The Best Sci Fi Books

Find a great science fiction book, the bestselling science fiction books of all time.

best selling science fiction books all time

These books have all stood the test of time, and continue to be popular.


I’d argue that Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus is the first science fiction novel. It’s certainly the first transhumanist one (though who knows what Shelley would have made of that term). It delves into the humanity of the monster and those around him, as opposed to the precise methods the doctor used to animate him.

Shelley published it anonymously in 1818, and 500 copies were printed.

It wasn’t until 1831 that the “popular” version was sold (which is probably what you’ve read). Shelley edited the book significantly, bowing to pressure to make the book more conservative. Many scholars prefer the 1818 version, claiming it holds true to Shelley’s original spirit.

Stranger in a Strange Land

Heinlein got the idea for this novel when he and his wife Virginia were brainstorming one evening in 1948. She suggested a new version of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book (1894), but with a child raised by Martians instead of wolves. He decided to go further with the idea and worked on the story on and off for more than a decade.

Mars is just part of the backstory to this book—the reader never travels there.

Despite mixed reviews, Stranger in a Strange Land won the 1962 Hugo Award for Best Novel and became the first science fiction novel on The New York Times Book Review ’s best-seller list.

Snow Crash

In reality, Hiro Protagonist delivers pizza for Uncle Enzo’s Cosa Nostra Inc., but in the Metaverse he’s a warrior prince. Plunging headlong into the enigma of a new computer virus that’s striking down hackers everywhere, he races along the neon-lit streets on a search-and-destroy mission for the shadowy virtual villain threatening to bring about infocalypse.

“Brilliantly realized… Stephenson turns out to be an engaging guide to an onrushing tomorrow.” —The New York Times Book Review

Fahrenheit 451

Guy Montag was a fireman whose job it was to start fires…

The system was simple. Everyone understood it. Books were for burning, along with the houses in which they were hidden.

Guy Montag enjoyed his job. He had been a fireman for ten years, and he had never questioned the pleasure of the midnight runs nor the joy of watching pages consumed by flames. He never questioned anything, until he met a seventeen-year-old girl who told him of a past when people were not afraid.

Ender’s Game

Criticized for its violence (and possibly popular because of it), Ender’s Game shows children on a military space station, playing combat games and training for the war against the evil alien Buggers.

It won the Hugo and Nebula awards, even though the New York Times felt that the plot resembled a “grade Z, made-for-television, science-fiction rip-off movie.”

2001: A Space Odyssey

This allegory about humanity’s exploration of the universe—and the universe’s reaction to humanity—is a hallmark achievement in storytelling that follows the crew of the spacecraft Discovery as they embark on a mission to Saturn. Their vessel is controlled by HAL 9000, an artificially intelligent supercomputer capable of the highest level of cognitive functioning that rivals—and perhaps threatens—the human mind.

Ready Player One

If you’re a child of the 80s, reading Ready Player One is like mainlining heroin-strength nostalgia. It’s so ridiculously fun that I frequently imagined author Ernest Cline giggling and saying to himself, “I can’t believe I’m getting away with this!”

In the dystopian future, teenage Wade Watts searches for a mysterious Easter egg in a worldwide video game called the OASIS. Finding the Easter egg will cause him to inherit the ownership of the OASIS and billions upon billions of dollars. Of course, he’s not the only one looking for it.

I listened to the audiobook version of Ready Player One , and loved it. Narrator Wil Wheaton nailed it.

“Ridiculously fun and large-hearted… Cline is that rare writer who can translate his own dorky enthusiasms into prose that’s both hilarious and compassionate.” —NPR

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

If you haven’t read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy yet, then it’s perfect for a happy afternoon, toes in the sand (or by the fire), and perhaps a nearby Mai Tai (or hot chocolate).

This is one of the funniest books written in the English language. It begins with the destruction of Earth, and things go downhill from there.

Do not read this book around other people, because you will annoy them by laughing so much.

The Martian

The Martian is one of the most enjoyable science fiction books I’ve ever read. An astronaut is left behind on Mars, and must survive by himself for over a year, using only his wits and what was left behind by a few previous missions.

Author Weir does a masterful job in creating his highly likable, intelligent, and deeply human protagonist Mark Watney. The science in The Martian is hard and feels as real as stone.

This book is a great combination of man vs. nature à la Jack London, with the inventiveness of MacGyver, moments of laugh-out-loud humor, page-turning pacing, and plot twists that are surprising but in hindsight feel inevitable.

“An excellent first novel… Weir laces the technical details with enough keen wit to satisfy hard science fiction fan and general reader alike [and] keeps the story escalating to a riveting conclusion.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

Cat’s Cradle

Cat’s Cradle is Kurt Vonnegut’s satirical commentary on modern man and his madness. An apocalyptic tale of this planet’s ultimate fate, it features a midget as the protagonist, a complete, original theology created by a calypso singer, and a vision of the future that is at once blackly fatalistic and hilariously funny.

“A free-wheeling vehicle… an unforgettable ride!” —The New York Times

The Time Machine

A great old classic that invented the phrase “time machine.”

Just don’t watch the modern movie, because that ends in a fistfight for some reason.


Psychohistory is one of Asimov’s best inventions: using a combination of history, psychology, and statistics, one can accurately predict the behavior of large groups of people.

Foundation is arguably the first time a believable galactic empire was created in print. Unfortunately, Asimov’s characters tend be one-dimensional, but his stories are so entertaining that it’s easy to forgive that lapse.


Ideas from science fiction don’t often make it into the public consciousness, but 1984 has been referenced in Supreme Court cases , and “Big Brother” has a spot in the Oxford English Dictionary .

1984 is the rare book that is both commonly assigned to students and still a pleasure to read.


Written over 50 years ago, Dune is the world’s best-selling science fiction novel. As recently as 2012, the readers of Wired magazine voted it the top science fiction novel of all time.

Winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards, it’s a sprawling epic of Machiavellian politics, personal betrayals, secrets within secrets, giant monsters, and delightfully flawed characters. It’s often called the “ Lord of the Rings of science fiction” and has inspired countless other science fiction novels.

The comparison to high fantasy is particularly apt given the small part technology plays. There are no robots and no computers. Spaceships are treated as transport vessels, not objects of wonder. There are castles, emperors, witches, dukes, dragons (sandworms), and a substance that bestows astounding powers when you eat it (spice).

“I know nothing comparable to it except The Lord of the Rings .” —Arthur C. Clarke

30 thoughts on “ The Bestselling Science Fiction Books of All Time ”

That’s funny!

Please can I add the 12 Sector General novels by James White. I have always thought they would make a good film or series of programmes and have read them many times. Also, Andy Weir’s Hail Mary is up there with the Martian.

I agree about Hail Mary. Awesome book.

I agree with both your thoughts. I loved the sector general novels and Hail Mary too.

Can’t argue with any of them but the last five could be substituted with so many others that could be knocking on the door I really could not choose with any certainty.

The Stars My Destination by A. Bester should be here

Helpful! Thanks, I am checking it out, Scott.

Thanks for this! These are all ‘best-selling’ classics of course, but as a list it’s very white male-centric, reflecting western culture in the 20th C. Would be nice to see more gender and ethnic diversity in terms of authors, stories and characters in the next list. Not sure it’s a ‘best-seller’ but presently I’m very much enjoying reading the world created by Maureen F McHugh in “China Mountain Zhang”.

For a more diverse offering, check out some of my other lists.

True. Octavia E. Butler comes to mind, Ursula LeGuin, marion Zimmer Bradley …

I’m a big fan of both Butler and Le Guin, but unfortunately, their books didn’t make the “bestselling” cutoff. You’ll see them in a lot of my other lists, though.

If you want a bestselling sci fy book why not the hungergames? It seems to have outpaced all the books on the list except 1984 in sales.

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury should be close to the top of the list.

Hail Mary by Andy Weir is epic, original, thought-stimulating and should be on this list. Especially if you listen to the audiobook with Ray Porter narrating.

I loved Hail Mary, but The Martian outsold it.

I expect this sales comparison will change once they make a movie on Hail Mary.

Assuming it qualifies as SF I would add Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle”. I also loved the early Honor Harrington books, including the prequels and the treecat book.

Some great suggestions in the list but ALSO in the comments. I’m busy making notes.

People saying “What about this book?” or “Too many white males” seem to have missed the theme of this list.

It’s not “must-reads” or “best books.” It’s simply “highest volume of copies sold.” There’s nothing subjective about it.

The stats are what they are.

It is not. Firstly 1984 outsold dune, so at least the order isn’t based on sales. Secondly Hungergames outsells everything on the list except 1984.

Where did this list come from ? I am surprised that “Lucifer’s Hammer” by Niven and Pournelle is not on the list. Pournelle used to say that “Lucifer’s Hammer” put all five of his kids through college, paid off his California house mortgage, and paid for a beach house in California. You could find the MMPB in airport bookstores until recently.

I am shocked that “Dune” is number one. And this list does not address the Fantasy side of SF (speculative fiction). “Harry Potter” rules over there.

Most people consider SF to stand for Sciense Fiction. And no Science Fiction book can compete with the any of the top selling fantasy books.

Surely Larry Niven should be in this list? Ringworld is probably the best known but there are so many more.

The SFF All-Time Sales List (revised in 2018):

Larry Niven is 59 on this list.

By far NO! There are tens of books that should be here, and others that shouldn’t One that should be: Timetraveler’s Wife. Another one: Klara and the Sun. One that shouldn’t be: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (because it’s a very specific type of book, and what’s “best” about it is the so called humour, which should actually set it into another category altogether. Also, in my list Dune is the first.

Where is L. Ron Hubbard on that list? There is something funny here!

Benjamin L. Owen should be on the list – maybe someday!

Brave New World?

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best selling science fiction books all time

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11 Best-Selling Sci-Fi Books That Left Their Mark on the Literary World

Did your favorite make the list? 

the bestselling sci fi books of all time

The beauty of a good book is that it isn’t bound by its sales numbers. Like any piece of art, a well-told story can blossom into its own and find its readers over time. 

Still, we’re always intrigued by sales numbers and the books that that occupy the top of the best-seller lists. 

A cursory glance at a modern best-sellers list will yield what’s popular at the moment; an inspection of sales numbers historically and across time, well, that’s something else entirely. What ends up living on, inspiring millions? Inflation, international sales differences, and other factors make it a losing effort to rank the bestselling sci-fi books of all time.

However, the 11 sci-fi books we highlight here are all bestsellers in their own right — and genre touchstones. 



By Mary Shelley

A classic among classics, Mary Shelley’s masterpiece has been hailed by authors like Brian Aldiss as the first true science fiction story.

Frankenstein is the ever-memorable tale of mad scientist Victor Frankenstein, who creates a creature in an ambitious and absurd experiment. There was nothing else like it when it was first published in 1818, and it quickly became a bestseller. Today, it's a literary staple.

RELATED: 50 of the Best Science Fiction Books Ever Written

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the left hand of darkness

The Left Hand of Darkness

By Ursula K. Le Guin

This was Ursula K. Le Guin ’s breakout book, selling immense numbers and helping secure her name among a wide readership. 

And yet, what’s so compelling about this book (and the next book on this list) is just how experimental and 'difficult' it was for audiences at the time. Set in Hainish, Le Guin's novel explores themes of sex, gender, and androgyny. 

The book has been reprinted over 30 times to date, sold over a million English-language copies by 2014, and continues to be a touchstone for readers the world over.

RELATED: What Every Fantasy Writer Can Learn from Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

the left hand of darkness

By Frank Herbert

A lot has been written about this book’s difficult path to publication, but suffice it to say, this is the 'big difficult novel that could.'

Dune takes place in a feudalist interstellar world. Protagonist Paul Atreides and his family are stewards of the desert planet Arrakis, the only source of the highly coveted “mélange.” It’s the substance that everyone needs for space travel, and the ramifications of being stewards of the only planet with it results in a sci-fi epic.

RELATED: 10 Books Like Dune to Spice Up Your Reading Life

dune frank herbert book to movie adaptations

Fahrenheit 451

By Ray Bradbury

The book about burning books, Ray Bradbury famously wrote Fahrenheit 451 on a pay-to-use library typewriter in a creative rush. 

The result is a frenetic and memorable book that tapped perfectly into the zeitgeist of the time. 

RELATED: 10 Unforgettable Books Like Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury

Ender's Game

By Orson Scott Card

Never mind the movie adaptation , read the book. 

In Ender's Game , humanity is at the brink, and anticipating an invasion from an alien menace. Soldiers are trained from birth, and protagonist Ander “Ender” Wiggin is among a new class of trainees facing all kinds of fascinating challenges. 

A sci-fi coming-of-age story, this novel continues to offer unrivaled escapism today. 

books like Lord of the Flies

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

By Douglas Adams

The secret to this book’s success is the number “42.” 

No, really: Douglas Adams took every sci-fi trope and added a delectable amount of humor. It’s a timeless novel worth everyone’s time. Millions have already partook in its pleasures; if you haven’t, pick up a copy and lose yourself in the adventure.


By George Orwell

Orwell was right: Big Brother is watching us. 

Next to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (which is also among the all-time sci-fi bestsellers, but I could only fit in one dystopian classic on this list), this prescient novel is among the most-read books in the entire literary canon. 

1984 is Orwell’s magnum opus, and the last book he completed in his lifetime. It focuses on a world where everything we say, do, and think is controlled by an authoritarian government with its own nefarious intentions.

RELATED: Big Brother Is Watching: 16 Unsettling Dystopian Books Like 1984

dystopia donald trump presidency 1984 george orwell

The Time Machine

By H. G. Wells

Published in 1895, H.G. Wells ’ iconic tale is often credited as the first story to explore the concept of time travel. 

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

By Robert Louis Stevenson

Long before we had The Prestige or The Talented Mr. Ripley or Face/Off , there was Stevenson’s classic tale of identity and deceit, which became a bestseller when it was published in 1886. 

Though it’s likely most know the ins and outs of this book, The Strange Case continues to be a memorable story that reveals the complexities of identity and performance. 

The Martian

The Martian

By Andy Weir

The most contemporary book on this list, Weir’s debut novel had a memorable path to publication — having been originally self-published, it went on to capture millions of readers and led to a film adaptation. 

The Martian is the tale of an astronaut stranded on Mars, with hints of I Am Legend’s Robert Neville-level survivalist cunning. Readers were quickly captured by the tale's depiction of loneliness, alongside Weir’s excellent rendering of astrophysics, the planet Mars, and space travel. 

The Martian


By William Gibson

Gibson’s novel has sold over six million copies worldwide. It was (and still is) so popular that it helped boost awareness of the cyberpunk subgenre.  

