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Best Stand Alone Science Fiction Books

Top 25 Science Fiction That's Not Part of a Series

Let's face it, most of us read like we eat -- badly. We devour fat, cheesy, pulpy fiction that goes down easy and gives us a fast feeling of satisfaction. It's okay in the same way a drive-in burger is okay. But, eventually you'll be fat but far from really satisfied. Books labeled as good or great are scary. Back in the day you remember suffering through some English class with a gleefully sadistic teacher shoving 'great fiction' down your throat and punishing you when you failed to appreciate it. It was good for you. You learned that good meant unpleasant, dreary and depressing crap that was difficult to read. You never consented to read it. That great old cannon-fodder was forced upon you.

One day, long after that teacher is purged from your brain, you are standing in front of your overly crowded shelves of series science fiction and you know you've been eating burgers and it's time for a meal to blow your senses and you realize, you want one of those books. The evil, the dreaded, the too thick brick of a novel that your geek friends have warned you is one of those abominations - a great science fiction book. Are you ready?

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

A novel of startling ideas that influenced a generation of writers and pop culture. Some of the best cyberpunk science fiction out there. Fans of dystopian fiction and cyberpunk will love this one especially those who adore the setting present in Blade Runner - a dilapidated futuristic Asian metropolis with little law and even less order. The writing is sharp, the wit sharper, and the sarcasm even more so. Stephenson brings you into HIS world, a world where society has been redefined and the rules of living are vastly changed. It's a distant future that's somewhat familiar while also alien.  There's a lot of ideas in Snow Crash and complex ones at that. Stephenson looks at the not-too distant future; it's a dismal place with no laws, private corporations controlling everything, and the Mob having their hands in the rest – including Pizza Delivery services. Key part of this future is the Metaverse, Stephenson's futuristic version of the Internet where people "log on" via virtual goggles. Everything is conducted through the Metaverse, from business to dating. Stephenson not only presents us with a very realistic look at what could be, but there are some subtle social observations about the way things are different and the same. Stephenson frames the modern social constructs intruding into this cyberworld; ones' social wealth is judged by the look of the avatar they use to interact with the Metaverse, with the wealthy being able to afford custom while the "poor" use off the shelf. This book has it all, from hacker heroes who wield Samurai sword destruction by night in the Metaverse and deliver pizza by day for the Mob, governments and police controlled by private corporations, and a conspiracy that might the world needs some saving from. And like the protagonist takes the win for most awesome name ever: Hiro Protagonist. I feel The Diamond Age, Stephenson's other big Cyberpunk work is actually a better novel with more grand concepts and better social critiques, one that shows Stephenson's maturity as a writer. But Snow Crash is what made it happen and was a highly influential novel on the genre, so it gets my recommendation as "The Must Read".

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Neuromancer. This is often lauded as THE book that started the cyberpunk genre. It's an oldie but has aged surprisingly well. It's more of a reserved cool, calculated read when you want to really think. Stephenson's Snow Crash is pumped full of energy, a white hot read that keeps you on edge.

Read Stephenson's The Diamond Age, his other great Cyberpunk work. Probably the "closest" you are going to get to Snow Crash.

Altered Carbon, a bit of snow crash, a bit of Neuromancer, and a shipload of action. Awesome on every level.
You might give Peter F. Hamilton's Commonwealth saga a read. While it is space opera and not cyberpunk, but there's lots of in the words of the Penny Arcade Forum member "locomotiveman" "badasses being badass with the aid of gadgetry, cybernetic and otherwise, while overall being really cool, likable and at times quite funny." An apt description I think. Give it a read if you like reading about heroes who kick ass with the aid of gadgets.

If you like the entertaining dialogue present in Snow Crash, you might want to give Neal Asher's Spatterjay book a read.

An expedition to Mars is lost. Twenty five years later, a second expedition finds there is one survivor of the first expedition, Valentine Michael Smith, who was raised by Martians. Returning reluctantly to Earth, Smith finds himself at the centre of a variety of political and religious disputes. But he brings with him Martian philosophy and wisdom, along with astonishing psychic abilities. In time he founds his own Church of All Worlds, which brings Martian religious ideas, language and psychic abilities to humanity. But this brings its own dangers.Stranger in a Strange Land, which won a Hugo Award for Best Novel, was one of the most influential science fiction novels of the 1960s. The philosophical ideas that Heinlein expressed here, particularly the idea of grokking, was taken up particularly by the hippy movement.
In a future society, extrasensory perception exists in a fraction of the world’s population. There are 3 levels of ESP (or espers as they are called in the book.) They go from mild to those who can intuit future actions and thoughts of an individual. Of course, these Level 1 espers are most likely to be on the police force. So when Ben Reich decides to kill a competitor, based on his own misinterpretation of the situation, he hires a “mental bodyguard,” a Level 1 esper who doubles as a psychiatrist. The bodyguard also believes that espers should rule the world, so he’s a dangerous ally to have. Additionally, Reich develops weapons and a song that destroys the concentration of the espers. These tools help him to cover his tracks. A very good introverted mystery has missteps that can doom the killer, and in this case, the victim’s daughter is a witness to the crime. The police prefect is also a Level 1 esper, which is not good for Reich. He discerns easily that Reich is guilty, but the game begins of trying to find the witness before the other. Why It Made the List The critics raved about this and it won the Hugo in 1953. Inverted mysteries are not all that common, and a great example of one is rare. Bester seemed to easily and flawlessly combine this sub-genre of mystery with science fiction to come up with a one-of-a-kind novel. This book is not to be missed. Read It If You Like future societies, ESP, police procedurals, inverted mysteries

