32 Sci-Fi Novels You Should Read
Looking for some new material to add to your science fiction reading list? Below are 32 books that have pushed the boundaries of the genre, inspired generations of thinkers and in some cases have even predicted key aspects of societies development.
Foundation – Isaac Asimov
Foundation marks the first of a series of tales set so far in the future that Earth is all but forgotten by humans who live throughout the galaxy. Yet all is not well with the Galactic Empire. Its vast size is crippling to it. In particular, the administrative planet, honeycombed and tunneled with offices and staff, is vulnerable to attack or breakdown.
The only person willing to confront this imminent catastrophe is Hari Seldon, a psychohistorian and mathematician. Seldon can scientifically predict the future, and it doesn’t look pretty: a new Dark Age is scheduled to send humanity into barbarism in 500 years. He concocts a scheme to save the knowledge of the race in an Encyclopedia Galactica. But this project will take generations to complete, and who will take up the torch after him?
The Time Machine – H.G. Wells
The Time Traveler’s tale of the future is a disturbing vision of the human situation as it appeared to Wells in the late 19th century. The Traveler encounters a community consisting of only two species of animals: the barbaric Morlocks and the gentle Eloi.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick
By 2021, the World War had killed millions, driving entire species into extinction and sending mankind off-planet. Those who remained coveted any living creature, and for people who couldn’t afford one, companies built incredibly realistic simulacrae: horses, birds, cats, sheep. . .
They even built humans.
Emigrees to Mars received androids so sophisticated it was impossible to tell them from true men or women. Fearful of the havoc these artificial humans could wreak, the government banned them from Earth. But when androids didn’t want to be identified, they just blended in. Rick Deckard was an officially sanctioned bounty hunter whose job was to find rogue androids, and to retire them. But cornered, androids tended to fight back, with deadly results.
Animal Farm – George Orwell
When the downtrodden beasts of Manor Farm oust their drunken human master and take over management of the land, all are awash in collectivist zeal. Everyone willingly works overtime, productivity soars, and for one brief, glorious season, every belly is full.
The animals’ Seven Commandment credo is painted in big white letters on the barn. All animals are equal. No animal shall drink alcohol, wear clothes, sleep in a bed, or kill a fellow four-footed creature. Those that go upon four legs or wings are friends and the two-legged are, by definition, the enemy. Too soon, however, the pigs, who have styled themselves leaders by virtue of their intelligence, succumb to the temptations of privilege and power.
War Of The Worlds – H.G. Wells
The novel begins ominously, as the lone voice of a narrator tells readers that “No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s…”
Things then progress from a series of seemingly mundane reports about odd atmospheric disturbances taking place on Mars to the arrival of Martians just outside of London. At first the Martians seem laughable, hardly able to move in Earth’s comparatively heavy gravity even enough to raise themselves out of the pit created when their spaceship landed. But soon the Martians reveal their true nature as death machines 100-feet tall rise up from the pit and begin laying waste to the surrounding land.
Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
In a series of letters, Robert Walton, the captain of a ship bound for the North Pole, recounts to his sister back in England the progress of his dangerous mission. Successful early on, the mission is soon interrupted by seas full of impassable ice. Trapped, Walton encounters Victor Frankenstein, who has been traveling by dog-drawn sledge across the ice and is weakened by the cold. Walton takes him aboard ship, helps nurse him back to health, and hears the fantastic tale of the monster that Frankenstein created.
The Minority Report – Philip K. Dick
It is about a future society where murders are prevented through the efforts of three mutants who can see the future. It was made into a popular film in 2002.
The story looks at the paradoxes and alternate realities that are created by the precognition of crimes when the chief of police intercepts a prediction that he is about to murder a man he has never heard of.
Neuromancer – William Gibson
Case was the hottest computer cowboy cruising the information superhighway–jacking his consciousness into cyberspace, soaring through tactile lattices of data and logic, rustling encoded secrets for anyone with the money to buy his skills. Then he double-crossed the wrong people, who caught up with him in a big way–and burned the talent out of his brain, micron by micron. Banished from cyberspace, trapped in the meat of his physical body, Case courted death in the high-tech underworld. Until a shadowy conspiracy offered him a second chance–and a cure–for a price….
