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.