50 Best Sci-Fi Books of All-Time: The Ultimate List (2020)
From space to the apocalypse and everything in between.
Some sci-fi books are truly life-changing. That’s why it’s no surprise that Hollywood tends to look at the science fiction genre for books to turn into movies. Of course, these movies never live up to the books they’re based on, but that’s a discussion for another day. But the sci-fi book landscape seems to be growing in popularity, as we saw with 2018’s list of the most anticipated new sci-fi and fantasy books (our favorites were in the science fiction genre).
A great science fiction novel will take you to places you’ve never been before, instill unique ideas about the future or the unknown, or shed new light on space in an exciting way.
Here are the top 50 best sci-fi books to read:
1 The Origin Mystery Trilogy
Author: A.G. Riddle
It all started with The Atlantis Gene, which went on to sell over one million copies and is being made into a movie. This book takes elements from many different parts of science: the lost city of Atlantis, alien technology, apocalyptic scenarios and adds in a dash of conspiracy. It’s tough to explain without actually spoiling it, but The Atlantis Gene revolves around human history and evolution, and it contains a great mix of action, thriller and science fiction.
The second book in the series, The Atlantis Plague, is about human survival when faced with extinction, and it’s the perfect example of how a sequel should be written. In fact, many say book 2 is the best.
The third novel in the series is The Atlantis World is the most exciting and takes place across Atlantean science stations throughout the galaxy as the team of scientists delve into the past of the mysterious culture in hopes to find the origin of humanity.
Author: Peter Watts
Blindsight is a suspenseful bit of hard science fiction by Peter Watts. The novel revolves around alien probes that visit Earth, and our need to get to the bottom of who exactly they came from. Scientists decide to dispatch an ensemble cast of explorers, including a linguist with multiple personality syndrome, a cyborg biologist and a sort of vampire (not the glittery kind). It’s an exploration of the nature of consciousness. The novel was nominated for a Hugo Award, and although it didn’t win, it’s a fascinating read which certainly deserves your attention.
3 The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Author: Douglas Adams
If you haven’t read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy yet, you’re simply not sci-fi-ing right. The story follows Arthur Dent in his travels about the galaxy with his intrepid friend, Fred Prefect.
The duo gets into some hilarious situations and scenarios. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is loaded with barbed wit and other funnies. You’ll meet some truly unique characters along the way, and it’s simply one of the coolest sci-fi books to read.
See Also: 68 Upcoming Sci-fi Movies 2019 & Beyond
4 I, Robot
Author: Isaac Asimov
I’m sure we all remember the movie I, Robot starring Will Smith, and that movie was a fun Hollywood ride, sure. But the book it’s based on of the same name by Isaac Asimov is even better.
Like the movie, it revolves around the three laws of robotics: (a robot can’t injure a human being, a robot must obey orders given to it by human beings unless it conflicts with the first law, and a robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the first two laws).
The novel contains stories of robots gone mad, robot politicians, and robots who secretly run the world.
5 The Stand
Author: Stephen King
While Stephen King may be the king of horror, many of his books are steeped in sci-fi themes. The Stand follows the story of an escaped patient of a biological testing facility that is unknowingly loaded with a mutated strain of super-flu that will wipe out 99 percent of the world’s population in just a few weeks. It’s a classic tale of good and evil.
Randall Flagg vs. Mother Abagail. It’s a great end-0f-the-world scenario, with over 99% of the world’s population being wiped out, and the remaining characters in the story are believable. It’s a novel that’s nearly 40 years old, and we’re still debating about the ideas within.
Author: Philip K. Dick
Author Philip K. Dick is one of the most well-known sci-fi authors of all-time, grafting so many great novels that it’s hard to include them all on this list. But one of his most notable works is Ubik, which was a future set bit of philosophical fiction. It followed protagonist Joe Chip, who works for a company that employs “inertials” (people who can negate the powers of precogs and telepaths).
When the owner of the company is placed in “half-life” and odd, unsettling things begin to happen to others who survived the same attack that put him there. To figure out how these things are happening to the group, they must look to a mysterious product called Ubik.
Author: Larry Niven
Another bit of hard sci-fi, Ringworld is about a ring with 6 million times Earth’s surface that had been built by beings that no longer inhabit it. Of course, the aliens in this novel are described as large feline-like creatures, so there’s that. But the novel has some brilliant ideas stuffed in its roughly 350 pages (which makes it a quicker read than most science fiction books). There was a graphic novel adaptation of this, but the novel is 10x better as it tells a more complete story. Ringworld is a fascinating idea.
