I don’t read much science fiction these days, but that was by no means always the case. I devoured sci-fi novels as a teenager and for extended periods later in life, attracted above all by the sheer creativity the writers demonstrated in speculating about life and reality from new perspectives.
In times past, 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 is as it should be.
Here, in alphabetical order by author, are the 26 science fiction novels that have lingered in my mind — in some cases, for fifty years or more. Some are dystopian novels, others alternate history, imagined futures, or time travel; some are set on Earth, others elsewhere around the galaxy. Many of these titles will be familiar to you if you’re a science fiction fan. You’re less likely to know others.
- M. T. Anderson, Feed (reviewed here)
- Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake (reviewed here)
- Paolo Bacigalupi, The Windup Girl (reviewed here)
- Paolo Bacigalupi, The Drowned Cities (reviewed here)
- Paolo Bacigalupi, The Water Knife (reviewed here)
- Octavia E. Butler, The Parable Novels (reviewed here)
- Greg Bear, Darwin’s Radio
- Cory Doctorow, Little Brother (reviewed here)
- Omar El Akkad, American War (reviewed here)
- Frank Herbert, Dune
- Hugh Howey, Wool Omnibus Editor (Silo 1-5) (reviewed here)
- Stephen King, 11/22/63 (reviewed here)
- Ursula LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness
- Ira Levin, This Perfect Day (reviewed here)
- Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven (reviewed here)
- Walter M. Miller Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz
- Annalee Newitz, Autonomous (reviewed here)
- H. C. H. Ritz, Absence of Mind (reviewed here)
- Kim Stanley Robinson, The Mars Trilogy
- Robert J. Sawyer, The Hominids Trilogy
- John Scalzi, Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas (reviewed here)
- Gary Shteyngart, Super Sad True Love Story (reviewed here)
- Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Cat’s-Cradle
- Murt Vonnegut Jr., Player Piano (reviewed here)
- Jo Walton, Farthing Trilogy (reviewed here)
- Andy Weir, The Martian (reviewed here)
- Connie Willis, The Doomsday Book
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.
However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t list at least a few of the classic science fiction novels that (often upon rereading) left me disappointed. These include:
- Isaac Asimov, The Foundation Trilogy
- Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
- Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game
- Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (reviewed here)
- William Gibson, Neoromancer
- Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land
- Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (reviewed here)
- Larry Niven, Ringworld
- George Orwell, Animal Farm
- George Orwell, 1984 (reviewed here)
- Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age
- H. G. Wells, The War of the Worlds
Recently I’ve written a new book in which I discuss 62 dystopian 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.
For a review of one of the science fiction novels I’ve read, see Dystopian fiction that breaks the mold. Another one is here: Another great sci-fi novel from one of the most gifted young talents in the field.
This post originally appeared here May 10, 2012. I’ve expanded the list to include several terrific novels I’ve read (and reviewed) since then.