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Larry Niven, Clifford Simak

Set thousands of years into the future, the universe is inhabited by various races, including super-intelligent entities in the Transcend and the simple creatures and technology of the Unthinking Depths. Space has been divided in these regions of thought by unknown forces. When the Straumli realm uses an ancient Transcendent artifact as a weapon, a huge force of power is unleashed that kills thousands of worlds and enslaves all intelligence - natural and artificial alike. Recognizing what they have unleashed, researchers attempt to flee in two ships, one of which is destroyed. The second ship is unharmed, landing on a distant planet with a medieval type civilization of dog-like creature called the Tines.There's a problem with much traditional space opera: the setting may be as vast as the entire universe, but it's all more or less the same. Or it was until Vernor Vinge came along with the Zones of Thought.The idea, first presented in this stunning novel, is that the further out from the galactic core that you travel, then the greater the speeds that can be attained, and the more advanced the thought that is possible. Close to the core, in the Unthinking Depths, intelligent thought is pretty much impossible. Outside this, in the Slow Zone (where Earth is located), faster than light travel and true artificial intelligence are impossible. In the Beyond, artificial intelligence, faster than light travel and faster than light communication are all possible. Further out still, in the Transcend, there are superintelligent species that are incomprehensible to normal beings.Humans from the Beyond, fleeing the superintelligence known as the Blight, crash onto a planet in the Slow Zone inhabited by Tines, dog-like aliens whose intelligence works within the pack. The humans must raise the medieval technology of the Tines in order to activate countermeasures against the Blight. Why It Made the ListA Fire Upon the Deep, which won the Hugo Award, is one of those novels so packed with ideas that it could keep most other writers busy for years.This novel has everything I want in space opera in it: love, betrayal, aliens, space battles, super-intelligence, physics, and the Beastie Boys. Wait, I think I just included that part by accident. These things happen when you start getting Intergalactic Planetary stuck in your head every time you read about a gripping tale of galactic war. A Fire Upon the Deep won the Hugo Award in 1993.

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Vernor Vinge has so far written two more novels set within the Zones of Thought.

A Deepness in the Sky, which won the Hugo, Prometheus and John W. Campbell Memorial Awards, is a prequel set some 20,000 years before the events of A Fire Upon the Deep. Set in the Slow Zone, it is about what happens when an intelligent species is discovered on a planet orbiting an anomalous star, a system that may have entered the Slow Zone from the Transcendent.

The Children of the Sky is a direct sequel to A Fire Upon the Deep, but it is set entirely on Tinesworld. The surviving humans on the planet start to fall into warring factions, and while trying to raise the technological status of the Tines they also unleash further wars. A Deepness in the Sky is every bit the equal of A Fire Upon the Deep, but The Children of the Sky feels rather flat and limited by comparison; a decent read, but not a great one. However, there are clearly more Zones of Thought stories to come.

The Outcasts of Heaven Belt, the first novel by VernorVinge's then-wife, Joan D. Vinge, about an escalating conflict between male and female dominated societies in the asteroid belt is also set within the Zones of Thought, or at least so Joan Vinge has claimed.

For an unusual adaptation of the Zones of Thought idea, try Jo Walton's fantasy novel, Lifelode, in which she adapts the Zones of Thought as zones of magical ability.

What do you get when mix together a card carrying-homophobe and science-fiction? Ender's Game. Now it's an ethical struggle these days to decide what to do with the great writer OSC and his fiction, but it happens that he wrote one of the best space opera sci-fi novels of all time. So much so, that even the American military seems to agree with this. Ender's Game has been awarded fifth place on our list for one of the most popular and well-written novels space opera novels. The book has been critically acclaimed and is suggested reading for the U.S. Marine Corps. It won the 1985 Nebula Award and the 1986 Hugo Award. Ender's Game ranked in second place on the Damien Broderick's book Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985-2010 list.Ender's Game was also made into a well received big budget movie in 2013 as well, though the book is a richer and much deeper reading experience.

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Give Pierce Brown's awesome Red Rising trilogy a read (starting with Red Rising). It takes some of the concepts introduced in Ender's Game (group of younger individuals pitted against each other in a kill or kill game of survival) and do so with panache. 
The films of Sam Fuller were seen as so visceral, they were banned from many municipalities. Haldeman’s novel The Forever War is the science fictional equivalent of Fuller’s films, and carries so much more weight. The violence is frank, clear, unambiguous. The story of William Mandella and his travel through time ad battlefields is brutal at times, and the use of concepts like post-hypnotic suggestion leading to massacres, makes the book a strong commentary against war. Haldeman’s own Vietnam experience is evident throughout, as William Mandella is nearly as autobiographical a character as Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim. The way Haldeman writes of the thousand year-long war is much like he would write of the Vietnam, and he pulls no punches.  He questions not only the reasoning and effect of war, but the very stresses that humanity carries within it that we believe leads to warfare. In The Forever War, there is brutality, but in the end, it is brutality that is screaming at the reader that we must never look away, and never accept as reasonable. Why it’s on the list Many vets consider this to be the most direct and honest portrayal of war ever, genre or not.

