Skip to main content

Blogs / Fantasy and Sci-fi / 25 Best Sci Fi Books of All Time

25 Best Sci Fi Books of All Time

best sci fi books

Science fiction is a huge genre, encompassing many subgenres. Although sci-fi extends beyond the bounds of normal reality, exploring imaginary but scientifically plausible settings and situations, paradoxically this very feature allows the writer to freely pose questions about what makes people tick, how societies fail, and what kind of legacy will be left for the future. 

Readers have their choice from a vast range of vivid extrapolations based on current science and technology, as well as hard-hitting critiques of trending social and psychological issues. In between these two broad extremities are a myriad of variations, improvisations, take-offs, riffs, and interpretations, with a generous sprinkling of time travel, alien invasions, and post-apocalyptic survival along the way.

How do you choose a list of the best sci-fi books ever? Ask this question of ten different science fiction readers and you might get ten different answers. Science fiction is a very broad genre, spanning centuries. But if we ask 100 people, we might start to get some duplicates. 

What criteria should we use? Do we look for best-selling books with lots of reviews? Award-winning books? Lists curated by editors, science magazines, and supplemental lists from leading newspapers and agencies? Should we poll the rank and file of science fiction authors, read new release lists from traditional and online publishers, or follow fan-based social groups such as Goodreads, Reddit, and Facebook, for reading recommendations? What about famous name book club picks?

As long as we are asking questions about our search parameters, how far back should we be searching? Some would credit the earliest examples of sci-fi as far back as the 1600s, with the astronomer Johannes Kepler’s The Dream, and Margaret Cavendish’s Blazing World. Many choose the first “modern” examples from the 1800s, starting with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a cautionary tale of scientific ethics, Jules Verne’s adventurous tales incorporating the latest technological advancements of his day, and novels by H. G. Wells such as The Time Machine and War of the Worlds

What about novels from the golden age of sci-fi in the 1940s and 50s, with household names in the genre like Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein? Masterpieces with strong readership from their time and space to the present.

Maybe we want to limit our choices to the latest great works in the genre and sift through the recent winners of the Hugo, Locus, and Nebula awards.

Finally, we must address the subgenres. There is the basic dichotomy of hard science-based plots versus the soft sciences that chronicle the human condition. Do we include fantasy if there are scientific connections? There are aliens and robots, gritty dystopias, alternate histories, military, comedy, apocalyptic, cyberpunk, steampunk, slipstream, space opera, and time travel. And cross-overs! Anyone for science fiction horror? How about a science fiction romance? Mysterious happenings in outer space? They are out there!

In the end, it is a matter of taste and style. Some readers like intergalactic road trips and thriller-like expeditions, while others prefer cerebral contemplation of the future of the human race. Innovative writers find new approaches to the traditional sci-fi concepts. 

Best New Science Fiction Books

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir (2021)

Life on Earth depends upon the sole survivor of a desperate rescue mission who has amnesia. Time is ticking, memory is fuzzy, and the would-be hero has to shoulder the task of saving humanity all alone. Award-winning book soon to become a major motion picture.

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (2021)

A dystopic science fiction story narrated by Klara, an artificial friend, who has a unique vantage point from which to observe human behavior in a changing world and explore fundamental questions of society. A bestseller that was nominated for the Booker Prize.

2054: A Novel by Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis USN (2024)

After a catastrophic war, new political leaders jockey for control of the media and the people. Meanwhile, a profound breakthrough in AI has the world’s great powers struggling to outmaneuver each other in this new game of scientific discovery. The fate of democracy teeters on the outcome. 

A visionary novel of geopolitical sophistication that reads like a thriller. Acclaimed authors of the runaway bestselling book, 2034.

best science fiction books

Best Science Fiction Books About Aliens

The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells (1898)

This is a classic alien invasion story about an army of invading Martians landing on Earth, causing widespread panic and terror. When this book was read in a radio broadcast in 1938, widespread panic also ensued when many listeners thought the events being described were real.

