47 great sci-fi novels reviewed (plus a list of 41 all-time classics)

great sci-fi novels reviewed: American War by Omar El AkkadAs a teenager, I devoured sci-fi novels, and my addiction resumed for extended periods later in life. I was attracted above all by the sheer creativity the writers demonstrated in speculating about life and reality from new perspectives. And I must admit I was a bit of a nut about space travel, too. I’ve always frustrated my progressive friends for supporting the space program.

In times past, including the years of my youth, science fiction was widely regarded as pulp literature suitable only for 14-year-old boys. Those days are long past. Now the field is often referred to as speculative fiction. Which makes sense. The term allows such mainstream authors as Kurt Vonnegut and Margaret Atwood to deny vehemently that they write science fiction. Even if they really do.

Here, in alphabetical order by the authors’ last names, are 47 great sci-fi novels reviewed in recent years on this site. Some of these titles will be familiar to you if you’re a science fiction fan. You’re less likely to know others. Each title is followed by a link to my review.

Note: in the case of a trilogy or other series, I’ve linked to only the first book in the sequence. If I counted the subsequent entries in those series, the total number of books suggested here would be at least 60 (since some of these series are ongoing).

47 great sci-fi novels reviewed here

M. T. Anderson, FeedA terrifying vision of the future in an award-winning young adult novel

M. T. Anderson, Landscape with Invisible HandA clever new take on an alien invasion in a humorous young adult novel

Margaret Atwood, The Maddaddam Trilogy Margaret Atwood’s classic dystopian fiction

Paolo Bacigalupi, The Windup Girl –  One of the best science fiction novels I’ve ever read

Paolo Bacigalupi, The Drowned Cities SeriesAnother exceptionally good sci-fi novel from an emerging master

Paolo Bacigalupi, The Water KnifeDystopian fiction that breaks the mold

Octavia E. Butler, The Parable NovelsA superb dystopian novel

Becky Chambers, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers #1) — A delightful modern space opera that’s all about character development

Becky Chambers, A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers #2) — Lovable characters in this off-beat space opera

Blake Crouch, The Wayward Pines TrilogyA truly original work of speculative fiction

Blake Crouch, Dark Matter A journey into the multiverse

Cory Doctorow, Little BrotherTerrorism. Homeland Security. Teenage rebellion.

Omar El Akkad, American WarA chilling tale, lucidly told, of a Second American Civil War

Meg Elison, The Book of the Unnamed Midwife – A powerful feminist story in a dystopian landscape

Robert Harris, The Fear Index – A taut thriller about the world of multibillion-dollar hedge funds

Susan Hasler, Project HALFSHEEP: Or How the CIA’s Alien Got High – The CIA, LSD, and a drug-addled alien from the planet Utorb

Hugh Howey, Wool Omnibus Edition (Silo 1-5) – Hugh Howey’s outstanding science fiction

Stephen King, 11/22/63 – A new take on the JFK assassination

Maggie Shen King, An Excess Male – A great science fiction novel set in a future totalitarian China

Ira Levin, This Perfect DayA superb tale of a future where artificial intelligence rules

Emily St. John Mandel, Station ElevenLife on Earth after the apocalypse

Ramez Naam, The Nexus Trilogy – The post-human future explored in an outstanding SF novel

Sylvain Neuvel, The Themis FilesAn entertaining if puzzling sci-fi novel

Annalee Newitz, AutonomousIn 2144, Arctic resorts, autonomous robots, and killer drugs

Emma Newman, After Atlas (Planetfall, A) – A 22nd century police procedural in a fascinating future Earth

Matt Richtel, Dead on Arrival – Neurology meets high-tech in this gripping science fiction novel

H. C. H. Ritz, Absence of MindIn an unusually original sci-fi technothriller, technology meets neuroscience

John Sandford and Ctein, Saturn Run – First Contact: Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind

John Scalzi, Redshirts: A Novel with Three CodasDiabolically clever, and very, very funny

John Scalzi, The Collapsing Empire (Interdependency #1) – A promising start to a new John Scalzi series

Gary Shteyngart, Super Sad True Love Story – Gary Shteyngart’s dark vision of the future

Adrian Tchaikovsky, Children of Time Accelerated evolution is the theme in a superior science fiction novel

Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Player PianoKurt Vonnegut’s warning about automation

Jo Walton, The Farthing Trilogy – Chilling alternate history: If Nazi Germany had won the war

Andy Weir, The Martian – Hard science fiction at its best

To these 47 titles I’m tempted to add Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, which is perhaps the best-known and most loved of recent ventures into the realm of space opera. However, the series includes at least 17 novels by my count, and I’ve only read and reviewed eight of them so far. (You’ll find my review of the first book, Falling Free, at An outstanding sci-fi series.)

Now, I don’t pretend for a minute that this is a list of the best science fiction novels of all time. It just happens to be those I’ve read and loved over the past decade.

You may notice that the list above includes a disproportionate number of dystopian novels. That’s no accident. It’s the result of my research. Recently I wrote a book in which I discuss 62 such novels, including several of those listed above. The book is entitled Hell on Earth: What we can learn from dystopian fiction. You can find the book here.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t list at least some of the classic science fiction novels that I read in years past—in most cases, many years past—that should be included on any list of top science fiction novels. (So should many of the 47 books listed above. In fact, some of them already appear on one or more such lists that can be found online today.) Here are the 41 older titles that come to mind now.

The classics: 41 great sci-fi novels

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Isaac Asimov, The Foundation Trilogy

Isaac Asimov, I, Robot

Greg Bear, Darwin’s Radio

Alfred Bester, The Stars My Destination

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

John Brunner, Stand on Zanzibar

Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game

Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey

Arthur C. Clarke, Rendevous with Rama

Arthur C. Clarke, Childhood’s End

Michael Crichton, The Andromeda Strain

Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle

Philip Jose Farmer, To Your Scattered Bodies Go

William Gibson, Neuromancer

Joe Haldeman, The Forever War

Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

Robert Heinlein, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress

Frank Herbert, Dune

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Daniel Keyes, Flowers for Algernon

Ursula LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness

Ursula LeGuin, The Dispossessed

Stanislaw Lem, Solaris

Walter M. Miller Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz

Larry Niven, Ringworld

George Orwell, Animal Farm

George Orwell, 1984

Frederik Pohl, Gateway

Kim Stanley Robinson, The Mars Trilogy

Robert J. Sawyer, The Hominids Trilogy

Olaf Stapledon, Starmaker

Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age

George R. Stewart, Earth Abides

Theodore Sturgeon, More Than Human

Vernor Vinge, A Fire Upon the Deep

Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Cat’s-Cradle

H. G. Wells, The War of the Worlds

H. G. Wells, The Time Machine

Connie Willis, The Doomsday Book

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Mal Warwick