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Top 25 Science Fiction Books

The Best 25 Science Fiction Ever Written (Updated January 2016)

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.

Ah Dune -- a million words have been written about Dune, more words in fact than Herbert himself ever wrote in his grand planetary romance meets ecological space opera.  Dune has made just about every relevant recommendation list on this site and you'll find most people put Dune near the top of anything with the words 'best' and 'science fiction' in the same sentence.It's not surprise that critics endlessly refer to it as Science Fiction's answer to Lord of the Rings.Dune is many things: a planetary romance, a science fiction Shakespearean tragedy, an ecological science fiction, a revenge tale, a saga of a dynasty, and a Space Opera.It's a Space Opera that (mostly) takes place on a planet. A very special planet. Dune. A planet that controls an empire of planets.If you are the one person who has not yet read Dune, start. The series is sometimes polarizing, but it's a grand sweep of politics, war, economics, dynasty, and religion. But it's also (at least the first couple books) a very personal tale of a boy who becomes a man, and a man who becomes a leader, and a leader who becomes a god, a god who becomes a man.Read it and weep for love.Series InfoI've only listed the superior original Dune trilogy (which was six books with the seventh book, partially completed and edited to completion by Herbert's son, Brian). The first couple books are the absolute best with the post-humorously released book a disappointment. Frank Herbert's son Brian along with Kevin J Anderson have pumped out an enormance amount of ti-in dune novels that tell prequel and sequel stories in the universe. While they are decent reads, they are a shadow of a spec of the brilliance of the original series.

Books in Dune Chronicles Series (7)

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heinlein kept returning to the Moon several times throughout his career, in stories like "The Man Who Sold the Moon", "The Black Pits of Luna" and "The Menace from Earth". The Luna colony was an essential stage in his future history, the first sustained movement away from earth and the first step in learning a new independence. This all comes together in what is perhaps his best novel, a book that also encapsulates the science fiction view of the Moon before the actual Moon landing.In this novel the Moon is a successful colony, but its economic and political independence is restricted by the Earth government. Eventually, the colonists revolt in a story that repeats the story of American independence but with the additional dangers of an unforgiving landscape, but with the great advantage of being able to bombard Earth simply by launching rocks at it.Why it tops the list:This Hugo winning novel is quite simply the most vivid and memorable account of life on the Lunar colony that science fiction has produced.

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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.

The Dispossessed has been acclaimed as a new approach to utopian literature, but we should pay attention to the subtitle that appears in most editions of the book: "An Ambiguous Utopia". Le Guin is never straightforward in her presentation of the various societies in her novels, there is always a subtlety, an ambiguity, which is what makes her undoubtedly one of the finest of all science fiction writers.On the planet Urras, the societies reflect the time when Le Guin was writing the novel. There is one state, A-Io, that calls to mind the capitalist society of the United States, and another, Thu, that has something of the statist communism of the Soviet Union. In contrast, on the moon Anarres, there is a functioning anarchist society based on the teaching of Odo. But we should not read Anarres as utopian, there are all sorts of restrictions on life there, as our protagonist, Shevek, discovers.He is a scientist working on a revolutionary new theory of time, and there are limitations on how far he can advance while on Anarres. So he travels to Urras in order to exchange ideas with the scientists there, only to discover that he faces different but equally frustrating restrictions there.In alternating chapters we follow Shevek on Anarres and on Urras, incidents in one often being reflected in a similar incident in the other, so that we are constantly able to compare and contrast the different societies. And while the purity of the anarchist society is presented very positively, we also see ways in which the capitalist and communist societies of Urras have an advantage.Why It's On the ListBeautifully written, vividly realised, and packed with ideas that make us constantly reassess our views on the different political systems in the novel, this is a prime example of science fiction as the literature of ideas. Little wonder that it won the Hugo, Nebula and Locus Awards.Alternative ChoiceAs an alternative choice for this spot on the list we can present Le Guin's other work as an alternative read if you want another choice. Ursula Le Guin is, deservedly, one of the most highly acclaimed writers in science fiction. Picking the best of her books it was an almost impossible choice between The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness. This is another book that won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, and Locus magazine ranked it number two in a list of âAll-Time Best SF Novelsâ. Like The Dispossessed it is a part of the Hainish Cycle, and it also has a very serious political undertone, though in this case it is centrally concerned with gender politics. Set on a planet known as Winter, it describes a society in which people are gender neutral and only take on sexual characteristics once a month at a time known as kemmer. At this time an individual might take on the characteristics of either sex, so the novel works as a thought experiment about what it would be like to have no male and no female. The result is one of the most challenging and the most inspiring books in science fiction.

