No matter what your sci-fi taste, whether you prefer hard sci-fi, medical sci-fi, space sci-fi, or time travel, we have the best book recommendations for you.
Science fiction is one of the most popular and well-recognized literary genres of all time. Although there is much speculation about when and where the genre originated, most critics consider Mary Shelley’s famous 1818 novel, Frankenstein as the first influential sci-fi novel. Although this book predominantly tackles themes of companionship, humanity, nature, and love, the novel also propelled topics like scientific experimentation and body disfiguration into the literary mainstream.
During the 19th century, science fiction really took off, allowing canonical authors such as H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, and Robert Louis Stevenson the space to experiment with new, scientific concepts and configure brilliant stories around them.
Now, science fiction is one of the most well-read and adored literary genres out there and with the help of film and television for visual aid, sci-fi stories are reaching new audiences every day.
Whether you’re a hard-core sci-fi fan or you’re just looking to dip your toe into this exciting genre, here’s an ultimate list of the 20 best sci-fi novels of all time.
20 Best Sci-Fi Books of All Time
Foundation by Isaac Asimov
Isaac Asimov was part of sci-fi’s ‘Big 3’ authors (Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein) who all wrote in the 20th century. He was a biochemistry professor and used his scientific knowledge to push the sci-fi genre in a new direction.
Foundation is a trilogy that details the events and history of the Galactic Empire, a fantasy empire that took its inspiration from the real Roman Empire that thrived for over 1,000 years.
Dune by Frank Herbert
Chances are you’ve seen images of Timotheé Chalamet and Zendaya’s film adaptations dotted around social media platforms or billboards but you may not have taken the time to read Herbert’s original work. Although the films are great, this book is unmatched. There’s a reason they’re among the highest-selling books of all time!
Dune is set on a desert planet called Arrakis and tells the story of Maud’dib. This novel is powerful, multifaceted, and unlike anything else. It allows for adventure, politics, emotion, and mystery to intertwine – you won’t be able to put it down.
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
This title may instantly make you think of Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum, but there’s much more to this story than its famous adaptation. Michael Crichton wrote this original story in 1990, just 3 years before we were enjoying it on the big screen.
Although the film involves lots of fast-paced chase scenes and tension, the Jurassic Park novel delves into behind-the-scenes details that bring the story to life even more.
The Martian by Andy Weir
Andy Weir, a self-acclaimed ‘space dork’, worked as a software engineer until his novel took off and allowed him to pursue a career as a writer. He began writing The Martian in installments on his blog before the story was purchased by Crown Publishing Group.
The story follows Mark Watney, an American astronaut and botanist, who winds up stranded on Mars after a space mission goes wrong. In order to survive, Mark puts his botany skills to the test and tries to communicate with Earth.
The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
This classic novel is well worth the read. H.G. Wells’ storytelling abilities are timeless and his plotlines are innovative and compelling – no wonder they’ve stood the test of time!
The War of the Worlds follows as planet Earth is invaded by Martians. These aliens are technologically advanced and determined to take over, leaving Victorian England with little chance of survival.
Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
Solaris tells the intriguing story of human attempts to contact alien species. The opposing scope of intelligence posed by these otherworldly creatures allows space for intricate philosophical and scientific discussion.
If you’re looking for a well-written, accessible, thought-provoking read, look no further.
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
A Clockwork Orange is often grouped with dystopian fiction and for good reason. However, Burgess’s use of futuristic perspective, psychology, and the scientific undertones that run throughout allow this novel to float between dystopian and science fiction genres.
This story follows Alex, a rebellious teenager who is forced to receive treatment at a psychological rehabilitation center. It’s an interesting and well-constructed criticism of political authority and will spark conversation about human liberty and the fine line between right and wrong.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
This fascinating story follows Meg and Charles, two siblings who are plunged into another dimension one night. Their father has been missing ever since his experiment with tesseracts went wrong. And now, it’s their job to find him.
A Wrinkle in Time is a fantastic book for younger audiences to start experimenting with the sci-fi genre but is equally as enjoyable for any age group.
The Stand by Stephen King
This chilling and gripping novel will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last page. The Stand is one of Stephen King’s highest-rated books and you can see why.
After a patient escapes from a scientific testing lab, the world suddenly falls into turmoil. The patient is unknowingly carrying a deadly virus that has the ability to wipe out the human race in one fell swoop.
2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
If you’re a fan of space sci-fi, you’ll love this one. 2001: A Space Odyssey follows as humans journey through space in search of information. The story predominantly focuses on one expedition – the spacecraft Discovery and its crew, heading towards Saturn under the control of an AI computer.
This novel will change your perspective on technological advancement, take you through the emotional ringer, and provide a highly gripping story in the meantime.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
Better known as Blade Runner by film fans, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is one of the most famous and intriguing stories, especially when read in today’s context. This novel shows readers a world in which AI robots are indistinguishable from humans and other animals that populate the world.
While this book is futuristic, recent developments in AI, particularly AI bots, demonstrate that this story may not be as far from reality as we’d hoped.
Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne
Originally published in 1864, Journey to the Center of the Earth follows geology Professor Otto Lidenbrock and his nephew, who find an ancient scripture written by an alchemist that details the instructions to find a passageway to the center of the world.
They journey into the depths of a volcano in Iceland and their adventure takes them to numerous places and introduces them to various unknown creatures. If you’re after a sci-fi adventure, this could be your best bet.
Hyperion by Dan Simmons
Hyperion is a time-traveling, multi-planetarian epic based predominantly on the dangerous planet of Hyperion. Time tombs and Shrikes are just two of the terrifying things that can be found on this planet, to the dismay of a group of pilgrims that travel there and document their experiences.
These pilgrims tell their stories of the dangerous world of Hyperion in a Chaucer-esque style that mirrors that of the famous Canterbury Tales. Mystical, dangerous, tense, and fantastical are just a few words that can describe this contemporary classic.
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Flowers for Algernon is a brilliant medical and psychological sci-fi, so perfect for psychological thriller fans willing to dip their toe into the world of sci-fi literature.
The story follows Charlie Gordon, a mentally challenged 32-year-old who scrapes by cleaning floors in a local bakery. However, Charlie soon finds himself at the center of a dangerous experiment that, if successful, will rewire his brain and increase his intelligence. This haunting tale follows Charlie’s procedure and recovery from his perspective and provides intriguing insight on which to discuss psychological trauma and experimentation.
Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer
Annihilation follows four women as they journey into Area X, a dangerous territory separated from civilization. This book follows the results of the 12th expedition into this area, after 11 failed attempts to explore and collect data. These previous attempts resulted in disease, death, and suicide respectively.
As these women get closer and closer to the core of Area X they find new life, huge surprises, and must avoid the fates of those who preceded them.
Neuromancer by William Gibson
Arguably the book that birthed the ‘cyberpunk’ sci-fi subgenre, Neuromancer follows a computer hacker and criminal who is contacted by artificial intelligence to help them liberate.
This futuristic story tells of a world in which technology and crime have developed and are now joining forces to advance even further. The book is frighteningly immersive and its overall message is a warning for the future of technology.
Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey
This sci-fi mystery will have you hooked and keep you guessing. Leviathan Wakes tells of a reality in which humanity has taken over the solar system. Jim Holden works on Saturn and discovers a dangerous secret that will plunge the whole solar system into turmoil.
When one girl goes missing, it sparks a conspiracy that will both unite and separate the interplanetary systems that thrive throughout the solar system.
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
If you’re a sci-fi fan, you’ll have heard of this name. Ursula K. Le Guin is famous for creating her Hainish universe and for writing the Earthsea series. The Left Hand of Darkness follows one person sent on an important mission.
He is sent to Winter, an alien planet that is attempting to build an intergalactic civilization that defies the social standards established on Earth. Winter’s inhabitants are able to change their gender, which in 1969 (the time of publication) was a very controversial and unheard-of concept. This story is a very interesting read in the context of modern-day gender politics.
Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
After their world is destroyed, a new generation sets out to find a new world, capable of homing their race. But this new world is not ready to be lived in, instead, it will require experimentation and the new inhabitants will have to do everything they can to survive. Children of Time is a story of survival, humanity, and environmentalism.
Kindred by Octavia Butler
This novel is unlike any of the other suggestions but is brilliant if you’re a fan of fusion fiction, merging multiple genres and defying literary boundaries.
Kindred is a slave memoir but it flirts with science fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction. It closely follows Dana, an African-American woman, who, in 1976, celebrates her 26th birthday. On this day, she is transported to antebellum Maryland.
If sci-fi is your thing, you may have already heard or read some of these classics. This list provides a mixture of sci-fi classics and contemporary, lesser-known sci-fi stories which are just as deserving of the hype!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best sci-fi novel of all time?
The highest-selling sci-fi book of all time is Frank Herbert’s Dune which has sold over 20 million copies.
H.G. Wells is often considered one of the best and most influential sci-fi authors of all time.
Do comic books count as sci-fi?
Depending on the content, comic books can be classed as sci-fi. Some of the most popular ones that tell stories of superheroes are certainly grounded in sci-fi, however, these would not be classed as sci-fi novels.
Who was named the ‘father’ of sci-fi?
Jules Verne has been referred to as the ‘father’ of science fiction by many critics.
What is the oldest sci-fi story?
Although many people believe Shelley’s Frankenstein kickstarted the genre as we know it, there were ancient stories that flirted with science fiction themes. The oldest of these is Versae Historiae (Latin for True History) by Lucian of Samosata, which was published in the 2nd century.
Who wrote the first Sci-Fi book?
While there is much debate about what qualifies as the first sci-fi novel, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is often cited as the first science fiction book.
Is Sci-Fi always connected to a dystopian narrative?
No, not at all. There are many sci-fi novels that follow a dystopian setting but this is not a defining quality of science fiction. It is a diverse genre through which many different stories can be explored.
Do you have to understand physics to enjoy sci-fi?
Good sci-fi will always explain the key tenets of its world to the reader. People who are interested in science may enjoy sci-fi more, but you do not need a thorough understanding of physics to read science fiction.