Henry Case is a hustler scumming it out in Chiba City, when he is caught stealing by his employer. His central nervous system is damaged as punishment, leaving him disconnected from the matrix, the big global computer network keeping people satiated and civil. It’s the stuff of noir , and every bit as gritty as you’d expect. 

RELATED: 5 Technologies from Neuromancer That Are Almost Here


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29 of the Best Science Fiction Books Everyone Should Read

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Looking for your next sci-fi must-read? Cyberpunk, space operas, dystopias – we've pulled together some of the WIRED team's favourite science fiction novels. Some are eerily plausible, others are wild trips of the imagination, but all present compelling visions of our possible future. Listed here in chronological order for completists.

You may also enjoy our guides to best sci-fi movies and the best space movies , too. If you're after more reading inspiration, try our selection of the best fantasy books and we have a guide to the best audiobooks if you're feeling lazy.

Cyber Monday has arrived and discounts on a wide range of tech and gadgetry are now live. The WIRED team has sought out the top true savings on quality products. Here’s the best Cyber Monday deals. ​​

The Blazing World, by Margaret Cavendish (1666)

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This book is arguably the first science fiction book ever written. The Blazing World's language may be dated, but this fearless feminist text from Margaret Cavendish is packed full of imagination is not just incredibly brave for its time. It's also still incredibly relevant; cited as inspiration by writers including China Miéville and Alan Moore.

Cavendish's utopian tale follows the adventures of a kidnapped woman, who travels to another world run by part-humans, part animals - fox men, fish men, geese men, the list goes on. As she is a very beautiful woman, she becomes their Empress, and organises an an almighty invasion of her own world, complete with literal fire(stones) raining from the sky.

Janelle Monae in a shadowy room with a mirror reflecting her profile

By Matt Reynolds

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Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley (1818)

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Mary Shelley started writing classic gothic thriller Frankenstein when she was 18 years old. Two centuries later, it is a major ancestor of both the science fiction and horror genres, tackling huge themes like the nature of life and death, immortality and genetic engineering. It is a pro-science novel that at its heart shows Dr Frankenstein as the callous fiend of the story, who created a being and was not willing to accept responsibility for his actions. In an age where the space between technical life and death is narrower than ever, and scientists are playing with the makeup of what makes us humans, Frankenstein can still teach an important lesson: just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

Price: £6 | Amazon | Waterstones | Blackwells | Audible trial

Foundation, by Isaac Asimov (1951)

29 of the Best Science Fiction Books Everyone Should Read

Asimov was a prolific writer, but many of his best works are classic short stories such as Nightfall , or The Last Question , which play out like long jokes with a punchline twist at the end. In the Foundation series, he’s in another mode entirely, charting the rise and fall of empires in sweeping brush strokes. Asimov’s prose can be stilted, and betrays the attitudes of its time in the portrayal of female characters, but it has left a lasting legacy.

The Foundation series follows Hari Seldon, who is the architect of psychohistory – a branch of mathematics that can make accurate predictions thousands of years in advance, and which Seldon believes is necessary to save the human race from the dark ages. You can see why it’s one of Elon Musk’s favourite books (along with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy , and The Moon is A Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein – also recommended). A long-awaited screen adaptation is one of the flagship shows of Apple TV+.

Price: £8 | Amazon | Waterstones | Wordery | Audible trial

The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester (1957)

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This landmark novel begins with a simple proposition – what if humans could teleport? – and sprawls into a tale of rebirth and vengeance that winds across the Solar System: The Count of Monte Cristo for the interstellar age. First published as Tiger! Tiger! in the UK, named after the William Blake poem, it follows Gully Foyle – a violent, uneducated brute who spends six months marooned in deep space, and the rest of the book seeking retribution for it.

Price: £9 | Amazon | Waterstones | Audible trial

Solaris, by Stanislaw Lem (1961)

29 of the Best Science Fiction Books Everyone Should Read

If you think you know Solaris from the 2002 Steven Soderbergh film, the original book may come as a bit of a surprise. Written by Polish writer Stanislaw Lem in 1961, this short novel is heavier on philosophy than plot. It follows a team of humans on a space station who are trying to understand the mysterious living ocean on the planet Solaris, with little success – their research is limited to lengthy descriptions that paint a vibrant picture of the alien planet but fail to elucidate how it works. As they poke and prod, Solaris ends up exposing more about them than it does about itself, with the book demonstrating the futility of humans trying to comprehend something not of their world.

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Dune, by Frank Herbert (1965)

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In 2012, WIRED US readers voted Dune the best science-fiction novel of all time. It’s also the best-selling of all time, and has inspired a mammoth universe, including 18 books set over 34,000 years and a terrible 1984 movie adaptation by David Lynch, his worst film by far. A very different effort was released in 2021, directed by Denis Villeneuve. The series is set 20,000 years in the future in galaxies stuck in the feudal ages, where computers are banned for religious reasons and noble families rule whole planets. We focus on the planet Arrakis, which holds a material used as a currency throughout the Universe for its rarity and mind-enhancing powers. Lots of giant sandworms, too.

Price: £10 | Amazon | Waterstones | Foyles | Audible trial

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein (1966)

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One of Elon Musk's favourite books, apparently, this gripping novel paints a plausible picture of life on Earth's satellite, three years before man set foot on the moon for the first time. Its depictions of the challenges of life in orbit, and the ingenuity of human solutions to the problem – even among the exiles and misfits who make up the lunar population – are memorable.

Ice, by Anna Kavan (1967)

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Anna Kavan's last (and best) sci fi novel provides a haunting, claustrophobic vision of the end of the world, where an unstoppable monolithic ice shelf is slowly engulfing the earth and killing everything in its wake. The male protagonist and narrator of the story (who is nameless) is eternally chasing after an elusive and ethereal young woman, while contemplating feelings that become darker and more violent towards her as the ice closes in. He frequently crosses paths with the Warden, the sometimes-husband but also captor of the young woman, who is always one step ahead. And as the ice closes off almost all paths by land and sea, he is running out of time to catch them up.

The novel reads like a grown-up, nightmarish version of Alice in Wonderland : Kavan takes you on a journey that is hallucinogenic and unsettling, with no regard to whether the narrator is dreaming or awake. But the true genius of the book is its language - depicting a powerful allegory crushing pain of addiction, loneliness and mental illness will do little to cheer you up, but will capture your attention.

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The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin (1969)

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Le Guin alternated between genres during her prolific career, and this intricate novel came out the year after the classic fantasy book A Wizard of Earthsea . The bulk of the action takes place on Winter, a remote Earth-like planet where it’s cold all year round, and everyone is the same gender. It was one of the first novels to touch on ideas of androgyny – which is viewed from the lens of protagonist Genly Ai, a visitor from Earth who struggles to understand this alien culture.

A Scanner Darkly, by Philip K Dick (1977)

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A curious novel that reads less like sci-fi and more like a hallucinated autobiography detailing the author’s struggle with drug addiction. In a near-future California, vice cop Bob Arctor lives undercover with a community of drug addicts hooked on devastating psychoactive dope Substance D. Arctor, who needs to don a special “scramble suit” to hide his face and voice when meeting his fellow cops, has to grapple with gradually losing his sense of self.

Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler (1979)

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Though Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred was published more than 40 years ago, it carries lessons and learnings that we can all still use today. When African-American writer, Dana finds herself transported from 1979 Los Angeles to the pre-Civil War Antebellum south to repeatedly save her white slave-owning ancestor, she must confront the horrendous reality of surviving slavery while not losing her modern day identity. This is only more complicated when she accidentally transports back with her white husband.

The novel explores major themes of power, race and inequality. Butler’s contextualising of this era is devastating; the way in which she contrasts modern day 1979 with the pre-Civil War age offers a different perspective on the complicated and degrading reality of slavery. Kindred allows you, the reader, to engage with the emotional impacts of slavery, something unfortunately often lost in too many of today’s teachings of the subject.

Neuromancer, by William Gibson (1984)

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The definitive cyberpunk novel, William Gibson’s Neuromancer follows hacker-turned-junkie Henry Case as he tries to pull off one last, rather dodgy sounding job in the hope of reversing a toxin that prevents him from accessing cyberspace. Set in a dystopian Japanese underworld, the novel touches on all manner of futuristic technology, from AI to cryonics, and features a cast of creative characters that will stick with you long after you turn the last page.

Consider Phlebas, by Iain Banks (1987)

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Back in 1987, after four acclaimed fiction novels, Iain Banks published his first sci-fi book, Consider Phlebas , a true space opera and his first book of many to feature the Culture, an interstellar utopian society of humanoids, aliens and sentient machines ostensibly run by hyper-intelligent AI "Minds". A war rages across the galaxy with one side fighting for faith, the other a moral right to exist. Banks melds this conflict with something approaching a traditional fantasy quest: the search for a rogue Mind that has hidden itself on a forbidden world in an attempt to evade destruction.

Hyperion, by Dan Simmons (1989)

29 of the Best Science Fiction Books Everyone Should Read

Winner of the 1990 Hugo Award for Best Novel and part of a two-book series, Hyperion is a richly woven sci-fi epic told in the style of The Canterbury Tales . In the world of Hyperion , humanity has spread to thousands of worlds, none more intriguing or dangerous as Hyperion. It's home to the Time Tombs, ageless structures which are mysteriously travelling backward through time, and guarding them is the terrifying creature known as the Shrike. It kills anyone who dares encroach on the Time Tombs and has inspired a fanatical religious group who control pilgrimages to the tombs. On the eve of an invasion, a group of travellers convene what's likely to be the last Shrike pilgrimage and share their tales of what brought them there.

Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton (1990)

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Before it mutated into the mega media franchise “Jurassic World”, Jurassic Park was a smart, thoughtful and gripping sci-fi classic written by Michael Crichton, author of the equally brilliant Andromeda Strain. Crichton's tale remains a great parable about the dangers of genetic engineering, (as well as a slightly heady exploration of chaos theory). His descriptions of dinosaurs are also brilliant, like the T-Rex: "Tim felt a chill, but then, as he looked down the animal's body, moving down from the massive head and jaws, he saw the smaller, muscular forelimb. It waved in the air and then it gripped the fence."

Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson (1992)

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Frantic, fun and almost suspiciously prescient, Snow Crash grabs you from its opening sequence – a high-speed race through an anarchic Los Angeles that has been carved up into corporate-owned ‘burbclaves’ – and barely lets up. The book follows main character Hiro Protagonist (yes, really), an elite hacker and swordsman, as he tries to stop the spread of a dangerous virus being propagated by a religious cult. It combines neurolinguistics, ancient mythology and computer science, and eerily predicts social networks, cryptocurrency and Google Earth.

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Vurt, by Jeff Noon (1993) 

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“Vurt is a feather - a drug, a dimension, a dream state, a virtual reality.” That’s what the back of this 1993 cyberpunk novel reads, and it’s a perfect way into the chaotic and surreal world of Vurt . Set in a gritty future Manchester, Vurt follows the story of Scribble, who’s on a mission to find his sister Desdemona who he believes is trapped inside a feather called Curious Yellow. That’s right, a feather. Vurt is about virtual reality, but not the strapping on a headset kind. Instead, people put feathers into their mouths to visit different dimensions and states of consciousness. Written in a frantic, dark and funny way that makes the action feel like it’s bouncing along beside you, Vurt won the Arthur C. Clarke award in 1994 and has since become a cult classic – although it’s not always easy to find a copy.

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Under The Skin, by Michel Faber (2000)

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Set in Scotland, Under The Skin is about an alien who’s sent to Earth to drug hitchhikers that she then delivers to her home planet. Despite being here to lead people to their deaths, she’s contemplative about Earth and nature. We’re used to considering what an alien visiting Earth for the first time might think about certain things, but the way Faber writes about Isserley’s experiences feels fresh, strange and, at times, oddly beautiful.

At times, Under The Skin is profoundly unnerving and difficult to read. But it’s not gratuitous. Elements of the novel are meant to be satirical, touching on present-day themes of our treatment of each other, animals and the Earth. We also highly recommend Jonathan Glazer’s 2013 movie adaptation, which is loosely based on the book but is a brilliant and intensely dark movie full of haunting imagery and a breath-taking score. 

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Metro 2033, by Dmitry Glukhovsky (2002)

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It’s 2033, and a nuclear apocalypse has forced the rag-tag remains of the human population of Moscow to flee to the underground maze of tunnels below the city. Here they develop independent tribes in each metro station, trade goods and fight against each other. But hidden in the tunnels between the stations hide terrifying flesh-eating mutants and a voice that is driving people mad… This is the premise of Dmitry Glukhovsky’s wildly successful novel, which was later made into a series of video games. Part epic tale, part thriller, the translated story follows a teenager called Artyom, who has to travel to the heart of the Metro through unpredictable dangers to save the remains of humankind. Expect to be shocked.

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Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood (2003)

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While The Handmaid’s Tale describes a world that seems more plausible by the day, in Oryx and Crake Atwood spins a genetically-modified circus of current trends taken to their absolute extreme – a “bio-engineered apocalypse,” is how one reviewer put it. A number of television adaptations have been mooted, including a now-defunct HBO project with Darren Aronofsky, but this might be one to place alongside The Stars My Destination in the impossible-to-adapt file. The world of the book is vibrant, surreal and disturbing enough.

Read more: The best sci-fi movies everyone should watch once

The Three-Body Problem, Liu Cixin (2008)

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Liu Cixin was already one of China’s most revered science fiction writers when, in 2008, he decided to turn his hand to a full-length novel. The Three-Body Problem is the result – an era-spanning novel that jumps between the Cultural Revolution, the present day, and a mysterious video game. The first part of a trilogy, it’s a fascinating departure from the tropes of Western science fiction, and loaded with enough actual science that you might learn something as well as being entertained.

Children of Time, by Adrian Tchaikovsky (2015)

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Children of Time is an epic book about a dying Earth. People are leaving, and there’s a plan to keep some of them safe and the human race flourishing elsewhere. However, things don’t quite pan out how they should. This is a saga of a story spanning many, many generations. That’s a tricky thing to pull off and ensure readers still follow with care and attention. But Adrian Tchaikovsky infuses interest, humanity and authenticity into every character and storyline so well. You’ll find yourself rooting for every new character that comes next – even when they’re only distantly related to the one you met a few chapters ago. The book deals with small interactions and feuds through to huge themes about belief, artificial intelligence, legacy, discovery, alienness and much more. It’s no surprise it won the 2016 Arthur C. Clarke Award. There’s a follow-up called Children of Ruin and (fingers crossed) a possible movie adaptation in the works.