8 Rainbows End
Author: Vernor Vinge
Rainbows End takes readers into San Diego, California in the year 2025. It follows a recovering Alzheimers patient, Robert Gu, following the cure of his disease. In this new world — in which he’s an oddly young-looking seventy-five year old man — he has to find his new place among the high-tech lifestyle. Of course, Rainbows End isn’t that simple, as there is a conspiracy involved.
9 The Diamond Age
Author: Neal Stephenson
Neal Stephenson has more than one book on this list, and that’s because of his creative sci-fi — we simply love it. The Diamond Age is a stunning tale set in the distant future of Shanghai. In the story, a man is commissioned to create a primer to educate a rich man’s granddaughter so that she can be educated in ways superior to the norm. The engineer is mugged, and an illegal copy of the primer is floating around on the streets. When it falls into the wrong hands, there’s no telling what’s going to happen.
Author: Charles Stross
Charles Stross is a Hugo Awarding-winning author behind Glasshouse. Accelerando revolves around a frightening future and a young man who finds his destiny linked to the fate of all of humanity. It’s about the uncontrollable acceleration of advancing technology.
Author: Frank Herbert
Dune is the classic novel filled with adventure, and is frequently listed among the best sci-fi books of all time. It won a Hugo Award and a Nebula Award. It’s quite possibly the best epic novel of all time, not just in the sci-fi genre, either.
12 The Forever War
Author: Joe Haldeman
Another winner of both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, The Forever War is about a member of an elite military unit who is propelled through space and time to fight a distant thousand-year conflict against aliens, knowing that because of the time dilation of space travel, he’s aging months while Earth is aging centuries.
13 Stranger in a Strange Land
Author: Robert A Heinlein
Stranger in a Strange Land follows Valentine Michael Smith, who was born during and is the only survivor of the first manned mission to Mars. He’s raised by Martians and then arrives on Earth years later, while he has no knowledge of Earth’s cultures or religions. He learns that he is the legal heir to an enormous financial empire and technically he owns Mars, too. Michael explores human morality and what love really means.
14 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Author: Philip K. Dick
One of the most widely-read sci-fi books of all time is Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. It’s a masterful telling of a world basically overrun by androids, and a broke bounty hunter who is tasked with finding rogue androids and retiring them. It was the inspiration for one of the most-loved sci-fi movies of all time, Blade Runner.
Author: Frederik Pohl
Book one of the Heechee Saga, named Gateway, is one of the best sci-fi books to read because of it’s a well-written space adventure about universal exploration with a cinematic presentation.
Sure, it might be a bit strange, but that’s part of its appeal. If only the sequels would have lived up to the quality of this first book, Pohl could’ve had himself a successful trilogy worth reading. But skip the sequels. Just read this.
**Update 9/28/17: We just learned that there’s a Gateway TV series in the works from the creator of The Walking Dead.
Author: Dan Simmons
Hyperion is a science fiction novel about a world which contains a creature named Shrike. Some worship the being, others fear it, and some are trying to destroy it. The story follows seven people as they travel to Hyperion to seek Shrike, looking for answers of their own lives, each of which contains a secret.
17 Brave New World
Author: Aldous Huxley
Brave New World is similar to 1984 but still stands alone. The book is a work of speculative fiction that terrifies its readers with how plausible it actually is. It serves as a warning for the future of humanity, or lack thereof as it may be.
18 The Time Machine
Author: H. G. Wells
H. G. Wells’ 1895 science fiction novel, The Time Machine, is said to be at least partially responsible for our current ideology about time travel through use of a vehicle. So, if you want to know where Back to the Future really got its inspiration, look at The Time Machine. In fact, Wells was the first to coin the term “time machine.”
19 The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
Author: Robert A. Heinlein
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is widely considered to be the best work of Robert A. Heinlein. The story follows a rebellion of the former LUnar penal colony against the Lunar Authority that controls it from Earth. The leaders of the rebellion are an unlikely trio, and the book follows a supercomputer who is committed to the revolution’s success. It won the 1967 Hugo Award for best novel.
20 Jurassic Park
Author: Michael Crichton
Of course, we all know the story of Jurassic Park, and it will forever remain one of Michael Crichton’s best and most-known sci-fi novels. If you love the movie, the Jurassic Park book it is based on is even better. It may not be entirely scientifically accurate, but it’s a fun ride.
