20 Top Science Fiction Books of All Time
Science fiction is not for all. So if you are one of those who have grown up on star wars and star trek, these are the 20 best science fiction books that are sure to give you immense pleasure.
1.The Time Machine – H.G.Wells
The first science fiction work of “The Father of Science Fiction” brought us time travel in an age when it was not thought of.
The novel starts with a meeting of acquaintances in an inventor’s house where he puts forth the idea of time travel, shows them the machine he had invented for it and tells them about his experience with it. He describes o them his journey into a peaceful world of the Eloi in the future who are traumatised by the Morlocks, an underground monster who surfaces only to feast on the Eloi.
The Time Traveller realises that the Eloi are the descendants of the wealthy and carefree and that the Morlocks are the distant descendants of the working class. His final journey lets the time traveller see the earth’s death.
2.The Foundation Trilogy – Isaac Asimov
A masterpiece from one of the greatest science fiction writers of all time, the only Hugo winner for best ever series, the novel starts with a peaceful status across all galaxies thanks to the great galactic empire. But Hari Selden who develops the science of psychohistory foresees the fall of the empire and 30 thousand-year-old dark age which can be brought down to a thousand years if the light of civilisation can be preserved.
Thus, he establishes a Foundation at the extreme end of the galaxy from which a new empire might grow. It is challenged by the empire but comes out triumphant. What Selden did not predict was the appearance of Mule, a mutant who has immense power across the galaxy and who sets out to find and destroy the second foundation whose whereabouts are unknown.
3. Solaris- Stanislaw Lem
The funny and philosophically challenging, Solaris is when astronauts become haunted by characters from their past aboard a space station hovering just above an alien planet. This is brought on by the ocean, which is now believed to be a single organism and who is capable of knowing their darkest secrets and bringing them to life. With no way to communicate with the ocean, we find the scientists struggling with their own inner demons.
4. 2001: A Space Odyssey – Arthur C. Clarke
One of the best and most famous of all science fiction films, 2001, A Space Odyssey,
is about the discovery of a black monolith under the surface of the moon which turns the primitive man into a tool-using creature. What follows is the psychedelic journey of two spacemen who contends against a rogue computer and ends up in a Belle Epoque place where they first find the star child.
5. Red Mars (Mars Trilogy) – Kim Stanley Robinson
The 1993 nebula award winner novel is full of scientific plausibility as well as psychological insight. The story is about the first hundred colonists on Mars, their struggle with the new, adverse environment and their ways of terraforming the planet into a more livable one. The Martian rebellion is squashed but as resources on earth depletes, transnational corporations take control. With refugees from earth pouring in every day, a catastrophe in earth sees another rebellion brew. The novel moves on to seeing human beings of mars trying to populate other solar system planets.
6. The Martian Chronicles- Ray Bradbury
A collection of short stories which gives a moving account of human colonisation on Mars, this book talks about attempts of first colonisation, Martian rebellion, Martians dying of diseases brought on by humans, a conflict between humans who want to live in harmony and those who want to despoil the planet, nuclear war on earth. It is a haunting tale about the issues of the environment and human stupidity.
7. The Martian- Andy Weir
Now a popular Ridley Scott movie which got Matt Damon an Oscar nomination, The Martian is a gripping survival story of astronaut Watney stranded in mars when after a dust storm blows up, his companions abandoned him assuming that he is dead. Watney keeps trouble-shooting to ensure his survival while NASA when they come to know of him being alive, keeps trying to figure out how to rescue him while supplying him food.
8. Hyperion- Dan Simmons
Six travellers go on pilgrimage to Time Tombs in search of a deity creature who kills all pilgrims but one granting that person a wish. Thus, the search for this almighty Shrike is nothing short of a death sentence. Each chapter is from each pilgrim’s perspective in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales’ style.
This fantastic space opera explores the suffering of the human soul and had won the Hugo and the Locus awards.
9. The Female Man- Joanna Russ
The most powerful feminist science fiction, this novel delves into the lives of four women- Joanna who lives in the 1970s world where feminist movement is just beginning; Janet who lives in Whileaway, an utopian world where women give birth by parthenogenesis; Jeannine who lives in a world of the great depression though Hitler had been assassinated thus no second World War; and Jael who lives in a world where the battle of the sexes had been going on for more than 40 years. The novel delves deeper as the four women (who are versions of the same one) comes together.
10. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress – Robert. A. Heinlein
The most important figure in the history of American science fiction, Robert Heinlein ruled the science fiction world from the 1940s to the 1970s. One of his great works is the 1967 Hugo award winner, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. The story revolves around the revolution brought on by Mannie ( a computer techie)’s finding that the Lunar Authority colony would starve if they keep supplying hydroponic wheat to earth. What follows is the fight for independence by the “Loonies” against earth and the colony winning it. But the outcome was not what the colony had hoped for.
11. Dune – Frank Herbert
This epic novel from Frank Herbert has scary creatures, dark villains, and noble heroes and it begins with a “spice” melange that is found in the desert world Arrakis. It is used for time travel and by Bene Gesserit sisterhood for mental powers. But when Atreides family gets the control of Arrakis by the Emperor’s grace, it is a trap.
Only young Paul (who is later revealed to be the result of a genetic breeding experiment by the sisterhood) and his mother are able to escape from the clutches of Baron Harkonnen. Paul and his mother join the Fremen of the desert where paul becomes their messiah thanks to his special mental powers and form a military group that will challenge the Baron and the Emperor.