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Some years later, Haldeman wrote two other novels linked to The Forever War, though only one is a direct sequel.

The sequel is Forever Free, in which Mandella, with his wife and children, is now a colonist on the icy world of Middle Finger. When they try to use time dilation effects to escape the post-human hive mind known as Man, things go wrong, and they end up returning to a depopulated planet, meet an alien shapeshifter that has coexisted on Earth throughout history, and end up in a face to face meeting with God. It is nowhere near as good as the original, but it is interesting as a sequel.

Much better, but only tangentially connected to the original, is Forever Peace, which also won the Hugo, Nebula and John W. Campbell Memorial Awards. This is another novel which argues that war is an aberration, but in this case it is a war here on Earth fought by armies of robotic "soldier boys" who are controlled by plugged in operators. However, it is discovered that being plugged in like this cures all warlike impulses, so that the very act of fighting the war ends war.

If you love the military action (and suit to suit combat) of Forever War, read the classic Starship Troopers by Heinlein. While Forever War is an argument against war (and specifically, the Vietnam War), Starship Troopers is the celebration of all things war. Both have a shit load of action. And if you want a novel that straddles the middle between Starship Troopers and Forever War, then give John Steakley's Armor a good read.

For a somewhat different take on future wars, you should also check out Old Man's War by John Scalzi in which it is old people who have already lived productive lives who are recruited to fight and are then given enhanced bodies. But this is still an anti-war novel, the characters are psychologically damaged by their experiences and it is far from clear that the humans are fighting on the right side.

The words have become so commonplace we hardly realise we are using them: Big Brother is watching you, the Ministry of Truth, Room 101, Newspeak, thoughtcrime. George Orwell gave us a language for describing our fear of any controlling and intrusive government.Winston Smith is a minor clerk in a future where the world's three great power blocs are constantly at war with one another, though alliances shift daily, and his job is to rewrite old newspaper articles so that the historical record always supports whatever is today's party line. It is a world where everyone is under surveillance all the time; the ubiquitous telescreens are always on, always spouting the party line, and always watching you. Winston meets a colleague, Julia, and realises that they both share the same distrust of the regime. They begin an affair that would be forbidden by the state, but the agents of the state are watching them all the time. Eventually they are arrested and Winston is taken to Room 101 to be tortured into betraying Julia and swearing his love for Big Brother. Nineteen Eighty-Four is regularly listed among the best novels in the English language; it is also one of the scariest. No other account of a totalitarian regime has so captured our imaginations. It's a chilling book, but absolutely brilliant and unforgettable.

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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.

Alternative Choice
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.

Philip K. Dick was one of the most idiosyncratic and successful writers in science fiction. Okay, he's probably better known these days for all the films that have been based on his work, including Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report, The Adjustment Bureau and heaven knows how many others. Certainly there have been many more films based on Dick's fiction than any other sf writer. But forget the films, even the great ones, like Blade Runner, can't begin to match the compelling weirdness of the novels.Dick used to explore the same ideas in novel after novel. Reality was undermined, usually as a result of drugs; there was a truth under the illusion of the world, but it wasn't always good to learn that truth; things we trust turn out to be unreliable. And yet, the novels were far from samey, indeed the narrow range of obsessions resulted in an incredibly wide range of fiction. What's more, Dick wrote with a mordant wit that made his work consistently among the funniest of all science fiction.Because he was so prolific, and because he hit the target so frequently, it is very difficult to choose just one book as a representative of his work. In the end we chose The Man in the High Castle, which in some ways seems a very untypical book because there is none of the pyrotechnic weirdness that often turns up in his fiction. Indeed, the novel seems like a fairly conventional alternate history in which the Axis Powers won the Second World War. As a result, in the 1960s of the novel, America is divided in three; Germany rules the East Coast, Japan controls the West Coast, while a narrow independent buffer state exists between the two.But in the end it is far from conventional. The story is full of fakes and deceptions; several major characters are travelling under false identities, some of the characters are dealing in fake American "antiquities", and Mr Tagoma, the Japanese bureaucrat who becomes central to the plot, attacks a German agent with a fake Colt revolver. All of this leads us to doubt and question what is going on; and then we come to The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, a novel written with the aid of the I Ching, which describes a world in which America did not lose the war; though the world described is not the same as the one we recognise. Why It's On the ListOne of the great mysteries of Philip K. Dick's career is why he only ever won one of the major science fiction awards, but that was the Hugo for The Man in the High Castle. It's a wonderful book that remains one of the very best alternate histories. In 2015, The Man in the High Castle also made the jump to TV with a very well received series titles 'The Man in the High Castle.' Alternative ChoiceWe could easily swap in a number of other PKD works in here. If you want an alternative read, then we present you with UBIK, another classic and somewhat less popular PKD novel that represents all that's good about PKD.