Author: Isaac Asimov
Another gem by Isaac Asimov is Foundation, a novel that places the best minds of the Galactic Empire onto a bleak planet at the edge of the Galaxy to serve as a beacon of hope for future generations. The sanctuary is called the Foundation, and it soon becomes home to a battle between barbarians of the land and those that have been placed there.
22 Slaughterhouse Five
Author: Kurt Vonnegut
We’d be the worst site on the internet if we didn’t mention Kurt Vonnegut while writing a mega book list. Slaughterhouse-Five follows Billy Pilgrim, a man unstuck in time after he’s abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. The book checks in with numerous phases of his life, with no other characters. It’s a truly powerful book, and one of the most eye-opening sci-fi books to read.
23 The War of the Worlds
Author: H. G. Wells
Although the Tom Cruise movie The War of the Worlds was mediocre at best, the The War of the Worlds novel was an outstanding bit of science fiction. It dates back to 1897, and it’s one of the earliest stories to detail a conflict between humans and an alien race. It’s all told from the perspective of a philosophically inclined author. If you love sci-fi, you simply have to love H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds.
24 Tau Zero
Author: Poul Anderson
Tau Zero is a fascinating sci-fi novel that actually cares about its characters. The novel is about a ten-year interstellar voyage on a spaceship and the scientific realities of the astronauts embarking on the journey: they’ll never see their loved ones again due to the time it takes to travel. Tau Zero follows their journey and their attempt to make lives for themselves in space.
25 A Wrinkle in Time
Author: Madeleine L’Engle
Magic, adventure and more awaits you in A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. It feels like the Harry Potter books but instead of focusing on the wizardry, it focuses on being allegorical. Of course, even if you set the allegory aside, A Wrinkle in Time is simply a great story.
Author: Carl Sagan
It’s all about discovering an advanced civilization in space, and the first contact between humanity and a hyper advanced extraterrestrial life form. It was originally written as a screenplay, but when the film never got off the ground, it was converted into a novel — one that became one of the most memorable sci-fi books of all-time.
27 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Author: Jules Verne
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea also actually started out as something else — a serialized publication in a French periodical. It was turned into a full book in 1871, complete with over 100 illustrations.
The book is one of the most memorable sci-fi adventures novels of all-time, where a mysterious “sea monster” is spotted in international waters. The monster turns out to be a submarine named Nautilus, a governmentless vessel who roams the sea freely in an advanced, ahead-of-its-time submarine.
It is Verne’s depiction of the technologically advanced submarine that earned this novel so much praise, as submarines were just in their infancy when it was first published in 1870.
28 Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000
Author: L Ron Hubbard
So, the Battlefield Earth movie with John Travolta was an absolute abomination. We all can admit that. But its source material, Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000, is an incredible sci-fi novel filled with adventure. It checks in 1,000 years after Earth has been dominated by an alien invader, with man being an endangered species. A human challenger, Jonnie Goodboy Tyler, begins to wage war on the alien Pyschlo empire. It’s the best sci-fi action-adventure book to date.
29 I Am Legend
Author: Richard Matheson
“Robert Neville may well be the last living man on Earth . . . but he is not alone. An incurable plague has mutated every other man, woman, and child into bloodthirsty, nocturnal creatures who are determined to destroy him. By day, he is a hunter, stalking the infected monstrosities through the abandoned ruins of civilization. By night, he barricades himself in his home and prays for dawn….”
I Am Legend, the movie starring Will Smith, is one of the most underrated sci-fi movies of all-time. It was a gem, on our opinion. But the movie’s source material by author Richard Matheson is even better. It’s one of the most influential vampire novels of the 20th century, as this book has served as influence for the likes of Stephen King and Dean Koontz.
30 The Martian: A Novel
Author: Andy Weir
The Martian, which is now a movie starring Matt Damon, is a classic sci-fi book that follows the story of astronaut Mark Watney as he gets stranded on Mars after nearly being killed by a dust storm. His crew believes that he’s dead, and leaves him on the planet. But of course, Watney is still alive with no way to even signal Earth that he’s still alive. Even before he could signal for help, his supplies would run out before he could even be rescued. He relies on his ingenuity and creative problem solving, but is it enough to keep him alive for long?