With a number of prequels and sequels to this, this Hugo Award and Nebula Award-winning novel is a breath-taking adventure that has not lost its charm over the years.
12. Neuromancer- William Gibson
A novel about the street people, it follows Case who is a hacker who is being treated to stop him accessing the Matrix and Molly, a street samurai who offers Case a cure in exchange for his services. In a bright and threatening cyberspace, these two goes through government cover-ups and double-dealing corporations to reach a powerful AI, Windermute.
A gripping take on the future, this novel had won the 1984 Nebula and PKD awards and the 1985 Hugo awards.
13. The Forever War – Joe Haldeman
An anti-war novel from Joe Haldeman, who had served in Vietnam, gives us a story of Mandella who is sent to the war between earth and Taurans (the aliens). His two years of service is equal to decades on earth due to time dilation and when he returns, he and his lover re-enlist for four more years which equates centuries in earth years.
Now a veteran Mandella is in command of a group of soldiers he does not know and it is at this point that earth learns to communicate with the Taurans and finds that the war was a mistake. The novel had won the Nebula awards 1976, Hugo Awards 1976 and the Locus SF awards 1976.
14. The Man In The High Castle- Philip K. Dick
Philip K. Dick had brought to us many famous novels that were turned into equally famous motion pictures like Blade Runner and Total recall. But as in most books turned to movies, the books hold more pleasure. The man in the High Castle follows the story of several individuals travelling under fake identities and some dealing in fake antiquities.
Based in the 1960s in an alternate world where the US is divided into three parts- Japan controlling west coast and Germany controlling East Coast with a narrow land in between governed by an independent buffer state. The story sees a Japan bureaucrat Mr. Tagoma attacking a German agent.
15. A Fire Upon The Deep- Vernor Vinge
The world portrayed in this novel is the world where the galaxy is not constant. Towards the centre, speed and thoughts are slower and as you go farther away from the centre, speed and thought process becomes faster. This is claimed to be one of the greatest original ideas- this idea of Zone of Thoughts.
The story begins when an entity called Blight is accidentally unleashed by the researchers of Beyond and they escape to the planet of Tines in the Slow Zone. These dog-like aliens have a medieval technology and have herd-wide group mind. While people in Beyond try to figure out countermeasures to stop the Blight, the researchers in Times world find themselves caught up in rival pack wars. One of the most engrossing reads, this novel had won the Hugo awards in 1993.
16. The Stars My Destination- Alfred Bester
Touted to be The Count of Monte Cristo of science fiction and one of the best science fiction novels of all time, this novel is the story of Gully Foyle who is the sole survivor after his ship was attacked. While waiting to be rescued he was ignored when a ship passed him, thus making his life about revenge once he reached earth.
Definitely not a hero,Gully Foyle still have us rooting for him thanks to the author’s wordplay, rich language and fun writing. This one is definitely a gem that is unputdownable and that can be reread over the years.
17. The Dispossessed- Ursula k. Le Guin
Winner of Nebula, Locus and Hugo Awards, The Dispossessed written by one of the finest science fiction writers, is a novel that reflected the state of our world at the time the novel was written. The planet Urras had several states like the capitalist A-Lo (US), the communist Thu (Soviet Union). The story is about Shevek, a scientist who lives in the utopic moon Anarres where a functioning anarchist society exists. But even there he finds restrictions during his work on a new theory about time. He travels to Urras for help, but there also he finds different restrictions. Basically, the novel shows the advantages and disadvantages of both types of societies.
18. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
Exploring the notion of dystopia Brave New World is not only a classic in science fiction but in world literature as well. It shows us the world that is peaceful where everyone is happy and where everyone’s needs are met. It's the world which promotes the fact that in order to have a great civilization the utmost important thing is stability.
The state is controlled so everyone has a fixed place in the society and thus have a fixed job to do. No one opposes the system as they are controlled by Soma, a drug that keeps them feeling happy. The story revolves around John the Savage, who lives beyond the reach of this controlled society. Te novel shows the conflict we feel to choose between the unhappy uncontrolled life and the fake happiness of the controlled state.
This type of hard to make a decision had been portrayed in several other kinds of literature and movies. You will find a similar notion in the famous sci-fi movie The Matrix where Cypher decides to snitch on his friends to get back to the utopian sense of a happy life instead of living his real life in a war-torn world.
19.Falling Free (Vorkosigan saga) – Lois McMaster Bujold
Less of science and full of fun, laughter and romance, the books in the Vorkosigan are about an underdog protagonist with a brilliant mind but sadly a crippled body, Miles Vorsokigan who is in the military. Balancing perfectly between tragedy and comedy, this space opera sees Miles rise through the ranks via ingenuity and by beating impossible odds. An emotional rollercoaster and an absolute riot, the book had won The Hugo awards in the year 1988.
20. The Diamond Age Neal Stephenson
Touted to be Neal Stephenson’s best work till date, the Diamond Age has won both Hugo award 1996 and Locus Award 1996. The story unveils in a world where the notion of separate countries is obsolete and human race is categorized into “phyles” based on their ethnicity, shared values, heritage, and culture. The story is a very convincing depiction of a world where nanotechnology is booming and artificial intelligence is in a decline.
Nell, the protagonist falls in the category of people who are outside the “phyle” system. She comes to possess an interactive book (The Young Lady's Illustrated Primer) and by following this book she succeeds in rising n the world and thereupon creating her own phyla. A very probable futuristic world presented in this novel makes it a must read.