse clarity edged in sleaze of a cheesy 1940's mystery novel. His novel Altered Carbon is set in a dystopian future that centers around a single protagonist. The series is loosely named after the protagonist Takeshi Lev Kovacs, the Hungarian name for Smith. In Morgan's universe humans have the technology to store their personality and consciousness to be sleeved over a new body. Kovacs is a futuristic spy, soldier, mercenary, bad-guy for hire type of person called an Envoy. He has total recall and no attachment to current political interests and 100% bonebreaking badass. This allows him to get involved in all kinds of mischief. There are three novels in this series. Altered Carbon won the Philip K. Dick Award. Is your lip bloody? The first good taste of cyberpunk is like a right cross to the face. It's painfully good. Go get you some bruises.

Books in Takeshi Kovacs Series (2)

In a move that most of us would think is unprecedented in the science fiction world of famous authors, Larry Niven has done something unheard of: admitted to an error in his plot. Niven wrote, 'If you own a first paperback edition of Ringworld, it's the one with the mistakes in it. It's worth money.' Louis Gridley Wu celebrates his 200th birthday at the start of the novel. It's 2850 AD, so this age isn't particularly unusual. But as the vampires in Ann Rice's world found, when one gets to this age, one gets rather fucking bored with life and its experiences. Louis decides to take a trip beyond Known Spaceship on his own. Nessus, a Pierson's Puppeteer, offers him a spot on an exploration voyage with Speak (a Kzin) and a young human female, Teela Brown. They travel to Ringworld, an artificial ring about one million miles world and the diameter of Earth's orbit.They unsuccessfully try to contact the Ringworld but their ship is disabled by its defense system. With important systems on their ship destroyed, the crew has to find out how to get back into space as well as explore Ringworld. Forced to land due to sickness, they encounter Ringworld's indigenous people who seem to be human and living in a primitive human manner. They mistakenly think the crew is the creators of the Ring, treating them as gods. Proving it's never good to get in with fundamentalists, the Ringworlders go a bit feral. If you think things are already intense, plots, secrets and machinations are revealed and inter-species love happens. This is definitely one of the most intriguing space opera novels written and well worth your time. And did we mention that Ringworld won the Nebula, Hugo and Locus Awards?

Books in Ringworld Series (4)

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Niven wrote three sequels to Ringworld, The Ringworld Engineers, which is the best of them, The Ringworld Throne and Ringworld's Children, but as usual none of them have the thrill or the sense of wonder that the original generated. There's also a bunch of related novels that Niven co-wrote with Edward M. Lerner, but unless you're a completist you can probably leave these alone.

However, some of the earlier Known Space works, such as The World of Ptaavs, Protector and the collection Neutron Star are well worth reading.

However, our Alternative Choice is the first novel Niven co-wrote with Jerry Pournelle, The Mote in God's Eye. This is one of the great stories of first contact, a big, rambling space opera full of twists and sudden discoveries that will keep you on the edge of your seat all the way through a long book. An encounter with an alien craft sends a human expedition to the sun known as the Mote, where they discover a curious race of technologically advanced aliens who, at first, seem very peaceful. Slowly, however, we discover the devastatingly violent secret that lies behind this fa�§ade.

If you love the idea of the Ringworld, you should also try Orbitsville by Bob Shaw. The Ringworld is essentially a slice taken out of a Dyson Sphere, but Orbitsville is a full Dyson Sphere. The story, which won the BSFA Award, and its two sequels, Orbitsville Departure and Orbitsville Judgement, concern the mystery of a habitable shell completely surrounding a star, and what it might mean for the humans who discover it.

I admit to making like a U.S. baseball player and cheating again on this one - The Gap Into Conflict is actually a novella, but it's such a freaking amazingly structured story, and so popular with sci-fi aficionados that we had to include it on this list, and for that reason it comes in at number ten here. If you're a fantasy buff as well as a science fiction buff, Stephen R. Donaldson will come as no stranger to you, being the author of one of the most acclaimed fantasy series, the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. In the Gap Into Conflict, Donaldson takes the reader on an adventurous, almost Shakespearian tale of the internal struggle we face between good and evil as we follow the story of Angus Thermopyle, an ore pirate and murderer who arrives at Mallory's Bar and Sleep with a stunning woman on his arm, who turns out to be Mom Hyland, a cop in a former life, before she met Thermopyle. When Nick Succorso, another pirate and owner of a nice frigate kitted out for deep-space, notices Thermopyle, this is when the story turns to one of revenge and rivalry, with devastating effects. Aside from the interesting structure (the novel tells a short scene and goes into its ramifications from the point of view of the casual bystanders who bore witness to the scene), this book is fascinating with its dark characters who go from hero to villain and back again, and how it succeeds in making you care about a main character who seems, at first glance, to be utterly unlikeable. The sequel books in the series are The Gap into Vision: Forbidden Knowledge; The Gap into Power: A Dark and Hungry God Arises; The Gap into Madness: Chaos and Order; The Gap into Ruin: This Day All Gods Die.

