Science fiction is one of the most popular genres of all – both books and movies. The reason for this is easily explained: we all like to imagine what the world will look like long after we exist. And when we read about future generations and societies, we realize a lot about our presence at the same time. And not to forget: science fiction books are exciting and entertaining.
In our overview, we present you with the 20 best science fiction books of all time. In our selection, we made sure to include the essential classics and consider recent developments. And a graphic novel may not be missing under the Top books to the Science Fiction naturally. If you’re a science fiction fan yourself (or want to become one), here are the perfect books to get you started in the genre.
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey – Arthur C. Clarke
2001 is a truly unique book: Arthur C. Clarke wrote it in parallel with Stanley Kubrick’s film of the same name. Both developed the story independently afterward. 2001 begins when a monolith is found on Earth clearly of extraterrestrial origin and sends signals into space. A mission is put together to find out the origin of the monolith. But on the way, the on-board computer HAL 9000 seems to lose its mind.
Arthur C. Clarke describes Jupiter in 2001 as if he had been there himself. Above all, he tells an exciting and profound story about the relationship between man and machine, which surprises you repeatedly by its topicality when you read it.
2. Picnic by the wayside – Arkady and Boris Strugatzki
Roderic Schuchart works as a protective digger: he illegally enters a cordoned-off zone near his hometown to find and sell artifacts left behind by aliens. On his last trip to the zone, he has a very concrete goal: to find the golden ball that will fulfill all the wishes of its finder.
Picnic by the Wayside is best known for its film adaptation under the name Stalker. The story has everything a good science fiction novel needs: Wondrous alien technology, danger, and the main character who learns something about himself and humanity as a result.
3. The Great Game – Orson Scott Card
Ender is a so-called third: the third child of his parents, who, due to the planet’s overpopulation and corresponding ordinances, should not exist at all. At school, Ender is teased, and when he gets the chance to transfer to a military school, he immediately grabs. He doesn’t know that his very existence as an outsider could mean the final salvation for humanity.
The Great Game (Ender’s Game) paints a bleak picture of the future, where adults are completely out of their depth and rely on children to make the most important decisions. In addition, the novel also tells an exciting coming-of-age story of the outsider Ender, who becomes an important key figure and thus finds his true destiny.
4. Dune – The Desert Planet – Frank Herbert
Dune – the desert planet is the first part of the science fiction series of the same name. The so-called Spice is mined on the planet Arrakis, which is called Dune because of its barren nature, a raw material that allows people to foresee the future. And, of course, this raw material is in great demand and causes fights and wars.
Dune has already been filmed three times – and three times almost. Especially the failed film version of the cult director Alejandro Jodorowsky is legendary. So many producers and directors have tried their hand at the material due to its greatness: Dune is not simply about raw material but about what constitutes humanity at its core.
5. Hell is the absence of God – Ted Chiang
Science fiction short stories are good for those who like them shorter. A special one is the collection Hell is the Absence of God by U.S. author Ted Chiang.
The movie Arrival by Denis Villeneuve is based on Chiang’s story, namely, Story of Your Life. Their aliens come to Earth and try to communicate with the earthlings. They don’t learn until later: The language the aliens use, which some humans gradually understand, dramatically affects how they perceive the world.
Chiang’s stories are characterized by a high degree of scientific accuracy – hard science fiction. His stories well serve fans interested in physics and technologies.
6. Time out of joint – Philip K. Dick
There is no list of science fiction books without Philip K. Dick. The highly prolific author has provided readers and Hollywood with countless ideas. One of them is the story of Ragle Gumm, who lives a tranquil life in the 1950s. The highlight of each day is solving a puzzle in the newspaper. But suddenly, he realizes that something is wrong with his surroundings and decides to get to the bottom of it.
Like all of Dick’s books, this one is full of creative ideas and depicts a world in which an individual’s life is less important than their potential function to society.
7. Foundation – Isaac Asimov
Which science fiction fan does not know them, the robot laws, according to which a robot must never hurt a human being? This law comes from Isaac Asimov, more precisely from the Foundation cycle, in which Asimov describes the fall of galactic civilization and its reconstruction according to strict scientific guidelines.
Foundation is one of the defining classics of the genre, and many science fiction novels – including current ones – use the conventions created in this cycle. For this reason alone, it’s worth getting into the novel series.
8. Watchmen – Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Graphic novels and science fiction go together well – after all, you can really put all futuristic ideas into visual form in comics. Watchmen has even made it onto the Times Magazine’s list of the 100 best novels of all time. The story tells of a world where people disguise themselves as masked superheroes to fight injustice – until their activity is outlawed.
The phrase “Who watches the watchmen?” – that is, “Who watches the watchmen?” – sums up the message of the story well: When individuals band together to fight evil, the temptation is eventually to put themselves above the law. Who takes care that this does not happen?
9. The Time Machine – H. G. Wells
The oldest book in this review is from the 19th century. A scientist tells his skeptical friends about his latest invention: the time machine that allows him to travel 800.000 years into the future and learn the fate of humanity. These have divided into two camps: the Eloi, who live a seemingly carefree life and remind him of his contemporaries, and the Morlocks, who live underground and make the carefree life of the Eloi possible in the first place through their machines – though not entirely unselfishly.