The Martian, by Andy Weir (2015)

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Andy Weir's debut novel literally puts the science into science fiction, packing in tonnes of well-researched detail about life on Mars. There's descriptions of how to fertilise potatoes with your own excrement, and hack a life-support system for a Martian rover – in levels of detail that the movie adaptation starring Matt Damon came nowhere near to reaching. The sassy, pop-culture laden writing style won't be to everyone's taste – this book probably won't get taught in English Literature lessons – but the first-person perspective makes sense for this story of an astronaut stranded on the Red Planet with no way to get home.

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The Heart Goes Last, by Margaret Atwood (2015)

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An odd cocktail of a novel: part techno dystopia, part satire, part sex comedy, part classic Atwood. In a bleak, postlapsarian version of the US, young lovebirds Charmaine and Stan endure a miserable existence sleeping in their car and dodging criminals’ knives. Salvation arrives under the guise of an offer to move to the Positron Project – a gated community modelled after an American 1950s suburb. The rub? All Positron’s couples must spend every other month working in a prison, temporarily swapping homes with another couple, called “alternates”. When both Charmaine and Stan start developing oddball sexual relations with their alternates, things move rapidly south.

The Power, by Naomi Alderman (2016)

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Margaret Atwood also had a hand in this gripping novel, which inverts the premise of The Handmaid’s Tale , and puts women in the ascendancy. Atwood mentored the author, Naomi Alderman, as she wrote this inventive thriller about women and girls discovering a powerful new ability to emit electricity from their hands, up-ending civilisation in different ways across the world. The Power is paced like a television series, and it is, in fact, coming to screens soon via Amazon Studios.

Borne, by Jeff VanderMeer (2017)

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The Annihilation series showcased Jeff VanderMeer's gift for the surreal, and he turns it up a notch in Borne – which starts with an unknown scavenger plucking an object from the fur of a giant flying bear in a post-apocalyptic city, and only gets weirder from there as the main character strikes up a friendship with an intelligent sea anemone-like creature called Borne. The story is, it eventually transpires, one of biotechnology run amok – which makes for the most colourful dystopia you're likely to come across.

Moonrise: The Golden Age of Lunar Adventures, by Mike Ashley (2018)

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Moonrise , from the British Library's Science Fiction Classics series, could just have easily appeared in the 1950s or even the 1900s in this list. It's a brilliantly curated anthology of twelve SF short stories about the moon – getting to it, exploring it, contemplating it – with lunar-inclined fiction from H.G. Wells and Arthur C. Clarke present and correct but also the likes of Judith Merril's 1954 Dead Centre , which distills all the potential tragedies of space programs into just a handful of haunting images. From author and science fiction historian Mike Ashley.

Exhalation, by Ted Chiang (2019) 

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Exhalation is a book of short stories rather than a novel, but hear us out. Ted Chiang is a fantastic science-fiction writer who weaves real science and theory into his tales. This makes them feel somehow part of this world despite dealing with a range of classic sci-fi themes, including parallel realities, robot pets and time travel. 

From a circular time travelling portal in ancient Baghdad to a device that allows you to meet your parallel self that you can trade-in at a local store in the present day, it’s glorious science-fiction filled with wonder and mystery. There are stories and ideas nestled in Exhalation’s pages that stick with you long after you’ve finished reading. Chiang has breathed life into the science-fiction genre, creating stories that feel refreshing and human rather than concerning distant worlds and ideas that can lead to a disconnect. This is evident in his short story Story of Your Life , the source material for Denis Villeneuve's Arrival .

The Resisters, by Gish Jen (2020)

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A speculative dystopia set in an 'Auto America', Gish Jen's The Resisters , which was published in early 2020, puts the sport of baseball – of all the things – at the centre of her world, which is divided into people who still get to have jobs, the Netted, as in 'Aunt Nettie', as in the internet, and the rest: the Surplus. The story centres on Gwen, who comes from a Surplus family but who has the chance to rise in status when her baseball skills get attention, with Jen taking on surveillance culture and the value of work and leisure.

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50 Science Fiction Books That’ll Transport You to a Different Place and Time

Sarah Jinee Park

If you're a bookworm with an affinity for wormholes (or other science fiction faves), these are the best sci-fi books for you

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Out-of-this-world science fiction books

Science fiction explores both the most wondrous and darkest possibilities of our world. Tracing back to Mary Shelley’s 1818 Frankenstein , the genre has been entertaining readers young and old for more than 200 years. The best sci-fi books ask “what if” questions about our societies, species and existence as a whole. What if an element of today’s society became dangerously exaggerated? What if we had to defend our world against aliens? What if life as we know it isn’t really real?

While science fiction and fantasy books often overlap, sci-fi generally abides by scientific logic, whereas fantasy tends to include elements of magic instead. What some call hard science fiction has a focus on natural sciences like biology, chemistry and astrophysics, while soft science fiction emphasizes social sciences like psychology, politics and sociology. The best sci-fi books, however, blend innovative technological elements with subsequent social ramifications.

We’ve compiled 50 of the best sci-fi books everyone should read, including titles that have remained relevant through the years, books that have been lauded by critics and readers alike, series that have been turned into films and TV shows, and newer page-turners that have created buzz and landed on bestseller lists. Here, you’ll find some of the best books of all time , LGBTQ books , mysteries and classic works of fiction . And of course, no compilation of the best science fiction books would be complete without dystopian books and time travel books to blow your mind.

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The Wormwood Trilogy By Tade Thompson

1. The Wormwood Trilogy by Tade Thompson

Begin your adventure in the Wormwood Trilogy universe with the first book, Rosewater , winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. Published in 2016 and set in 2066, this cyberpunk near-future imagining of Nigeria and the “xenosphere” bends minds and genres. An alien biodome said to have healing powers draws the unwell, who set up on its margins in a town called Rosewater. Kaaro, our narrator, has been recruited by the government for his telepathic powers, but soon others with these powers start to die of a mysterious sickness. Exploring alien contact, government conspiracies and a paranormal plane, this book will send you places you’ve never been. Good news if you enjoy Rosewater : The story continues with its sequels, The Rosewater Insurrection and The Rosewater Redemption . Be sure to check out our list of other books by Black authors .

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2. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin was a prolific writer of both sci-fi and fantasy whose long list of accolades includes six Nebula Awards and seven Hugo Awards. Technically, her celebrated 1969 novel, The Left Hand of Darkness , is part of a series called the Hainish Cycle (sometimes called the Novels of Ekumen). While sharing a universe, each book in the series stands alone, so we’re spotlighting this standout story as one of the best sci-fi books ever written. For readers interested in anthropology, philosophy and societal inquiry, Le Guin writes with great depth on themes ahead of her time. Her skillful storytelling brings humanity to the forefront, and her exploration of a planet where gender is fluid challenged the gender norms of the 1960s and remains relevant to gender discussions today. Plus, in a genre saturated with male authors, it’s noteworthy that one of the greats is a female author . For more women authors, check out these feminist books .

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3. The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Bestselling author Silvia Moreno-Garcia (you may have read her Mexican Gothic or Velvet Was the Night ) brings Latina feminist magic to the literary world yet again, with this 2022 dreamy reimagining of H.G. Wells’s 1896 sci-fi horror classic The Island of Doctor Moreau . Transported to the lush jungles of 1871 Yucatán, readers still get Wells’s mad scientist and his animal-human hybrid experiments, this time from the perspective of his daughter, Carlota, who considers the creatures her family. And while there’s a passionate romance woven into the tale as well, the story also provides commentary on the real-life social inequity and strife present in Mexico at the time. Whether you’ve read the original or not, The Daughter of Doctor Moreau proves that the best sci-fi books can take classic tales to the next level. This is the perfect read for historical fiction lovers and anyone searching for more books by Latinx authors .

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4. Dead Silence by S.A. Barnes

It doesn’t have to be spooky season to enjoy horror books ! If you loved the film Event Horizon or the video game Dead Space , S.A. Barnes’s 2022 novel Dead Silence is a heart-pounding space horror-thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat. A salvage crew led by Claire Kovalik responds to a distress signal and finds a luxury space liner that will set her crew up for life … but the ghost ship ends up being much more than she bargained for. What Barnes does incredibly well in this sci-fi book is remind readers how terrifying and expansive space truly is—a small miscalculation can cost you everything, and no one can hear you scream.

The Remembrance Of Earths Past Series By Liu Cixin

5. The Remembrance of Earth’s Past series by Cixin Liu

Whether you refer to it as The Three-Body Problem series or the Remembrance of Earth’s Past series, this is one of the best sci-fi book series out there. It begins with The Three-Body Problem , which won literary awards in China when it was published in 2008. In 2014, it was translated into English by Ken Liu and promptly won a Hugo Award, making Cixin Liu the first Asian author to win the prestigious Best Novel prize. The complex story weaves a tale of Chinese history, science and alien warfare. Set on earth at the brink of an invasion, the book portrays mankind fracturing in its different approaches to the impending danger. It’s currently being adapted for Netflix, but there’s no release date yet, so you still have time to read the books before binge-watching the show.

The Marrow Thieves Series By Cherie Dimaline

6. The Marrow Thieves series by Cherie Dimaline

Part of another book series that’s being adapted for television, The Marrow Thieves (2017) and Hunting by Stars (2021) explore a future in which the environment is in peril and natural occurrences we once took for granted are no longer possible. People have become unable to dream, with the exception of Indigenous North Americans, who hold the ability in their bone marrow. As dreamlessness leads to madness, “recruiters” will stop at nothing to forcefully take Indigenous peoples’ marrow. We follow a group of young friends navigating a world in which they are hunted, and with them, we ponder themes of displacement, ancestry and environmental ruin. Written by a member of the Metis Nation of Ontario, this is one Native American book you don’t want to miss.

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7. Upgrade by Blake Crouch

Blake Crouch’s sci-fi thrillers (including Dark Matter and Recursion ) always keep readers on the edge of their seats while keeping close focus on compelling characters you actually care about. His latest is no exception: Upgrade was one of the most-anticipated books of the year. In this action-packed read, Jason Bourne–esque protagonist Logan Ramsay learns his genome has been hacked and he’s becoming stronger, faster and smarter. The same will happen to the rest of the world, but at a terrible, unethical cost, and Logan must race to stop it from happening. Sleek and fast-paced, Upgrade hints at the very plausible future of genetic engineering, where our very humanity is endangered.

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8. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

What if you and your loved ones never had to get sick again? And how far would you be willing to go to make that happen? Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (2005) is a heartbreaking, philosophical rumination on what it means to be human. In this dystopian alternate world where clones are farmed for organs, every moment is precious and poignant for the clones, who fight to prove their humanity. Shortlisted for the 2005 Booker Prize and winner of the 2006 Arthur C. Clarke Award, the book was adapted into a movie in 2010 starring Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield.

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9. This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

This extraordinarily beautiful epistolary novel follows Red and Blue, two post-human rival spies who travel through space and time to alter history so that their respective factions can win the eternal time war. In a story reminiscent of Killing Eve , the women try to outsmart each other, leaving secret messages as taunts—but somewhere along the way, they fall in love. Don’t confuse this for a romance novel , though; it’s firmly science fiction. Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone write their respective perspectives in lyrical form, their exquisitely thought-provoking poetry elevating this to one of the best sci-fi books of all time. Winner of the Nebula Award for Best Novella in 2019 and the 2020 Hugo Award for Best Novella, This Is How You Lose the Time War will absolutely steal your breath away.

Exhalation By Ted Chiang

10. Exhalation by Ted Chiang

Ted Chiang is a celebrated writer known for packing tons of sci-fi brilliance into brief and beautiful stories. The Oscar-nominated film Arrival is based on a short story from his previous collection, Stories of Your Life and Others . The success of that first collection made Exhalation (2019) a national bestseller and a New York Times Best Book of the Year. The nine stories in this book explore futurism, free will and artificial intelligence, among many other nuanced themes. Rather than relying on thrill and flash, Chiang is a deep thinker who opens our minds with the worlds he creates.

Dune By Frank Herbert

11. Dune by Frank Herbert

This 1965 classic is back in vogue, thanks to the 2021 Academy Award–winning sci-fi film adaptation starring Timothée Chalamet and Oscar Isaac. It never really fell out of favor, though, selling millions of copies since its first print run and winning the Hugo Award and Nebula Award. The story takes place in the year 10,191 on the planet Dune, the most valuable planet in Herbert’s lushly imaginative universe. Lauded as the precursor to George Lucas’s Star Wars , Dune includes the stuff of sci-fi and fantasy magic: heart-pounding action, an iconic fictional world and a main character who is very human in an inhuman universe. Read closely, and you’ll probably spot some similarities between the worlds of Dune and Star Wars .

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12. The Candy House by Jennifer Egan

Written by the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of A Visit from the Goon Squad , The Candy House is a dazzling and brilliant 2022 stand-alone novel set in the same world. It imagines the next iteration of social media: a revolutionary technology that externalizes consciousness into a cube and allows you to access and share your memories. While it can address dementia and amnesia, help solve crimes and even help you find where you left your keys, what results is a shared consciousness where everyone can access one another’s memories—whether they consent or not. Author Jennifer Egan explores the ramifications of this technology on different people’s lives. Each narrator has their own distinct voice, which keeps The Candy House engaging and unique.

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13. Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

From the bestselling author of The Glass Hotel and Station Eleven comes Sea of Tranquility , an epic that spans centuries, civilizations and worlds. If Station Eleven was Emily St. John Mandel’s pandemic novel—one that captured the hearts of millions of readers and, later, viewers with its 2021 HBO Max television adaptation — Sea of Tranquility is the 2022 answer to it, deconstructing the concept of time, death and reality altogether. The story weaves together the lives of a teenage exile in the Canadian wilderness in 1912, a writer from a moon colony on a book tour on earth in 2203 and a detective in Night City in 2401, piecing it all together. Through serene passages and poignant, beautiful prose, the novel explores simulation theory, time travel and the human condition. If you’re a fan of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas , Sea of Tranquility is the perfect sci-fi book for you.

The Ender Saga By Orson Scott Card

14. The Ender Saga by Orson Scott Card

In 1985, Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game opened a new world to science fiction fans: the world of his young hero’s genius mind. It’s a high-stakes, militaristic twist on sci-fi and one welcomed by those who enjoy reading historical fiction and novels about war. Ender’s Game won both a Hugo and Nebula award and was followed by Speaker for the Dead , Xenocide , Children of the Mind and, in 2008, Ender in Exile .

Fahrenheit 451 By Ray Bradbury

15. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury never set out to be one of the best science fiction authors of all time. He categorized himself as a fantasy and horror writer, two genres well represented in the bestselling 1953 book Fahrenheit 451 . The book is about pursuing reading and education in a society that has banned books . Though it’s been almost seven decades since its publication, the book remains relevant amid today’s rise in book banning .

