The 25 Best Sci-fi Books

To celebrate its variety and richness, here’s a list of the essential works of the science fiction genre you should read.

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It’s indisputable that science fiction has undergone the most transformation and diversification since its inception in the late 19th century. It started as moral and discursive parables, then turned into pulp escapism in the 1940s and 1950s. In the 1960s, a new wave of science fiction completely transformed the genre, breaking free from thematic or stylistic limitations and developing a unique language that continues to evolve today.

Science fiction continues to surprise us today. Every year, a large number of high-quality works are released, ranging from classic adventures to political, social, ecological, or philosophical reflections that can only exist within the versatility offered by science fiction.

To celebrate its variety and richness, we have compiled a list of 25 essential works of this genre.

Index of contents (25)

The Time Machine (Herbert George Wells, 1895)

Sci Fi Books Time Machine

The renowned author H.G. Wells wrote this classic novel that explores time travel but doesn’t delve into the technical details (we never know what the theory behind that time travel is, or how the machine works). Instead, Wells focuses on the adventure of exploring the future and immersing readers in this new society. The story portrays a future world divided between two groups: hypersensitive people and monstrous freaks. Fascinating terms such as "Morlock" have become part of popular culture.

If you liked it: I recommend checking out other works of pioneer authors, particularly Jules Verne, who also focuses on adventure and spookiness rather than science. Also, don’t miss the other two great genre novels written by Wells: The Invisible Man and The War of the Worlds.

The Time Machine (Classics Illustrated Vintage Replica Hardcover)

At the Mountains of Madness (H.P. Lovecraft, 1936)

Sci Fi Books Mountains Madness Illustration by Baranger

We could debate for hours on whether Lovecraft’s work belongs to the science fiction genre, but it would be a pointless conversation. His work, which is highly personal and unique, draws inspiration from classic fantasy literature and has both horror and science fiction elements. Lovecraft himself acknowledged that his myths were of extraterrestrial origin. Some of his stories, such as The Colour Out of Space, can be categorized as alien invasion narratives. Therefore, it’s safe to say that Lovecraft wrote some of the most terrifying and bleak science fiction tales in history.

If you liked it: We recommend reading the works of his disciples. They built upon Lovecraft’s gothic style and created a pantheon of titans divided into good and evil characters. Their work, however, is somewhat different from Lovecraft’s atheistic sentiment. For example, Thomas Ligotti’s most recent works, like Noctuary, are far from the usual tropes of science fiction. Instead, it’s a pure expression of existentialism that goes beyond the realms of the galaxy.

At the Mountains of Madness, Vol 1 (Hardcover)

1984 (George Orwell, 1949)

Sci Fi Books Cover by Adrià Fruitós for Faktoria K

Although it has often been misinterpreted, the influence of George Orwell’s absolute classic, 1984, is indisputable. It speaks of many issues that are still relevant today such as perpetual war, government surveillance, and historical denialism. Unfortunately, the book’s message has been misused as a weapon of war by both right and left-wing groups, as seen in the misuse of the term “Big Brother”. 1984 is an absolute classic because it never goes out of style.

If you liked it: The other great classic of dystopian literature is Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. It portrays a future society sedated by pleasurable stimuli and is also frequently quoted and referenced.

1984: 75th Anniversary Paperback

Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury, 1953)

Sci Fi Books Fahrenheit Cover for Simon & Schuster’s 60th anniversary edition

Perfect to complete the trilogy of classic dystopias along with 1984 and Brave New World, and one of the key works of the brilliant author Ray Bradbury. The story presents a future where firefighters don’t extinguish fires but instead create them by burning books, which are outlawed. One of the firefighters joins a resistance group that memorizes literary classics to safeguard them. While the novel’s inspiration stems from the censorship of knowledge during the McCarthy era, Bradbury intended it as a broader critique of the mass media’s treatment of literature.

If you liked it: We recommend exploring Ray Bradbury’s other works, including his short stories. He’s not only a great novelist but also an extraordinary storyteller. His popular short story A Sound of Thunder, which introduced the concept of the “butterfly effect”, is an excellent read. Additionally, The Martian Chronicles and Something Wicked This Way Comes are also highly recommended.

Fahrenheit 451 (Paperback)

I Am Legend (Richard Matheson, 1954)

Sci Fi Books Legend

A true masterpiece, with a lasting impact on popular culture, this book is remarkable in many ways. Firstly, it explores the concept of a survivor of an apocalypse caused by a plague. The protagonist’s struggle to understand why he’s the only one to survive intensifies the theme. Secondly, the author reimagines vampirism as a curable disease, while retaining the mythical and folkloric elements. Finally, the story’s climax is built around a prisoner who is constantly tormented by monsters similar to himself. This plot device would later inspire numerous adaptations, including the famous Night of the Living Dead.

