I don’t just love science fiction. I also collect rare and first-edition science-fiction books by authors like Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, Poul Anderson, Ursula K. Le Guin and Kurt Vonnegut. Yes, it’s super nerdy, but everyone needs a hobby.
So when I decided to create a list of the best science-fiction books of all time, I took the job seriously. I wanted to present a wide range of authors, and I mostly focused on novels rather than short story collections. The books I chose include everything from hard science-fiction space operas like “Leviathan Wakes” to Nobel Prize-winning novels like “Never Let Me Go.”
Whether you’re putting together a science-fiction bucket list or are a casual reader looking for an entertaining Kindle read, you’ll find some great books below.
The Hugo & Nebula Awards
Before we get into our picks for the greatest science-fiction novels of all time, we need to explain the importance of the Hugo Awards and Nebula Awards to the science-fiction genre. These annual literary awards honor the best in science fiction and fantasy. Being nominated for either award is a major accomplishment for any author, and many of the best science-fiction books ever written have been honored with these awards.
Since 1953, the Hugo Awards have been the most prestigious award in science fiction. They’re administered each year by the World Science Fiction Convention, and all members can vote on the year’s best works. On the other hand, the Nebula Awards are determined by professional science-fiction and fantasy authors. Members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America association select the best novel published in the United States. The first Nebula Awards were given in 1966, with Frank Herbert’s “Dune” winning the award for Best Novel.
Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of overlap between the awards, and winning both the Hugo and Nebula awards for best novel is considered a special honor. In the history of the awards, 25 books have won both prizes, and you’ll find many of those books on our list. Some of the most notable dual winners in the sci-fi category include “Dune,” “The Left Hand of Darkness,” “The Forever War,” “Neuromancer,” “Ender’s Game,” “Speaker for the Dead” and “Ancillary Justice.”
Where Are all the Female Authors?
Particularly observant readers will notice that many of the books listed below have something in common: they were written by men. The fact that the genre has long been dominated by men hasn’t escaped the attention of readers, critics and authors, and it’s been a controversial issue in recent years, especially when it comes to annual awards. Many publishers are working hard to ensure talented women and authors of color are better represented in the genre, which is growing more diverse with each passing year.
Ranking the Best Science Fiction Books of All Time
Any list of the “best” sci-fi books will be subjective, and there are a lot of great books and authors that you won’t find below. For the purposes of this list, I’ve chosen not to include books in the alternative history, fantasy and post-apocalypse genres, so you won’t find classics like “The Man in the High Castle,” “A Wizard of Earthsea” or “The Stand” represented here. Our selections aren’t presented in any particular order.