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Top 25 Science Fiction Books
Love Science Fiction? Hate wasting time reading the trash? Then read this definitive guide to the Top 25 Science Fiction Books in the genre.
It's been a long time in coming, but the NEW Top 25 Best Science Fiction list has been released January 2016. There's a LOT more thought put into the list here than the old list (which is still a great list) and the picks are more representative of the genre as a whole. We've also filled out every section with MORE information about why we consider each entry the best of the best. It's a COMPLETELY NEW list from start to finish. You can STILL read our previous version of the Top 25 list as the Alternative Top 25 Best Science Fiction Books list.
This list presents my picks for the Top 25 Science Fiction Books. It’s a broad list that covers a lot of subgenres and draws from a number of “eras” from the early science fiction to hot-off-the press works that have garnered critical acclaim. These are the best in the genre and are the absolute “Must Reads.”
I know that just like my Best Fantasy Books list, you can’t please everyone. There will be some glaring omissions of some classics, but with these sort of lists you have to exclude more than you include especially if you want to include any recent science fiction. This list tries to balance "modern" science fiction with classic reads. Keep in mind that there will be a "Classics" list and a "Modern Classics" that will help fill out the "holes" that a list like this in-veritably ends up with.
You can read my deeper look into the Science Fiction genre and my reasoning’s for my picks below, or you can just jump to the list.
What’s Qualifies as “The Best?”
This is a tricky one. The “best” science fiction books ideally combine fine story telling with brilliant, exploratory questions that have us asking all sorts of challenging questions about the fundamentals of everything – society, religion, politics, race relations, space, time, the destiny of man, our place in the universe, etc. I posit there is a lot more you can do with science fiction to ask deep questions than one can do with fantasy, if only because science fiction tries to cloak itself in the appearance of reality or at least a possible reality.
Of course, it’s easy to get so lost in ground breaking ideas that the actual mechanisms of storytelling become merely a vehicle to carry the idea; this is one of the problems with science fiction: ground breaking ideas, settings, and questions or strong plot with deep characters but rarely both. I try my best to pick out books with great ideas that have influenced the genre, but I also select based on the strength of the story and characters. Alas, some compromises have to be made, especially in this genre.
Many of the best “classics” science fictions are heavy on ground breaking ideas but pretty light on story and characters. Modern science fiction puts a lot more emphasis on story and characterization, however. I generally find science fiction written the past twenty years more entertaining (from a story standpoint) than some of the older classics due to the inclusion of things like a solid plot and strong characterization. But the older classics, light on story and plot that they might be, still deserve a place for the sheer influence they have had on the genre. True classics stand the test of time and the ideas presented still age well. Science Fiction has it a bit harder than other genres because the science in the books might end up wrong in light of recent discovery which then puts the book in an awkward place -- a classic for it's time but with faulty science.
These are my top 25 picks for the best science fiction books ever written. Some are well known, some are less so, but all are absolutely worth reading. I’ve tried to draw on a variety of different Science Fiction subgenres (Cyberpunk, Space Opera, Hard Science Fiction, Soft Science Fiction, Dystopian, Alternate History, etc.) from a variety of different periods, from the early period to the Golden Age of Science Fiction to Contemporary Picks that have been published within the past five years.
It's always a tough choice making a Top 25 list as it excludes so many good books. To do justice to the some of the other books that deserve to be on the list, I've included an Honorable Mentions list after the Top 25 Science Fiction Books List. If you read everything on the Top 25, definitely read the Honorable Mentions
So challenge your mind, get lost in another world, and read some of the best of what the genre offers.
If you want MORE recommendations, check out our Top 100 Best Science Fiction Books Ever, which continues on from this list, starting from #26 and ending at #100.
You can view the crowd-ranked version of this list and vote on the entries at the bottom of this page.
Note, if you want to see our older best list with the older crowd list rankings for that, visit the Top 25 Alternative Best Science Fiction Books list and view the crowd list there -- we have several years of crowd ranking data for the best SF books there.
Books in Dune Chronicles Series (7)
Don't let the bloat of the later Dune novels put you off. You really should read some of Frank Herbert's other novels.
The Dragon in the Sea is another novel of depleted natural resources, in this case oil following a decade-long war between West and East. But the nuclear submarines that the West is using to harvest the scarce oil are simply disappearing. It's not the great world-building epic of Dune, but it is a gripping thriller with a strong message.
The Eyes of Heisenberg is set in a future in which the majority of people on Earth are ruled by the genetically superior Optimen. In the main the rule seems benevolent, despite the fact that the Optimen have dramatically restricted technological development, but a resistance movement is starting to develop. The future world is very vividly drawn, and this is another of the gripping plots that Herbert seemed to produce effortlessly.