If you liked it: Richard Matheson is a celebrated author of classic science fiction. He’s known for his short stories such as Button, Button, which was later adapted into an episode of The Twilight Zone. Another classic from his repertoire is The Incredible Shrinking Man, a gripping tale that uses science fiction to explore metaphysical themes.

I Am Legend Mass Market (Paperback)

The End of Eternity (Isaac Asimov, 1955)

Sci Fi Books End Eternity

Asimov fans may be surprised to see this novel included here instead of his more famous works, but I have a soft spot for this story of time travel that spans the end and beginning of days. The story follows a group called Eternity, who ensure that all events unfold as they must, and Asimov skillfully explores the subgenre’s conventions, including paradoxes, time loops, and the Time Police. It’s almost the ultimate time travel story.

If you liked it: Asimov’s other works are highly recommended. Two great examples are the space opera saga Foundation and the robot stories, which include the Three Laws of Robotics–a concept that has become a real scientific idea. These stories are scattered across a multitude of short stories and novels.

The End of Eternity (Paperback)

The Stars My Destination (Alfred Bester, 1956)

Sci Fi Books Stars Destination

Considered a great precedent of cyberpunk and also known as Tiger! Tiger!, this novel is one of the key influencers of modern science fiction. It’s essential to understand the giant leap that the genre would take with the new-age tendencies of the sixties. In this novel, Bester tells a passionate story of revenge with absolutely amoral characters, robberies and space pirates, facial scars, and all the planets of the solar system facing each other. The story takes place in the 25th century, when the possibility of materializing in any destination just by thinking about it is a reality. The novel is fast-paced, hilarious, and has a couple of iconic antiheroes.

If you liked it: You can also read Bester’s other major work, The Demolished Man, which is equally influential. If you want endless fun, you can delve into 1950s sci-fi. From the masters of micro-stories and fine humor, like Fredric Brown, to magnum opuses like Frederik Pohl’s Gateway, there are many authors to explore. Robert Heinlein (Starship Troopers) is another author with a multitude of works to dive into, like the wonderful Stranger in a Strange Land.

The Stars My Destination (Paperback)

Solaris (Stanislaw Lem, 1961)

Sci Fi Books Solaris

A captivating novel that starts with a science-fiction approach, where a team investigates a planet covered by a sea that could be an extraterrestrial intelligence. Soon, the sea begins to manipulate the crew’s minds who are trying to understand its nature. The story then turns into an introspective psychological horror with a strange yet engaging sense of humor. The author, Lem, skillfully describes the ocean’s life and the terrifying sequences on the spaceship that seem to come out of a zombie fiction.

If you liked it: Lem has other noteworthy forays into science fiction such as The Star Diaries, His Master’s Voice, or the fantastic The Futurological Congress. For those interested in Russian science fiction, Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatski is a must-read. It inspired the film Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky, who also directed the Solaris film adaptation.

Solaris (Paperback)

Dune (Frank Herbert, 1965)

Sci Fi Books Dune

A lot has been discussed about Dune after the release of Denis Villeneuve’s film adaptation. Despite some outdated passages and psychedelic elements, the book’s influence on pop culture is undeniable. Set 20,000 years in the future, the universe is ruled by feudal systems, and on the planet Arrakis, the most valuable substance in the galaxy, Spice, is found. It’s famous for its mind-expanding properties. Although it may seem like a hallucination for hippies, its politics and giant sandworms will leave a lasting impression on you.

If you liked it: We highly recommend two other books in the Dune series: Messiah of Dune and Children of Dune. Although no sequel compares to the first book, there are still more sequels available if you crave more.

Dune (Dune Chronicles, Book 1) (Paperback)

Slaughterhouse-Five (Kurt Vonnegut, 1969)

Sci Fi Books Slaughterhouse Five Cover by Albert Monkeys for Slaughterhouse-Five’s Spanish comic book adaptation

This book is an anti-war classic that also borders on science fiction and other genres. This is typical of Vonnegut’s work, which is difficult to classify. The story follows the life of Billy Pilgrim, from his experiences in World War II to his time travels after the conflict. He visits the planet Trafaldamore, where the inhabitants can see four dimensions. The book is not chronologically ordered but is a good example of Vonnegut’s writing style. It’s full of micro-stories that are packed with humor, irony, and catchphrases such as “So it goes”, which is repeated 106 times throughout the book.