Books in Gap Series (5)

No science fiction list would be complete without the inclusion of a science fiction mystery that morphs into an action adventure. Published in 1987 Startide Rising won the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards and The Uplift War won the Hugo and Locus awards. Most series teach you how to read them during the process of reading them. Brin elected to use the mystery format as a vehicle to launch his Uplift Saga. This worked well in the first book but required Brin to move to an action adventure style for later books. Familiar themes in Brin's series include ecology, genetic diversity, slavery and issues with religion that result in genocide. There are six novels in the Uplift Universe with the author stating there will be at least one more. You should read Brin as a continuum of the works of earlier writers who challenge moral and legal constructs. Escape your slacker tendencies and get busy reading. there are 6 books in the saga made up up two trilogies with the first book functioning as a backstory that sets the stage for the following two books in the first trilogy. Book 4 is the start of another sequel trilogy.

Books in The Uplift Saga Series (5)

As we keep saying, scale is one of the key features of space opera; after all, if you take the whole of the galaxy as your playground, you've got to think big. So it's hardly surprising that space opera has generated some very big books, and they don't come much bigger than Peter Hamilton's Night's Dawn trilogy: well over a million words in three massive thousand-page volumes. Is it worth the time, and the wrist-ache, of reading them? You bet, because Peter Hamilton does epic stuff very well.Then three volumes, The Reality Dysfunction, The Neutronium Alchemist and The Naked God, along with the short story collection, A Second Chance at Eden and the non-fiction The Confederation Handbook, cover a vast amount of space centuries from now. There are sentient space ships and sentient space cities, there are aliens, space navies, and there's a war against the dead who are returning, all of which make for a vivid and exciting account of our future in space. Why It Made the ListSpace opera should be epic, and with Peter Hamilton that's exactly what you get.Technically, I think this epic space opera tale also fits within the zombie genre, but somehow this has never been mentioned by any reviewers. Have we finally had our fill of zombie jokes? Am I flogging an (un)dead horse? Okay, I admit defeat. Peter F. Hamilton's novel is much fresher than my terrible zombie jokes: it's a new take on the space opera genre with all of the old-fashioned criteria: new technology, epic plots across the stars, massive spaceships, and entertaining baddies and heroes you want to gun for. But this novel really does tell the story of a "reality dysfunction" - a rip in the fabric of time that lets the dead possess living bodies. A Satanist, Quinn Dexter, takes control of his dead/sort of dead/kind of living/are they living or dead army and initiates the Night's Dawn: the decimation of everything on Earth. All is not doom and gloom, however, with Joshua Calvert and Syrinx using their spaceships to search for an alien God who just may hold the answer, if they can manage to find this mythical God in the stars before The Night's Dawn eats everything in existence.

Books in The Night's Dawn Series (2)

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Commonwealth Saga, Hyperion, The Expanse, Dune
Though this novel was written in the time of the women's movement, and influenced by the themes and social mores of this time, there is no need to be afraid of bra burning, hairy arm-pitted, men haters in this book. Instead the themes are highly intelligent, a utopian novel exposing the flaws in its model society, and examining themes of capitalism versus socialism, and the tension between what humans aspire to, and what they can achieve. In The Dispossessed, the physicist Shevek bridges two worlds. He grows up on the anarchist world of Anarres and travels to the Urras, which his ancestors fled two hundred years ago. The novel begins on Anarres with Shevek leaving for Urras, then flashes back to Shevek's childhood. It alternates between his life on Anarres and his life on Urras. We understand his decision to leave Urras and his return home. This novel hasn't been out of print since it was first published in 1974. You'd think with themes influence by this time, this novel would become dated, but thanks to some of the more "fundamentalist" American politicians who don't think women should have control over their own bodies, this novel is still well and truly relevant. Another reason Le Guin made this list with The Dispossessed? She was the first person ever to win both the Hugo and Nebula awards twice for her two novels, The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed.