31 Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline
Ready Player One is the best sci-fi novel of the last ten years. It follows the story of Wade Watts, a teenager not to thrilled with his current real-life existence. Instead, he lives in his virtual world known as the OASIS. In the OASIS, there exists puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with pop culture from the past few decades. Anyone who solves the puzzles is promised massive power and fortune. But in order for Wade to survive in the game world, he’ll have to confront his real world.
Ready Player One is one of my personal favorite novels of all-time, and that’s why I’m incredibly excited for the upcoming RPO movie.
See Also: Ready Player One Movie in the Works
Author: George Orwell
The original concept behind 1984, which was written in 1948, was a simple vision of author George Orwell’s in which he sees our future. Of course, 1984 was over 30 years ago, but his concepts and ideas are still prevalent in today’s society. The book sucks you right in, and before you know it, you’re turning the final page and you’ve already eaten an entire sleeve of Oreos. It’s one of the few science fiction novels that are typically required reading for high schoolers, so you’ve probably already read it by now. Still, the power of 1984 is undeniable.
33 Rendezvous with Rama
Author: Arthur C. Clarke
Rendezvous with Rama is one of the coolest sci-fi books we’ve read. It follows the story of this incredibly fast and large spacecraft, nicknamed Rama, floating about our galaxy. It’s huge, and scientists throughout our solar system fear that it could be mankind’s first encounter with alien life, who appear to be technologically advanced. It’s a fascinating read.
Author: Matthew Mather
“Sometimes the worst storms aren’t from Mother Nature, and sometimes the worst nightmares aren’t the ones in our heads. Mike Mitchell, an average New Yorker already struggling to keep his family together, suddenly finds himself fighting just to keep them alive when an increasingly bizarre string of disasters start appearing on the world’s news networks. As the world and cyberworld come crashing down, bending perception and reality, a monster snowstorm cuts New York off from the world, turning it into a wintry tomb where nothing is what it seems…”
What would a full-scale cyber attack against present-day NYC look like? Well, Cyberstorm gives you that answer from the perspective of a family trying to survive. First, a cyber attack causes a string of disasters, then a viral epidemic, and then a mega snowstorm cuts the city off from the rest of the world.
It should go without saying that this great novel touches on our reliance on technology and a connected world, but it’s truly a page-turner.
35 The Thought Readers
Author: Dima Zales
Even if you take away the deeper ideas contained within The Thought Readers, it’s still a generally enjoyable story. But it’s the thought-provoking ideas that warrant it being on this list. If you had the power to read minds, would you use it to cheat? Would you use it to earn money? The characters in the novel are interesting and memorable, and it’s an easy read that you’ll enjoy.
36 Starship Troopers
Author: Robert Heinlein
Most of us probably cringe when we hear the words Starship Troopers, mostly due to the movie’s horrendous acting. But the book of the same name had a much different tone. It was all a bit frightening, and we cared for Juan Rico, the Federal Service recruit sent into battle. The novel had some great ideas and cool high-tech weapons (like the movie), and the battles were well-paced and exciting. So if galactic battles are your thing, Starship Troopers is for you.
37 The Stars My Destination
Author: Alfred Bester
“The novel revolves around a hero named Gulliver Foyle, who teleports himself out of a tight spot and creates a great deal of consternation in the process. With its sly potshotting at corporate skullduggery, The Stars My Destination seems utterly contemporary, and has maintained its status as an underground classic for forty years”
38 2001: A Space Odyssey
Author: Author C. Clarke
“On the moon an enigma is uncovered. So great are the implications that, for the first time, men are sent out deep into the solar system. But, before they can reach their destination, things begin to go wrong. Horribly wrong.”
39 The Martian Chronicles
Author: Ray Bradbury
“In The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury, America’s preeminent storyteller, imagines a place of hope, dreams, and metaphor— of crystal pillars and fossil seas—where a fine dust settles on the great empty cities of a vanished, devastated civilization. Earthmen conquer Mars and then are conquered by it, lulled by dangerous lies of comfort and familiarity, and enchanted by the lingering glamour of an ancient, mysterious native race. In this classic work of fiction, Bradbury exposes our ambitions, weaknesses, and ignorance in a strange and breathtaking world where man does not belong.”