If you liked it: If you enjoyed the humor in Vonnegut’s writing but are looking for more science fiction, you might want to check out Robert Sheckley. He’s equally sardonic, and his work is more genre-focused. Some of his great works include Mindswap and Dimension of Miracles, as well as another dystopian classic, The 10th Victim.

Slaughterhouse-Five: A Novel (Modern Library 100 Best Novels) (Paperback)

Ubik (Philip K. Dick, 1969)

Sci Fi Books Ubik

Choosing a single novel by Philip K. Dick is a difficult task, as he has gone through numerous stages, progressively becoming more personal and unclassifiable. However, Ubik could be considered the best example of his approach to the genre. Although it clearly represents Dick’s recurring themes such as alien divinity, induced paranoia, and the disintegration of reality, it’s still very unique. The plot revolves around a technician who is embroiled in a complex corporate espionage scheme involving psychic powers. He then encounters a substance that can reverse alterations in reality. As the story progresses, the reader is taken on a labyrinthine journey which makes them question what is real and if they can be sure of anything at all.

If you liked it: You’ll also enjoy Philip K. Dick’s classic science-fiction stories. His more conventional novels like Eye in the Sky and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? are absolute classics. His unconventional novels, such as Flow My Tears, the Policeman said are also worth reading. If you’re interested in the author himself, his descent into madness with novels like VALIS or Radio Libre Albemut are a must-read.

Ubik (Paperback)

The Left Hand of Darkness (Ursula K. Le Guin, 1969)

Sci Fi Books Left Hand Darkness

One of the most renowned science fiction authors wrote a novel that remains popular even after more than fifty years since its publication. The book is notable for its progressive ideas and bravery, especially since it was written after the simpler but classic fantasy novel A Wizard of Earthsea. The author takes us to a planet called Winter, where the inhabitants don’t have a defined gender, and a visitor from Earth spends years trying to understand their way of life. The novel is both current and progressive, with a plot that includes political intrigue and survival in a snowy landscape.

If you liked it: You might want to explore Le Guin’s other works with caution but without fear. Her novels are of exceptional quality, and although not all of them belong to pure science fiction, any of her books is a safe bet. The Dispossessed is, together with The Left Hand of Darkness, one of her most recognized and radical works.

The Left Hand of Darkness: 50th Anniversary Edition (Mass Market Paperback)

The Female Man (Joanna Russ, 1975)

Sci Fi Books Female Man

This is a feminist sci-fi classic that may require some effort to read, as it often changes the point of view and narrator without warning. The story revolves around the lives of four women living in different worlds and times. When their paths cross, they are forced to reconsider their ideas about womanhood. The characters include a woman living in a world similar to Earth in the 1970s, a woman living in a world where World War II never happened, a woman living in a dystopian future without men, and a woman living in a world where men and women have been engaged in a bloody war for decades. The book is an intense reflection on gender roles.

If you liked it: If you are interested in science fiction that explores gender roles, you should check out Consecuencias Naturales by Elia Barceló, although it hasn’t been translated into English yet. It tells the story of the first contact between earthlings and the extraterrestrial race Xhroll, which forces a Spanish man to question his own understanding of femininity.

The Female Man (Bluestreak) (Paperback)

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams, 1979)

Sci Fi Books Guide Galaxy

The most famous book of humor and science fiction in history is possibly the equivalent of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld saga, but it focuses on parodying the conventions of space travel literature. It’s highly British and has been very influential, with several adaptations to its credit, including a television adaptation currently in the works. It has had an incalculable impact on pop culture, from its humorous take on space opera excesses to its treatment of issues such as towels, 42, and paranoid androids.

If you liked it: There’s nothing like this Adams’ classic, but we’d recommend reading the entire Trilogy in Five Parts that makes up the saga. Also read other works by the author such as Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and, if you’re up for it, take a look at the brutal interactive fiction published in 1984 by Infocom for micro-computers of the time.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Paperback)

Neuromancer (William Gibson, 1984)

Sci Fi Books Neuromancer

Neuromancer is a science fiction novel that has had a significant impact on modern literature. It’s not only responsible for creating the cyberpunk genre, but it also predicted the use of the internet as we know it today. The students who developed the early ARPANET were fans of the book. However, Neuromancer is more than just a technological prediction. It presents a dehumanized vision of the future that can be difficult to understand. It's influenced by Eastern culture, has a noirish style, and uses an abstract vocabulary. Despite this, it’s a thought-provoking read.

If you liked it: I would recommend exploring more of Gibson’s work from the 1980s. You may also want to check out the sequels, Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive, considered the original book's unofficial continuations. If you’re a fan of the genre, you may also enjoy playing Cyberpunk 2077.

