The ultimate guide to the all-time best science fiction novels

The Windup Girl is one of the all-time best science fiction novels. OK, I’d better qualify that headline. In this survey, I’m not including science fiction written before World War II. Or, for that matter, short stories or anthologies, comic books, or manga. And definitely not fantasy: zombies, vampires, witches, dragons, superheroes, and magical powers all leave me cold. What you’ll see below is a compendium of the all-time best science fiction novels written in modern times, as identified on eight different websites.

There are many more lists available online of all-time best sci-fi, but I’ve run out of time and space. I’ve limited myself to the eight most-heavily-trafficked sites as identified by Google when I searched for “all-time best science fiction novels.” Here, then, are the novels (or series) that appear most frequently on these eight lists. Further below, I’ll venture my own choices for the all-time best science fiction novels. As you’ll see, my list is somewhat different.

On the lists below you’ll find links to my reviews of the many SF novels I’ve reviewed on this site. I’ve added the link to the first instance of the book’s appearance here.

The consensus choice of the all-time best science fiction novels

Fifty-one novels appeared at least three times each on the eight websites I reviewed. (Those sites included a total of nearly 300 titles.) Here are the top 51, arranged in alphabetical order by the authors’ last names. You’ll note that Robert A. Heinlein appears three times here. and Margaret Atwood, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, Ursula K. Leguin, Larry Niven, Neal Stephenson, and Kurt Vonnegut each appear twice.

My picks for the all-time best science fiction novels

Having read a great deal of science fiction, I have my own opinions about the all-time best books in the field. I’ve found a number of the books included in the consensus listing to be disappointing at best. However, some others I haven’t yet read and thus can’t comment on. I’m only including here books I’ve actually read (though years or decades ago in many cases—so it should be clear that this is a work in progress. I continue to read and review sci-fi and will adjust the following list as necessary. With that understood, here’s my own (admittedly biased and current) list of the 51 all-time best sci-fi novels:

Here’s how those top-rated novels stacked up on the eight websites

Novels listed seven times

  • Dune by Frank Herbert
  • Hyperion by Dan Simmons
  • Neuromancer by William Gibson
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Novels listed six times

  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • Ringworld by Larry Niven
  • The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Leguin
  • The Stand by Stephen King
  • The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asmiov
  • A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller
  • The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

Novels listed five times

  • Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
  • Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert E. Heinlein
  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • The Martian by Andy Weir
  • A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  • A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  • The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Leguin

Novels listed four times

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
  • Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
  • The Female Man by Joanna Russ
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
  • Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany
  • Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
  • The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
  • Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
  • Contact by Carl Sagan
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
  • The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert E. Heinlein

Novels listed three times

  • How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
  • Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
  • Red Rising by Pierce Brown
  • Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  • The City & the City by China Mieville
  • Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan
  • Starship Troopers by Robert E. Heinlein
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
  • Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke
  • Parable of the Sower Octavia E. Butler
  • Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Strugatz
  • The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
  • The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
  • The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

The websites I reviewed

For further reading

For more good reading, check out Great sci-fi novels reviewed: my top 10 (plus dozens of runners-up). If your taste runs to the dark side, you might be interested in The top 10 dystopian novels reviewed here (plus dozens of others).

For a journey through some of the early short stories and novelettes of the iconic names in the genre, see The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One 1929-1964 edited by Robert Silverberg (Reassessing the Science Fiction Hall of Fame).

For more great reading, check out Top 10 great popular novels reviewed on this site (plus dozens of runners-up).

To check out all 100 of the reading lists posted here, go to Your handy guide to the grouped reviews on this site. And you can always find my most popular reviews, and the most recent ones, plus a guide to this whole site, on the Home Page.

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