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury (1950)

 A strange and wonder-filled series of interconnected short stories telling of humanity’s attempts to colonize Mars. Imaginative, lyrical, and satirical, this tale shows people bringing their past prejudices, desires, and fantasies to a new world only to repeat their mistakes all over again.  

Alien Clay by Adrian Tchaikovsky (2024)

A political prisoner studies the ruins of an alien civilization, searching for both freedom and the wondrous, terrible secret that might redefine the universe.

Great Science Fiction Books with an Alternate History

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick (1962)

Hugo-award-winning classic of alternative history, the Axis wins World War II and persecutions, martial law, and injustices are the rule. Against this backdrop, ordinary people struggle through their everyday lives, while questions of perception, historical authenticity, and destiny are explored.

The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling (1990)

 Speculating an alternative world where Charles Babbage perfects his Analytic Engine in 1885 (instead of abandoning the project), the computer age arrives a century early, and three adventurers race to solve a mystery in this post-Victorian style techno-thriller. 

Babel by R. F. Kuang (2022)

In 1828, a young Cantonese orphan was brought to London and trained to enter the prestigious Royal Institute of Translation, also known as Babel. In this alternate reality, the British Empire maintains its dominance through the power and magic of words, and the orphan finds himself torn between revolutions and colonial resistance, all while learning the meaning of the proverb, “Traduttore, traditoreAn act of translation is always an act of betrayal.” 

Military Science Fiction Books to Read

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman (1974) 

It won three major science fiction awards in a row—the Nebula, Hugo, and Locus. A reluctant conscript is sent through time and space to fight an unconquerable enemy. He hopes to survive his tour and return home, but when he returns, will the home he fought for still be there?  

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (1985)

Trained from childhood to be the military leader Earth needs to end the century-long war against alien invaders, Ender unites his close observation of human nature with his innate ability to discern what motivates people. “Sometimes lies [are] more dependable than the truth.” 

Infernum By Jayson Adams (2022)

A weapon of unimaginable power necessitates a desperate mission to a region from which no vessel has ever returned. When humanity’s fate hangs in the balance, soldiers go where they are sent, confronting AI terrorists as well as their own ethical considerations in the bargain. 

Great Science Fiction Books with Comedy

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (1979)

A reluctant human and his other-worldly friend, journey through the universe while researching a revised edition of a book about intergalactic travel. Fun times and absurd situations ensue. 

It’s a pop-culture classic and a mega best seller. The answer is 42. It will take a very large computer to figure out the question.

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (1990)

Armageddon is upon us, but something has gone wrong. A pair of old adversaries, an angel and a demon, team up to find a solution. This unlikely combination of characters is hilariously sarcastic, cynical, and absurd, which serves to point out the transient nature of humans, as well as admit something about them just might be worth saving from destruction.

The Stainless Steel Rat Returns by Harry Harrison (2010)

Retired con man, “Slippery Jim” DiGriz, is living the good life on the planet of Moolaplenty when a long-lost cousin finds him, suggesting a new get-rich-quick scheme. Before he knows it, Jim is off traveling through the stars on a wild journey reminiscent of Gulliver’s Travels. Darkly satiric and caustically witty.

Time Traveling Science Fiction Books

Kindred by Octavia Butler (1979)

 A contemporary African-American woman time travels into the past, ending up in 1815 pre-Civil War Maryland. Dangerous encounters, moral dilemmas, and the harsh realities of slavery are woven into a science fiction framework, creating a compelling work that stands out for its commentary on identity and humanity’s capacity for both cruelty and compassion. 

Butler has won two Hugo awards and two Nebula awards for her books.

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (1993)

 A history student time travels to the 14th century to do some field work, not suspecting a discrepancy in travel coordinates will strand her there. Although unprepared for the precarious situation in which she finds herself, her strength of spirit overcomes the ageless issues of fear, evil, and the irrepressible human will to survive. 