Hellstrom's Hive takes what Herbert called "the most horrible kind of civilization you could imagine", and then makes them into the good guys. The horrible civilization is the sort of regimented, highly structured life of social insects; but when a group of humans try to live this way, they are disrupted by the intrusion of government agents.
Dune is a one-off, there is no other novel quite like it. But if you are looking for a novel set in a richly imagined desert landscape with a serious ecological message, you could turn to The Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson.
Books in The Book Of The New Sun Series (7)
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.
If you like Heinlein then you should read more books by Heinlein of course. But what to read next? Well, there's so much work by Heinlein that everyone interested in science fiction should read, but here's a selection.
The Door into Summer is a novel that explores Heinlein's fascination with time travel. When inventor D.B. Davis is tricked out of his company, his former partners put him into cold sleep. But when he awakes, years later, he finds that many of the innovations in the world are credited to one D.B. Davis. Finding someone who has invented time travel, he goes back knowing how to change the world.
Starship Troopers, another Hugo ward winning novel, is one of the best known of Heinlein's books, a military adventure that traces the career of the central character from recruitment up to an interstellar war.
Stranger in a Strange Land is a Hugo Award winning novel that became a cult classic during the 1960s, and was named as one of the "Books that Shaped America" by the Library of Congress. It's the story of a human raised on Mars who returns to Earth and ends up transforming human society.
If you're fascinated by Heinlein's account of lunar colonies in revolt from Earth, you should check out Time Out of Joint by Philip K. Dick, which tells the story from the other side. RagelGumm lives in a 1950s small town where he makes his living winning newspaper competitions. But strange things start to happen; a soft drinks stand disappears leaving a slip of paper with the words SOFT DRINKS STAND written on it. Gradually, Gumm works out that the small town is not real, and that the newspaper competition is actually a way of predicting where the rebelling lunar colonies will bombard next. It's a novel full of Dick's typical undermining of reality, but it makes a fascinating counterpoint to Heinlein's novel.
Books in Hainish Cycle Series (8)
If you love the Dispossessed, then you should absolutely look at these other works.
The Lathe of Heaven is another classic novel by Le Guin, in this instance set in near-future Seattle where George Orr has effective dreams,that is, dreams that can affect reality. Under the direction of an ambitious psychiatrist, Orr tries to change the world for the better, but each change only makes things worse, until reality itself starts to break down.
The political and sexual thought-experiments that are such a feature of Le Guin's work are also to be found in the short stories of James Tiptree Jr., the best of which are gathered together in Her Smoke Rose Up Forever. Look out,in particular, for 'The Last Flight of Dr Ain', 'And I Awoke And Found Me Here On The Cold Hill' s Side, 'A Momentary Taste of Being and particularly The Women Men Don't See.
Remembering that The Dispossessed is called 'An Ambiguous Utopia', it is also worth comparing it to Trouble on Triton by Samuel R.Delany, which is described as An Ambiguous Heterotopia and which was deliberately written in dialogue with The Dispossessed. A heterotopia is a place outside of normal social institutions, a liminal place where different types of people might come together, and on Triton there is a thoroughgoing libertarian society where citizens are mostly free to live any way they wish, and regularly change their gender, sexual orientation and so forth. Against the backdrop of a war between Earth and Triton, we follow the adventures of a man from Mars who is out of sympathy with the society in which he finds himself.
Books in Hyperion Cantos Series (3)
Dan Simmons has written an incredible range of books, from mainstream to horror, but if you like The Hyperion Cantos, you really should give his other science fiction duology a read: Illuim and Olympus. They are fantastic books that also borrow literary conceits and reuse them in an extravagant science fiction setting; in this case, Simmons takes on the Odyssey and the Illiad but shifts the events of the Trojan War to a far future Earth and Mars. Hell there's even discussion about Shakespeare by some of the characters. A must read.
For a wild ride into big space opera territory, give Peter Hamilton's works a go. You could start with his Night's Dawn Trilogy which includes The Reality Dysfunction, The Neutronium Alchemist and The Naked God -- it's an absolutely massive space opera series with a gripping plot that includes the souls of the dead coming back to possess the living, that keeps you glued to the page from the start to the very end. For a vast space opera with a huge universe, massive cast of characters, a quality story, you should also take a good look at Peter Hamilton's Commonwealth Saga, Misspent Youth, Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained.
Hyperion Cantos is a dark series with themes of death, suffering, and tragedy pervading the story. For the ultimate "downer" science fiction space opera, give Stephen R. Donaldson's five-volume Gap Cycle a go. It deals with adult themes and the world presented is not a sugar-coated "the future is bright and human kind is good" kind that most space operas follow.