Books in Hainish Cycle Series (8)

Starts with Downbelow Station. The aliens are coming. The aliens are coming! Until you read Cherryh you haven't really read good aliens. She's got this peculiar gift for summoning aliens to life as distinct from humans - lots of aliens. This gives her series a unique flavor, once tasted, never forgotten. Cherryh is one of the most prolific science fiction writers. Her book Downbelow Station won the Hugo in 1982. This book is part of Cherryh's Alliance Union universe. She has 27 novels, a host of short stories and several other series all within this particular universe. Her novels and series in this universe are categorized as: space opera, militaristic and hard science fiction depending on which series you are reading at the moment. She explores life extension, human cloning, subliminal conditioning, advanced propulsion and species interactions giving insight into probable issues humans are likely to face when we encounter other sentient species. You know that movie-version space-station bar filled with aliens? Draw up your bar stool and get ready for a ruckus, a few dented skulls, tentacles and the ever-wonderful Hani (cats). You could easily swap Alliance-Union with Cherryh's Foreigner series, which is probably the best series about the intricacies of human-alien relations. The Alliance-Union series is more expansive with more books and a more developed overall world (hence it's a better 'series'), but for focused characters and characterization, Foreigner wins.

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If you haven't read any Willis, you are a total fail at science fiction street cred. Willis has won more major awards than any other science fiction writer – ever! She has won 11 Hugos and 8 Nebulas. Her Time Travel series features the superb novel Doomsday Book, as well as To Say Nothing Of The Dog, and Blackout/All Clear. Her short story Fire Watch is also part of this series. She's kind of mean in the sense that she likes to pop reader's bubbles. This series features history students at the University of Oxford, England, time traveling to critical points in history. In fact, her mastery of history coupled to science will smack you around like she's the cat and you are the bell in the little plastic ball. Ouch. Swat. Give me more, I hate you. Don't just take my word for it. Read the books!

Books in Robotech Series (2)

This is, without question, the best realistic portrait of Mars to date, as well as being one of the best works of science fiction from the last few decades. The three books, Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars, take us from the first Spartan colony on Mars through the slow transformation of the planet as the colony grows and prospers. There are internal divisions over whether Mars should be terraformed or left in its pristine state; there's murder and terrorism, there's a war with Earth, there are major catastrophes, and through it all we watch as Mars changes from being a desert planet to being a world that can support its population in comfort. It's an amazing work, huge, slow moving yet never less than gripping, so you feel that this is exactly how the colonisation of Mars will happen in the years to come.   The three books in the trilogy collected just about all of the major awards going, including the Nebula and BSFA Awards for Red Mars, and the Hugo and Locus Awards for both Green Mars and Blue Mars. And the trilogy has never been out of any list of the best sf ever since they first appeared.

Books in Marstrilogy Series (2)

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Kim Stanley Robinson has been one of the best and most consistent writers of science fiction, and practically everything he's written is worth checking out.

The Orange County Trilogy offers three separate visions of the future of California. The Wild Shore is a post-apocalypse story in which the survivors start again in small rural communities. The Gold Coast is a dystopia in which California's love affair with the car has run to excess. While Pacific Edge is a utopia in which ecological ideas are put in place to create a better world.

The Years of Rice and Salt is a striking alternate history in which most of Europe was wiped out by the Black Death. The novel traces the social, political and scientific developments in a world in which Middle Eastern, Asian and Native American cultures dominate.

If you want more books about mars, check out The Martian by Andy Weir which is a near-future novel about a man who gets stranded on mars for a couple years. If you want an old school space opera about mars, check out Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles. And finally, if you want a pulpy science fantasy about mars, read the Barsoom novels by Burroughs starting with The Princess of Mars.

At the core of all the best science fiction series is good story telling in one form or the other. I mean, who wants to read only about novel ideas and grand concepts if there isn't anything outside of that -- you might as well just read a science manual! What drives this series is consistent excellent story telling with wonderful characters and a plot that delivers. There's mystery, action, adventure, romance, and a wonderfully fascinating world that keeps you captivated the whole way through. And plot twists? It has those too. And while huge ideas and concepts are not explored as in some of the other great works of science fiction, the awesome story, mystery, and great characters more than make up for it. If you are looking for a great series that will actually keep you enthralled, this series is your fix -- especially if you like those vagabond-becomes-hero type of stories. We would expect nothing less from a Science Fiction Grand Master. This series is like eating meat and potatoes after several days of dieting. Delicious. Eat up, there is no shortage of stories to dine on. His Majipoor Series were published beginning in 1980. There are eight novels in the series. In addition Silverberg has more than 67 other novels and he has won Hugos and Nebula awards.

