Since so many of you asked, I’m the guy who’s spent the last 6 years reading NOTHING but science fiction. Here’s my top 15 list.
Let me start by saying this is the list of books that **I enjoyed**. I'm not saying that #1 is better than #10, I'm simply saying I enjoyed it more. Not all of these books have crazy symbolism and story arcs and deep character/world building, some of them were just fun reads.
I have read nearly every classic science fiction book available, and a lot of contemporary and non-classics as well. Also, a disclaimer: there is no cyberpunk in here, no Stephenson or Gibson. I have tried to read several cyberpunk authors and simply didn't find them enjoyable, despite the talent that is clearly present in their writings and world building skills. Oh, and I haven't read the Foundation series, so that's why it's not on here (yet).
Apologies for not doing a top 25 (or even a top 100 that was requested), I just don't have the time.
So, without further ado, here are my top 15:
- The Sparrow (Mary Doria Russell) – I addressed this in my previous post, I thought this book was fantastic. The first half is slow, yes, but the second half more than made up for it in my opinion. A Jesuit priest and his friends discover singing coming from a planet 4-5 light years away. The Jesuits are the first to be able to mount an expedition to this new planet, and the priest and his friends are the crew selected to lead it. The story starts with the priest, back on Earth after the trip, and all of humanity wants him dead or imprisoned. This book gave me a more intense emotional reaction than any book I've ever read. I literally shouted out loud "NO NO no no no no no no…" at one point and had to put it down for the day.
- Hyperion Series (Dan Simmons) – The Sparrow knocked this out of first place, yes, but I haven't read the sequel to it, so as far as series of books go, this one is at the top bar none. I preferred the first two books, but the second two were very fun reads as well. 7 people are selected all around the universe to venture into the Time Tombs in a mysterious planet with a violent and murderous monster on it known as the Shrike. That's all I can say, this story is so sprawling that anything more than that just doesn't do it justice. Just an all around unbelievable experience.
- The Stand (Steven King) – A virus wipes out 99% of the population, and the survivors have dreams that direct them to either Boulder, CO, where civilization is starting to rebuild (symbolically Heaven), or Las Vegas, which is more a Mad-Max-everyones-killing-each-other-no-laws-type society (symbolically Hell). Whether you consider it science fiction or not, this deserves to make the list. Loved this one. I've heard it compared to Swan Song, so I was excited to pick that up, but was ultimately disappointed. There's no argument to be made for SS being better than The Stand.
- I, Robot (Isaac Asimov) – I picked this book up semi-dreading the read, and just trying to work my way through the classics. I figured it was one of those classics that everyone wants to have read but no one wants to read. I was dead wrong. I knew it was going to make a statement about A.I., but I didn't know how entertaining it was going to be. Every story, every section, every word was also run to read, and the writing style kept my attention from start to finish.
- Dune (Frank Herbert) – No surprise here, it's an absolute classic. Not much to say about this book that hasn't already been said. If you haven't read it, do so immediately.
- The Forge of God (Greg Bear) – An alien lands in the United States, and the only message he can give us before he dies is "I'm sorry, I'm too late" or something to that effect. I love alien contact novels, and this was probably my favorite. Sprawling, a lot of characters, a lot of viewpoints and different situation. Huge action, a real page-turner. This isn't the most philosophical or complex book, but it is a massively fun read. And the end, damn the end was crazy. I could definitely see it being made into a movie, but it doesn't have the feel of a novel written specifically to be made into a movie.
- The Forever War (Joe Haldeman) – I believe this was the first military sci-fi book I read. I didn't know much about military sci-fi and was doubtful that I would like it, especially since it sounded like a parallel of the Vietnam War. Again, dead wrong. This book has a lot to say, and it says it extremely eloquently. Humanity is in an interstellar war against the Taurens, and the soldiers who visit home (because of time dilation) visit after huge periods of time, so it's a good take on where humanity will be in 500, 1000, and 10000 years from now. Again, this one was hard to put down.
