100 of the best science fiction novels of all time
In 2018, while making an appearance on the "Geek's Guide to the Galaxy" podcast, Yuval Noah Harari, author of "Sapiens" and "Homo Deus," said that he believes science fiction to be the most important artistic genre in today's world. He went on to argue that sci-fi writing, which has long been seen as nothing more than a little bit of lighthearted fun, will shape society's understanding of things like artificial intelligence and biotechnology more than any other sort of writing. Reading science fiction, and grappling with issues like AI replacing entire classes of workers, is an excellent way to help us determine how we really feel before we deal with the same issues in real life.
Fiction can be a powerful tool for helping individuals navigate the real world. Sci-fi is no different. In light of that, Stacker has rounded up 100 of the best science fiction novels of all time.
Using sources like Goodreads, Amazon, and The New York Times Best Seller list, we've identified 100 books that had a powerful impact on readers. We've included books that fall under the hard sci-fi, cyberpunk, space opera, aliens, and utopia/dystopia categories while steering clear of books that are strictly fantasy (think "Lord of the Rings" and "Harry Potter"). We've also made sure to highlight books from authors of color, female authors, LGBTQIA+ authors, and authors from various countries and backgrounds, dispelling the myth that science fiction is only written for and by cis white males.
From comical takes on the genre like "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" to controversial titles like "Starship Troopers" to classics like H.G. Wells "War of the Worlds," dark tales like "Who Fears Death," and new titles like "How Long 'til Black Future Month?" there's sure to be something on this list for every taste.
Read on for 100 of the best science fiction novels of all time.
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- Author: Frank Herbert
- Date published: 1965
One of the most beloved sci-fi epics of all time, Frank Herbert's "Dune" is set to receive a theatrical release in the final months of 2020. It won't be the first time the coming-of-age story about a young man named Paul Atreides who must fight for his own life as well as the existence of his planet, Arrakis, after his family is betrayed, hits the big screen. But with a star-studded cast, this adaptation is almost guaranteed to be a box office hit.
- Author: Andy Weir
- Date published: 2014
Andy Weir first began publishing chapters of his novel "The Martian" on his personal blog in 2009. In 2011, he self-published his story, about an astronaut who gets separated from his crew during a major dust storm and ends up stranded on Mars, on Amazon. Then, in 2014, Random House reached out to Weir offering to give the book a wide release, and Hollywood optioned the rights to the tale, all within the same week. The book eventually made its debut at #12 on The New York Times Best Seller List.
- Author: William Gibson
- Date published: 1984
A multi-award winner, "Neuromancer" is a cyberpunk classic. It follows Henry Dorsett Case, a damaged computer hacker, as he undertakes one last job in the matrix, encountering some incredibly powerful artificial intelligence and shady characters along the way.
The War of the Worlds
- Author: H.G. Wells
- Date published: 1898
The father of science fiction, H.G. Wells, wrote a host of early sci-fi novels including "The War of the Worlds." In this alien novel, a group of Martians invades Earth, decimating everything in their path and terrorizing humans who are forced to reckon with the fact that the world may truly be ending. When the novel was first turned into a radio broadcast in 1938, it was so thrilling and realistic; it actually caused public panic as many listeners didn't realize it was fiction.
- Author: Ann Leckie
- Date published: 2013
The first installation in a space opera trilogy, "Ancillary Justice," is told from the perspective of the artificial consciousness of a starship, the only survivor of a treacherous attack, who has set out in search of vengeance. Ann Leckie's work is groundbreaking both in its content and in the fact that every single character in her trilogy is given female pronouns or is genderless—there's not a single male in the book's more than 400 pages.
- Author: Lois Lowry
- Date published: 1993
Arguably the most widely read science fiction novel on this list, Lois Lowry's "The Giver," has become assigned reading in many schools across the country. Set in a seemingly utopian society, the story follows a young man named Jonas, who is set to become the Receiver of Memory within his society. As his training gets underway, he begins to realize that the utopia he's been handed may not be all that perfect or desirable after all.
The Fifth Season
- Author: N.K. Jemisin
- Date published: 2015
One of sci-fi's most beloved modern writers, N.K. Jemisin has turned out some of the most enthralling, original work in the genre. In "The Fifth Season," the world begins to end on the same day Essun's life falls apart. In the midst of a war for survival, Essun sets out to find her daughter, and her plight, along with Jemisin's masterful world-building and beautiful prose, will keep you drawn in for all 450-plus pages.
- Author: Orson Scott Card
- Date published: 1985
Set an unidentified period of time in the future, "Ender's Game" is a military science fiction novel about humanity's fight against an alien race that's determined to annihilate Earth. The book, whose protagonist is a 10-year-old prodigy, is the first in a series, with four direct sequels that tell the rest of Andrew "Ender" Wiggins' story.
The Three-Body Problem
- Author: Liu Cixin
- Date published: 2006
Liu Cixin is one of China's most beloved science fiction authors, and his 2006 book "The Three-Body Problem" marks English-speaking readers' first opportunity to engage with his work. In the book, which is set during China's Cultural Revolution, the government has established contact with a group of aliens who plan to take advantage of the chaos and invade Earth. Back on Earth, humans are splitting into various groups, some who plan to side with the aliens and others who plan to resist invasion.
The Martian Chronicles
- Author: Ray Bradbury
- Date published: 1984
An episodic novel, "The Martian Chronicles" is often considered some of Ray Bradbury's best work. The short work tells the story of the colonization of Mars by humans who are fleeing an Earth that is headed for destruction.
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