Pattern Recognition – William Gibson
Pollard is among a cult-like group of Internet obsessives that strives to find meaning and patterns within a mysterious collection of video moments, merely called “the footage,” let loose onto the Internet by an unknown source. Her hobby and work collide when a megalomaniac client hires her to track down whoever is behind the footage. Cayce’s quest will take her in and out of harm’s way in a high-stakes game that ultimately coincides with her desire to reconcile her father’s disappearance during the September 11 attacks in New York.
Accelerando – Charles Stross
In part one, “Slow Takeoff,” “free enterprise broker” Manfred Macx and his soon-to-be-estranged wife/dominatrix, Pamela, lay the foundation for the next decade’s transhumans.
In “Point of Inflection,” Amber, their punky maladjusted teenage daughter, and Sadeq Khurasani, a Muslim judge, engineer and scholar, try to escape the social chaos that antiaging treatments have wreaked on Earth by riding a tin can–sized starship via nanocomputerization to a brown dwarf star called Hyundai. The Wunch, trade-delegation aliens evolved from uploaded lobster mentalities, and Macx’s grandson, Sirhan, roister through “Singularity,” in which people become cybernetic constructs.
I Robot – Isaac Asimov
In this collection, one of the great classics of science fiction, Asimov set out the principles of robot behavior that we know as the Three Laws of Robotics. Here are stories of robots gone mad, mind-reading robots, robots with a sense of humor, robot politicians, and robots who secretly run the world, all told with Asimov’s trademark dramatic blend of science fact and science fiction.
Stranger In A Strange Land – Robert A. Heinlein
Valentine Michael Smith, born during, and the only survivor of, the first manned mission to Mars. Michael is raised by Martians, and he arrives on Earth as a true innocent: he has never seen a woman and has no knowledge of Earth’s cultures or religions.
But he brings turmoil with him, as he is the legal heir to an enormous financial empire, not to mention de facto owner of the planet Mars. With the irascible popular author Jubal Harshaw to protect him, Michael explores human morality and the meanings of love. He founds his own church, preaching free love and disseminating the psychic talents taught him by the Martians. Ultimately, he confronts the fate reserved for all messiahs.
Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut’s absurdist classic Slaughterhouse-Five introduces us to Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes unstuck in time after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. In a plot-scrambling display of virtuosity, we follow Pilgrim simultaneously through all phases of his life, concentrating on his (and Vonnegut’s) shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden.
The Giver – Lois Lowry
In a world with no poverty, no crime, no sickness and no unemployment, and where every family is happy, 12-year-old Jonas is chosen to be the community’s Receiver of Memories. Under the tutelage of the Elders and an old man known as the Giver, he discovers the disturbing truth about his utopian world and struggles against the weight of its hypocrisy.
20,000 Leagues Under The Sea – Jules Verne
The story is told by Professor Aronnax, who agrees to investigate a series of attacks by a mysterious sea monster. He joins the crew of the ship Abraham Lincoln. The men encounter what they believe is the monster, but turns out to be a large, state-of-the-art submarine, the Nautilus. Aronnax and a hot tempered harpoonist, Ned Land, are imprisoned on this vessel, captained by the misanthropic recluse, Nemo. Nemo takes them around the world. Verne’s descriptions of the underwater world, with its exotic creatures and sunken ships, shine thanks to clear narration and evocative sound effects.
Ringworld – Larry Niven
Two humans and two aliens, who are traveling to distant reaches of space to prevent a future catastrophe, crash on a ringworld apparently created by superior technologies.
More Than Human – Theodore Sturgeon
All alone: an idiot boy, a runaway girl, a severely retarded baby, and twin girls with a vocabulary of two words between them. Yet once they are mysteriously drawn together this collection of misfits becomes something very, very different from the rest of humanity. This intensely written and moving novel is an extraordinary vision of humanity’s next step. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Spook Country – William Gibson
Told from three third-person perspectives, the story concerns a journalist backed by a mysterious Belgian industrialist, a young Cuban-Chinese go-to guy from a secretive clan of criminals, and a junkie fluent in Russian, who get caught up in a search for a mysterious shipping container. Gibson reinvents the concept he made famous in his landmark SF novel, Neuromancer—i.e., cyberspace—creating a more nuanced and up-to-date relationship between the virtual and the real.
Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom – Cory Doctorow
Jules, a relative youngster at more than a century old, is a contented citizen of the Bitchun Society that has filled Earth and near-space since shortage and death were overcome. People are free to do whatever they wish, since the only wealth is respect and since constant internal interface lets all monitor exactly how successful they are at being liked. What Jules wants to do is move to Disney World, join the ad-hoc crew that runs the park and fine-tune the Haunted Mansion ride to make it even more wonderful.
Altered Carbon – Richard Morgan
Humans are issued a cortical stack, implanted into their bodies, into which consciousness is “digitized” and from which-unless the stack is hopelessly damaged-their consciousness can be downloaded (“resleeved”) with its memory intact, into a new body. While the Vatican is trying to make resleeving (at least of Catholics) illegal, centuries-old aristocrat Laurens Bancroft brings Takeshi Kovacs (an Envoy, a specially trained soldier used to being resleeved and trained to soak up clues from new environments) to Earth, where Kovacs is resleeved into a cop’s body to investigate Bancroft’s first mysterious, stack-damaging death.
To solve the case, Kovacs must destroy his former Envoy enemies; outwit Bancroft’s seductive, wily wife; dabble in United Nations politics; trust an AI that projects itself in the form of Jimi Hendrix; and deal with his growing physical and emotional attachment to Kristin Ortega, the police lieutenant who used to love the body he’s been given.
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
“Community, Identity, Stability” is the motto of Aldous Huxley’s utopian World State. Here everyone consumes daily grams of soma, to fight depression, babies are born in laboratories, and the most popular form of entertainment is a “Feelie,” a movie that stimulates the senses of sight, hearing, and touch. Though there is no violence and everyone is provided for, Bernard Marx feels something is missing and senses his relationship with a young women has the potential to be much more than the confines of their existence allow
Dune – Frank Herbert
The troubles begin when stewardship of Arrakis is transferred by the Emperor from the Harkonnen Noble House to House Atreides. The Harkonnens don’t want to give up their privilege, though, and through sabotage and treachery they cast young Duke Paul Atreides out into the planet’s harsh environment to die.
There he falls in with the Fremen, a tribe of desert dwellers who become the basis of the army with which he will reclaim what’s rightfully his. Paul Atreides, though, is far more than just a usurped duke. He might be the end product of a very long-term genetic experiment designed to breed a super human; he might be a messiah. His struggle is at the center of a nexus of powerful people and events, and the repercussions will be felt throughout the Imperium.
Snow Crash – Neal Stephenson
It is a world where the Mafia controls pizza delivery, the United States exists as a patchwork of corporate-franchise city-states, and the Internet–incarnate as the Metaverse–looks something like last year’s hype would lead you to believe it should. Enter Hiro Protagonist–hacker, samurai swordsman, and pizza-delivery driver. When his best friend fries his brain on a new designer drug called Snow Crash and his beautiful, brainy ex-girlfriend asks for his help, what’s a guy with a name like that to do? He rushes to the rescue.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy – Douglas Adams
hapless hero Arthur Dent as he travels the galaxy with his intrepid pal Ford Prefect, getting into horrible messes and generally wreaking hilarious havoc. Dent is grabbed from Earth moments before a cosmic construction team obliterates the planet to build a freeway.
Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand
Atlas Shrugged is the astounding story of a man who said that he would stop the motor of the world–and did. Tremendous in scope, breathtaking in its suspense, Atlas Shrugged stretches the boundaries further than any book you have ever read. It is a mystery, not about the murder of a man’s body, but about the murder–and rebirth–of man’s spirit.
1984 – George Orwell
The year is 1984; the scene is London, largest population center of Airstrip One.
Airstrip One is part of the vast political entity Oceania, which is eternally at war with one of two other vast entities, Eurasia and Eastasia. At any moment, depending upon current alignments, all existing records show either that Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia and allied with Eastasia, or that it has always been at war with Eastasia and allied with Eurasia.