Books in Hainish Cycle Series (8)

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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.

Brilliant on just about every level, Hyperion IS the quintessential space opera series. Simmons puts everything you'd ever want in a Space Opera (breathtaking action, military engagments in and out of space, faster than light travel, AI, etc), but what sets this series apart from the rest is the deep human themes explored, the cast of emotionally tortured (yet all the while compelling characters), the beautiful prose, and Simmons' ability to seamlessly structure the narrative in homage to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales as a series of interrelated tales told by each character as they march to their doom on a desolate planet to seek answers from a god. If you have not read Hyperion, stop everything and make sure you do. The 'series' is divided into two series -- each having two books. Both are brilliant and both are completely different sorts of stories.

Books in Hyperion Cantos Series (3)

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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.

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.

Books in Childe Cycle Series (24)

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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

He was one hundred and seventy days dying and not yet dead. Gully Foyle is a shipwrecked sailor abandoned out in space, and when ships pass him by without stopping to pick him up he vows to exact revenge. He manages to repair his ship, and after numerous terrors and adventures he manages to find his way back to civilisation. There he starts to put his plan into action. Famously based on The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (like Spirit: or, the Princess of Bois Dormant by Gwyneth Jones, another amazing space opera that very nearly made it onto this list), this novel is colourful, startling and unfailingly surprising.   William Gibson has said: "I can't recall having met an SF writer whose opinion I respected who failed to share my enthusiasm for Alfred Bester's work" and The Stars My Destination (also known as Tiger! Tiger!)is regularly and rightly listed as one of the best science fiction novels ever written.

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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/

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.
Iain Banks burst onto the literary scene with his controversial first novel, The Wasp Factory, the violent story of a girl who had been brought up as an emasculated boy. He followed this with two novels that both displayed an awareness of and interest in science fiction, so it was no surprise when he added the middle initial and produced a straightforward science fiction novel. What was surprising was that it was a full-blooded space opera, full of battles and last minute escapes and epic explosions. What caught everybody's attention, however, was that the novel introduced a vast, interstellar, left-wing utopia, The Culture. The Culture was an immediate hit, and over the next 30 years he produced nine more novels and a bare handful of short stories about the Culture, which grew into one of the most popular and interesting of all science fiction series. Typically, he would look at this post-scarcity universe obliquely while concentrating on the edges, where the Culture rubbed up against other space-faring societies, and the Culture's most disreputable organisation, Special Circumstances, operated. Occasionally we would be shown what it is like in a society without money, because everything is freely available, a society in which people could be whatever they wanted, changing sex freely and even, in one instance, taking on the appearance of a bush. It's a world of dangerous sports and comfortable living, but mostly we saw it only from the outside, through the eyes of those who did its dirty work. The best example of this is Use of Weapons. Zakalwe is a mercenary, a bloody and effective soldier, who has worked for Special Circumstances on a number of occasions before, but now is called on for one last mission. In the odd-numbered chapters we follow this final mission; but in the even-numbered chapters we go backwards in time through his earlier missions and back towards the secret of his childhood. The final revelation about Zakalwe's true identity is brutal and breathtaking.The unique structure of the novel is what makes this an especially powerful story. And it is told with a combination of cruel, unflinching violence and sparkling wit that is typical of Banks, and helps to explain his extraordinary popularity.Why It's On the ListThe Culture is one of the great inventions of science fiction, a communistic utopia that actually works. It is also a universe absolutely stuffed with amazing inventions, including the ships that are characters in their own right and have typically witty names (in Use of Weapons, for instance, we meet "Very Little Gravitas Indeed" and "Size Isn't Everything"). All of the Culture novels are worth reading, and Use of Weapons is easily the most rewarding of them. Some will recommend Player of Games as the 'best' intro to Bank's Culture novels as it's an exciting, action packed read that takes place a very personal level between characters. It's also introduces you to the  greater world at large without being too overwhelming. Consider Phlebas is another good intro, and as Culture goes, is Bank's classic "Space Opera' entry into the series.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revelation Space books also deal with aliens and first contact.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

