The 10 Best Science Fiction Books
This wiki has been updated 12 times since it was first published in March of 2018. If the modern world doesn't hold enough grandeur and mystery for you, then you can delve into these sci-fi books. They make bold — and often terrifying — predictions about the future of mankind, all while teaching us important truths regarding how we should best live today. Most troubling of all, however, is how much time you can lose to each one of these page-turners. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. Skip to the best science fiction book on Amazon.
April 25, 2019:
While "Dune" and "Ender's Game" are no doubt titans of the genre, they're also likely to be among the first titles fans read when discovering science fiction. We felt those looking for fresh stories would benefit from newer options, which is why we swapped out those classics for "Dark Matter" and "Infinity Born". Note that this not a critique of those books per se, but rather an acknowledgment that fans likely don't need to be reminded just how good they are by the likes of us.
Wool is another fresh addition; it was a self-published sensation, and for good reason. While post-apocalyptic fiction isn't always considered a part of the genre, this novel has plenty else in its corner — and plus, it's just too good to leave off.
A Brief History Of Science Fiction
Science fiction continues to grow and splinter off into various subgenres, and its popularity shows no signs of waning.
When was the science fiction genre born? The answer to that question has been contested for some time, and if you know anything about sci-fi fans, then you know they love nothing more than endlessly debating technicalities.
If you really want to stretch the definition of "science fiction," then the genre was probably created around 2150 B.C.E. with the Epic of Gilgamesh. That Sumerian work combines real-world places and things with fantastical visions, thereby laying the groundwork for sci-fi as we know it today.
The style as we know it didn't begin to take shape until the 17th century C.E., however. That's when the Scientific Revolution kicked off in earnest, and new developments in fields like physics and mathematics captured the public's imagination.
The biggest impact on the creation of the genre would come from Mary Shelley and her famous novel about Dr. Frankenstein and his monster. Shelley's book was a massive success, and it proved to be incredibly influential in both the horror and sci-fi genres, both of which became popular in the latter half of the century.
Two authors from that later time stood above the others, however, and laid the groundwork for science fiction as we know it today: Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.
Of the two, Verne was more grounded in technical details, making him a forebear of modern "hard" science fiction. Wells, on the other hand, used his works to make points about the world around him, often glossing over the nitty-gritty details in the process.
The genre truly blew up in the early part of the 20th century, thanks in large part to the creation of pulp magazines. The popularity of these magazines launched many of their writers, including Robert A. Heinlein, into the mainstream consciousness. The nascent film industry took notice as well, with directors like Fritz Lang putting robots and other sci-fi staples in their movies.
Around the middle part of the century, the real world finally started to catch up, thanks to the Space Race, the dawn of the computer age, and other technological advancements. Of course, all of these developments only gave sci-fi writers more fodder for their stories, and the lines between reality and imagination are becoming blurred enough that it's hard to determine if science is inspiring fiction or vice versa.
Science fiction continues to grow and splinter off into various subgenres, and its popularity shows no signs of waning. While we may not know what the future will hold for the human race, one thing's for certain: any astonishing things that happen will probably have been predicted by some sci-fi writer years earlier.
Choosing The Right Science Fiction Book For You
As we alluded to above, "science fiction" is a massive genre, filled with dozens of smaller categories. That's both good news and bad news to readers, as finding the right book can be overwhelming — but there's a pretty good chance that, no matter what you're into, someone has written novels that fit your tastes perfectly.
Many hard sci-fi authors tend to put characterization on the back burner, instead getting lost in the interplay between their various pet theories.
One of the biggest distinctions is between "hard" and "soft" sci-fi. The former is extremely heavy on real-world science, so expect the books to be filled with technical jargon and complex theories. Soft sci-fi, on the other hand, is more welcoming to those who fell asleep in all their STEM classes.
Hard sci-fi can be, well, hard to read, especially if you're not fluent in math and engineering. Many hard sci-fi authors tend to put characterization on the back burner, instead getting lost in the interplay between their various pet theories. On the other hand, there's a good chance you'll walk away from one of these novels having learned something. Softer works, on the other hand, are usually fast-paced and breezy, with emphasis on memorable characters who just happen to live in a science fiction landscape.
You should also understand that science fiction isn't necessarily a hard-and-fast distinction, as many books are blended with other genres, like romance, fantasy, and horror. If you're a fan of another genre, there's a good chance you can find plenty of reading material that combines it with science fiction.
Ultimately, though, the best way to find something you love is to just read as much as possible until something strikes your fancy. We're really twisting your arm here, aren't we?
Times Sci-Fi Correctly Predicted The Future
While some authors seem to relish coming up with the most far-fetched ideas possible, others take care to try to envision realistic innovations — and a few such writers have ultimately been vindicated by the real world.
Someone must have been paying attention, because a little over 30 years later the first atomic bombs were unleashed on the world.
One of the most famous instances of this comes from Jules Verne's From Earth to the Moon. As you might guess from the title, it involves landing on the moon. While the idea itself may not have been all that fantastical, the fact that the real moon landing in 1969 shared many similarities with Verne's work is impressive. Verne correctly predicted the general size and shape of the spacecraft, as well as the fact that telescopes of the time would be powerful enough to view the event from Earth.
The writers of TV's Star Trek were excellent prognosticators, correctly envisioning a variety of advancements. Their transponders closely resembled modern flip phones, and they invented replicators that could print physical objects — you know, like a 3-D printer.
The most chilling prophecy might have come from H.G. Wells, however. In 1914, his novel The World Set Free featured a hand grenade made of uranium that could be unleashed with devastating consequences. Someone must have been paying attention, because a little over 30 years later the first atomic bombs were unleashed on the world.
There are too many other examples to mention here, and the list keeps growing longer every year. We may still be waiting on flying cars and robot butlers, but at least we've dodged the zombies — so far, anyway.
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