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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.
Great novels reflect the era when they were written. Yes I know that we are talking science fiction and distant make-believe planets, aliens and starships but under all of the surface differences is a novel about real people on Earth. Us. You and me. The readers, and the challenges we are currently facing. No one does this better than LeGuin. Before she wrote The Left Hand of Darkness most science fiction centered on male issues from male writers. She blew open the door by introducing feminism, gender and identity questions and human sexuality from a female perspective. Published in 1969 she won the Hugo and Nebula awards and from that time forward this novel is frequently listed near the top of nearly every all-time best science fiction novels list. It remains relevant, powerful and just as good as it was 45 years ago. This is a Vietnam era, post birth-control pill era novel when women in America began to take back possession of their own bodies and reproduction. We call this feminist science fiction.

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There's a long tradition of science fiction using crime story plots, but this is surely the most startling, the most original and the most satisfying of all.It begins with Inspector Borlu of the Besźel police investigating the murder of a foreign student. There are plenty of buildings around the site where she was found, but nobody there would have seen the murder, because the buildings are in UlQoma. Besźel and UlQoma share the same territory, but they are two separate cities, and by long tradition the inhabitants of one city do not see those in the other. They could be walking down the same street, and to the resident if one city it would appear empty and to the resident of the other city it would be crowded. This unseeing is rigidly enforced, not least by Breach, an extra police force that operates between the two cities and that has the power to make anyone who breaks its rules disappear.This is no problem for Borlu, not seeing UlQoma is second nature to him. Unfortunately, the more he investigates the crime, the more it involves both cities, and it leads Borlu to investigate things that are taken for granted, the underlying assumptions of both cities, the things that are not seen. The City and the City won China Miéville's third Arthur C. Clarke Award, along with a Hugo Award, BSFA Award, Locus Award, World Fantasy Award and a Kitschies Red Tentacle. It's an intriguing crime story, and an absolutely fascinating account of an extraordinary place.

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China Mi�©ville consistently employs multiple genres in his work, which is why his stories are so exciting and so original.

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Perdido Street Station, which won his first Arthur C. Clarke Award, for instance, is a potent mixture of science fiction, horror, fantasy, steampunk and politics. It is set in the sprawling city of New Crobuzon, where all sorts of alien beings exist side by side. When an eccentric human scientist accidentally unleashes an horrific monster upon the city he has to find a way to stop it. The crowded police state with Victorian-era technology and curious magic is a creation that will hold any reader spellbound.

Anyone fascinated by the combination of crime story and science fiction in The City and the City might also want to look at Jack Glass by Adam Roberts. This is a very knowing combination of golden age science fiction and golden age detective story. Set in a distant future with the criminal and revolutionary Jack Glass as the central figure, the story is told in three parts. In the first he is imprisoned in an escape-proof prison situated within an asteroid, and manages to escape. In the second there is an apparently impossible murder, and he needs to find out how it was done. And the third is a classic locked room mystery relocated to outer space. Jack Glass won both the BSFA Award and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.

Going further back, you might also want to check out The Naked Sun by Isaac Asimov, in which a human detective and his robot partner investigate a murder that seems to have been committed by a robot, even though the three laws of robotics mean that that should be impossible.

You're going to hate me for this. Really. See, Clarke is one of the three giants of science fiction, old-school science fiction. He was writing this novel in 1953 at a time when the genre was read almost exclusively in serials that showed up in magazines that were aimed at boys and men. His characterizations are often flat, his science is questionable at times and his pacing reflects the serialized quickie style of magazine shorts. Still, at some point you need to read this book in spite of its potential flaws. Many books follow a familiar format allowing the reader to feel like they can predict the ending. You get sucked in and a bit complacent. Be ready, Clarke will jerk you around in the exact moment where you think you have it solved. He's Clarke and this is his best.
During the 1950s and 60s, as the Cold War constantly threatened to heat up into nuclear exchanges, science fiction writers more and more turned to imagining a post-apocalyptic world. This novel, the only one that Miller published in his lifetime, is surely one of the absolute best.It starts some 600 years after the nuclear holocaust that is known as the Flame Deluge. The survivors had set out to destroy all learning, fearing that it would lead to a return of the forbidden nuclear science, but a Jewish electrician, Leibowitz, had founded a religious body dedicated to preserving books from before the war. Now a young monk in the Order discovers an ancient abandoned fallout shelter with writings that may have belonged to Leibowitz himself, including a handwritten shopping list. The survival of these documents is seen as emblematic of the survival of humanity itself.600 years later, and a renaissance is just beginning. But as the monks of Saint Leibowitz share their accumulated knowledge with local leaders, they find themselves being used as pawns in a war of expansion. Another 600 years pass, and scientific knowledge has returned more or less to where it was before the Flame Deluge. But the political differences and petty wars continue, and it soon becomes obvious that nuclear weapons will again be used. So the Order of Saint Leibowitz builds a starship in order to escape the holocaust and continue their mission of preserving knowledge. A Canticle for Leibowitz won the Hugo Award. Miller was one of the few sf writers of the time to use religious themes in his science fiction, and it helps to give this novel an intellectual depth and an emotional richness that are quite exceptional. This is regularly and correctly recognised as a masterpiece.

