50 essential science fiction books

Essential sci-fi books

This was a virtually impossible task. Put together a list of 50 must-read science fiction books and don’t make anyone angry. Science fiction is the most discussed and argued over genre in literature but it actually goes way beyond books and into film, TV, video games and even toys....

The list includes hard and soft science fiction. Hard science fiction features great attention to detail in the quantitative sciences, while soft riffs on the social sciences. You’ll also find space opera with its heroes and heroines on distant planets; cyberpunk, loved by nerds in goggles everywhere; time travel – a simple concept that’s been around since Mark Twain’s day; military science fiction where soldiers drive the narrative; dystopian fiction where society has usually gone awry; superhuman stories where humans develop new or greater skills (and that usually means trouble) and the always cheery apocalyptic fiction sub-genre (where we could be battling to avoid the end of Earth or struggling to survive after a catastrophe). There are many recurrent powerful themes such as machine and human relationships, aliens and human relationships, biological and ecological matters, and paranormal activities.


Essential science fiction books

By Jules Verne
Famous adventure tale that practically launched the genre in 1864.
By H.G. Wells
The Martians come to England. A famous example of invasion literature from 1898.
By Aldous Huxley
Set in 2540, this novel imagines a radically different future. So good, it's taught in schools.
By Edwin Balmer & Philip Wylie
Earth must be evacuated because another planet is on a collision course.
By Olaf Stapledon
A superhuman novel where supernormal abilities lead to conflict.
By George Orwell
Social sci-fi from the era of Soviet growth where a nasty political system defines the plot.
By George R. Stewart
Written shortly after Hiroshima, this post-apocalyptic novel imagines the rebuilding process.
By Isaac Asimov
The original novel in a pioneering series. An immense plot that I cannot sum up in a sentence.
By Ray Bradbury
18 masterful and highly imaginative short stories from one of the genre's masters.
By Alfred Bester
First Hugo winner. A science fiction detective novel featuring telepathy.
By Clifford D. Simak
Clever invasion novel from the 1950s where aliens introduce devices to disrupt Earth's economy.
By Hal Clement
A world-building novel on a planet with variable surface gravity. Insect-like locals, human explorers.
By Leigh Brackett
Following a nuclear war, religious sects create an anti-technology society.
By John Wyndham
Set way in the future in a fundamentalist society. Telepathy makes people different.
By John Christopher
A virus kills off all strains of grasses & causes a famine. England descends into anarchy.
By Robert Heinlein
Fine example of military science fiction from the late 1950s. A war against bugs.
By Kurt Vonnegut
Douglas Adams described it as a "tour de force"; a novel set amid a Martian invasion of Earth.
By Pat Frank
Frank imagines the effects of nuclear war on a small town in Florida.
By Walter M. Miller
Post-apocalyptic science fiction where monks are trying to preserve vital books and humanity.
By Theodore Sturgeon
20th century Charlie Johns wakes in a future filled with overpopulation, bigotry and no gender.
By Stanislaw Lem
Humans study a planet while the planet studies them. A novel about miscommunication.
By J.G. Ballard
The ice-caps melt and the world floods. Set in 2145, the protagonist has adapted rather well.
By Brian Aldiss
An ecological-themed novel set in the far future with fantasy elements.
By Madeleine L'Engle
Children's fiction, with fantasy elements, where a government scientist goes missing.
By Frank Herbert
This novel has sold 12 million copies so can't be bad. Spice before the Spice Girls.
By Harry Harrison
Set in 1999, a novel about over-population. Basis for the movie, Soylent Green.
By William F. Nolan & George Clayton Johnson
Age-themed science fiction. Everyone is killed off at 21 but there are "runners".
By Philip K. Dick
A bounty hunter tracks down escaped androids in a post-apocalyptic future.
By Ursula K. Le Guin
A must-read for everyone. This book details an imagined universe.
By Michael Moorcock
A time travel story where a man goes from 1970 back to AD 28 to meet Jesus.
By Larry Niven
From the golden era of the early 1970s. Set in 2850 in a radically different universe.
By Arthur C. Clarke
A classic set in the 22nd century, an alien starship enters the solar system.
By Boris & Arkady Strugatsky
Roadside Picnic is a classic alien-encounter story from Russia’s most important sci-fi writers.
By Joanna Russ
A novel following the lives of four women in parallel worlds. Feminist sci-fi.
By Frederik Pohl
Cyborg (where man & machine combine) science fiction as humans attempt to colonize Mars.
By Stephen King
Apocalyptic novel where a virus kills off most people and it is nightmarish for survivors.
By Douglas Adams
A radio series. Adams introduced a huge and much-needed dose of humor into the genre.
By Alan Dean Foster
Imagines the Humanx Commonwealth where humans exist alongside aliens.
By Orson Scott Card
Violent futuristic sci-fi where the Earth is threatened by an ant-like species.
By Iain M. Banks
Pure space opera. First in the Culture series, this novel features a sprawling space war between species.
By Lois McMaster Bujold
Quaddies are genetically modified humans used as slaves. They become obsolete and face a grim end.
By Dan Simmons
A complicated story-within-a-story novel with humanity spread across the galaxy.
By Kim Stanley Robinson
First in a readable trilogy imagining the colonization of Mars.
By Paul Di Filippo
Biopunk short story collection; a spin-off from cyberpunk featuring biotechnology.
By Neal Stephenson
Historical science fiction adored by Geeks for its technology themes.
By Scott Westerfeld
A novel based on cosmetic surgery for teenagers. Modern science fiction on a modern issue.
By John Scalzi
Scalzi's debut saw humans fighting aliens Heinlein-style except old people pull the trigger.
By Cory Doctorow
Modern cyberpunk in post-9/11 era. Teenage hackers battle Homeland Security over civil rights.
By Chris Ware
Post-modern plot in a graphic novel. A sci-fi writer & his girlfriend are the last humans on Earth.
By China Miéville
Set in a small town on a distant planet, this 2011 novel depicts interaction between aliens & humans.
Which books are missing from our list?

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