Books in Childe Cycle Series (24)
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.
Bester's other great novel is The Demolished Man, which won the very first Hugo Award. It asks the question: how do you get away with murder in a society in which telepathy is so common that the police can know everything going on in your mind? Told in a free and easy manner, with lots of wordplay and typographical tricks, it is another novel that clearly deserves to be recognised as a classic.
If you are fascinated by Bester's adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo, you should also check out Spirit: or the Princess of Bois Dormant by Gwyneth Jones, which also uses the Dumas novel as a model for a story of interstellar adventure. In this case it's also a sequel to her award-winning Aleutian Trilogy.
For another modern space opera with Bester's fingerprints all over it, check out The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey: Leviathan Wakes, Caliban's War, Abaddon's Gate and Cibola Burn. The co-author, Daniel Abraham, acknowledges Bester as a major influence then goes on to list what elements of the story are owed to The Stars My Destination:http://www.danielabraham.com/2012/01/30/paying-tribute-the-stars-my-destination/
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.
Books in Culture Series (11)
Basically, anything with Iain M. Banks's name on it is going to be action on a massive scale, great ideas, laugh out loud humour, and soul-searching darkness, all rolled into one. You're not going to go wrong picking up any of his books. But these are some you'll really want to pay attention to.
The Player of Games stars the Culture's top games player, Gurgeh, who is blackmailed to go on a secret mission for Special Circumstances, taking on a brutal alien empire at their own particular game, and the stakes are far higher than he could ever imagine. This is a novel where you just have to take a deep breath every so often before plunging back into the action, because it really will screw with your mind. This is recommended as a good introduction to the series -- it's action packed, it's faced paced, and it's a rewarding story.
Excession mostly concerns the ships who are called on to investigate a strange intrusion into Culture space, and which gradually reveals a whole level of reality they weren't even aware of before. This won the BSFA Award.
Look to Windward describes an attempt to blow up an Orbital, an artificial world where millions of people live, as revenge for the Culture's interference in a long-ago war. It's the novel where you realise that the Culture isn't a static society but is actually evolving, growing older, maybe beginning to contemplate its own death.
The novels of Iain M. Banks helped to kick start the British Renaissance of the 1990s and also the New Space Opera, so if you love his books you're also advised to look out for some of the other books that emerged out of those movements.
The Fall Revolution Quartet by Ken MacLeod, Banks's childhood friend, is an obvious place to start; each volume takes a different version of Trotskyist politics as an underlying theme in a story that starts in a near future Britain and ends with a war against uploaded beings around Jupiter.
The Quiet War Quartet by Paul McAuley covers thousands of years of human habitation across the solar system, starting in the relatively near future when energy and enthusiasm are driving people ever further out but their efforts have to be directed towards trying to prevent a war between the colonists in the outer system and the authoritarian regimes left behind. But by the end of the series humanity is retreating as the various human habitats crumble and decay, but a mysterious message from the stars could reinvigorate things.
The Xeelee Sequence by Stephen Baxter, one of the most consistently reliable of hard sf authors, whose monumental series of novels and stories range from the present day to five billion years in the future when the solar system collides with the Andromeda nebula, during which time humanity becomes one of the most powerful races in space.
For big space opera with grand ideas and exiting action, give Alastair Reynold's Revelation Space series a read. It's got it's own thing going on -- a different sort of story than the Culture, but in my opinion, just as exciting.
Books in Foundation Series (9)
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.
Books in Space Odyssey Series (3)
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.
Books in The Forever War Series (2)
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.
Books in Marstrilogy Series (2)
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.
Other literary dystopias from the period that are well worth reading include Swastika Night by Katherine Burdekin, in which she imagined the world of Hitler's thousand-year reich, and One by David Karp which imagines a totalitarian future America.
Of course, we can't forget about 1984 as THE dystopian novel to read. Fahrenheit 451 is also another important dystopian novel you should read.
Books in Zones Of Thought Series (2)
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.
Books in Vorkosigan Saga Series (37)
There's lots of military sf out there, but if you're looking for something that has the same romantic feel, you really need to try the Honor Harrington books by David Weber, there's 20 or more of them now, stories of the space navy that are closely modeled on the Horation Hornblower novels of C.S. Forester.
Another series worth checking out is the Familias Regnant sequence by Elizabeth Moon. There are seven novels to date, in which Moon draws on her own military experience to provide a convincing account of military operations in space.
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.
Ward Moore didn't really write much else that is likely to catch your attention, but the subgenre he set in motion has lots to offer.There's If the South had Won the Civil War by McKinley Kantor, which also has Lee win at Gettysburg, is written as if it is a history book of the period.