Annihilation Vandermeer

16. Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

One of those books you’ll absolutely finish in a single sitting, the first of the Southern Reach trilogy is a master class in tension. A team of four women—a biologist, anthropologist, psychologist and surveyor—are assigned to explore the mysterious, abandoned Area X, where expeditions for the past 30 years have failed due to disappearances, suicides and cancer. As the team slowly loses its members and experiences stranger and stranger encounters, the mystery only deepens. Winner of the 2014 Nebula Award and 2014 Shirley Jackson Award for best novel, Annihilation was adapted into a film directed by Alex Garland and starring Natalie Portman and Oscar Isaac.

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17. Drunk on All Your Strange New Words by Eddie Robson

Set in a post-contact, near-future New York City, Drunk on All Your Strange New Words is a 2022 murder mystery in which aliens walk among us and no one bats an eye. These peaceful aliens communicate telepathically, and human interpreters, such as charming protagonist Lydia, must translate what they’re saying into English. But as the title suggests, the caveat is that these interpreters actually get drunk as a side effect of processing the alien language. When Lydia gets accused of murdering one of the aliens and threatening intergalactic peace, she must solve this whodunit to prove her innocence while keeping her wits about her. Robson’s creative world-building and witty dialogue keep the book fun and fast-paced, a welcome break from some of the heavier themes in the sci-fi genre.

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18. Tell Me an Ending by Jo Harkin

If you could delete any specific unwanted memory, which would you choose? Black Mirror meets Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in Jo Harkin’s 2022 novel, in which four people learn they once partook in this memory-removal process. As Noor, the psychologist at the clinic that deleted the memories, works with these individuals to restore what they lost, readers peek into the windows of their lives and learn what may drive people to purposefully forget. Tell Me an Ending is a fascinating rumination on the power of memory, asking who we are without our memories and what we do to our psyches when we try to erase our traumas instead of confronting them.

Snow Crash By Neal Stephenson

19. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Neal Stephenson is known for complex plots and sci-fi books of great length. (His 2008 book, Anathem , is 937 pages!) At 480 pages, Snow Crash doesn’t ask for quite as large a commitment. Published in 1992, the novel takes on a plethora of topics, from archaeology and anthropology to cryptography and computers (it did, after all, coin the term metaverse ). The book is a self-aware take on science fiction, with a hero named Hiro who is both a pizza delivery guy and a virtual warrior prince. Snow Crash landed on Time ‘s list of the 100 best English-language novels, and we can see why.

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20. The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin

A heavyweight in the science fiction genre, N.K. Jemisin has written a library of stellar sci-fi books. But The Broken Earth trilogy, a sci-fi and fantasy series blend, is truly not to be missed. Beginning with The Fifth Season in 2015 and continuing through The Obelisk Gate and The Stone Sky , the series starts with the end of the world and doesn’t let up for a moment. Though grim, the story of a far future is laced with hope and bursting with imagination. Jemisin masterfully touches on themes of power, identity and hope in dark times. And in an amazing (and history making) feat, she won a Hugo award three years in a row, one for each book in this series.

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21. The Memory Librarian: And Other Stories of Dirty Computer by Janelle Monáe

From the innovative mind of acclaimed singer-songwriter and actor—and now New York Times bestselling author—Janelle Monáe, The Memory Librarian is an Afrofuturist cyberpunk short story anthology set in the world of her 2018 Grammy-nominated album Dirty Computer and the short film of the same name. We recommend listening to Monáe’s album and watching the short film to immerse yourself in the full experience of her world. These short stories, written in collaboration with Yohanca Delgado, Eve L. Ewing, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Danny Lore and Sheree Renée Thomas, center and celebrate their Black, queer and feminist characters as they break free of a totalitarian society and create their own empowering narratives.

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22. Eversion by Alastair Reynolds

Renowned space opera writer Alastair Reynolds (Arthur C. Clarke Award nominee for his Revelation Space series) has a PhD in astrophysics, and it not only makes his hard science fiction plausible but also accurately conveys the many dangers of space. Eversion is an absolutely mind-bending and gorgeously written stand-alone novel in which time seems to fold in on itself. Part historical fiction, part steampunk and part space adventure, the 2022 novel follows Doctor Silas Coade through space and time as he and his crew investigate a mysterious alien artifact. And while it may not be as epic or sprawling as some of his previous writing, it’s arguably more of an emotionally compelling, character-driven page-turner.

The Space Odyssey Series By Arthur C. Clarke

23. Space Odyssey series by Arthur C. Clarke

Most people are familiar with 2001: A Space Odyssey , but you may not know that it’s the first part of a four-book series. Published in 1968, 2001: A Space Odyssey is a mesmerizing trip through the solar system. So iconic that it is nearly synonymous with sci-fi, this story further solidified its place in our minds with the Stanley Kubrick film that was released in tandem. The sweeping novel manages to stay relatable while also tackling big topics, like evolution, the vastness of the universe and technology’s unwieldy dangers. Hal 9000 became arguably the most famous and chilling artificial intelligence character in literature or film.

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24. Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

Navigating between 15th-century Constantinople, present-day Idaho and an interstellar ship in the future, 2022’s Cloud Cuckoo Land seems like a random collection of stories at first. But Anthony Doerr (the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of All the Light We Cannot See ) manages to connect all his characters’ stories, building layer upon layer of beautiful complexity until you get a testament to the resilience of the human spirit.

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25. Station Eternity by Mur Lafferty

Murder mysteries are always thrilling, keeping you guessing the killer and motive until the very end, but Mallory Viridian, an amateur sleuth who seems to attract murder wherever she goes, is sick of them. In fact, she’s so sick of getting caught up in these murders that she goes to a sentient space station where she’s one of only three humans. As you can guess, a murder mystery unfolds anyway, and it’s up to Mallory to figure it out. Published in 2022, Station Eternity fully leans into the absurdity of its fun plot, and it’s a wild ride from start to finish.

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26. Neuromancer by William Gibson

With Netflix’s critically acclaimed series Cyberpunk: Edgerunners , based on the video game, there’s been a renewed interest in the cyberpunk genre. William Gibson’s 1984 novel Neuromancer  basically invented the book genre and is widely recognized as one of the best sci-fi books of all time. The first novel ever to win the Hugo, Nebula and Philip K. Dick awards, the book went on to inspire Ghost in the Shell , Cowboy Bebop , The Matrix and so many, many more. The premise? Case, a washed-up hacker in dystopian Chiba City, gets a commission for the job to end all jobs and finds himself drawn into the complex web of cyberspace, as well as biotechnology, artificial intelligence and evil corporations.

Ready Player One Series By Ernest Cline

27. Ready Player One series by Ernest Cline

What makes Ready Player One so frightening and enthralling is that it’s set in the very near future, one that seems just on the horizon. In the story, protagonist Wade Watts blurs the lines between the real world and virtual reality —the metaverse, anyone?—as he searches for a hidden fortune that could turn his life around forever. This thrilling bestseller keeps readers on the edge of their seats, wondering if Wade will find the game’s Easter egg before his rivals find him first. If you’re a fan of the first book, which was published in 2011, you’ll fly through the sequel, Ready Player Two . And while it pales in comparison to the books, the 2018 film adaptation, directed by Steven Spielberg, is worth a watch.

Warcross Series By Marie Lu

28. Warcross series by Marie Lu

Like Ready Player One , this 2017 sci-fi series by No. 1 New York Times bestselling author Marie Lu centers around a game with real-life consequences. The game is Warcross, an international obsession where money can be made but security is compromised. Our protagonist is Emika Chen, a teen hacker and bounty hunter who is about to be thrust into dangerous circumstances. Fans of game-based sci-fi and the anime/Netflix show Cowboy Bebop will find the world and stakes of Warcross thrilling and irresistible. Like Lu’s Young Elites and Legend series, the Warcross series is a collection of young adult novels that’ll appeal to adult readers who love to be swept up in a great story.

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29. All Systems Red by Martha Wells

“I could have become a mass murderer after I hacked my governor module, but then I realized I could access the combined feed of entertainment channels carried on the company satellites,” says Murderbot, the endearingly sarcastic, antisocial cyborg protagonist of Martha Wells’s 2017 novella All Systems Red . In this hilarious book , Murderbot is a security unit on a scientific space expedition. It’s sentient, and it would much rather watch TV than do its job or have to be around humans. It’s no wonder the book won the 2018 Hugo Award for Best Novella, 2018 Nebula Award for Best Novella, 2018 Alex Award and 2018 Locus Award. The epitome of #relatable, Murderbot will definitely have you in stitches.

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30. How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu

Have tissues handy as you read How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu, because this book will make you cry . Told through vignettes in an apocalyptic, post-pandemic world, this 2022 novel highlights the tender moments of love and beauty that peek through the sidewalk cracks of an otherwise bleak life: a catastrophic archaeology site in Siberia, an amusement park filled with dying children, funerary skyscrapers. Intimate and compassionate, each of Nagamatsu’s stories pierces through themes of death and grief with hope.

1984 By George Orwell

31. 1984 by George Orwell

Written in 1949, George Orwell’s classic 1984 was perhaps his most dystopian novel—and it was also the author’s last. Despite time marching past the titular year, sci-fi fans argue the book is still relevant and one of the best sci-fi books ever written. There’s a chilling familiarity to Orwell’s descriptions of Big Brother, and high school English teachers all over the country enjoy sparking class discussions over parallels between the totalitarian regime in 1984 and political issues of today.

The Foundation Series By Isaac Asimov

32. The Foundation series by Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series snagged the one and only Best All-Time Series Hugo Award in 1966. Its seven books span 550 years and can be read in order or as stand-alone stories. The first book in the series, Foundation (1951), brings us to the Galactic Empire as it’s falling. Hari Seldon, founder of a science called psychohistory that can predict future societal patterns, sees impending doom. He gathers the brightest thinkers to live on a planet together to create a new future, but can they stop what his psychohistory predicts? If you enjoy the book, catch the immersive Apple TV+ show .

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33. The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi

Bestselling sci-fi writer John Scalzi is back at it again, this time with giant radioactive Godzilla-like dinosaurs—during the COVID-19 pandemic! Nominated for the 2022 Dragon Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, The Kaiju Preservation Society features Jamie, a New York City food delivery driver during lockdown who takes on a field job at an animal rights organization. What he doesn’t expect is to get transported to an alternate dimension with massive creatures called Kaiju, where there are even greater threats to earth than the pandemic itself.

The Machineries Of Empire Trilogy By Yoon Ha Lee

34. The Machineries of Empire trilogy by Yoon Ha Lee

New York Times bestselling author Yoon Ha Lee brings us a trilogy that mixes military sci-fi with space opera. Read the books in order, starting with Ninefox Gambit and following with Raven Stratagem and then Revenant Gun. At the helm of the first story is Captain Kel Cheris, a disgraced leader who must partner with an unpredictable (and undead) general in order to gain redemption. Winner of a Locus Award and nominated for Hugo, Nebula and Arthur C. Clarke awards, Ninefox Gambit will have you hooked on the whole series. Want more of the undead? Take a bite out of one of these vampire books .

The Hitchhiker S Guide To The Galaxy Series By Douglas Adams Via Bookshop Org Ecomm

35. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams

No list of best sci-fi books is complete without The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy , a 1979 classic that was later made into a film starring Martin Freeman and Mos Def as Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect, the beloved duo of galactic travelers. It’s the book that taught us that time is an illusion, the significance of the number 42 and what defines a learning experience. If you enjoy the first book, there are five others: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe ; Life, the Universe and Everything ; So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish ; Mostly Harmless ; and And Another Thing (written by Eoin Colfer).

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36. Ocean’s Echo by Everina Maxwell

Set in the same world as her debut enemies-to-lovers romance , Winter’s Orbit , Everina Maxwell’s 2022 stand-alone novel, Ocean’s Echo , is the queer military space opera you never knew you needed. Opposites collide and inevitably attract as neuromodified soldiers Tennal, a rebellious socialite who can read minds, and Surit, a dutiful officer who can control them, get bound together and drawn into political intrigue. Come for the gay romance, stay for the ambitious world-building and epic space battles.

Severance By Ling Ma

37. Severance by Ling Ma

After living through a pandemic, you might think Ling Ma’s 2018 book about a worldwide epidemic would hit too close to home. But Severance is a post-apocalyptic satire, a humorous and quirky take on our routines and what they can do to us. Candace Chen is a millennial woman so focused on the minutiae of office life that she barely notices when a fever of epic proportions wipes out New York. Her survival (and the future of humanity) depends on what she does next. On more than a dozen lists of the best fiction books of the year and winner of multiple awards, including the Kirkus Prize for Fiction, Severance explores the experience of immigrants in America, challenges capitalist notions and makes us immensely grateful for what we have.

The Sixth World Series By Rebecca Roanhorse

38. The Sixth World series by Rebecca Roanhorse

In the Sixth World series, created by New York Times bestselling author Rebecca Roanhorse, everything below 3,500 feet of elevation is submerged in water after an environmental disaster. In Dinétah, what was once a Navajo reservation, a post-apocalyptic rebirth has opened the door for spirits and monsters from the past to roam. Maggie Hoskie, a monster hunter, is called on to fight and find truth. So far, there are two books set in this world. Start with the award-winning Trail of Lightning (2018), a story that will have you pondering how we treat earth, the limits of technology and our inner demons. Get great books like this each month by signing up for one of these book subscription boxes .

Liliths Brood By Octavia E. Butler

39. Lilith’s Brood by Octavia E. Butler

Lilith’s Brood is a collection of three novels by the unparalleled Octavia E. Butler, who in 1995 was the first sci-fi author to win the MacArthur “genius” grant. Set in a time when humanity and earth have been destroyed, readers awaken with Lilith Iyapo to learn that an alien race called the Oankali is resurrecting the remains of humans. What follows is a merging of species in order for humanity to survive, a hybridization that some humans cannot accept. Themes of social hierarchy and what it means to be human are explored in these three groundbreaking books: Dawn (1987), Adulthood Rites (1988) and Imago (1989).

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40. The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan

In a social media–obsessed world in which everyone is ready to whip out their smartphone, record and judge, the pressure to be a perfect parent increases tenfold. In her 2022 New York Times bestseller, The School for Good Mothers , Jessamine Chan plays on that anxiety. Chan has crafted a dystopian society in which mothers are not only scrutinized but can also be sentenced to governmental reform programs that help them become “good” parents. After making one bad decision, single mother Frida Liu loses custody of her daughter and has to spend a year in the school to win her back. What results is a sobering but thought-provoking social commentary on motherhood, misogyny and racial inequality. You’ll want to follow this one up with some other mother-daughter books .

