50 Essential Science Fiction Books

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50 Essential Science Fiction Booksby Richard DaviesShare on facebookShare on twitterShare on google_plusone_shareShare on pinterest_shareShare on tumblrShare on redditShare on emailShare on print

Neuromancerby William Gibson (1984)This was a virtually impossible task. Put together a list of 50 must-read science fiction books and dont 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.Here are the criteria I used. One book per author, so that was hard on the big three of science fiction Robert Heinlein,Isaac Asimovand Arthur C Clarke, who each have multiple classic titles to their name. Attempt to show as many sub-genres of science fiction and plot themes as possible. Include early stories that influenced the genre as a whole and launched popular themes, even if those books appear a bit dated today.I wanted to show the unbelievable breadth of this galactic-sized genre and, of course, I failed because this is just the tip of the spaceberg there are probably 500 essential science fiction books, not 50.The War of the Worldsis on the list, a famous example of invasion literature, but I could easily have usedThe Time Machine. ForRay Bradbury, theresThe Illustrated Manbut I could have usedFahrenheit 451orThe Martian Chronicles.The Handmaids Taleby Margaret Atwood (1985)

Many people includealternate reality novelsas science fiction but I didnt feel comfortable having them on the list as theres not much science in that sort of fiction.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. Youll also find space opera with its heroes and heroines on distant planets; cyberpunk, loved by nerds in goggles everywhere; time travel a simple concept thats been around sinceMark Twains 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 cheeryapocalyptic fictionsub-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.You are spoiled for choice this list includes novellas, short story collections, a graphic novel and books from published 1864 to 2011.For further reading recommendations, brush up on theHugo and Nebula Awards- the winners and the shortlisted titles - and also the books published byTor(who really know this genre, and fantasy, inside out), as well asLocusMagazine and the science fiction tags on LibraryThing.com.Related Video

Ed Emsh - Legendary Science Fiction IllustratorPlay Video

50 Essential Science Fiction Books

A Journey to the Center of the Earthby Jules Verne (1864)Famous adventure tale that practically launched the genre in 1864.

The War of the Worldsby H.G. Wells (1898)The Martians come to England. A famous example of invasion literature from 1898.

Brave New Worldby Aldous Huxley (1932)Set in 2540, this novel imagines a radically different future. So good, its taught in schools.

When Worlds Collideby Edwin Balmer & Philip Wylie (1933)Earth must be evacuated because another planet is on a collision course.

Odd Johnby Olaf Stapledon (1935)A superhuman novel where supernormal abilities lead to conflict.

Nineteen Eighty-Fourby George Orwell (1949)Social sci-fi from the era of Soviet growth where a nasty political system defines the plot.

Earth Abidesby George R. Stewart (1949)

Written shortly after Hiroshima, this post-apocalyptic novel imagines the rebuilding process.

Foundationby Isaac Asimov (1951)The original novel in a pioneering series. An immense plot that I cannot sum up in a sentence.

The Illustrated Manby Ray Bradbury (1951)18 masterful and highly imaginative short stories from one of the genres masters.

The Demolished Manby Alfred Bester (1953)First Hugo winner. A science fiction detective novel featuring telepathy.

Ring Around the Sunby Clifford D. Simak (1953)Clever invasion novel from the 1950s where aliens introduce devices to disrupt Earths economy.

Mission of Gravityby Hal Clement (1954)A world-building novel on a planet with variable surface gravity. Insect-like locals, human explorers.

The Long Tomorrowby Leigh Brackett (1955)Following a nuclear war, religious sects create an anti-technology society.

The Chrysalidsby John Wyndham (1955)Set way in the future in a fundamentalist society. Telepathy makes people different.

The Death of Grass or No Blade of Grassby John Christopher (1956)A virus kills off all strains of grasses & causes a famine. England descends into anarchy.

Starship Troopersby Robert Heinlein (1959)Fine example of military science fiction from the late 1950s. A war against bugs.

The Sirens of Titanby Kurt Vonnegut (1959)Douglas Adams described it as a tour de force a novel set amid a Martian invasion of Earth.

Alas, Babylonby Pat Frank (1959)Frank imagines the effects of nuclear war on a small town in Florida.