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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.

You've probably heard of this book. Maybe it was read to you when you were a child. It is enormously popular as a chapter book for children. You might think that makes it a children's book and what the hell is it doing in the top ten of best science fiction standalone books? Right? Well, this is an unusual book. Technically people call its genre science fiction fantasy because it has legs in both ponds. Really, it's a novel that spans ages, genres, and pre-conceived ideas on what makes a book really exceptionally good. L'Engle delivered this masterpiece in 1962, at a time when women couldn't possibly be writing science fiction. It was unacceptable. Worse, she had a female heroine and children in her novel. At that time science fiction only happened to men. When women showed up in their novels, those women were decorative, sexual objects or took minor roles. Not so for L'Engle. So, her novel must be for children and that's where it was placed - for years. She won the Newbery, Sequoyah and Lewis Carroll Shelf awards. But, no one keeps L'Engle down. A Wrinkle In Time is often the vehicle book that brings children into science fiction, fantasy and wonder. So, if you haven't had it read to you, make your significant other sit back in the evening with your head pillowed on their lap and listen. If you can't manage that, look for an audio book version and discover great science fiction and your inner child all at the same time.
If you want to know the most influential science fiction novel of the last thirty-odd years, look no further than William Gibson's Neuromancer. The novel didn't invent cyberpunk; two films that came out a couple of years earlier, Tron and Blade Runner, had already introduced some of the themes of cyberpunk. And the term itself was invented by Gardner Dozois talking about a novel by Bruce Bethke. Nevertheless, it's safe to say that without Neuromancer, there would have been no cyberpunk. Neuromancer wasn't the first science fiction novel set among the low life and street people of the near future, but Gibson inhabited the Sprawl with utter conviction, inventing a street slang that caught on in the real world. In this underground, Case is a washed-up hacker whose been treated with drugs to stop him accessing the Matrix ever again, while Molly is a street samurai who offers case a cure in exchange for his services.Through a violent world of double-dealing corporations and government cover-ups, Case and Molly risk their lives in the bright and threatening landscape of cyberspace, following a trail that eventually leads them to Wintermute, a powerful AI at a time when machine intelligence is banned.A heady mixture of computer know-how and grimy film noir action, Neuromanceris like no novel before it, a totally original and absolutely gripping take on the near future. Why It's On the ListNeuromancer was the first novel ever to win the Hugo, Nebula and Philip K. Dick Awards. It also set the tone for cyberpunk and made Gibson one of the most acclaimed of modern writers. Neuromancer didn't just catch the zeitgeist, it created it, giving us terms like "cyberspace" and "ICE", and being instrumental in the way the World Wide Web developed.Alternative ChoiceMake sure you look at our 'Top 25 Best Cyberpunk Books list' and our Guide to the Cyberpunk Genre for MORE cyberpunk book recommendations.And the novel that is our Alternative Choice for the Top 25 is:Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson.  In a balkanised Los Angeles, where everything is privatised and the economy is breaking down, a new computer virus appears that affects the users as much as their computers. A key part of this future is the Metaverse, Stephenson's futuristic version of the Internet where people "log on" via virtual goggles. Everything is conducted through the Metaverse, from business to dating. Stephenson not only presents us with a very realistic look at what could be, but there are some subtle social observations about the way things are different and the same.Stephenson frames the modern social constructs intruding into this cyberworld; ones' social wealth is judged by the look of the avatar they use to interact with the Metaverse, with the wealthy being able to afford custom while the "poor" use off the shelf.This book has it all, from hacker heroes who wield Samurai sword destruction by night in the Metaverse and deliver pizza by day for the Mob, governments and police controlled by private corporations, and a conspiracy that might the world needs some saving from.

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Neuromancer was just the start of the Sprawl trilogy, so you should certainly go on to read Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive, not to mention the stories in Burning Chrome, which tell us yet more about this future of jacked-in cyber jockeys and street samurai, simstim and emerging machine intelligence. You simply can't understand cyberpunk, or anything that happened in science fiction afterwards, without these books. Note that while these books take place in the same 'world' they are unique stories and as such you can read Neuromancer (or the other loosely connected books) as stand alones.

Gibson has recently returned to science fiction with a powerful new novel, The Peripheral, in which people riding shotgun on an immersive game in the run-down near future end up witnessing a murder in the more distant future, and get caught in a time-travelling mystery of escalating violence and ever-increasing mystery. It can be hard going at first, but boy is it worth keeping on with the book.

If Neuromancer got the ball rolling with cyberpunk, there were an awful lot of great writers who quickly joined him. So if this sets you on fire, you absolutely must go on to read Schismatrix Plus by Bruce Sterling, the novel and stories set in his Shaper/Mechanist universe, a future in which humanity is divided between those who go in for genetic modification of the body, the Shapers, and those who prefer mechanical augmentation, the Mechanists. This is the point where cyberpunk started to mutate into stories of post-humanity.