Some time ago, the critic Gary Westfahl tried to argue that you could use the number of neologisms in a work as a measure of how science fictional it was. The idea was nonsense, of course, but it does suggest how important new words are in sf. And that's why this book, also called The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction, is so important. Here you will find everything from the words science fiction has invented, like "robot" or "spaceship"; to the language sf fans use, like "sercon" or "gafia"; to the jargon used in sf criticism, like "expository lump" or "widescreen baroque". Just like any Oxford Dictionary, you'll not only find the definition (or definitions) of the word, but also the citations for where it was first used, and some of the other places where it has been used since.   If science fiction is a language (see The Jewel-Hinged Jaw above), or even if it isn't, the genre certainly uses words in its own very distinctive way, and it invents an awful lot of words as well. So this is an invaluable reference book to help you keep clear about exactly what is being said.

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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. 

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.

One of the few modern science fiction writers whose work has been consistently translated into English has been Stanislaw Lem. In fact, his work has been so successful in English that he is recognised as one of the great genre writers (at one point it was claimed that he was the most widely read science fiction writer in the world).His work was richly varied, including satires, comedies, reviews of non-existent books, straight forward space adventures and more. But his most persistent themes concerned the nature of intelligence, and the impossibility of communication with a truly alien being. This was at the heart of his most famous novel, Solaris, in which scientists studying the ocean world of Solaris are themselves being studied and manipulated by the sentient ocean.Why it's on the listNever afraid of controversy, Lem always insisted that American science fiction (with the exception of Philip K. Dick) was poorly written and poorly constructed. But the original translation of Solaris wasn't up to the standard of the translations of his later works, so it was only when a revised translation appeared that the quality of his own work was apparent.
As we have seen, in works such as Man Plus and The Ship Who Sang, body modification is often associated with making people fit to work in particular, usually hazardous, circumstances such as space. And, in R.U.R. or The Book of Phoenix, we see that people who have been made are often regarded as chattels, as possessions with no rights, until they revolt. Both those strands in posthuman fiction emerge in Bujold’s Falling Free. This is the story of the “Quaddies”. These are a special space labour force who have been manufactured to have a second pair of arms instead of legs, so that they are superbly adapted to work in zero gravity. But they are regarded as no better than slaves by the company that owns them; legally, they are not even classified as human. So when a new artificial gravity technology renders them irrelevant, the company plans to kill them all, until one man helps them to escape. Why it’s on the list: In a later novel, Diplomatic Immunity, Bujold shows that a couple of centuries later the Quaddies have a thriving society, so once again we see that biotechnology has created a new form of viable humanity.

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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.

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.

Science fiction likes to play with history. Look how fragile our world is, just one small change there, or there, or there, and things would be ever so much worse. Of course, because we like doing it doesn't always mean that we do it well. But here's a book that does it very well indeed.Robert E. Lee won the Battle of Gettysburg, and as a result the Union surrendered and the United States were split in two. In the south, the Confederacy is now a global powerhouse gearing up for a war with the German Union (which won this version of the First World War), a war that will almost certainly be fought out in the territory of the United States. In the north, what remains of the United States is impoverished and kept subdued by the South.The story concerns Hodge Backmaker, who arrives in the backwater of New York in hopes of getting into a university to study history. He is robbed of his possessions, and ends up working in a bookshop that is the cover for an underground organisation aimed at restoring the North. In time, Hodge comes to the attention of an eccentric community near the former battlefield of Gettysburg, a place where they have invented a time machine. While studying the War of Southron Independence, Hodge is given the opportunity to travel back in time and witness the climactic battle. But when he gets there he accidentally delays the Confederate forces on their way to Little Round Top, and changes the outcome of the battle. Why It's On the ListThere had been occasional works before that imagined a Southern victory in the Civil War, but it was only with Bring the Jubilee that this became one of the key themes in alternate histories. This was one of the most influential of all alternate history novels, at the same time shaping the subgenre and showing how it should be done.