Books in Lord Valentine Series (2)

It began as a radio series on the BBC. It was quickly adapted for television (with many of the same cast), and much later there came a film version (though the less said about that the better). But it is now probably better known as the novel, which became a trilogy, which in turn became a trilogy in five books, only now there's a sixth book as well (not to mention the various towels and computer games and stage shows and so on).What it is, is easily the funniest work of science fiction ever written. Frankly, if you don't laugh at this, you're not going to laugh at anything.We all know the story, even if Douglas Adams did keep making changes in each new version of the work. Arthur Dent wakes up one morning to find his house is about to be demolished, but as he tries to protect his home he discovers that his best friend, Ford Prefect, is actually an alien from a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse, and that the Earth is about to be demolished to make way for a hyperspatial expressway. From that point, Arthur is whisked away on a series of increasingly absurd adventures that include Vogon poetry, the Infinite Improbability Drive, ZaphodBeeblebrox former President of the Galaxy and wanted criminal, Marvin the Paranoid Android, the answer to life, the universe and everything, which happens to be 42 but they forgot to ask what the question was. And on, and on. Don't panic, the whole thing is infinitely improbable and gloriously hilarious. Check it out. There isn't very much science fiction comedy because it's incredibly hard to do, and even harder to do well. This is on the list for the very simple reason that it is laugh out loud funny whether or not you're an sf fan, and that makes it just about unique.

Books in Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy Series (7)

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Douglas Adams died ridiculously young and didn't write anywhere near as many books as we'd like. But he did have ideas for a sixth Hitchhiker book shortly before he died, and that book, And Another Thing ��¢��¦, was written by Eoin Colfer. Okay, it's not Adams, but it's a worthy conclusion to the series.

As for Adams's own work, you really don't want to miss Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency and its sequel, The Long, Dark, Tea-Time of the Soul, which Adams himself described as "a kind of ghost-horror-detective-time-travel-romantic-comedy-epic, mainly concerned with mud, music and quantum mechanics." Even if they're not as good as the Hitchhiker series, they're still head and shoulders above anything else you're likely to come across.

If you want a taste of other science fiction comedies, it's worth taking a look at The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison, about an interstellar criminal who finds himself working for an elite law enforcement agency headed by the galaxy's greatest crook. The first book is pretty good, but there were endless sequels that each get progressively worse.

And don't forget that before he turned to fantasy, Terry Pratchett wrote Strata. It features a flat planet very like the Discworld, but this is actually taking the piss out of Ringworld. And it's by Pratchett, so you know it's going to be funny.

Got popularity? I don't know if you can find a more popular science fiction writer right now. He's socially astute, spot on with his commentary and is nearly too cool to maintain his geek cred. You've heard of Old Man's War, it's well on its way to becoming a Paramount block-buster movie. For some really good reasons too. Scalzi gives us something unique, an older protagonist meshed with a militaristic science fiction future, sort of. He gives the old man a young body with all kinds of special abilities but the character maintains an older mentality. His universe includes nano-technology, consciousness transfers and body mod. This series offers an updated take on familiar military-oriented science fiction although it retains many of the tropes of earlier works in the same sub-genre, taking some of the best from Starship Troopers and The Forever War (both considered great science fiction works). There are six books in the series with more possible. Now truth be told, it's the first book with the most shebang with the sequels never quite living up to the initial greatness. But the world and ideas presented do make for a hell of a ride throughout the whole series. Other science fiction might be more cerebral or philosophical inducing, but these books are sure as hell fun to read. The Old Man's War was nominated for the Hugo but then - well, someone else won. One of the great lessons of science fiction is that the fans often drive the future. Read Scalzi because he's dope. If you don't know who he is or what he writes you're a putz.

Books in Old Man's War Series (7)

Imagine Robert Heinlein without his gratuitous love of breakfast foods and busty, bisexual women and replace those interests with technical, craft brilliance and a love of robust dialogue, and you have Frederik Pohl. The Heechee, an alien race who disappeared a long time ago, built a space station (Gateway) in a hollow asteroid. Humans have tried to replicate this technology with most efforts ending in disaster and they`ve also tried to learn how to operate the alien space ships that were found at Gateway, but the humans can`t quite figure out how to use the controls all too well - they don`t know where a setting will send the ship or how long the ship will be there for. Out of luck, a few voyages have resulted in finding Heechee artifacts and other habitable planets. This made the Gateway Corporation (the corporation who runs the space station on behalf of a cartel of countries) and the passengers of the relevant voyagers rather rich. Robinette Stetley Broadhead wins a lottery giving him enough money to buy a one way ticket to Gateway. He goes on several riches seeking missions - the first is useless, the second he makes a huge discovery but is penalized for incapacitating his ship, the third is where he and his ship mate Gelle-Klara get stuck in the gravitational pull of a black hole. And at this point, things get really interesting. Gateway won the 1977 Nebula Award and the 1978 Hugo, Locus and John W. Campbell Awards.