Neuromancer (Sprawl Trilogy) (Paperback)

The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood, 1985)

Sci Fi Books Handmaids Tale

The television series The Handmaid’s Tale has gained worldwide popularity. However, it’s worth revisiting Margaret Atwood’s original novel, which is much more powerful and intense. While the show highlights a strong feminist theme in a dystopian society where women are reduced to baby-making machines, the novel is much more intimate and harsh. The story is not entirely unambiguous as it portrays not all men as villains and not all women as trustworthy. Nonetheless, all the characters are victims of misogynistic oppression constructed by both men and women to preserve their power. It threads a terrible, almost dictatorial, political vision of patriarchy.

If you liked it: It’s worth checking out Atwood’s other works. Not all of her books are science fiction, such as the fabulous Alias Grace. Her science fiction work is not as remarkable as The Handmaid’s Tale, except for Oryx and Crake, which is a combative bio-apocalyptic dystopia about modified humans with a compelling satirical and surreal point.

The Handmaid's Tale (Paperback)

Dawn (Octavia E. Butler, 1985)

Sci Fi Books Dawn

In the opening book of the Xenogenesis trilogy, which consists of this book, Adulthood Rites and Imago, the author, Octavia E. Butler, explores the idea of humans learning to coexist with other species. The plot often involves genetic elements. The protagonist wakes up on a spaceship two and a half centuries after the destruction of Earth. She meets a repulsive-looking alien race that wants to crossbreed humans with the alien third sex. This book is a clear and intriguing starting point for exploring the challenges of accepting differences.

If you liked it: Octavia E. Butler’s Patternist series is also notable for its exploration of themes such as understanding, difference, and race. The series explores a conflict with telepathy as a background. If you want to read more of Butler’s work, her fantastic and recent short story collection Bloodchild and Other Stories is a great option.

Dawn (Lilith's Brood, 1) (Paperback)

Hyperion (Dan Simmons, 1989)

Sci Fi Books Hyperion

Dan Simmons is a famous author who is well known for his classic novel inspired by Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, as well as his horror stories such as The Terror, which has recently been adapted for television. In his book Hyperion, Simmons describes a future in the 29th century where thousands of planets are interconnected by portals. In this future, modified humans will find themselves in conflict with the Hegemony. The story revolves around several pilgrims who find themselves on the dangerous and largely unexplored planet Hyperion. They get involved in a complex plot involving time travel, and to entertain themselves, each pilgrim tells a story adopting a literary subgenre as their style, with a focus on science fiction.

If you liked it: You might also like to explore Simmons’ other works, such as Song of Kali. However, if you’d like to continue exploring the world of Hyperion, you can read its direct sequel, The Fall of Hyperion, as well as Endymion and The Rise of Endymion. All of these books, along with some short stories, make up The Hyperion Cantos.

Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos) (Mass Market Paperback)

Snow Crash (Neal Stephenson, 1992)

Sci Fi Books Snow Crash

Neal Stephenson is a popular author whose work is often considered to be a lesser version of the cyberpunk genre, compared to that of the master, William Gibson. However, this comparison is unfair as their writing styles are different. Stephenson’s writing is more literary, humorous, and accessible. In addition, they explore different themes, stemming from the fact that Stephenson is an excellent essayist. One of his most famous novels, Snow Crash, has a hacker protagonist who is half-Japanese, a fragmented political situation in the United States, and a virtual world called the Metaverse. The plot revolves around a virus spread by a religious cult, which leads to a lot of action and fun.

If you liked it: You can delve deeper into Stephenson’s writing with Cryptonomicon, a thousand-page book that explores the origins, present, and future of cryptography through two parallel timelines.

Snow Crash: A Novel (Paperback)

Red Mars (Kim Stanley Robinson, 1992)

Sci Fi Books Red Mars

The Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson, consisting of Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars, is a remarkable tale about the colonization and terraforming of the red planet. It has become one of the most popular and significant works of science-fiction literature. The plot spans two centuries and is narrated by various characters, who delve into sociological and political issues while the Earth faces a severe climate crisis. The author’s extensive research into the planet’s geography, geology, and ecosystem, combined with his imaginative creation of political and urban systems, make this futuristic yet believable story a treat for fans of space conquest epics and hardcore science fiction enthusiasts alike.

If you liked it: If you are a fan of current hard science fiction, you might be interested in checking out the works of China Miéville. Although his style and themes differ significantly from Kim Stanley Robinson’s, reading his books can provide you with a broader perspective on the genre today. Miéville is a pioneer of the new weird, a sub-genre that blends different genres, offers highly politicized narratives, and creates immersive and original worlds. You can start with The City & the City or Embassytown.