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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.

Ray Bradbury's science fiction is unlike anything else being written at the time, and that is particularly true of The Martian Chronicles. A collection of linked stories that tell of the human conquest of Mars, it is full of mysterious elements that add a haunting quality to the book. There's the human expedition that arrives on Mars only to discover a mid-West town exactly like the one the astronauts grew up in; there are the dead people from their past who reappear to the colonists; there are strange ruins and religious experiences. Yet amid all of this there are threatening images as well: a cataclysmic war on Earth witnessed from space, lonely colonists searching for company amid deserted townships, isolated settlements where the dead seem to be still alive.   This is a vision of Mars that you really won't find anywhere else, but once you read these stories the images will stay with you forever. This is a beautiful book that should not be missed.

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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.

It is the 1970s. Joanna lives in a world much like our own, where the feminist movement is just beginning. In Jeannine's world, however, there was no Second World War because Hitler had been assassinated, but the Great Depression is still going on. Janet lives in a peaceful, utopian world known as Whileaway, where the mendied of a plague 800 years ago and women give birth by parthenogenesis. Jael is in a world where there is a literal battle of the sexes, a war that has been going on for 40 years already.The four are versions of the same woman, and when they are brought together it gives Russ the opportunity to dramatically examine the different relationships with men and with other women experienced in the various worlds. The novel displays both the anger and the irony that are characteristic of her work at its best. James Tiptree once wrote to her: "Do you imagine that anyone with half a functional neuron can read your work and not have his fingers smoked by the bitter, multi-layered anger in it?" The result, often violent and always challenging, is the most powerful work of feminist science fiction ever written.Why It's on the ListAlways controversial, The Female Man is credited with starting feminist science fiction. It is one of only three novels to have been awarded a Retrospective Tiptree Award.Alternative Choice Kindred by Octavia Butler is another work that poses complicated questions about gender, but with the added puzzle of race. It is a time travel story of a young black woman who moves between contemporary California, and pre-Civil War Maryland, where she meets her ancestors, a black slave woman and a while slave owner. Ever since it was first published, Kindred has been a mainstay on both women's studies and black literature courses.

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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.

By the 1990s, the world was changing more rapidly than ever. The digital age foreseen by the cyberpunks was already becoming more complex as writers began pushing the ideas forward into areas of posthumanity and nanotechnology among others. At the forefront of this advance was Neal Stephenson, whose vision of the world incorporated a vast slew of notions ranging from economics to artificial intelligence to social structure and more. All of these various elements came together in The Diamond Age.In a future that has been radically transformed by nanotechnologies and ever greater advances in computing, tribes or "phyles" have now become the dominant social structure. Phyles are groups of people brought together by shared values, ethnicity or cultural heritage, while old groupings like the nation state are withering away. To be outside a phyle, therefore, is the lowest of the low. That is the fate of Nell, until she acquires a copy of an interactive book, The Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, which was intended for someone else. By following the advice in the book, Nell is able to rise in the world until, by the end, she has founded her own phyle.Following Nell's story gives Stephenson the chance to show us all the various workings of this world, and how different it is both in technological terms and in its assumptions, from our own. If you want a vision of the future that will stop you dead in your tracks, a vision that is so brilliantly interconnected that it is absolutely convincing, then look no further. From hive minds linked by nanotechnology to the limits of artificial intelligence, this is a world that is different from our own at every point, even though we can see how we might get there from here. Why It's on the ListThe Diamond Age won both the Hugo and Locus Awards. But really it glitters like the title, this is a diamond of a novel, filled with incalculable riches. Stephenson has many fantastic and ambitious works, but The Diamond Age is perhaps his best work to date.Alternative ChoiceFor alternative choices, we'll stick with Stephenson's 3 other most regarded works. Each of these could take this spot on the list, and truth be told, your preference will depend on your personal taste as each of these books offers quite a different experience.Make sure you look at our 'Top 25 Best Cyberpunk Books list' and our Guide to the Cyberpunk Genre for MORE cyberpunk book recommendations.Alternative Choice 1: Snow Crash is almost the apotheosis of the cyberpunk novel, the book that took the idea about as far as it could possibly go, then sent it spinning off in an entirely new direction. Set in our near future, and perhaps 100 years before The Diamond Age, this is a story of a computer virus that affects people, because the virus is language itself. This is 'early Stephenson' but of his his works, it's probably his most easily digestible, most action-packed and 'fun' to read. If you want to start reading Stephenson, this is a good book to start with. It's also a seminal work in the Cyberpunk genre. Alternative Choice 2: Cryptonomicon. Is this even science fiction? Who Knows? Who cares? It's big and fat and brilliant. Ranging from code breaking during the Second World War to the establishment of a data haven in the present day, and including an entirely mythical island, it's a novel that's all about the ways that digital information and cryptography insinuate their way into our very lives.Alternative Choice3 : Anathem is set on the world of Arbre, where technology is strictly controlled and knowledge is limited to the inhabitants of highly regimented secular monasteries. But when an alien spaceship appears overhead, a revolution in ideas is precipitated. Okay, the writing is baggy at times and the made-up words can be infuriating and silly, but if you want ideas-driven science fiction, look no further, this is the place. Philosophy, mathematics, the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, this is heady stuff. This is his 'best' most recent work. Stephenson recently released in 2015 his Seveness -- an ambitious work but also overly dry. Anathem is a better work in every regard.