Then there's Pat Cadigan, especially Synners and Fools, both of which won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, making her the first person to win the award twice. These are dramatic stories of human/machine interface, and the way it affects our awareness of reality.

For more specific CYBERPUNK book recommendations, make sure you look at our 'Top 25 Best Cyberpunk Books list' and our Guide to the Cyberpunk Genre

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.

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At the time, The Handmaid's Tale looked like an oddity in the career of an important mainstream writer. But since then Margaret Atwood has not only written a book about science fiction, she has also incorporated science fiction elements into her novel The Blind Assassin, more significantly she has written a science fiction trilogy, Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood and MaddAddam. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood follow two different sets of survivors, which are brought together in the final volume, MaddAddam. Interspersed throughout the novels are long flashbacks to the polluted, heavily industrialised world before the crash, leading up to the deliberate release of a genetically constructed virus that wipes out a large proportion of the population. Some commentators reckon that these books are more ambitious and more powerful even that The Handmaid's Tale.

There are quite a few other utopian and dystopian novels that explore the position of women. For example, The Gate to Women's Country by Sheri  S. Tepper is set 300 years after a nuclear war has destroyed the United States. Women's Country is an ecologically sustainable matriarchy where the women live within walled towns while the men live in warrior camps outside the walls. But in the novel one of the women finds herself captured by a misogynistic Christian community where women are treated like slaves.

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)

Everyone loves the idea of the thinking man's fireman (particularly middle aged women who read Fifty Shades of Grey), but that's not why Fahrenheit 451 made it to second on this list. Bradbury made his bread and butter with short horror stories, but also wrote one of the most popular dystopian science-fiction novels. Why is it so popular? It's definitely the most accessible dystopian science fiction novel -the science is soft and easy to digest, the word count is short, and the theme of society's dependence on technology is so subtle that it probably goes over the heads of many contemporary readers who are busy plugged into their iPhones, iPads, and whatever else they have in their sockets and ears -they're too busy staring at their screens to realize it's a metaphor. Oh, and lots of action. Who doesn't love fire, chases, and explosions? The novel follows Guy Montag, in a dystopian American society where books and intellectual thought are banned. Guy is a fireman in a society where firemen don't put out fires, they burn contraband books, and the houses the banned books are found in. Montag never questions this destruction, until his wife attempts to kill herself, and he meets a neighborhood girl who believes in freedom of expression, thought, and in the ideas in books. Guy begins to hoard the books he is sent to destroy, and reads them in secret. When he's found out, he goes on the run. In a deliciously ironic move, when the book originally came out, it was banned in various schools for "questionable themes." Looking back, this looks like authoritarian institutions becoming uncomfortable about the parallels between the book and society. Scarily, the novel was banned as recently as 1998 in a Missouri high school for using the words "God damn". In between bannings, the novel retrospectively won a Hugo award.

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There was a period when science fiction tended to refer to the next stage in human evolution as homo superior, and one of the ways of achieving this state was through a gestalt, a number of individuals working as one. The idea is there, for instance, in The Inner Wheel by Keith Roberts, but it’s most successful expression was probably in this novel by Theodore Sturgeon. Through three linked stories, we follow the development of a gestalt, starting with a loner with telepathic abilities who begins to gather odd children around him. When he dies, a sociopath takes over the group, but in the last story an air force engineer who has been locked in an insane asylum becomes the group’s conscience, and so completes the homo gestalt. Why it’s on the list: The novel, which won the International Fantasy Award, is perhaps Sturgeon’s masterpiece, a brilliant account of how the collective outweighs the individual, and opens up new ways for human development.
Billy Pilgrim was unstuck in time. It sounds like a fairly conventional time travel story. But this is Kurt Vonnegut, and nothing he wrote was ever conventional. In fact, the novel opens with a chapter that lays out how Vonnegut came to write the novel, so we know from the start that this is a true story with an exaggeratedly fictional overlay.Vonnegut was in the American Army in 1944. Captured during the Battle of the Bulge, he was imprisoned near the ancient city of Dresden. He was in the city during the notorious allied bombing raid that resulted in a devastating firestorm, and he had to help with rescue details and clearing up afterwards. Those experiences are at the core of the novel.Vonnegut's alter ego in the novel is Billy Pilgrim. Young and naïve during the war, he goes on to become anoptometrist, have a not particularly happy marriage, and be kidnapped by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. But because he is unstuck in time, he has no control over the sequence in which he experiences these events. Although he returns again and again to the war, he will then abruptly shift to his imprisonment on Tralfamadore with a pornographic movie star, or the tragi-comic experience of his wife dying of carbon-monoxide poisoning as a result of a car crash as she rushed to visit him in hospital, or his earlier introduction to the works of science fiction writer Kilgore Trout.The result is one of the most intoxicating novels of all time, a smorgasbord of science fiction and comedy, memoir and tragedy. So it goes. Why It Made the ListSlaughterhouse Five regularly appears on lists of the 100 best novels of the 20th century, and if you ever go to Dresden you can take a Vonnegut Tour of the actual Slaughterhouse Five. It's the blend of the real and the fictional, the terrible and the hilarious that makes this a totally unforgettable novel.