40 Snow Crash
Author: Neal Stephenson
There are so many cool concepts in Snow Crash that we don’t even know where to start. It’s part cyberpunk, part comedy, part sci-fi, and entirely awesome. It’s sarcastic, it’s ironic, and it’s incredibly unique. The world that Neal Stephenson paints is unlike any other before its time, and the concept of the Metaverse is cool as hell.
41 The Book of the New Sun
Author: Gene Wolfe
What do things look like a million years into the future, on an Earth transformed in mysterious and wondrous ways? Culture, as we know it today, isn’t even a distant memory. The story revolves around Severian, a torturer exiled from his guild following his revealed love for one of his victims. He travels to a distant city to start a new life. The book is filled with interesting characters and strange creatures. It’s a great mash-up of fantasy and sci-fi.
42 World War Z
Author: Max Brooks
And then there’s World War Z, the best zombie novel ever written, told from the perspective of those who survived the Zombie War. Incredibly unique and impossible to put down, World War Z is a great read.
Love a good zombie read, do ya? Check out our epic list of the best zombie books to read.
43 A Fire Upon The Deep (Zones of Thought Book 1)
Author: Vernor Vinge
The Zones of Thought series is a fantastic read, and it all starts with A Fire Upon the Deep, a gripping tale of galactic war. It’s filled with unique galactic realms, unique characters, and great action. The story follows a team of heroes as they embark on a mission to rescue a family of scientists and two children who have been kidnapped by the Tines, an alien race with a harsh medieval culture.
44 The Windup Girl
Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
There’s a LOT of cool ideas in The Windup Girl. What happens when we start using calories as currency in a world where food companies rule the world? Are engineered beings (called “New People” in the novel) considered conscious? It takes place in near-future Thailand. It’s a grim tale, but it’s written in an elegant manner.
45 Revelation Space
Author: Alastair Reynolds
“Sylveste is the only man ever to return alive and sane from a Shroud, an enclave in space protected by awesome gravity-warping defenses: “a folding a billion times less severe should have required more energy than was stored in the entire rest-mass of the galaxy.” Now an intuition he doesn’t understand makes him explore the dead world Resurgam, whose birdlike natives long ago tripped some booby trap that made their own sun erupt in a deadly flare.
Meanwhile, the vast, decaying lightship Nostalgia for Infinity is coming for Sylveste, whose dead father (in AI simulation) could perhaps help the Captain, frozen near absolute zero yet still suffering monstrous transformation by nanotech plague. Most of Infinity’s tiny crew have hidden agendas–Khouri the reluctant contract assassin believes she must kill Sylveste to save humanity–and there are two bodiless stowaways, one no longer human and one never human. Shocking truths emerge from bluff, betrayal, and ingenious lies.
The trail leads to a neutron star where an orbiting alien construct has defenses to challenge the Infinity’s planet-wrecking superweapons.”
46 Lucifer’s Hammer
Author: Larry Niven
Fantastically named and written, Lucifer’s Hammer follows the story of a giant comet that crashes into Earth, decimating cities and starting a new Ice Age and the end of civilization. But not everyone was killed in the initial blast, and there are those that are struggling to survive in the new world. It’s an exciting book that tackles many societal issues.
47 Ender’s Game
Author: Orson Scott Card
Many might know the story of Andrew “Ender” Wiggins from the movie starring Asa Butterfield, but the book is so much better than the movie. Ender’s Game revolves around a military training simulation that young Ender picks up quickly and soon exceeds expectations. But the question remains, does he have what it takes to be a general?
48 11/22/63: A Novel
Author: Stephen King
Stories of time travel have always been one of our favorite sub-genres of sci-fi, and 11/22/63: A Novel is a memorable and creative time travel tale. It is an alternate history of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, where a high school English teacher is sent back in time through a local diner to stop Lee Harvey Oswald (I mean, why order pancakes when you can order time travel, right?). It’s filled with suspense, and another thriller by a genius writer, and it is one of the best Stephen King novels on his impressive resume.
Author: Michael Crichton
Like Stephen King, Michael Crichton has rarely a misstep in his catalog of books. Sphere is filled with cutting edge science and technology with never-ending action and suspense. The story follows a group of scientists who are sent to the ocean’s floor to investigate a mysterious alien sphere that promises each scientist a personal reward. What they encounter is unlike anything you could imagine.
50 Reader’s Choice
We’ve left slot 50 open for our readers to discuss what books we left out. What is your favorite sci-fi book of all-time? Sound off on our social media channels — we’d love to hear from you!
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