Riot Baby By Tochi Onyebuchi

41. Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi

Winner of the 2020 New England Book Award for Fiction and a finalist for Hugo, Nebula, Locus and World Fantasy awards, Riot Baby is the adult fiction debut of popular YA novelist Tochi Onyebuchi. In it, we follow siblings Ella and Kev, born during the riots following Rodney King’s beating and the acquittal of the offending officers. These siblings grow up with a desire to protect each other: Ella wants to protect Kev as he grows into a young Black man in America. Kev wants to protect Ella from the mysterious and growing powers she has. In vivid scenes and searing moments that jump through time, we follow this family story that grapples with systemic racism , loss of innocence and the impossibly hard choices that come with having powers no one else does. At only 176 pages, it’s a short book, but one that will leave you breathless.

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42. We Are Satellites by Sarah Pinsker

When it comes to technological advancement, there are three types of people: those who jump at the chance to try the latest, those who reluctantly follow when they feel obligated to adapt and those who wholly reject it altogether. Sarah Pinsker’s We Are Satellites explores the human cost of a brain-enhancing implant from those three perspectives, as well as a fascinating fourth one we don’t often consider. A moving family drama at heart, a sci-fi book like this feels even closer to reality these days, not so much posing a “what if” but an inevitable “when.”

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43. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

The first of the Binti series , Nnedi Okorafor’s 2015 Afrofuturist space novella won multiple prominent literary awards, including the 2016 Hugo Award and the 2016 Nebula Award for Best Novella, and it’s reportedly being adapted into a Hulu television series . The eponymous protagonist is the first of her people on earth to get accepted into a prestigious intergalactic university, and that’s a big deal. “We Himba don’t travel,” she tells readers. “We stay put. Our ancestral land is life; move away from it and you diminish. We even cover our bodies with it. … Here, in the launch port … I was an outsider; I was outside.” While in transit, Binti gets caught in an inter-species war, and she must rely on her courage and intelligence, as well as her people’s ancient practices, to survive.

Space Trilogy By C.s. Lewis

44. Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis is best known for The Chronicles of Narnia , a series of children’s books in the fantasy genre. But his sci-fi work has also been widely read and celebrated. Out of the Silent Planet (1938) marks the first chapter in the author’s Space Trilogy , followed by Perelandra (1943) and That Hideous Strength (1945). In this interplanetary tale of mythological proportions, we follow Dr. Ransom as he explores new worlds. Lewis was more a scholar of theology than science, making some of the scientific possibilities in his work questionable but bringing a depth of thought and meaning that can be rare in the genre.

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45. Light Years from Home by Mike Chen

Mike Chen’s 2022 novel, Light Years from Home , is less about an epic impending intergalactic war—although there’s some of that too—and more about the quiet family drama that ensues when a father and son disappear and then return claiming they were abducted by aliens. Intimate and at times heartbreaking, the character-driven story follows the perspectives of Jakob, who believes the fate of the galaxy rests on his shoulders, and his sisters, Kass and Evie, who cannot agree on whether he’s telling the truth or mentally ill. Don’t expect too much science in this particular sci-fi—it’s light on that. But it does pose the central question that many of the best sci-fi books ask: What would you do?

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46. T he Time Machine by H.G. Wells

A pioneer of science fiction writing, H.G. Wells wrote sci-fi classics like War of the Worlds and our favorite, The Time Machine . Both were adapted into films, and both have withstood the test of time. The Time Machine was written in 1895 and includes several of the best sci-fi book themes, like out-of-control technology, a dystopian future and post-apocalyptic human conflict. If this appeals to you, pair your reading with one of these time travel movies that will make you question everything.


47. January Fifteenth by Rachel Swirsky

Universal basic income is a hot topic these days, with the argument that all citizens should have the basic right to a livable income. In Nebula Award–winning author Rachel Swirsky’s 2022 novel January Fifteenth , we see this interesting “what if” scenario play out: All Americans get paid on the same day. The book explores the perspectives of different women from different socioeconomic backgrounds—young and old, rich or poor—and offers insight into this alternate world.

At's Cradle By Kurt Vonnegut

48. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

Science fiction fans are divided on whether or not Kurt Vonnegut’s lauded 1963 book fits neatly within the genre, but many critics agree that this is his best work. The post-apocalyptic world of Cat’s Cradle focuses on the decidedly sci-fi conflict of technology and chemical warfare. It’s also darkly humorous and at times absurd, following a first-person narrator who sets out to write about one of the creators of the atomic bomb and ends up interviewing a host of strange characters. The way it tackles themes of not only science but also religion makes it a good pick for fans of satire and cultural criticism.

The Martian By Andy Weir

49. The Martian by Andy Weir

This wildly popular 2011 novel was adapted into a movie starring Matt Damon in 2015. Even if you’ve already seen the film, the book is worth a read. Much of its humor and voice come through the journal entries of our protagonist, left for dead on Mars with no companions and few resources. Through ingenuity, hope and sheer will to survive, he must figure out how to be the first human living on Mars. Themes of isolation and resilience are strong, which sounds sobering, but The Martian manages to also be riveting and funny. For anyone interested in space, science and a high-stakes human journey, this book won’t disappoint.

Old Man's War Series By John Scalzi

50. Old Man’s War series by John Scalzi

For fans of military sci-fi, there is no greater series than this six-book collection, which starts with Old Man’s War , published in 2005. The books take place in a universe in which habitable planets are scarce and aliens battle one another for a place to live. We follow 75-year-old John Perry, who has just joined the army and has no idea what’s in store for him. Finalist for a Hugo Award and a highly rated book on Goodreads (it has nearly 180,000 ratings and 4.23 stars), Old Man’s War will give you both high-stakes battles and tender moments as Perry reflects on his late wife.

Additional reporting by Tria Wen.

Sarah Jinee Park

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The Book Haven

For the retro reader, 10 bestselling science fiction books of all time.

science fiction art

Science fiction is a rather interesting realm. It is doubtful if SF is a part of the elite literary stuff, but it undeniably has a loyal and fairly broad fan base. Classic SF books have always made significant impact on the readers and a lot of them have sneaked into bestseller lists. SF gurus like H.G wells, Jules Verne, Arthur C. Clarke, Frank Herbert and others are widely considered among the best of writers.

In 1932, Aldous Huxley in his Brave New World envisioned a terrifying world where individualism is treated with hatred. A decade later a new generation of talented writers (Bradbury, Heinlein, and Asimov to name a few) stumbled upon public consciousness, and the golden age of science fiction began.

Estimated sales figures for SF books, particularly the older ones, are rather foggy.  The following list is a combination of sales, awards, and the magnitude of influence on the readers . Here is the controversial best of “alien invasions”, “man and machine” and “in a galaxy far, far away”:

stranger on a strange land heinlein

H.G Wells wrote about malicious Martians attacking our planet. The concept got a surprisingly innovative treatment from Heinlein. Michael Smith is born during a mission to Mars and raised there by the inhabitants of the planet. Mike returns to Earth one day. What happens next?

dune frank herbert

The epic tale of power struggle in Arrakis — the desert planet. Dune, which intrigues the readers even half a decade after its publication, is one of the most influential works of the genre. The book was followed by several other sequels.

2001 a space odyssey arthur c clarke

Clarke’s Legendary Science Fiction novel, written concurrently with his screenplay for the film, is an unforgettable trip to the mysteries of the universe. This subversive, mind boggling tale encompasses human evolution, the perils of technology, and the magnitude of the universe. Widely recognized as a timeless classic.

best selling science fiction books all time

Inspired lunacy. If you are not humoured by The HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, then you’re probably the reason that human beings are behind mice and dolphin in terms of intelligence. So long, and thanks for all the fish!

best selling science fiction books all time

In one of the most acclaimed SF book ever written, Bradbury describes a frightening world where books and independence of thought are prohibited. The very meaning of life is in question. Fahrenheit 451 was made into a movie by François Truffaut.

o androids dream of electric sheep philip k dick

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick (Nebula Award Winner)

In case you didn’t know, this is Harrison Ford’s cult classic — Blade Runner. It tells the story of a bounty hunter on a quest to kill eight androids. This post-apocalyptic novel is possibly Dick’s best known work.

foundation asimov

One of the best grand masters of SF came up with one of the most sublime achievements in the history of the genre. Foundation delineates an attempt to save mankind from a corrupt empire by building a vast encyclopaedia of knowledge.  The seven books in the series have taken SF literature to new heights.

Child prodigies hired to smash malevolent aliens in zero-gravity environments. An ultra cool concept by Card that works on multiple levels. Ender’s game was a huge success with readers of all ages.

childhood's end arthur c clarke

Giant air vessels appear from outer space and hover over all major cities on Earth. Over generations, the aliens/overlords solve human problems like hunger and crime, but they seem to have a purpose. What is it? Described as unsettling, pessimistic and deeply insightful, this book will leave a permanent impression on you.

gateway frederik pohl

Gateway by Frederik Pohl (Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and John W. Campbell Award Winner)

Humans have discovered relics from an alien civilization, which include numerous space ships. The lead character goes out on one of the space ships to bring back something worthwhile. On his third trip, he is rewarded, but it leaves him mentally wrecked for something happens during his journey. A creative story that won overwhelming critical acclaim.

Honorable mentions:

What’s your pick? Which one do you think is the most underrated/overrated SF novel?

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23 thoughts on “ 10 bestselling science fiction books of all time ”.

How about Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed? You have any idea how it sold?

The Dispossessed was a best seller, but as per my sources, it didn’t make it to the top ten list. At best, I found it at no. 56 in one of the statistical charts.

SILAS CAGE When an alien crashed on earth, he realizes the crash was not by accident, but part of a plot to conquer the inhabitants of the planet. DREADLINE Following the events of “SILAS CAGE”, a boy and his father battle through a horde of mindless mutated humans to make it to the Washington Monument for the evacuation of earth. ENTRANCE In the beginning of the end of the world, Benjamin Stewart on his way home survived a freak plane crash. Stranded on a strange and unfriendly desert with other survivors, he struggles to make his way back home.

I am extremely impressed with your writing skills as well as with the layout on your weblog. Is this a paid theme or did you modify it yourself? Either way, it’s rare to see a nice blog like this these days.

Great list. Overlaps heavily with my favorite list here-

Thank you for your comment. Yes, our lists are quite similar.

No DUNE by Frank Herbert ?

Dune is the second entry from the top.

What about Hyperion? 🙂

No doubt one of the best and deserves to be on the list. Just that you can’t fit them all.

Great list!

Hi, I was just wondering if you could point me in the direction of the sources you used to make this list? I’m only asking because I’m doing a college project similar to what you’ve written here. Would be a big help as I’m struggling to find much.

Hello, Publishers Weekly, Telegraph and Washington Post has articles on best selling / Top SF books list on their website. You can Google to find more links.

Wild Seed, Octavia Butler Clay’s Ark, Octavia Butler Forge of God, Greg Bear

All good stuff.

Darwin’s Radio

Mars series seem to be overlooked on the list of best sci fi novels

Mars series was very popular indeed, however, it did not sell enough copies to make it to top 10 list of all time.

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I agree with every factor that you have pointed out. Thank you for sharing your beautiful thoughts on this.

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The 50 Best Sci-Fi Books of All Time

Plenty of imitators have tried to match the heights of our No.1, but none have come close.

best selling science fiction books all time

Since time immemorial, mankind has been looking up at the stars and dreaming, but it was only centuries ago that we started turning those dreams into fiction. And what remarkable dreams they are—dreams of distant worlds, unearthly creatures, parallel universes, artificial intelligence, and so much more. Today, we call those dreams science fiction.

Sci-fi brings out the best in our imaginations and evokes a sense of wonder, but it also inspires a spirit of questioning. Through the enduring themes of sci-fi, we can examine the zeitgeist’s cultural context and ethical questions. Our favorite works in the genre make good on this promise, meditating on everything from identity to oppression to morality. As the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Doris Lessing said, "Science fiction is some of the best social fiction of our time.”

Choosing the fifty best science fiction books of all time wasn’t easy, so to get the job done, we had to establish some guardrails. Though we assessed single installments as representatives of their series, we limited the list to one book per author. We also emphasized books that brought something new and innovative to the genre; to borrow a great sci-fi turn of phrase, books that “boldly go where no one has gone before.”

Now, in ranked order, here are the best science fiction books of all time.

Tor Books The Echo Wife, by Sarah Gailey

Westworld meets The Stepford Wives in this gripping revenge thriller about the unlikely alliance between a woman and her clone. When geneticist Evelyn Caldwell learns that her husband Nathan is cheating on her, she soon ferrets out the truth—rather than work on their strained marriage, Nathan stole Evelyn’s proprietary cloning technology and replaced her with a more docile substitute. But when Evelyn finds her clone standing over Nathan’s dead body, crying, “It was self-defense,” these quasi-sisters will have to work together to conceal the crime and preserve Evelyn’s scientific reputation. The Echo Wife ’s juicy premise runs deep, raising eerie questions about love, justice, and individuality.

Del Rey Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson

Long before Facebook’s Metaverse, Stephenson coined the term in this cyberpunk acid trip of a novel. Snow Crash ’s Hiro Protagonist lives a double life: in reality, he delivers pizzas for the Mafia, but in the Metaverse, he’s a hacker and a warrior prince. When he learns about a lethal virus picking off hackers one by one, his race to find its dastardly architect sends him pinballing through everything from technological conspiracy to ancient Sumerian mythology. Sexy, action-packed, and downright prophetic in its vision of our virtual future, you'll want to strap in tight for this dizzying techno-thriller.

Gallery Books Contact, by Carl Sagan

The great Carl Sagan wrote dozens of works of nonfiction, but just one novel: Contact , a 1985 bestseller that later became a Jodie Foster flick. Sagan’s preoccupations with intelligent life come into view through Dr. Ellie Arroway, a principled astronomer who detects and decrypts a deep-space transmission from a planetary system far, far away. At the transmission’s urging, the nations of the world race to build a mysterious machine, but faith leaders call the enterprise (and the rationality of science) into question. Through this thoughtful, layered story, Sagan plumbs the often antagonistic relationship between science and religion, asking if perhaps both are seeking contact in different forms. After all, disciples from each camp can agree on one thing: “The universe is a pretty big place. If it's just us, seems like an awful waste of space.”

Voyager A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller Jr.

After World War III, Earth has fallen into a new Dark Age; most of the United States is a radioactive wasteland, and civilization is in tatters. While violent packs of survivors burn books and slaughter those who can read, the monks of St. Leibowitz preserve the heritage of the past by smuggling important volumes into their monastery. As the novel progresses throughout the centuries and a new Renaissance gives way to a second space age, so much about modern life changes, but at the monastery, much remains the same. Miller’s ambitious sci-fi classic captures the human tendency for self-destruction, as viewed through the cyclical rise and fall of civilization, but it’s not all doom, gloom, and nuclear warfare— A Canticle for Leibowitz is a moving paean to the power of knowledge and hope.