H.G. Wells’ novel not only shaped the sub-genre of the time travel book but is also considered a forerunner of steampunk. His books and themes are still timely and read current.
10. The Three Suns – Cixin Yu
What will it look like when humanity has contact with extraterrestrials? This is the theme of The Three Suns. An extraterrestrial civilization is on its way to Earth to claim new living space for itself. Their planet is too uncertain because there are three suns whose constellations cannot be accurately predicted. This holds great danger for the civilization so that it has chosen a new home planet with the Earth – and wants to exterminate humanity to take it over.
The Three Suns are also hard science fiction, as the scientific aspect is not neglected. After its publication in 2006, the book was highly praised by critics and readers, and even Barack Obama named it one of his favorite books. In addition to the scientific aspects, the novel also deals with how humanity can work together in the face of a common problem – and thus, of course, also brings up current issues.
11. Solaris – Stanislaw Lem
The planet Solaris seems to be the first one where humankind has discovered extraterrestrial life: The planet is almost entirely covered by an ocean that appears to have intelligence. However, no one has yet managed to understand this intelligence. This mission destabilized an exploration team. When psychologist Kelvin arrives to help the crew, he discovers that they have long been suffering from psychological problems. And besides the researchers, there are also other people living onboard the station. Kelvin finds out that this is a result of an attempt by the ocean to communicate.
Solaris has great imagery, fantastic ideas, and – most importantly – psychological insights into the nature of humanity that are only possible when compared to another imagined intelligence.
12. 1984 – George Orwell
George Orwell wrote his horror vision of a totalitarian state in 1948 and moved it to 1984: In a totalitarian surveillance state, Winston Smith tries to join a resistance group and stand up for the truth. The topicality of this novel still makes it one of the essential science fiction books. Winston Smith’s job is nothing more than to produce Fake News to support the government’s statements at any given time. And, of course, this is reminiscent of current developments.
The book is very dark and not for the faint-hearted, but a classic among dystopias it definitely is.
13. Otherland – Tad Williams
Otherland is a collection of virtual worlds developed by wealthy and powerful people – the Grail Brotherhood. Virtual worlds are no longer unique in themselves. Everyone likes to spend time there, and those who can have almost completely withdrawn from the real world, which in any case no longer has much to offer ordinary mortals. But Otherland is different, better, and more intense. And also dangerous: because some children never make it back from this virtual world.
Four volumes comprise Tad Williams’ series of novels that explore the impact of technology and the gap between rich and poor on society’s continued existence. As in many science fiction books, the themes are very relevant again, especially today.
14. Operation Zombie: Whoever lives longer is dead later – Max Brooks
The title isn’t the best, but this book really packs a punch. A U.N. staffer chronicles the past zombie wars – World War Z through interviews. It describes how the first victims of the pandemic-like zombie outbreak appeared, how the zombies multiplied, how humanity reacted, and what it all did to society. The realism with which this is described is breathtaking: companies that want to profit from supposed vaccines, countries that completely seal themselves off, others that abandon their citizens: Operation Zombie is really about how the various societies of our time dealing with a catastrophe. And it’s about zombies, too, of course.
By the way, author Max Brooks is the son of director Mel Brooks, so it is not surprising that his book has realism and a good dose of humor.
15. The Lives of Lazarus Long – Robert A. Heinlein
Lazarus Long is already a few thousand years old and thus the oldest living person in the world. But he has enough of the life and would rather die now. His descendants, however, try to convince him that his life still has something new in store for him. They get him to talk about his long life and prepare a new experience for him.
The lives of Lazarus Long is a compilation of different stories, which captivate above all by their almost philosophical insights. In addition, the novel gives a nice insight into the theme of immortality.
16. The Martian – Andy Weir
Mark Watney is part of a research mission to Mars. When this is hastily aborted, Watney is left alone on Mars – with no great equipment, relatively little food, and no communication channel to Earth. But Watney has one thing: his inventiveness. This helps him survive on Mars and eventually call for help as well.
The story of Watney being stuck on Mars in complete isolation, yet not losing hope, is thrilling and exciting. All the ideas Watney has are reminiscent of a modern MacGyver. At the same time, the story has wit and deep emotions – and what more could you want from a science fiction novel?
17. The Handmaid’s Report – Margret Atwood
In the USA shortly, most women have become infertile. Women who can still bear children are considered the essential raw materials – and are treated as such. They live as maids to influential men and their wives and are expected to conceive children. The Handmaid’s Report depicts the story of Desired, who is fertile and has to suffer all the torments of the new form of society.
The closeness of the story to current developments makes this book particularly exciting – and particularly touching. Meanwhile, Margret Atwood has written a sequel that addresses and answers readers’ questions about the novel.
18. Free Spirits – Ursula K. LeGuin
Anarres is a barren planet whose inhabitants must give everything to wrest a little life from their environment. Nevertheless, they are happy where they are; after all, they have chosen their home planet themselves. After a failed revolution on Urras, their world of origin, they have found a new home to build a lawless society without money and hierarchies. The physicist Shevek wishes to exchange ideas with other scientists and sets off for Urras, which does not sympathize with his home country.