Books in Heechee Saga Series (5)

In the early 1960s, Arthur C. Clarke was approached by the film maker, Stanley Kramer, to ask if he would be interested in writing a film. Clarke recalled a short story he had written some time earlier called "The Sentinel", in which a strange, alien object is uncovered beneath the surface of the moon, and thought this might make a good starting point for a film. And thus 2001, A Space Odyssey, one of the best and most famous of all science fiction films, was born. The novel, which was written at the same time as the film, differs in occasional minor details from the film, but essentially the two tell the same story.The story is, surely, too well known to need repeating here. The black monolith whose appearance abruptly converts primitive man into a tool-using creature; the identical object unearthed on the moon that sends a signal towards Jupiter; the two spacemen contending with a computer gone rogue; the psychedelic journey through the star gate that ends in what appears to be a Belle Epoque palace, and the final mysterious appearance of the star child.As in so much of Clarke's fiction, it's about humankind coming to the brink of a new evolutionary leap. In a sense the story is cold and intellectual, Clarke never was a writer of strong emotions, but if you love science fiction that appeals to the mind then this is the story for you. He wrote three sequels to 2001: 2010, Odyssey Two; 2061, Odyssey Three and 3001, The Final Odyssey; the first of these is good but the quality does fall off across the series. Why It's On the ListBoth aesthetically and intellectually, 2001, A Space Odyssey is one of the most influential films of all time, certainly it's effect upon all subsequent science fiction is incalculable. And let's not forget the movie by Stanely Kubrick was just as influential to film and general pop culture and generations of science fiction pop culture as the very book it was based on.Alternative ChoiceArthur C. Clarke has been voted one of the all-time best science fiction writers, and he left plenty of work that deserves that title. Here are three novels that could easily have been an Alternative Choice for our Top 25 list.Alternative Choice 1: Childhood's End, which received a Retro Hugo Award, was Clarke's own favourite among his novels, and it's easy to see why. Aliens known as Overlords arrive suddenly over the earth and bring an end to war. For fifty years there is peace and prosperity, but it is finally revealed that the real purpose of the Overlords is to prepare humanity for the next step in their evolution, a merger with a cosmic mind.Alternative Choice 2: The City and the Stars is set a billion years in the future when the people of the enclosed and computer-controlled city of Diaspar believe they are the last humans on earth. But one person leaves Diaspar and discovers another community, Lys, an oasis where people have rejected the technology of Diaspar. By bringing the two communities together, a new future in space is opened up.Alternative Choice 3: Rendezvous with Rama, which won the Hugo, Nebula, BSFA, Locus, Jupiter and John W. Campbell Memorial Awards, is a story of alien contact without the aliens.An asteroid is spotted heading towards Earth, but when it is investigated it proves to be an uninhabited spaceship. The story tells of the exploration of the craft, and the deductions that can be made about the aliens without the aliens ever appearing. Clarke went on to produce three sequels written in collaboration with Gentry Lee, Rama II, The Garden of Rama and Rama Revealed, but these are nowhere near as good as the original, and the appearance of actual aliens in the later books rather spoils what was most interesting and effective about the original.

Books in Space Odyssey Series (3)

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For similar reads, give those three alternative choices a read -- Childhood's End, The City and the Stars, and Rendezvous with Rama.

The idea of first contact and an alien civilization's (or knowledge of such a presence) effect on human society is a common theme in science fiction literature. Here are some outstanding works that deal with first contact.

First Contact by Carl Sagan. This is 'the' first contact novel you should read. Sagan's work has lot a lot of the presteige it had when it came out years ago, yet it still remains a seminal work in the genre about a first contact situation. And of course, there was the Jodie Foster movie.

Blindsight by Peter Watts. A contact novel with a twist. Brilliant and strangely depressing.

For a space opera novel where first contact change the game (and with a lot of emphasis on action, politics, and ship to ship battles), read The Expanse. This series has become a science fiction pop culture phenomenon -- hugely popular with readers looking for compelling action packed old school science fiction and now a hugely successful SyFy TV series which is regarded now as one of the best science fiction tv series ever made so far.  

Revelation Space books also deal with aliens and first contact.