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The Sirens of Titan is the novel that introduced us to the Tralfamadorians. After Slaughterhouse Five, Vonnegut tended to distance himself from science fiction, but before that he was a very highly regarded sf novelist. And The Sirens of Titan is the novel that made his reputation. There is someone cut loose in time, in this instance trapped in a �¢chrono-synclastic infundibulum�¢; there�¢s a war between Mars and Earth that is dotted through the narrative; and there is a Tralfamadorian who has been stuck on Titan for hundreds of thousands of years. It turns out that the whole of human history has been manipulated in order to get an earthman to Titan with the small part necessary to repair the Tralfamadorian craft. Full of sly, cynical humour, surreal juxtapositions, and a jaundiced view of humanity, this is another novel that demands to be read.
There was a time when stories of isolated communities surviving after the apocalypse were all over the place. There was also a time when stories of clones were everywhere, driven by the curious uncanny interest in what it might be like to meet yourself. But it took Kate Wilhelm, in what is easily her finest novel, to bring the two ideas together.There is no one cataclysmic event that destroys the world, just a series of problems, viruses and wars and increasing levels of radiation, that slowly become insoluble. The Sumners, a wealthy extended family, decide to ride out the cataclysm in their remote farm, until they discover that one of the side effects of the various problems in the world is that they have all become infertile. In order for the family to survive, they decide to clone themselves, imagining it is a temporary measure and that some years down the line the clones will be able to breed naturally again. But the clones have other ideas. They quite like being clones, and choose to continue cloning, creating anything from four to 10 offspring from each individual. The consequence of this is that the clones lose all sense of individuality, they become dependent on each other, tied together by an empathy that is almost telepathic. Eventually, they lose their creativity, their ability to cope with changing circumstances. Only an offshoot community that has restored natural childbirth and with it the sense of individuality continues to thrive. Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang won the Hugo Award. A humane, sensitive work, typical of Wilhelm at her very best, it is one of the most interesting treatments of cloning in science fiction. U. A humane, sensitive work, typical of Wilhelm at her very best, it is one of the most interesting treatments of cloning in science fiction.

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Other than Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, Wilhelm was probably at her best at shorter length. Try her collection The Infinity Box, particularly the title novella. This is a disturbing story in which a man finds he is able to enter and control the mind of a vulnerable woman who moves in next door. But the more he controls her, a psychologically abusive sexual relationship, the more he slips into madness.

There are any number of other novels about cloning. Among the more interesting, Cloned Lives by Pamela Sargent is worth reading. It tells of an experiment with cloning told from the point of view of different clones and the father, and it is interesting that it doesn't stress the similarity between the clones but the differences.

More recently, stories of cloning have concentrated on the idea of the clone being harvested for organs and body parts to keep the original alive. This notion crops up in Spares by Michael Marshall Smith, in which the clones go on the run; and in Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, in which the clones are raised to feel honoured to donate parts.

After a whole string of stories about global warming, biotechnology, gene hacking and other ways we can threaten our global food supply, which together virtually defined the new subgenre of biopunk, Paolo Bacigalupi then took the ideas another stage further with this stunning novel.It's two centuries from now, the sea levels have risen, fossil fuels are exhausted, and biotechnology has created as plagues and pests that have devastated world food supplies. So any genetically pure stock of seeds is a precious resource. Thailand may have just such a stock, and the AgriGen agent in Bangkok will do anything to get his hands on it.This is the setting for a story that involves a sexually-exploited humanoid "Windup Girl", a rogue GM elephant, a deadly new plague, smuggling, extortion, murder, embezzlement, and a coup.It's a vivid, vicious, terrifying and utterly convincing portrait of the future. You'll keep reading because there's so much going on you just have to know what happens next, but every time you put the book down you shiver and think that's exactly what the world is going to be like. The Windup Girlwon the Nebula Award, the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, and tied for the Hugo Award with China Miéville'sThe City and the City. It's a fabulous novel that will keep you up nights.

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It's worth reading this novel alongside Bacigalupi'sbiopunk stories, which are collected in Pump Six and Other Stories, which won a Locus Award for best Collection, and contains such seminal biopunk stories as "The Calorie Man", "The People of Slag and Sand" and "Yellow Card Man" which serves as a prequel to The Windup Girl.

If you're interested in biopunk, you also need to check out Ribofunk by Paul Di Filippo, a collection of stories in which he argues thatthe next revolution â the only one that really matters â will be in the field of biology.

Also worth checking out is Heavy Weather by Bruce Sterling, in which one of the consequences of climate change is not just the effect on our food supply, but also the effect on our weather. It's a chilling novel in which, in the very near future, the planet is lashed by storms of unprecedented ferocity.