A Canticle for Leibowitzby Walter M. Miller (1960)Post-apocalyptic science fiction where monks are trying to preserve vital books and humanity.

Venus Plus Xby Theodore Sturgeon (1960)20th century Charlie Johns wakes in a future filled with overpopulation, bigotry, and no gender.

Solarisby Stanislaw Lem (1961)Humans study a planet while the planet studies them. A novel about miscommunication.

The Drowned Worldby J.G. Ballard (1962)The ice-caps melt and the world floods. Set in 2145, the protagonist has adapted rather well.

Hothouseby Brian Aldiss (1962)An ecological-themed novel set in the far future with fantasy elements.

A Wrinkle in Timeby Madeleine LEngle (1962)Childrens fiction, with fantasy elements, where a government scientist goes missing.

Duneby Frank Herbert (1965)This novel has sold 12 million copies so cant be bad. Spice before the Spice Girls.

Make Room! Make Room!by Harry Harrison (1966)Set in 1999, a novel about over-population. Basis for the movie, Soylent Green.

Logans Runby William F. Nolan & George Clayton Johnson (1967)Age-themed science fiction. Everyone is killed off at 21 but there are runners.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?by Philip K. Dick (1968)A bounty hunter tracks down escaped androids in a post-apocalyptic future.

The Left Hand of Darknessby Ursula K. Le Guin (1969)Le Guin is prolific and a must-read for everyone. This book details an imagined universe.

Behold the Manby Michael Moorcock (1969)A time travel story where a man goes from 1970 back to AD 28 to meet Jesus.

Ringworldby Larry Niven (1970)From the golden era of the early 1970s. Set in 2850 in a radically different universe.

Rendezvous with Ramaby Arthur C. Clarke (1972)A classic set in the 22nd century, an alien starship enters the solar system.

Roadside Picnic / Tale of the Troikaby Boris & Arkady Strugatsky (1972)Roadside Picnic is a classic alien-encounter story from Russias most important sci-fi writers.

The Female Manby Joanna Russ (1975)A novel following the lives of four women in parallel worlds. Feminist sci-fi.

Man Plusby Frederik Pohl (1976)Cyborg (where man & machine combine) science fiction as humans attempt to colonize Mars.

The Standby Stephen King (1978)Apocalyptic novel where a virus kills off most people and it is nightmarish for survivors.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxyby Douglas Adams (1979)A radio series. Adams introduced a huge and much-needed dose of humor into the genre.

Nor Crystal Tearsby Alan Dean Foster (1982)

Imagines the Humanx Commonwealth where humans exist alongside aliens.

Ender's Gameby Orson Scott Card (1985)Violent futuristic sci-fi where the Earth is threatened by an ant-like species.

Consider Phlebasby Iain M. Banks (1987)Pure space opera. First in the Culture series, this novel features a sprawling space war between species.

Falling Freeby Lois McMaster Bujold (1988)Quaddies are genetically modified humans used as slaves. They become obsolete and face a grim end.

Hyperionby Dan Simmons (1989)

A complicated story-within-a-story novel with humanity spread across the galaxy.

Red Marsby Kim Stanley Robinson (1993)First in a readable trilogy imagining the colonization of Mars.

Ribofunkby Paul Di Filippo (1996)Biopunk short story collection a spin-off from cyberpunk featuring biotechnology.

Cryptonomiconby Neal Stephenson (1999)Historical science fiction adored by Geeks for its technology themes.

Ugliesby Scott Westerfeld (2005)A novel based on cosmetic surgery for teenagers. Modern science fiction on a modern issue.

Old Mans Warby John Scalzi (2005)Scalzis debut saw humans fighting aliens Heinlein-style except old people pull the trigger.

Little Brotherby Cory Doctorow (2007)Modern cyberpunk in post-9/11 era. Teenage hackers battle Homeland Security over civil rights.

Acme Novelty Library #19by Chris Ware (2008)Post-modern plot in a graphic novel. A sci-fi writer & his girlfriend are the last humans on Earth.

Embassytownby China Miville (2011)

Set in a small town on a distant planet, this 2011 novel depicts interaction between aliens & humans.Ed Emsh - Legendary Science Fiction Illustrator:

Let the indignant outcry of our fellow nerds commence - what did we miss?