There's also The Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove, in which time travelling Afrikaaners deliver modern AK47s to Robert E. Lee's army on the eve of the Battle of the Wilderness and so change the outcome of the Civil War.
Bradbury's work mostly appeared in collections of linked stories, like The Illustrated Man in which the tattoos on a vagrant together reveal a terrifying vision of the future and of humanity's relationship with technology. But there was one novel that clearly deserves to be our Alternative Choice for a place in Top 100.
Joanna Russ's work is never easy, she deliberately undermines our expectations, shifts perspective, and challenges our prejudices. But the result can be refreshing and invigorating.
The way she subverts the comforting myths of science fiction is vividly displayed in We Who Are About To which tells the familiar story of a small group of people stranded on an uninhabited planet. The men, as always in such stories, dream of colonising and repopulating the planet, but the woman doesn't believe that survival is possible. In a famously bleak ending she has to kill the men in order to defend herself against rape.
Neal Stephenson's novels have got bigger and bigger as his career has gone on. It's like he's trying to squeeze an entire world between the covers of a book. But however much detail you'll find in there, there's always a strong story that just keeps you turning the pages. There are several books that could equally well command a place in our Top 100 list.
Make sure you look at our 'Top 25 Best Cyberpunk Books list' and our Guide to the Cyberpunk Genre.
For similar recommendations, you should look at other cyberpunk works that have proved influential.
William Gibson's Neuromancer is the gold standard in cyberpunk and pretty much the founding father of the movement in science fiction.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep -- a highly influential work by PKD that's touched literature and film. The futuristic noir dystopian metropolis setting of the film has inspired generations of sci fi movies and video games. Truth be told, there have been few science fiction books as influential on pop culture as THIS work. As such, you absolutely should read it.
For a modern violent take on the cyberpunk genre, Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan. It's brutal, violent, dark, and has a mystery-detective tale that keeps you hooked from start to finish. This is one of the most exciting cyberpunk thrillers in the genre.
Books in Imperial Radch Series (2)
The sequel to the novel is already out. Ancillary Sword gives Breq control of a new ship, and sends her across the galaxy to protect the family of the lieutenant she once murdered in cold blood.
Other powerful space operas with a contemporary feel include Cyteen by C.J. Cherryh, a fast-moving story set in research stations around the toxic planet Cyteen. The story includes clones and rejuvenation, faster than light travel, wars and murder. It won both the Hugo and Locus Awards.
Dust by Elizabeth Bear is set aboard a generation starship that was badly damaged ages before. Over the centuries, the crew have divided into warring factions, but now the nearby binary stars are on the verge of falling into each other, and a way must be found to unite the warring factions or the whole ship will be lost.
Books in Animorphs Series (47)
For some specific Mars book recommendations, read our Best Mars Novels list on our blog.
If you love this story of survival against the odds on Mars, then you should seek out No Man Friday by Rex Gordon. This is also a story of an expedition to Mars gone wrong. An accident on the ship midway to Mars kills all the crew except for one, who happens to be in his spacesuit at the time. Crash landing on Mars he has to find ways to produce oxygen and water, but the difference from Weir's story is that there are giant Martians in this story, and the planet has its own plant life.
And for stories about problem solving at NASA, you really can't beat Voyage by Stephen Baxter. Set in an alternate history in which Kennedy was not assassinated, it tells the story of the determination to send a manned mission to Mars. Baxter provides a carefully worked out account of the moon missions that are cut back to divert resources to the Mars programme, and the unmanned probes that are never sent; he also describes the technical innovations that are made and the problems that need to be solved before NASA can send an astronaut to set foot on Mars.
There's a host of games oriented science fiction out there now. These are a couple you'll really want to get into.
If you like the style of Ready Player One, then read the second work by the same author. Armada. It takes the same pop culture references that Ready Player One does, but applies them to science fiction in general. Same type of story. It's not as good a read, but it's much in the same vein.
This Is Not A Game by Walter Jon Williams concerns a creator of Alternate Reality Games which have a vast worldwide following. When one of her colleagues is murdered, she builds the murder into the game and, with the help of players around the world, is able to solve it. But this only reveals a further crime that could destroy the entire economy of the world. With two sequels, Deep State and The Fourth Wall, these are thrilling stories which break down the distinction between the universe of the game and reality.
You might want to check out Reamde by Neal Stephenson. It features a virtual game as the center of the plot.
The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu is the first science fiction novel from China to be translated into English, and it's an extraordinary work. Top scientists are committing suicide, and the mystery behind it involves not just Chinese authorities but the Western military as well. The solution turns out to involve a computer game, the Three-Body Problem, but the bizarre realities entered inside the game are actually a cover for an alien invasion, so once again the game and reality are merged.