Winston Smith knows this, because his work at the Ministry of Truth involves the constant “correction” of such records. “‘Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’”
Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
Guy Montag is a book-burning fireman undergoing a crisis of faith. His wife spends all day with her television “family,” imploring Montag to work harder so that they can afford a fourth TV wall. Their dull, empty life sharply contrasts with that of his next-door neighbor Clarisse, a young girl thrilled by the ideas in books, and more interested in what she can see in the world around her than in the mindless chatter of the tube.
When Clarisse disappears mysteriously, Montag is moved to make some changes, and starts hiding books in his home. Eventually, his wife turns him in, and he must answer the call to burn his secret cache of books. After fleeing to avoid arrest, Montag winds up joining an outlaw band of scholars who keep the contents of books in their heads, waiting for the time society will once again need the wisdom of literature.
Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card
Aliens have attacked Earth twice and almost destroyed the human species. To make sure humans win the next encounter, the world government has taken to breeding military geniuses — and then training them in the arts of war… The early training, not surprisingly, takes the form of ‘games’… Ender Wiggin is a genius among geniuses; he wins all the games… He is smart enough to know that time is running out. But is he smart enough to save the planet?
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
Told by the central character, Alex, this brilliant, hilarious, and disturbing novel creates an alarming futuristic vision of violence, high technology, and authoritarianism.Anthony Burgess’ 1963 classic stands alongside Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World as a classic of twentieth century post-industrial alienation, often shocking us into a thoughtful exploration of the meaning of free will and the conflict between good and evil. In this recording, the author’s voice lends an intoxicating lyrical dimension to the language he has so masterfully crafted.
The Andromeda Strain – Michael Crichton
A Nobel-Prize-winning bacteriologist, Jeremy Stone, urges the president to approve an extraterrestrial decontamination facility to sterilize returning astronauts, satellites, and spacecraft that might carry an “unknown biologic agent.” The government agrees, almost too quickly, to build the top-secret Wildfire Lab in the desert of Nevada. Shortly thereafter, unbeknownst to Stone, the U.S. Army initiates the “Scoop” satellite program, an attempt to actively collect space pathogens for use in biological warfare. When Scoop VII crashes a couple years later in the isolated Arizona town of Piedmont, the Army ends up getting more than it asked for.
A Scanner Darkly – Philip K. Dick
A Scanner Darkly cuts closest to the bone, drawing on Dick’s own experience with illicit chemicals and on his many friends who died from drug abuse. Nevertheless, it’s blackly farcical, full of comic-surreal conversations between people whose synapses are partly fried, sudden flights of paranoid logic, and bad trips like the one whose victim spends a subjective eternity having all his sins read to him, in shifts, by compound-eyed aliens. (It takes 11,000 years of this to reach the time when as a boy he discovered masturbation.)
The antihero Bob Arctor is forced by his double life into warring double personalities: as futuristic narcotics agent “Fred,” face blurred by a high-tech scrambler, he must spy on and entrap suspected drug dealer Bob Arctor. His disintegration under the influence of the insidious Substance D is genuine tragicomedy. For Arctor there’s no way off the addict’s downward escalator, but what awaits at the bottom is a kind of redemption–there are more wheels within wheels than we suspected, and his life is not entirely wasted.
Timeline – Michael Crichton
They’re historians in 1999 employed by a tech billionaire-genius with more than a few of Bill Gates’s most unlovable quirks. Like the entrepreneur in Crichton’s Jurassic Park, Doniger plans a theme park featuring artifacts from a lost world revived via cutting-edge science. When the project’s chief historian sends a distress call to 1999 from 1357, the boss man doesn’t tell the younger historians the risks they’ll face trying to save him.
Here are a few more books worth reading. Thanks for all of the great suggestions.
- Arthur C Clarke – 2001: A Space Odyssey
- John Scalzi – Old Man’s War
- Any good compilation of Venor Vinges short stories.
- Walter Miller Jr. – A Canticle for Leibowitz
- Ken MacLeod – The Star Fraction
- Spin – Robert Charles Wilson
I could go on forever, I would love you hear your suggestions.