Mariner Books Solaris, by Stanislaw Lem

No one writes about intelligent life quite like Stanislaw Lem, who scoffed at little green men and instead put the alien in alien. In this dense and brainy novel, scientist Kris Kelvin lands on the planet Solaris to study the mysterious ocean enveloping its surface. Kelvin and his crew soon discover that this massive ocean is sentient: aloof, unknowable, and mysterious, it explores these explorers, reflecting their most painful memories back at them. What if aliens don’t care to know us, and what if we can’t possibly dream of understanding them anyway? Lem never tired of asking these questions, but of all his novels, Solaris makes our list for its perfect encapsulation of his singular vision.

Ace Neuromancer, by William Gibson

“Cyberspace: a consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation.” This is the setting of William Gibson’s Neuromancer —sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it? The winner of Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick Awards, Neuromancer is often called the definitive novel of the cyberpunk genre (it went on to heavily influence the creators of The X-Files and The Matrix ). Our hero is Case, an ex-cyber cowboy banished from cyberspace by his former employers. When a criminal syndicate comes knocking, promising to restore Case’s uplink in exchange for his hacking services, the novel transforms into a kaleidoscopic espionage thriller. Trippy, surreal, and slick as hell, Neuromancer is a ride you won’t soon forget.

DAW The Book of Phoenix, by Nnedi Okorafor

Science fiction and magical realism collide in this imaginative prequel to Okorafor’s World Fantasy Award-winning Who Fears Death . Here we meet Phoenix, an “accelerated woman” grown in New York’s Tower 7. Though she’s only two years old, she has the mind and body of a middle-aged adult, along with superhuman abilities. Phoenix suffers a painful awakening when her lover takes his life under dubious circumstances, proving that Tower 7 is less of a home and more of a prison. Her daring escape leads her to Ghana, where she learns brutal truths about colonialism, and vows to fight back against her oppressors. Blistering with love and rage, Phoenix’s fight for justice is downright electrifying.

W. W. Norton & Company A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess

In the many decades since its 1962 publication, A Clockwork Orange has become such a high school curriculum fixture that it’s easy to forget just how damn good it is. Burgess’ transgressive dystopia is the story of Alex, a teenage gangster who leads his fellow droogs in shocking acts of “ultra-violence”—until he’s apprehended by the draconian police. In prison, Alex is subjected to a brutal reconditioning, leaving him a changed and diminished man. Told in high-flying, pyrotechnic patois that’s since bled into the cultural lexicon, A Clockwork Orange is a postmodern triumph.

Del Rey The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

Few science fiction novels can claim to have inspired their own holiday, but The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy isn’t your ordinary science fiction novel (the holiday is Towel Day, if you must know). Adams’s signature work has cast a long shadow over popular culture, and for good reason. This absurdist comedy is the story of Arthur Dent, a hapless everyman who wanders the universe after Earth is destroyed to make way for the galactic highway. As he romps through space with alien travel writer Ford Prefect and a crew of android oddballs, Dent’s adventures illuminate how “utterly insignificant” our “little blue green planet” truly is. In the face of absurdity, Adams reminds us, what else can we do but laugh?

Gallery / Saga Press This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Structured as a poetic correspondence between two time-traveling spies, this forbidden romance puts the “distance” in “long-distance relationship.” As Agents Red and Blue hopscotch through the multiverse, altering history on behalf of their respective military superpowers, they leave behind secret messages for one another—first taunting, then flirtatious, then flowering with love and devotion. “There’s a kind of time travel in letters, isn’t there?” Blue muses. “Letters are structures, not events,” Red replies. “Yours give me a place to live inside.” Amid the dangerous chaos of their circumstances, Red and Blue find constants in one another. Playful and imaginative, told with lyrical grace, this is a dazzling puzzle box of a novella.

Ace The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert A. Heinlein

Though Heinlein is considered one of “The Big Three” science fiction writers (along with Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke), he’s arguably the least well-known among casual sci-fi readers. If you’re new here, start your Heinlein odyssey with his best novel, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress . In the year 2076, a penal colony on the moon rises up against the tyranny of Earth, declaring themselves the Free State of Luna, and themselves "the loonies." It’s a parable for the American Revolution, but instead of tea dumped in the Boston harbor, we’ve got electromagnetic catapults hurling moon rocks at Earth with the force of atomic bombs. Fun fact: the phrase, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” originated in this novel.

Square Fish A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle

Who says science fiction is only for adults? L’Engle’s enduring young adult classic is the story of tweenage siblings Meg and Charles Murray, who travel through the universe by way of a space-time-folding tesseract. In search of their missing father, Meg and Charles encounter galactic marvels of all kinds, from a utopian planet to the source of all evil in the universe. A Wrinkle in Time never makes the mistake of assuming that young readers can’t handle all the brainy concepts and mature themes that science fiction has to offer. Though it’s an unforgettable read at any age, it’s perhaps best-loved by the generations of readers who remember it as their gateway to sci-fi.

The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells

Published way back in 1895, The Time Machine was one small step for H.G. Wells, but one giant leap for science fiction. The novel popularized the concept of time travel by vehicle, lighting the way for everything from Back to the Future to Doctor Who . The Time Machine is the story of the Traveler’s journey 800,000 years into the future, where he discovers that mankind has evolved into two races: the ethereal Eloi and the predatory Morlocks. Through the Traveler’s exciting, nail-biting adventure, we see an entire generation’s fin-de-siècle anxieties about industrialization and the future of humanity. This short, seminal book is a must-read for any sci-fi fan.

Orbit Rosewater, by Tade Thompson

Tade Thompson’s award-winning Wormwood Trilogy opens in Nigeria circa 2066, where the town of Rosewater has formed around a mysterious alien biodome rumored to have extraordinary healing powers. Enter Kaaro, a government security officer known as a “sensitive”—essentially, a bioengineered race of psychics with access to an alien informational network called the xenosphere. When sensitives start dying off mysteriously, Kaaro embarks on a hardboiled detective mission, bringing the true nature of sensitives’ existence into the cold, hard light of day. A work of dazzling cyberpunk imagination and visionary Afrofuturism, Rosewater masterfully fuses a story of postcolonial trauma with a first contact narrative.

Anchor The Stand, by Stephen King

Horror, fantasy, and science fiction converge in The Stand , a master storyteller’s doorstopper about the eternal struggle between good and evil. After a bioengineered influenza virus escapes from a government laboratory, mankind succumbs to the deadly pandemic in just weeks, leaving survivors scattered across the barren United States. Two communities coalesce around very different leaders: Mother Abagail, a benevolent holy woman seeking utopia, and Randall Flagg, the human personification of violence and chaos. As the communities fight to wipe one another out, King weaves an epic tale about theology, morality, and human nature. In the wake of our own pandemic, The Stand has only grown in resonance and prescience.

Vintage The Children of Men, by PD James

Before it was a grim Alfonso Cuarón film, The Children of Men was a grim, remarkable novel. The year is 2021: with all men inexplicably sterile, no child has been born for 25 years, and the human race faces extinction. England is ruled by the Warden, a despotic leader who prizes the youngest generation above all others. Theo Faren, the Warden’s estranged cousin, sleepwalks through life as an Oxford historian until he receives a visit from a group of dissidents, whose company includes a pregnant woman. Packed with prescient insight about politics, power, and tyranny, The Children of Men will rattle you for years to come.

Tor Books Radiance, by Catherynne M. Valente

When documentary filmmaker Severin Unck fails to return from her latest project on Venus, so begins a metafictional odyssey into her life, work, and disappearance. Constructed in patchwork fashion from scripts, depositions, and interviews with people who knew Unck, Radiance ushers us into Valente’s pulpy alternate universe, where Hollywood is an interplanetary system with backlots on the moon, but cinema never progressed beyond silent black and white films, thanks to the Edison family’s tight grip on the patent process. Hopscotching through this kaleidoscopic universe of beauty, adventure, and artistry, Valente tells a moving story about why we tell stories at all.

Red Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson

Plenty of writers have contemplated the colonization of Mars, but few have done it with such extraordinary granularity as Robinson, who dug in with gusto through his Mars Trilogy. Arthur C. Clarke himself called Red Mars “the best novel on the colonization of Mars that’s ever been written.” The novel takes place in 2026, when colonists fleeing an overpopulated Earth touch down on the red planet. Carefully selected and trained, they set about the task of terraforming hostile, sandswept Mars, but establishing a viable settlement will demand everything they have to give. Robinson looks at planetary colonization through every conceivable lens: politics, biology, ecology, medicine, psychology, and morality, just to name a few. The result is speculative fiction that feels astoundingly real.

Del Rey The City & The City, by China Miéville

That this novel won a constellation of awards spanning science fiction, fantasy, and weird fiction is proof of Miéville’s gift for straddling genres. The City & The City is set in two fictional Eastern European cities occupying the same physical space; from birth, residents are trained to “unsee” the opposing city, under the threat of criminal penalties. When a murdered woman is found lying in the wastelands, Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad is called to the scene, but the crime defies logic: this woman was murdered in one city, and her body was dumped in the other. Borlú’s investigation exposes startling secrets about this strange way of life, taking us on a noirish metaphysical journey through the doors of perception.

Del Rey Hyperion, by Dan Simmons

Inspired by Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales , Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos begins with this story of seven pilgrims sent on a potentially fatal mission to the Time Tombs of Hyperion. There, they hope to confront the Shrike, a cosmic being with the power to bend space and time. Throughout the journey, they share their stories of suffering under the Hegemony of Man, the intergalactic government that sold humanity out to a civilization of AIs. From aging in reverse to encounters with immortality, each story is a cerebral fable, rich in Lovecraftian terror, mythological import, and breathtaking worldbuilding.

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Adrienne Westenfeld is the Books and Fiction Editor at Esquire, where she oversees books coverage, edits fiction, and curates the Esquire Book Club. 

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Science Fiction Book Sales Statistics [2023]

October 2, 2022

Science fiction book sales statistics

What are the best-selling science fiction books of all time?

Who are the best-selling science fiction and fantasy authors of all time, how much do science fiction authors make.

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NPR Books Summer Poll 2021: A Decade Of Great Sci-Fi And Fantasy

We asked, you answered: your 50 favorite sci-fi and fantasy books of the past decade.

Petra Mayer at NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., May 21, 2019. (photo by Allison Shelley)

Petra Mayer

Deborah Lee for NPR

The question at the heart of science fiction and fantasy is "what if?" What if gods were real, but you could kill them ? What if humans finally made it out among the stars — only to discover we're the shabby newcomers in a grand galactic alliance ? What if an asteroid destroyed the East Coast in 1952 and jump-started the space race years early?

Summer Reader Poll 2021: Meet Our Expert Judges

Summer Reader Poll 2021: Meet our expert judges

Click If You Dare: 100 Favorite Horror Stories

Summer Reader Poll 2018: Horror

Click if you dare: 100 favorite horror stories.

We Did It For The LOLs: 100 Favorite Funny Books

Summer Reader Poll 2019: Funny Books

We did it for the lols: 100 favorite funny books.

This year's summer reader poll was also shaped by a series of "what ifs" — most importantly, what if, instead of looking at the entire history of the field the way we did in our 2011 poll , we focused only on what has happened in the decade since? These past 10 years have brought seismic change to science fiction and fantasy (sometimes literally, in the case of N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth series), and we wanted to celebrate the world-shaking rush of new voices, new perspectives, new styles and new stories. And though we limited ourselves to 50 books this time around, the result is a list that's truly stellar — as poll judge Tochi Onyebuchi put it, "Alive."

As always, a pretty extensive decision-making process went into the list, involving our fabulous panel of expert judges — but we know you eager readers want to get right to the books. So if you're inclined, follow these links to find out how we built the list (and what, sadly, didn't make it this year ). Otherwise, scroll on for the list!

We've broken it up into categories to help you find the reading experience you're looking for, and you can click on these links to go directly to each category:

Worlds To Get Lost In · Words To Get Lost In · Will Take You On A Journey · Will Mess With Your Head · Will Mess With Your Heart · Will Make You Feel Good

Worlds To Get Lost In

Are you (like me) a world-building fanatic? These authors have built worlds so real you can almost smell them.

The Imperial Radch Trilogy

Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie

Breq is a human now — but once she was a starship. Once she was an AI with a vast and ancient metal body and troops of ancillaries, barely animate bodies that all carried her consciousness. Poll judge Ann Leckie has created a massive yet intricate interstellar empire where twisty galactic intrigues and multiple clashing cultures form a brilliant backdrop for the story of a starship learning to be a human being. Your humble editor got a copy of Ancillary Justice when it came out and promptly forced her entire family to read it.

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The Dead Djinn Universe (series)

A Master of Djinn, by P. Djélì Clarke

What a wonderful world P. Djélì Clarke has created here — an Arab world never colonized, where magic-powered trams glide through a cosmopolitan Cairo and where djinns make mischief among humans. Clarke's novella Ring Shout also showed up on our semifinalists list, and it was hard to decide between them, but ultimately our judges felt the Dead Djinn Universe offered more to explore. But you should still read Ring Shout , a wild ride of a read where gun-toting demon-hunters go up against Ku Klux Klan members who are actual, pointy-headed white demons. Go on, go get a copy! We'll wait.

The Age of Madness Trilogy

A Little Hatred, by Joe Abercrombie

One of my pet peeves with fantasy novels is they sometimes don't allow for the progression of time and technology — but in Joe Abercrombie's Age of Madness series, the follow-up to his debut First Law trilogy, industrialization has come to the world of The Union, and it's brought no good in its wake. More than that — machines may be rising, but magic will not give way, and all over the world, those at the bottom of the heap are beginning to get really, really angry. This series works as a standalone — but you should also read the excellent First Law series (even though it's old enough to fall outside the scope of this list).

The Green Bone Saga

Jade City, by Fonda Lee

This sprawling saga of family, honor, blood and magical jade will suck you in from the very first page. Poll judge Fonda Lee's story works on every conceivable level, from minute but meaningful character beats to solid, elegantly conveyed world-building to political intrigue to big, overarching themes of clan, loyalty and identity. Plus, wow, the jade-powered martial arts sequences are as fine as anything the Shaw Brothers ever put on screen. "Reviewing books is my actual job," says fellow judge Amal El-Mohtar, "but I still have to fight my husband for the advance copies of Fonda's books, and we're both THIS CLOSE to learning actual martial arts to assist us in our dueling for dibs."