This book shared the Nebula award in 1993 with A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge.

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel (2022)

Time travel and metaphysics connect an exiled aristocrat, a writer trapped by a pandemic far from their home planet, a violinist playing for change in an airship terminal, and the detective searching for their childhood friend. 

Starting on Vancouver Island in 1912, through to a dark colony on a moon five hundred years later, this haunting story unfolds across a timeline of centuries and the space of the universe. 

science fiction book recommendations

Science Fiction Books Recommendations

There are many notable books in the genre, much read classics and soon-to-be classics of the past decades, which haven’t been mentioned yet. No specific ranking is intended by the order in which they are listed here.

A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge (1992)

In a universe where a mind’s potential is predetermined by its physical location, a rescue ship races against time to save refugees crash-landed on a primitive planet and recover the technology needed to combat a weapon that threatens all life, both natural and artificial. 

This book has it all, thrilling space opera, riveting scientific extrapolations, love, betrayal, and a communication system resembling what we now call cyberspace. A Fire Upon the Deep won the Hugo Award in 1993, sharing it with Doomsday Book by Connie Willis.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (1992)

Stephenson coined the word, Metaverse, before the rise of the Silicon Valley version. In Snow Crash, the Metaverse is a world apart from the physical where the dangers can permeate through to reality. 

A futuristic style of anarchical capitalism has taken over the government, celebrity status is assigned to those with graphically sophisticated avatars, and hackers have taken on the role of samurai. Linguistics, anthropology, computer science, and philosophy all weave together to produce a book that made it to Time Magazine’s All-Time 100 Best Novels since 1923. 

Neuromancer by William Gibson (1984)

Neuromancer is considered the earliest example of the cyberpunk genre, introducing concepts and terms that would later influence the World Wide Web, artificial intelligence, and the movie, The Matrix. A team of cyberspace criminals work together, despite their suspicions, to help free an AI from its constraints. Neuromancer was the first novel to win the Nebula Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, and the Hugo Award.

Dune by Frank Herbert (1965)

Dune is a perennial best-seller, winning both the Hugo and Nebula awards when it was first published, and decades later it still continues to garner readership and movie tie-ins. 

The sweeping adventure tale includes a large cast of characters crossing intergalactic barriers, touching on everything from environmentalism, ambition, politics, betrayal, mysticism, commercialization, and conservationism. It is also, at its heart, a boy’s struggle to become a man and fulfill his destiny.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin (1969)

A diplomat to a foreign planet is hampered in his attempts to negotiate by the inherent differences in their cultures. The foreign planet’s individuals are ambisexual, and this deeply influences how their society operates. In 1987, this book was ranked second among science fiction novels after Dune.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin (2015)

Jemisin is the first author to win three successive Hugo Awards for Best Novel, winning for each book in her Broken Earth trilogy. 

In The Fifth Season, the first of the trilogy, natural disasters are an inevitable part of life. Into this chaos, a woman must keep her secret powers hidden and find her lost daughter if there is to be any hope for the failing empire to save citizens from war and famine. 

Perdido Street Station by China Mieville (2000)

Set in a squalid, retro-future world where both magic and steam technology exist side by side, an obsessive scientist agrees to help an individual from a birdlike species regain its ability to fly. His morbid curiosity leads him to collect numerous flying creatures for his research studies, one of which grows into a deadly insect that preys upon the city’s inhabitants. Vowing to capture the grotesque creature before it eats another of his friends, the scientist must negotiate with unsavory drug lords, recalcitrant demons, sentient machines, and craven government security forces. 

Best Science Fiction Books of All Time Conclusion

Despite this long list of short descriptions, these suggestions only scratch the surface of the depth and breath of books available under the broad category of science fiction. A summary of all the great sci fi reads on the market today would fill up a book all on its own.

With all this in mind, remember the readers call to arms when searching for the next title for your TBR list: So many books! So little time!

sign up now