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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.

The big space opera series of the moment is Ann Leckie's multi-award-winning Imperial Radch trilogy, consisting of Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword and the forthcoming Ancillary Mercy. It's set in a high-tech future where Breq, the central character, is an ancillary, a body that houses a portion of the AI that once controlled a spaceship, "Justice of Toren". But the ship has been destroyed by treachery, and Breq is the sole surviving ancillary who is now seeking to find out what happened and get revenge. What Breq uncovers involves her in a civil war between different aspects of the ruler of the Radch, and she finds herself on one side of the resulting conflict while still trying to work for her revenge.   Ancillary Justice won just about every award going, including the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, BSFA and Arthur C. Clarke Awards, and Ancillary Sword added another Locus and BSFA Award. It's been a long time since space opera won such universal praise.

Books in Imperial Radch Series (2)

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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.

On the first manned mission to Mars, astronaut Mark Watney is stranded following an intense storm. Knowing it will be years before the next mission is liable to reach Mars, Watney has to improvise ways to survive until he can be rescued. But even though mission control back on earth become aware that he is still alive, a series of disasters put seemingly insurmountable obstacles in the way of his survival. Although the science might be questioned – the Martian air pressure is so low that no storm such as the one at the beginning of the book would be possible – the careful attention to technological detail, and the inventive way of improvising with current technology have made this a highly popular and successful work.   The success of both the book and the film that has been based upon it means that The Martian is leading the current revival of interest in Mars.

Books in Animorphs Series (47)

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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.

One of the things that has become apparent in recent years is the increasing sophistication of computer games. Without quite becoming the virtual reality that science fiction once predicted, they build worlds that are increasingly convincing, increasingly immersive. And this, in turn, has had an effect on science fiction, which has built the game into the structure of near-future worlds. That's exactly what Ernest Cline, who has been dubbed "the hottest geek on the planet right now", did with Ready Player One.Wade is a poor orphan from the sticks who escapes the misery of his everyday life in the computer reality known as OASIS. Within OASIS are hidden keys which will lead towards a prize: which includes control of OASIS and the fortune of the game's creator. Wade is the first person to discover the first of these keys, and becomes a hero within the world of the game. With a group of online companions (complicated by their real life relationships) Wade sets out to find the rest of the keys and win the big prize. But he finds himself up against a multinational corporation who also seek control of OASIS, and will stop at nothing, including murder, to get there.This is a novel that is every bit as immersive, as gripping, as any computer game. You won't want to stop turning the pages, pushing on to the next level. Why It's on the ListYou want a story that's as slick, as fast, as enthralling as a computer game. Then this is it. It's a great read; the only thing wrong with it is that you'll want to get into OASIS yourself. But then, Cline has hidden his own keys within the novel.

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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.