The Expanse (series)

Leviathan Wakes, by James S.A. Corey

Yes, sure, you've seen the TV show (you HAVE, right? Right?) about the ragtag crew of spacers caught up in a three-way power struggle between Earth, Mars and the society that's developed on far-off asteroid belts. But there's much, much more to explore in the books — other planets, other characters, storylines and concepts that didn't make it to the screen. Often, when a book gets adapted for film or TV, there's a clear argument about which version is better. With The Expanse , we can confidently say you should watch and read. The only downside? Book- Avasarala doesn't show up until a few volumes in.

The Daevabad Trilogy

The City of Brass, S.A. Chakraborty

Nahri is a con woman (with a mysteriously real healing talent) scraping a living in the alleys of 18th century Cairo — until she accidentally summons some true magic and discovers her fate is bound to a legendary city named Daevabad, far from human civilization, home of djinns and bloody intrigues. Author S.A. Chakraborty converted to Islam as a teenager and after college began writing what she describes as "historical fanfiction" about medieval Islam; then characters appeared, inspired by people she met at her mosque. "A sly heroine capable of saving herself, a dashing hero who'd break for the noon prayer," she told an interviewer . "I wanted to write a story for us, about us, with the grandeur and magic of a summer blockbuster."

Teixcalaan (series)

A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine

The Aztecs meet the Byzantines in outer space in this intricately imagined story of diplomatic intrigue and fashionable poetic forms. Mahit Dzmare is an ambassador from a small space station clinging desperately to its independence in the face of the massive Teixcalaanli empire . But when she arrives in its glittering capital, her predecessor's dead, and she soon discovers she's been sabotaged herself. Luckily, it turns out she's incredibly good at her job, even without her guiding neural implant. "I'm a sucker for elegant worldbuilding that portrays all the finer nuances of society and culture in addition to the grandness of empire and the complexity of politics," says judge Fonda Lee. "Arkady Martine delivers all that in droves."

The Thessaly Trilogy

The Just City, by Jo Walton

Apollo, spurned by Daphne, is trying to understand free will and consent by living as a mortal. Athena is trying to create a utopia by plucking men and women from all across history and dropping them on an island to live according to Plato's Republic. Will it all go according to plan? Not likely. "Brilliant, compelling, and frankly unputdownable," wrote poll judge Amal El-Mohtar , "this will do what your Intro to Philosophy courses probably couldn't: make you want to read The Republic ."

Shades of Magic Trilogy

A Darker Shade of Magic, by V.E. Schwab

V.E. Schwab has created a world with four Londons lying atop one another : our own dull Grey, warm magic-suffused Red, tyrannical White, and dead, terrifying Black. Once, movement among them was easy, but now only a few have the ability — including our hero, Kell. So naturally, he's a smuggler, and the action kicks off when Grey London thief Lila steals a dangerous artifact from him, a stone that could upset the balance among the Londons. Rich world building, complex characters and really scary bad guys make Schwab's London a city — or cities — well worth spending time in.

The Divine Cities Trilogy

City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett

On the Continent, you must not, you cannot, talk about the gods — the gods are dead. Or are they? Robert Jackson Bennett's Divine Cities trilogy builds a fully, gloriously realized world where gods are the source of power, miracles and oppression, and gods can also be killed. But what happens next, when the gods are gone and the work of running the world is left to regular human men and women? What happens in that unsettled moment when divinity gives way to technology? This series spans a long timeline; the heroes of the first volume are old by the end. "And as ancient powers clash among gleaming, modern skyscrapers, those who have survived from the first page to these last have a heaviness about them," writes reviewer Jason Sheehan , "a sense that they have seen remarkable things, done deeds both heroic and terrible, and that they can see a far and final horizon in the distance, quickly approaching."

The Wormwood Trilogy

Rosewater, by Tade Thompson

Part of a recent wave of work celebrating and centering Nigerian culture, this trilogy is set in a future where a fungal alien invader has swallowed big global cities, America has shut itself away and gone dark, and a new city, Rosewater, has grown up around a mysterious alien dome in rural Nigeria. It's a wild mashup of alien invasion, cyberpunk, Afro-futurism and even a touch of zombie horror. "I started reading Rosewater on vacation and quickly set it down until I got home, because Tade Thompson's work is no light beach read," says judge Fonda Lee. "His writing demands your full attention — and amply rewards it."

Black Sun (series)

Black Sun, by Rebecca Roanhorse

Author Rebecca Roanhorse was tired of reading epic fantasy with quasi-European settings, so she decided to write her own . The result is Black Sun , set in a world influenced by pre-Columbian mythology and rich with storms, intrigue, giant bugs, mysterious sea people, ritual, myth and some very scary crows. (They hold grudges, did you know?) This is only Book 1 of a forthcoming series, but we felt it was so strong it deserved to be here, no matter where Roanhorse goes next.

Words To Get Lost In

If you're one of those people who thought genre fiction writing was workmanlike and uninspiring, these books will change your mind.

Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke

Susanna Clarke at last returns to our shelves with this mind-bendingly glorious story — that's a bit hard to describe without spoiling. So we'll say it's about a mysterious man and the House that he dearly loves, a marvelous place full of changing light and surging tides, statues and corridors and crossings, birds and old bones and passing days and one persistent visitor who brings strangely familiar gifts. Clarke "limns a magic far more intrinsic than the kind commanded through spells," wrote reviewer Vikki Valentine , "a magic that is seemingly part of the fabric of the universe and as powerful as a cosmic engine — yet fragile nonetheless."

Circe, by Madeline Miller

Imagine Circe, the fearsome witch of the Odyssey, as an awkward teenager, growing up lonely among scornful gods and falling for what we modern folks would call a f***boy, before coming into her own, using her exile on the island of Aiaia to hone her powers and build an independent life. Circe only shows up briefly in the Odyssey, but Madeline Miller gives her a lush, complex life in these pages. She has worked as a classics teacher, and as our reviewer Annalisa Quinn noted , Miller "extracts worlds of meaning from Homer's short phrases."

Mexican Gothic

Mexican Gothic, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

A sharp young socialite in 1950s Mexico City travels to a creepy rural mansion to check on her cousin, who has fallen ill after marrying into a mysterious family of English landowners. What could possibly go wrong? Silvia Moreno-Garcia "makes you uneasy about invisible things by writing around them," said reviewer Jessica P. Wick. "Even when you think you know what lurks, the power to unsettle isn't diminished." Not to be too spoilery — but after reading this stylishly chilling novel, you'll never look at mushrooms the same way again.

The Paper Menagerie And Other Stories

The Paper Menagerie, by Ken Liu

"I taught Liu's 'The Man Who Ended History' in a graduate seminar one semester," says judge Tochi Onyebuchi, "and one of the toughest tasks I've ever faced in adulthood was crafting a lesson plan that went beyond me just going 'wtf wtf wtf wtf wtf' for the whole two hours. Some story collections are like those albums where the artist or record label just threw a bunch of songs together and said 'here,' and some collections arrive as a complete, cohesive, emotionally catholic whole. The Paper Menagerie is that."

Spinning Silver

Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik

Judges had a hard time deciding between Spinning Silver and Uprooted , Novik's previous fairy tale retelling. Ultimately, we decided that this reclamation of "Rumpelstiltskin" has a chewier, more interesting project, with much to say about money, labor, debt and friendship, explored in unflinching yet tender ways. Judge Amal El-Mohtar reviewed Spinning Silver for NPR when it came out in 2018. "There are so many mathemagicians in this book, be they moneylenders turning silver into gold or knitters working to a pattern," she wrote at the time . "It's gold and silver all the way down."

Exhalation: Stories

Exhalation: Stories, by Ted Chiang

"I often get the same feeling reading a Ted Chiang story as I did listening to a Prince song while he was still with us," says judge Tochi Onyebuchi. "What a glorious privilege it is that we get to share a universe with this genius!" This poll can be a discovery tool for editors and judges as much as audience, so hearing that, your humble editor went straight to the library and downloaded a copy of this collection.

Olondria (series)

A Stranger in Olondria, by Sofia Samatar

In Olondria, you can smell the ocean wind coming off the page, soldiers ride birds, angels haunt humans, and written dreams are terribly dangerous. "Have you ever seen something so beautiful that you'd be content to just sit and watch the light around it change for a whole day because every passing moment reveals even more unbearable loveliness and transforms you in ways you can't articulate?" asks judge Amal El-Mohtar. "You will if you read these books."

Her Body And Other Parties: Stories

Her Body and Other Parties, by Carmen Maria Machado

These eight stories dance across the borders of fairy tale, horror, erotica and urban legend, spinning the familiar, lived experiences of women into something rich and strange. As the title suggests, Machado focuses on the unruly female body and all of its pleasures and risks (there's one story that's just increasingly bizarre rewrites of Law & Order: SVU episodes). At one point, a character implies that kind of writing is "tiresome and regressive," too much about stereotypical crazy lesbians and madwomen in the attic. But as our critic Annalisa Quinn wrote , "Machado seems to answer: The world makes madwomen, and the least you can do is make sure the attic is your own."

The Buried Giant

The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro

Axl and Beatrice are an elderly couple, living in a fictional Britain just after Arthur's time, where everyone suffers from what they call "mist," a kind of amnesia that hits long-term memories. They believe, they vaguely remember that they once had a son, so they set out to find him — encountering an elderly Sir Gawain along the way, and long-forgotten connections to Arthur's court and the dark deeds the mist is hiding. Poll judge Ann Leckie loves Arthurian legends. What she does not love are authors who don't do them justice — but with The Buried Giant , she says, Kazuo Ishiguro gets it solidly right.

Radiance, by Catherynne M. Valente

Do you love space opera? Alternate history? Silent film? (OK, are you me?) Then you should pick up Catherynne M. Valente's Radiance , which mashes up all three in a gloriously surreal saga about spacefaring filmmakers in an alternate version of 1986, in which you might be able to go to Jupiter, but Thomas Edison's death grip on his patents means talkies are still a novelty. Yes, Space Opera did get more votes, but our judges genuinely felt that Radiance was the stronger book. Reviewing it in 2015, judge Amal El-Mohtar wrote , " Radiance is the sort of novel about which you have to speak for hours or hardly speak at all: either stop at 'it's magnificent' or roll on to talk about form, voice, ambition, originality, innovation for more thousands of words than are available to me here before even touching on the plot."

Will Take You On A Journey

Sure, all books are some kind of journey, but these reads really go the distance.

The Changeling

The Changeling, by Victor LaValle

It's easy(ish) to summarize The Changeling : Rare book dealer Apollo Kagwa has a baby son with his wife, Emma, but she's been acting strange — and when she vanishes after doing something unspeakable, he sets out to find her. But his journey loops through a New York you've never seen before: mysterious islands and haunted forests, strange characters and shifting rhythms. The Changeling is a modern urban fairy tale with one toe over the line into horror, and wherever it goes, it will draw you along with it.

Wayfarers (series)

Wayfarers (series), by Becky Chambers

Becky Chambers writes aliens like no one else — in fact, humans are the backward newcomers in her generous, peaceful galactic vision. The Wayfarers books are only loosely linked: They all take place in the same universe, but apart from that you'll meet a new set of characters, a new culture and a new world (or an old world transformed). Cranky space pacifists, questing AIs, fugitives, gravediggers and fluffy, multi-limbed aliens who love pudding — the only flaw in this series is you'll wish you could spend more time with all of them.

Binti (series)

Binti (series), by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti is the first of her people, the Himba, to be offered a place at the legendary Oomza University, finest institution of learning in the galaxy — and as if leaving Earth to live among the stars weren't enough, Binti finds herself caught between warring human and alien factions. Over and over again throughout these novellas, Binti makes peace, bridges cultures, brings home with her even as she leaves and returns, changed by her experiences. Our judges agreed that the first two Binti stories are the strongest — but even if the third stumbles, as judge and critic Amal El-Mohtar wrote, "Perhaps the point is just having a Black girl with tentacles for hair possessing the power and freedom to float among Saturn's rings."

Lady Astronaut (series)

Lady Astronaut (series), by Mary Robinette Kowal

What would America's space program have looked like if, say, a gigantic asteroid had wiped out the East Coast in 1952 — and started a countdown to destruction for the rest of the world? We'd have had to get into space much sooner. And all the female pilots who served in World War II and were unceremoniously dumped back at home might have had another chance to fly. Mary Robinette Kowal's Hugo Award-winning series plays that out with Elma York, a former WASP pilot and future Lady Astronaut whose skill and determination help all of humanity escape the bonds of Earth. Adds judge Amal El-Mohtar: "Audiobook readers are in for a special treat here in that Kowal narrates the books herself, and if you've never had the pleasure of attending one of her readings, you get to experience her wonderful performance with bonus production values. It's especially cool given that the seed for the series was an audio-first short story."

Children of Time (duology)

Children of Time (duology), by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Far in the future, the dregs of humanity escape a ruined Earth and find what they think is a new hope deep in space — a planet that past spacefarers terraformed and left for them. But the evolutionary virus that was supposed to jump-start a cargo of monkeys, creating ready-made workers, instead latched on to ... something else, and in the intervening years, something terrible has arisen there. Poll judge Ann Leckie says she can't stand spiders (BIG SAME), but even so, she was adamant that the Children of Time books deserve their spot here.

Wayward Children (series)

Wayward Children (series), by Seanan McGuire

Everyone loves a good portal fantasy. Who hasn't looked in the back of the closet hoping, faintly, to see snow and a street lamp? In the Wayward Children series, Seanan McGuire reminds us that portals go both ways: What happens to those children who get booted back through the door into the real world, starry-eyed and scarred? Well, a lot of them end up at Eleanor West's School for Wayward Children. The prolific McGuire turned up on our semifinalists list A Lot. We had a hard time deciding between this and her killer stand-alone Middlegame , but the Wayward Children won the day with their shimmering mix of fairy tale, fantasy and emotional heft — not to mention body positivity and solid queer and trans representation. (As with a lot of the also-rans, though, you should really read Middlegame too.)

The Space Between Worlds

The Space Between Worlds, by Micaiah Johnson

There are 382 parallel worlds in Micaiah Johnson's debut novel, and humanity can finally travel between them — but there's a deadly catch. You can visit only a world where the parallel version of you is already dead. And that makes Cara — whose marginal wastelands existence means only a few versions of her are left — valuable to the high and mighty of her own Earth. "They needed trash people," Cara says, to gather information from other worlds. But her existence, already precarious, is threatened when a powerful scientist figures out how to grab that information remotely. "At a time when I was really struggling with the cognitive demands of reading anything for work or pleasure, this book flooded me with oxygen and lit me on fire," says judge Amal El-Mohtar. "I can't say for certain that it enabled me to read again, but in its wake, I could."