Red Mars (Mars Trilogy) (Paperback)

Stories of Your Life and Others (Ted Chiang, 2002)

Sci Fi Books Story Life

We’re bending the rules a bit with Chiang since he hasn’t written any novels, only short stories and novellas. Regardless, his first compilation book is still one of the most vivid science fiction pieces of recent years, even after Denis Villeneuve’s challenging but moderately successful adaptation of Arrival. It’s closer to poetic fantasy with technological elements than a traditional genre, where Chiang presents stories about fallen angels, the Tower of Babel, and calliagnosia, a medical treatment that eliminates reactions to the physical appearance of others. With a superhuman ability to deal with the specific and the abstract (mathematics, cold and pure feelings, philosophy, speculation), Chiang deserves his reputation as a living legend of the genre.

If you liked it: You’ll be happy to know that Chiang recently released a new collection titled Exhalation: Stories. It features nine stories on various topics such as artificial intelligence, time travel, and the limits of memory, with titles like The Lifecycle of Software Objects and Dacey’s Patent Automatic Nanny, which are sure to pique your interest.

Stories of Your Life and Others (Paperback)

The Three-Body Problem (Liu Cixin, 2006)

Sci Fi Books Three Body

Chinese science fiction is gaining popularity, and Liu Cixin is considered the main representative of this literary genre. This book is the first part of a trilogy that stands apart from Western themes and incorporates a significant amount of real science and hardcore sci-fi into its storyline. The novel introduces us to the inhabitants of Trisolaris, the sole inhabited planet in a ternary star system with three suns. Due to the instability of its orbit, the planet’s civilizations have repeatedly been destroyed. However, this has propelled them to develop a highly advanced technology and a moral system that makes them formidable foes, determined to survive.

If you liked it: If you’re interested in exploring the Chinese approach to science fiction, you should check out Ken Liu, who has played a crucial role in introducing his fellow countrymen’s works to the Western world through his translations. He has also written some excellent novels of his own, such as The Grace of Kings, and curated two anthologies worth reading: Broken Stars’ and ‘Invisible Planets.

The Three-Body Problem (Paperback)

Metro 2034 (Dmitry Glukhovsky, 2009)

Sci Fi Books Metro

Metro 2033 is a renowned post-apocalyptic novel written by a geopolitics journalist. The story is set in Russia, where a nuclear disaster has rendered the surface uninhabitable, forcing survivors to seek refuge underground in the Moscow subway. Each station in the subway system has developed its own identity, politics, and organization. The author, Glukhovsky, tells a classic coming-of-age story, but the setting is a fascinating underworld that reflects the European past in which the book was written. The story also has tragic echoes of what is happening in the area today.

If you liked it: You may appreciate the novel’s references to other books. For instance, the adventurers who brave the outside world to confront mutants and search for valuables are called “Stalkers”. This is a reference to Roadside Picnic, an amazing book by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, also adapted into a film by Tarkovsky titled Stalker.

METRO 2034. The sequel to Metro 2033: American edition (Paperback)

Ancillary Justice (Ann Leckie, 2013)

Sci Fi Books Ancillary Justice

One of the most recent remarkable novels in the genre is written by a female author, and it showcases how new generations of writers are bringing fresh and unique approaches to the genre. Ancillary Justice gained a lot of attention for presenting a galactic power that uses AIs to control human bodies (known as auxiliaries) as its soldiers. Their members do not differentiate by gender; hence the frequent use of female personal pronouns. The story begins some years after the disappearance of a ship, the Justice of Toren, with only one surviving auxiliary who still has remnants of the ship’s consciousness.

If you liked it: Female genre authors have proven their worth, but if you want to read current female sci-fi authors, then you should check out Nnedi Okorafor. She is a Nigerian-American writer who has written an emotional space adventure series called Binti. Her book Who Fears Death is set in a post-apocalyptic Africa where the magic and traditional culture of the continent still survive.

Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch, 1) (Paperback)

Distress (Greg Egan, 2013)

Sci Fi Books Distress

If you enjoy science fiction, Greg Egan’s work may be for you. Although not the easiest author to read, it can be a rewarding experience if you appreciate his style. His novels and stories are cerebral and thought-provoking, often pushing the limits of the genre. In Distress, for example, a journalist writes about the possibility of discovering the Theory of Everything, dreamed of by physicists. However, a criminal plot threatens the lives of the scientists involved as a cosmic catastrophe approaches.

Distress: A Novel (Paperback)

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