The barriers between science fiction and fantasy are porous, but even so it is usually pretty clear whether you are reading one or the other. But Lord of Light is a science fiction novel that reads like fantasy (or perhaps it is the other way round), an intentional ambiguity that is typical of the work of Roger Zelazny.The crew of the "Star of India", refugees from vanished Earth, find themselves on a planet where the indigenous people are hostile. To survive, the crew use electronic equipment, biofeedback and other techniques to give themselves greater powers that allow them to subjugate the natives. As a result of these powers, including a form of identity transfer that gives them virtual immortality, the crew begin to take on the attributes of the Hindu pantheon. But one of the crew revolts against the idea of being a god. He decides to bring the benefits of technology to all mortals, and so takes on the role of Buddha, effectively recapitulating the story of the arrival of Buddhism as he gradually works to cripple the power of the gods. Zelazny, on form, was always a colourful writer, using mythological structures to tell highly complex psychological tales. Of these, Lord of Light, which won the Hugo Award, was easily his most sustained and effective.

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Zelazny was always prolific, and much of his work was therefore of variable quality. Creatures of Light and Darkness, for instance, recapitulatesLord of Light with Egyptian gods replacing the Hindu pantheon, but without a tenth of the style and vigour of the original. But when he was on form his books sparkled. As, for instance, in This Immortal, winner of the Hugo Award, in which the Earth has become a theme park for aliens, and the immortal Conrad turns out to be the human zoo keeper. Or The Dream Master, which won a Nebula for Best Novella in its original version, which tells of a psychiatrist who enters and shapes the dreams of his patients, until he becomes trapped when one of his patients begins to take control of his dreams.

Zelazny is probably best known for the Amber series, of which the first sequence, consisting of Nine Princes in Amber, The Guns of Avalon, Sign of the Unicorn, The Hand of Oberon and The Courts of Chaos, is easily the best. In the series, Earth is just one of a vast number of shadow worlds that lie between the true world, Amber, and Chaos. The sequence tells of the struggles within the ruling family for control of Amber. As with so much of Zelazny's work, they are novels that can be read as either fantasy or science fiction.

This novel is a fan-lovers secret. It didn't win anything. But, it should have. Usually readers find a copy by accident recognizing Herbert from his Dune series. Nothing prepares you for this wild-ass ride of a novel. Yes, it's set in space and yes there are aliens and shit. But, what this novel is really about is nearly impossible to quantify. Imagine a poisonous planet with one tiny habitable area that is massively overpopulated. This planet is trapped by an artificial spacewall so its inhabitants have nowhere to go. The game is survival, and it's a very deadly game. This novel grabs you and never lets you go. That's why its one of the best, for those people who hide their worn copies tucked behind the award-winning stuff.

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And if Diaspora is one of the most developed works of posthumanity, this is probably the first. Wells brings ideas of Darwinian evolution squarely into science fiction, and uses it to cast a caustic light upon ideas of human development and Victorian social policy. A Victorian gentleman travels hundreds of thousands of years into the future and finds two distinct races, the childlike Eloi and the dark, chthonic Morlocks who prey on them, while the learning and wisdom of humanity is dust. Only gradually does he discover the two races are the descendants of humanity, effete aristocrats on the one hand, workers driven into a subterranean existence on the other (Wells’s novella, “A Story of the Days to Come”, illustrates this coming about). It’s a chilling condemnation of Victorian industrial policy and a revelatory account of how evolution has not finished with humankind. Why it’s on the list: Evolution is one of the most important themes in science fiction, and the key to the whole notion of posthumanity, and it all begins here.

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H.G. Wells was an incredibly busy writer, producing three or four books every single year between 1895 and 1946, but among these were an awful lot of science fiction books. They are all very readable and exciting, but the early ones in particular virtually invented some of the most important ideas in the genre. 

The Island of Doctor Moreau tells of a mad scientist, hidden away on an isolated island, who performs vivisection that turns wild animals into debased humans; it is a powerful tale of horror and the misuse of science. 

The War of the Worlds is the first alien invasion story, which tells of Martians landing on the outskirts of London and proving technologically superior to the most powerful nation on Earth.

The Invisible Man is a version of the Jeckyll and Hyde story, in which a researcher invents a potion that makes him all but invisible; but he cannot regain visibility. This makes him an outcast whose only recourse is to ever more extreme crimes and acts of terrorism. 

The First Men in the Moon is the story of an inventor who creates an anti-gravity material that he uses to construct a spacecraft in which he an a friend travel to the moon. But there they discover a regimented and dystopian society.

This is another one of those sneaky first-book debut novels that slid in under the radar in 2003. No one had ever heard of Audrey Niffenegger before she sold a couple million copies and then optioned and had her novel turned into a movie. Worse, her book is categorized as romantic science fiction. That's fighting words for some people. How could she invade science fiction with - love? The jokes on those who haven't read it yet. It's damn good. All science fiction can't be doom and gloom, wars and battles, superhuman telepaths with zappy brains and aliens. Sometimes it has to be about people with real life problems. In this case it is about a woman whose boyfriend just happens to have a defect that causes him to spontaneously time travel. I know a lot of women feel like their boyfriends do this already without a defect to justify their mysterious absences and a few women wish their boyfriends would zap off to some dangerous place where they might get - oh right. Well, this isn't a chick book. It is a really damn good, modern science fiction novel. Are you brave enough to read it?