Will Mess With Your Head

Do you love twisty tales, loopy logic, unsolved mysteries and cosmic weirdness? Scroll on!

Black Leopard, Red Wolf

Black Leopard, Red Wolf, by Marlon James

Poll judge Amal El-Mohtar once described Black Leopard, Red Wolf as " like being slowly eaten by a bear ." Fellow judge Tochi Onyebuchi chimes in: " Black Leopard, Red Wolf is a Slipknot album of a book. In all the best ways." Set in a dazzling, dangerous fantasy Africa, it is — at least on the surface — about a man named Tracker, in prison when we meet him and telling his life story to an inquisitor. Beyond that, it's fairly indescribable, full of roof-crawling demons, dust-cloud assassins, blood and (fair warning) sexual violence. A gnarly book, a difficult book, sometimes actively hostile to the reader — yet necessary, and stunning.

Southern Reach (series)

Southern Reach (series), Jeff VanderMeer

The Southern Reach books are, at least on the surface, a simple tale of a world gone wrong, of a mysterious "Area X" and the expeditions that have suffered and died trying to map it — and the strange government agency that keeps sending them in. But there's a lot seething under that surface: monsters, hauntings, a slowly building sense of wrong and terror that will twist your brain around sideways. "If the guys who wrote Lost had brought H.P. Lovecraft into the room as a script doctor in the first season," our critic Jason Sheehan wrote , "the Southern Reach trilogy is what they would've come up with."

The Echo Wife

The Echo Wife, by Sarah Gailey

Part sci-fi cautionary tale, part murder mystery, The Echo Wife is a twisty treat . At its center are a famed genetic researcher and her duplicitous husband, who uses her breakthrough technology to clone himself a sweeter, more compliant version of his wife before ending up dead. "As expertly constructed as a Patek Philippe watch," says poll judge Tochi Onyebuchi. "Seamlessly blends domestic thriller and science fiction," adds fellow judge Fonda Lee. "This book is going to haunt my thoughts for a long time."

The Locked Tomb (series)

The Locked Tomb (series), by Tamsyn Muir

This series is often described as "lesbian necromancers in space," but trust us, it's so much more than that. Wildly inventive, gruesome, emotional, twisty and funny as hell, the Locked Tomb books are like nothing you've ever read before. And we defy you to read them and not give serious consideration to corpse paint and mirror shades as a workable fashion statement. There are only two books out now, of a planned four-book series, but Gideon the Ninth alone is enough to earn Tamsyn Muir a place on this list: "Too funny to be horror, too gooey to be science fiction, has too many spaceships and autodoors to be fantasy, and has far more bloody dismemberings than your average parlor romance," says critic Jason Sheehan. "It is altogether its own thing."

Remembrance of Earth's Past (series)

Remembrance of Earth's Past (series), Liu Cixin

Liu Cixin became the first author from Asia to win a Hugo Award for Best Novel, for The Three-Body Problem , the first volume in this series about one of the oldest questions in science fiction: What will happen when we meet aliens? Liu is writing the hardest of hard sci-fi here, full of brain-twisting passages about quantum mechanics and artificial intelligence (if you didn't actually know what the three-body problem was, you will now), grafted onto the backbone of a high-stakes political thriller. Poll judge Tochi Onyebuchi says, "These books divided me by zero. And, yes, that is a compliment."

Machineries of Empire (series)

Machineries of Empire (series), by Yoon Ha Lee

In the Hexarchate, numbers are power: This interstellar empire draws its strength from rigidly enforced adherence to the imperial calendar, a system of numbers that can alter reality. But now, a "calendrical rot" is eating away at that structure, and it's up to a mathematically talented young soldier — and the ghost of an infamous traitor — to try to repair the rot while a war blazes across the stars around them. " Ninefox Gambit is a book with math in its heart, but also one which understands that even numbers can lie," our critic Jason Sheehan wrote . "That it's what you see in the numbers that matters most."

Will Mess With Your Heart

Books that'll make you cry, make you think — and sometimes make you want to hide under the bed.

The Broken Earth (series)

The Broken Earth (series), by N.K. Jemisin

In the world of the Stillness, geological convulsions cause upheavals that can last for centuries — and only the orogenes, despised yet essential to the status quo — can control them. N.K. Jemisin deservedly won three back-to-back Hugo awards for these books, which use magnificent world building and lapidary prose to smack you in the face about your own complicity in systems of oppression. "Jemisin is the first — and so far only — person ever to have won a Hugo Award for Best Novel for every single book in a series. These books upheaved the terrain of epic fantasy as surely and completely as Fifth Seasons transform the geography of the Stillness," says poll judge Amal El-Mohtar.

Station Eleven

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

Author Emily St. John Mandel went on Twitter in 2020 and advised people not to read Station Eleven , not in the midst of the pandemic. But we beg to disagree. A story in which art (and particularly Shakespeare) helps humanity come back to itself after a pandemic wipes out the world as we know it might be just the thing we need. "Survival is insufficient," say Mandel's traveling players (a line she says she lifted from Star Trek ), and that's a solid motto any time.

This Is How You Lose the Time War

This Is How You Lose the Time War, Max Gladstone & Amal El-Mohtar

Enemies-to-lovers is a classic romance novel trope, and it's rarely been done with as much strange beauty as poll judge Amal El-Mohtar and co-author Max Gladstone pull off in this tale of Red and Blue, two agents on opposite sides of a war that's sprawled across time and space. "Most books I read are objects of study. And more often than not, I can figure out how the prose happened, how the character arcs are constructed, the story's architecture," says judge Tochi Onyebuchi. "But then along comes a thing so dazzling you can't help but stare at and ask 'how.' Amal and Max wrote a cheat code of a book. They unlocked all the power-ups, caught all the Chaos Emeralds, mastered all the jutsus, and honestly, I'd say it's downright unfair how much they flexed on us with Time War , except I'm so damn grateful they gave it to us in the first place." (As we noted above, having Time War on the list meant that Max Gladstone couldn't make a second appearance for his outstanding solo work with the Craft Sequence . But you should absolutely read those, too.)

The Poppy War Trilogy

The Poppy War Trilogy, by R.F. Kuang

What if Mao Zedong were a teenage girl? That's how author R.F. Kuang describes the central question in her Poppy War series . Fiery, ruthless war orphan Fang Runin grows up, attends an elite military academy, develops fire magic and wins a war — but finds herself becoming the kind of monster she once fought against. Kuang has turned her own rage and anger at historical atrocities into a gripping, award-winning story that will drag you along with it, all the way to the end. "If this were football, Kuang might be under investigation for PEDs," jokes judge Tochi Onyebuchi, referring to performance-enhancing drugs. "But, no, she's really just that good."

The Masquerade (series)

The Masquerade (series), by Seth Dickinson

Baru Cormorant was born to a free-living, free-loving nation, but all that changed when the repressive Empire of Masks swept in, tearing apart her family, yet singling her out for advancement through its new school system. Baru decides the only way to free her people is to claw her way up the ranks of Empire — but she risks becoming the monster she's fighting against. "I've loved every volume of this more than the one before it, and the first one was devastatingly strong," says judge Amal El-Mohtar — who said of that first volume, "This book is a tar pit, and I mean that as a compliment."

An Unkindness of Ghosts

An Unkindness of Ghosts, by Rivers Solomon

The Matilda is a generation ship, a vast repository of human life among the stars, cruelly organized like an antebellum plantation: Black and brown people on the lower decks, working under vicious overseers to provide the white upper-deck passengers with comfortable lives. Aster, an orphaned outsider, uses her late mother's medical knowledge to bring healing where she can and to solve the mystery of Matilda 's failing power source. Poll judge Amal El-Mohtar originally reviewed An Unkindness of Ghosts for us , writing "What Solomon achieves with this debut — the sharpness, the depth, the precision — puts me in mind of a syringe full of stars."

The Bird King

The Bird King, by G. Willow Wilson

G. Willow Wilson's beautiful novel, set during the last days of Muslim Granada, follows a royal concubine who yearns for freedom and the queer mapmaker who's her best friend. "It is really devastating to a critic to find that the only truly accurate way of describing an author's prose is the word 'luminous,' but here we are," says judge Amal El-Mohtar. "This book is luminous. It is full of light, in searing mirror-flashes and warm candleflame flickers and dappled twists of heart-breaking insight into empire, war and religion."

American War

American War, by Omar El Akkad

This was judge Tochi Onyebuchi's personal pick — a devastating portrait of a post-climate-apocalypse, post-Second Civil War America that's chosen to use its most terrifying and oppressive policies against its own people. "It despairs me how careless we are with the word 'prescient' these days, but when I finished American War , I truly felt that I'd glimpsed our future," Onyebuchi says. "Charred and scarred and shot through with shards of hope."

Riot Baby, by Tochi Onyebuchi

Poll judge Tochi Onyebuchi centers this story on the kind of person who's more often a statistic, rarely a fully rounded character: Kevin, who's young, Black and in prison . Born amid the upheaval around the Rodney King verdict, Kevin is hemmed in by structural and individual racism at every turn; meanwhile, his sister Ella has developed mysterious, frightening powers — but she still can't do the one thing she truly wants to do, which is to rescue her brother. This slim novella packs a punch with all the weight of history behind it; fellow judge Amal El-Mohtar says, "I've said it in reviews and I'll say it again here: This book reads like hot diamonds, as searing as it is precise."

On Fragile Waves

On Fragile Waves, by E. Lily Yu

Every year, we ask our judges to add some of their own favorites to the list, and this year, Amal El-Mohtar teared up talking about her passion for E. Lily Yu's haunted refugee story On Fragile Waves . "I need everyone to read this book," she says. "I wept throughout it and for a solid half-hour once I had finished it, and I know it's hard to recommend books that make you cry right now, but I have no chill about this one: It is so important, it is so beautiful, and I feel like maybe if everyone read it the world would be a slightly less terrible place."

Will Make You Feel Good

Maybe, after the year we've just had, you want to read a book where good things happen, eventually? We've got you.

The Goblin Emperor

The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison

In a far corner of an elven empire, young half-goblin Maia learns that a mysterious accident has left him heir to the throne. But he has been in exile almost all his life — how can he possibly negotiate the intricate treacheries of the imperial court? Fairly well, as it turns out. Maia is a wonderful character, hesitant and shy at first, but deeply good and surprisingly adept at the whole being-an-emperor thing. The only thing wrong with The Goblin Emperor was that it was, for a long time, a stand-alone. But now there's a sequel, The Witness for the Dead — so if you love the world Katherine Addison has created, you've got a way back to it. "I just love this book utterly," says judge Amal El-Mohtar. "So warm, so kind, so generous."

Murderbot (series)

All Systems Red, by Martha Wells

Oh Murderbot — we know you just want to be left alone to watch your shows, but we can't quit you. Martha Wells' series about a murderous security robot that's hacked its own governing module and become self-aware is expansive, action-packed, funny and deeply human . Also, your humble poll editor deeply wishes that someone would write a fic in which Murderbot meets Ancillary Justice 's Breq and they swap tips about how to be human over tea (which Murderbot can't really drink).

The Interdependency (series)

The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi

John Scalzi didn't mean to be quite so prescient when he started this trilogy about a galactic empire facing destruction as its interstellar routes collapse — a problem the empire knew about but ignored for all the same reasons we punt our problems today. "Some of that was completely unintentional," he told Scott Simon . "But some of it was. I live in the world." The Interdependency series is funny, heartfelt and ultimately hopeful, and packed with fantastic characters. To the reader who said they voted "because of Kiva Lagos," we say, us too.

The Martian

The Martian, by Andy Weir.

You don't expect a hard sci-fi novel to start with the phrase "I'm pretty much f****d," but it definitely sets the tone for Andy Weir's massive hit. Astronaut Mark Watney, stranded alone on Mars after an accident, is a profane and engaging narrator who'll let you know just how f****d he is and then just how he plans to science his way out of it. If you've only seen the movie, there's so much more to dig into in the book (including, well, that very first line).

Sorcerer to the Crown/The True Queen

Sorcerer to the Crown/The True Queen, by Zen Cho

A Regency romp with squabbling magicians, romance and intrigue, with women and people of color center stage? Yes, please! These two books form a wonderful balance. Sorcerer to the Crown is more whimsical and occasionally riotously funny despite its serious underlying themes. The True Queen builds out from there, looking at the characters and events of the first book with a different, more serious perspective. But both volumes are charming, thoughtful and thoroughly enjoyable.

How We Built This

Wow, you're some dedicated readers! Thanks for coming all the way down here to find out more. As I said above, we decided to limit ourselves to 50 books this year instead of our usual 100, which made winnowing down the list a particular challenge. As you may know, this poll isn't a straight-up popularity contest, though, if it were, the Broken Earth books would have crushed all comers — y'all have good taste! Instead, we take your votes (over 16,000 this year) and pare them down to about 250 semifinalists, and then during a truly epic conference call, our panel of expert judges goes through those titles, cuts some, adds some and hammers out a final curated list.

What Didn't Make It — And Why

As always, there were works readers loved and voted for that didn't make our final list of 50 — it's not a favorites list if you can't argue about it, right? Sometimes, we left things out because we felt like the authors were well known enough not to need our help (farewell, The Ocean at the End of the Lane , Neil Gaiman, we hope you'll forgive us!), but mostly it happened because the books either came out before our cutoff date or already appeared on the original 2011 list. (Sorry, Brandon Sanderson! The first Mistborn book was actually on this year's list, until I looked more closely and realized it was a repeat from 2011.)

Some books didn't make it this year because we're almost positive they'll come around next year — next year being the 10th anniversary of our original 2012 YA poll, when (spoiler alert!) we're planning a similar redo. So we say "not farewell, but fare forward, voyagers" to the likes of Raybearer , Children of Blood and Bone and the Grishaverse books; if they don't show up on next year's list I'll, I don't know, I'll eat my kefta .

And this year, because we had only 50 titles to play with, we did not apply the famous Nora Roberts rule, which allows particularly beloved and prolific authors onto the list twice. So as much as it pains me, there's only one Seanan McGuire entry here, and Max Gladstone appears alongside poll judge Amal El-Mohtar for This Is How You Lose the Time War but not on his own for the excellent Craft Sequence . Which — as we said above — you should ABSOLUTELY read.

One Final Note

Usually, readers will vote at least some works by members of our judging panel onto the list, and usually, we let the judges themselves decide whether or not to include them. But this year, I put my editorial foot down — all four judges made it to the semifinals, and had we not included them, the final product would have been the less for it. So you'll find all four on the list. And we hope you enjoy going through it as much as we enjoyed putting it together!


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