- Not Alone (Craig Falconer) – A lot of you probably haven't heard of this book, I think it's pretty obscure. Why is it so high up on this list? Well some of my favorite novels are alien first-contact novels, and my favorite parts of those novels are the moments between a group of people finding out about the existence of ETs and whole world finding out about them. This book is that idea under a magnifying glass. A UFO enthusiast stumbles upon incontrovertible evidence that not only do aliens exist, but that humanity has had contact with them for years. And what does he do? He leaks it anonymously on Twitter, which of course leads to a melt down as the world sees the evidence. Great book, in fact I enjoyed it so much I messaged Craig Falconer on Facebook after I finished it just to tell him what a fun read I thought it was.
- The Sirens of Titan (Kurt Vonnegut) – An interstellar story as only Vonnegut could tell it. My favorite Vonnegut book besides maybe his Welcome to the Monkey House collection of short stories. If you've never read any Vonnegut, I'd still say it's a great place to start.
- Nightfall (Isaac Asimov + Robert Silverberg) – Takes place on a planet in a multiple star solar system that never experiences night. Within even 15 minutes of pure darkness, residents of the planet lose their minds or even die. Scientists on the planet discover that once every 2000 years, there is a total solar eclipse that leave the planet in complete darkness, which matches up with the fact that once every 2000 years their entire civilization completely caves in. Of course they make this discovery very close to the 2000 year mark.
- Old Man's War (John Scalzi) – Military sci-fi, the elderly can basically get a complete regeneration of their body, restoring them to their 20s, if they agree to fight in an interstellar war. I'm not making it sound very interesting, but it was a great read.
- Childhood's End (Arthur C. Clarke) – Mmmm love me some Arthur C. Clarke. A peaceful alien invasion happens, with the result being that the aliens will share a technology, etc, if humanity agrees to end all wars, ban slavery, things of that nature. Humans do, and the results humanity sees within themselves, and the changes the Overlords bring make quite the interesting novel.
- Spin (Robert Charles Wilson) – One night, all the stars go out. It's discovered that someone or something has put a permeable membrane all around Earth, and no one knows why. Of course our protagonist dedicates his life to figuring out what's going on. I particularly liked the ending to this book. Great read, fun.
- Starship Troopers (Robert Heinlein)- Another military sci fi in the vein of Old Man's War and The Forever War. I think I read all 3 of these back to back. They're sort of the heavy hitters of the military sci-fi genre, and I loved everyone one of them. Other military sci-fi I've tried to read, and they just don't do it for me.
- Footfall (Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle) – Almost forgot this one, but it's about an alien invasion where the aliens aren't that far ahead of humans, technologically. And they show up to our planet expecting us to still be in the stone age, so they're surprised when they see how little time it's taken us to come so far. Extremely entertaining, and gives viewpoints from both human and alien characters. The only thing I didn't like was how the aliens supposedly looked. Like baby elephants, pretty much.
Honorable Mentions: Ringworld, Out of the Dark, I am Legend, The Three-Body Problem, War of the Worlds, Rendezvous with Rama, Calculating God, Roadside Picnic, The Puppet Masters
Yes, I'm sure I've forgotten some good ones, be it intentionally or not, I'm writing this over my lunch break.
Anyway, that's my list. Hope you enjoyed, and hopefully it gave you some recommendations for future reading. Feel free to message me for specific recommendations or anything else.
Edit: Yep forgot the Enders Game series, probably should be on there. I read it like 30 times when I was a kid and sometimes forget it’s even science fiction.
Edit2: Since I guess I'm on the front page now, here's a quick edit. I know I should read the Foundation Series, The Culture series, and Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep. I read before bed a lot and these huge, sprawling space operas can sometimes be a lot after a long day. And I stand by decision to put Starship Troopers over Stranger in a Strange Land, but I'll allow that both Stranger and Moon is a Harsh Mistress should probably have been an honorable mention. Also for any of you that read or have read #8, Not Alone, I'd love to know what you think about it.
Edit3: All right, all right, I'll join GoodReads. My username is morbowillcrushyou, feel free to add me!