Very untypically, for science fiction novels, Ursula K. LeGuin here a picture of a better society that at least makes an effort to abolish inequalities. However, it also clearly shows the limits of such a community.
19. The Assassination – Stephen King
Teacher Jake Epping gains access to a time portal that takes him to 1958, always on the same day. Epping takes it upon herself to assassinate John F. Kennedy to prevent, but this is more difficult than he first thought. Because time itself becomes Epping’s most outstanding adversary and doesn’t want to be messed with so quickly – and puts plenty of obstacles in Epping’s way.
The Attack is an extremely clever time travel story with lots of suspense and emotion – as usual with successful author Stephen King.
20. The Burning Man – Tad Williams
Gully Foyle is the last survivor of a damaged spaceship. Previously completely unremarkable and without much ability, this experience changes everything for him. For another spacecraft, which could save him, flies past him. Foyle only wants revenge from now on. What helps him: the Jaunten – the travel by teleportation, which humankind has discovered in the meantime.
The Burning Man is a Count of Montecristo story that combines Foyle’s thirst for revenge with modern technology and its impact on society. The report comes up with some unexpected twists and turns in the process.
Places 21-100 of the best science fiction books:
|Place:||Book:||Author:||Link to the book:|
|21.||The Shadow of the Torturer: The Book of the New Sun||Gene Wolfe|
|22.||Ready Player One||Ernest Cline|
|23.||The immortality program||Richard Morgan|
|24.||Brave new world||Aldous Huxley|
|25.||Legend – Falling Sky||Marie Lu|
|26.||The Ghost in the Shell||Masamune Shirow|
|27.||War of the clones||John Scalzi|
|28.||The long way to a small angry planet||Becky Chambers|
|29.||All we had to give||Kazuo Ishiguro|
|30.||The Hyperion Songs||Dan Simmons|
|31.||The Eternal War||Joe Haldeman|
|32.||Blade Runner: Do androids dream of electric sheep?||Philip K. Dick|
|33.||The Cloud Atlas||David Mitchell|
|35.||The true essence of things||Ted Chiang|
|36.||Oryx and Crake||Margaret Atwood|
|38.||Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy||Douglas Adams|
|39.||The light of the last days||Emily St. John Almond|
|40.||Leviathan awakens||James S. A. Corey|
|41.||The transition||Justin Cronin|
|42.||Ubik||Philip K. Dick|
|45.||Slaughterhouse 5 or The Children’s Crusade||Kurt Vonnegut|
|46.||The Time Traveler’s Wife||Audrey Niffenegger|
|47.||Red Rising||Pierce Brown|
|48.||Android Dreams||John Scalzi|
|49.||Mister wind-up bird||Haruki Murakami|
|50.||The Chosen – In the Labyrinth||James Dashner|
|51.||The Syndrome||John Scalzi|
|54.||The Transformation Narrative||Franz Kafka|
|55.||The oracle from the mountain||Philip K. Dick|
|56.||The Destiny||Veronica Roth|
|57.||Pattern Recognition||William Gibson|
|58.||Red Mars||Kim Stanley Robinson|
|59.||Metro 2033||Dmitry Glukhovsky|
|60.||Fahrenheit 451||Ray Bradbury|
|62.||Little Brother||Cory Doctorow|
|63.||Completed (Unwind)||Neal Shusterman|
|64.||The fifth wave||Rick Yancey|
|65.||The true essence of things||Ted Chiang|
|68.||Skinner – The blue death||Neal Asher|
|69.||Dark Matter. The Time Runner||Blake Crouch|
|73.||The Arena||Stephen King|
|74.||In the maelstrom of time||Peter F. Hamilton|
|75.||The invisible killer||Peter F. Hamilton|
|76.||Robocalypse||Daniel H. Wilson|
|78.||The story||Margaret Atwood|
|79.||Extinction: Book 1 of the Southern Reach Trilogy||Jeff VanderMeer|
|80.||The Children of Time: Novel (Children of Time)||Adrian Tchaikovsky|
|81.||The Association of Yiddish Policemen||Michael Chabon|
|82.||Use of weapons||Iain Banks|
|83.||The end of the stars as Big Hig knew them||Peter Heller|
|85.||The called||Mike Carey|
|86.||The Star of Pandora: The Commonwealth Saga, vol. 1||Peter F. Hamilton|
|89.||Leviathan – The secret mission||Scott Westerfeld|
|90.||Perdido Street Station||China Miéville|
|91.||Torn Earth||N. K. Jemisin|
|92.||2312||Kim Stanley Robinson|
|93.||The house of the suns||Alastair Reynolds|
|94.||V for Vendetta||Alan Moore|
|96.||The Algebraist||Iain Banks|
|99.||The Dark Universe: Black World||Peter F. Hamilton|
|100.||The Armageddon Cycle: The Unknown Force||Peter F. Hamilton|
The variety of books already shows: Science Fiction is a broad field. We guarantee that you will find one or the other book here that has what it takes to become your favorite novel. We hope you enjoy reading and choosing your personal favorites!