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Poll: Best Science Fiction Books?


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After the great discussion the other day about the best fantasy books, I couldn’t resist doing the same thing with the best science fiction books. The most interesting part of our conversation for me was that there are many different opinions about when sci fi becomes fantasy, or vice versa. Several comments and emails mentioned Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, while at least one commenter disqualified King’s opus as fantasy because it had guns in it.

I don’t read a ton of science fiction, but when I find something that I really love, there are few types of books I enjoy more. It’s also nice to be able to accidentally learn some science without sitting down with an actual science book. I’ll give you a few of my absolute favorites and then let you take it away.

  • Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (this is who I think of when I think of hard science fiction)
  • Crytonomicon, also by Stephenson
  • Neuromancer by William Gibson
  • The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury (brief review in my books with aliens)
  • Dune by Frank Herbert (full Dune book review)

What say you? Gimmie some recommendations for great science fiction books and let’s compare notes. Gimmie!

Also, because I loved the 8 bit Nintendo, I’m going to include my review of the 8 bit game Metroid, just because.


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  • John Anyasor February 16, 2011, 10:51 am

    The Last Legends of Earth by A.A. Attanasio.

    Epic read.

  • Andria February 16, 2011, 10:57 am

    I would put Herbert above Stephenson any day, just because I feel like Herbert did such a great job of developing not just the concepts, but also the story and the characters. Stephenson’s Snow Crash seemed to be a superficial nod to cyberpunk without really developing the characters enough for me to be interested in them. I expect to get slammed for this assessment, but please be kind. 🙂

    • Josh Hanagarne February 16, 2011, 11:03 am

      Andria, no slamming. I mention Stephenson specifically with regards to the “science” of science fiction. When I read Cryptonomicon I was constantly having to look up terms about code-breaking and biology and all sorts of scientific terms and concepts that I just wasn’t familiar with at all. When i read, and reread, Dune, I feel like my working knowledge of science is good enough so that I don’t need to supplement it with actual scientific study to enjoy the story more.

      Does that make sense?

      • Andria February 16, 2011, 11:13 am

        That makes sense. I think I might be one of the few people though who didn’t really care for Snow Crash, especially. 🙂

        • Jeroen February 16, 2011, 12:17 pm

          I liked Snow Crash, but really loved Crytonomicon. I don’t know if I would call it science fiction (although, literally it is fiction about science) but it is one of my favorite books.

          • Josh Hanagarne February 16, 2011, 1:43 pm

            Jeroen, did you read the others in that series?

          • Jeroen February 17, 2011, 12:46 am

            I’ve read Quicksilver and liked it a lot. I haven’t read the other two yet.

    • Ryan May 18, 2011, 9:12 pm

      I am a serious Sci Fi reader and I can say without a doubt that Stephenson is one of the top writers in the field today. I enjoyed Snow Crash, but it contains just a hint of the genius that can be found in works such as Diamond Age and Anathem. I have to say that Anathem is a remarkable and incredibly rewarding read filled with some of the most original and provoking ideas I’ve ever come across, rivaling scale and scope of Herbert’s Dune series (which I also absolutely love).

  • Iain D February 16, 2011, 11:59 am

    I actually couldn’t get into Neuromancer. I’m not sure why.

    I’ll nominate “Stranger in a Strange Land” by Heinlein. It’s fairly light on the science, but there are some fun ideas in it if you can look past the characters tendencies to lecture each other.

    I liked Snowcrash, but I think Cryptonomicon was better. Anathem (his most recent book) was so-so.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 16, 2011, 1:43 pm

      I had a hard time with Anathem. As it turned out, I was less riveted by the workings of clocks than I thought:)

  • Jonathan February 16, 2011, 12:02 pm

    Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein was a life changer for me. All of his books are great.

    Also, be sure to check out Wild Cards by George RR Martin and of course, the entire Dune series, not just the first one.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 16, 2011, 1:43 pm

      Thanks Jonathan. I’ve read the first 4 Dune books so far, but haven’t read any of George RR Martin outside of the Fire and Ice books. Appreciated.

  • atxguy February 16, 2011, 2:57 pm

    Current favorite: Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect by Roger Williams (self-published or free on the internet…definitely not for kiddoes…a bit gory)


    I loved Snow Crash and Neuromancer. Actually Count Zero is my favorite of Gibson’s work. Never could get into Dune.

    I’m a big fan of Heinlein’s short stories (Future History).

    Other all time faves (today…ask me tomorrow and I might change my mind):
    The Regiment by John Dalmas
    Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
    Starfish by Peter Watts
    Ender’s Game

  • Boris February 16, 2011, 3:22 pm

    Hitchhiker’s Guide?

  • Jodi Kaplan February 16, 2011, 3:34 pm

    Funny you mention Dune – someone left a spammy comment on my blog today advocating “spice” as a recreational drug?!

    Meanwhile, best SF books:

    1) Dune
    2) Stardance
    3) Ender’s Game
    4) Dawn (heck, most of Octavia Butler’s books)
    5) Barrayar (read Shards of Honor first)
    6) I, Robot – the good doctor was poor at characters, but his ideas were outstanding

    And, a short story: Nightfall (the novel stunk – read the short story instead)

  • Ivana Sendecka February 16, 2011, 3:50 pm

    For me the best sci-fi books: Heinlein – Stranger in A Strange Land
    & Arthur Clarke’s – 4 parts of Rama.
    cheers from Slovakia,

  • Judd February 16, 2011, 5:39 pm

    The Sparrow by is holding my #1 spot for best sci-fi book ever; it just edged out Dune, the book that held the spot since I was 13.

    Richard K. Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs books are a splendid blend of sci-fi sex, violence and politics that I can’t really resist. Check out all three (Altered Carbon, Broken Angels, Woken Furies) and while we’re talking about Morgan, Black Man is great too (called Thirteen in the states).

    I am eager to chew my way through Ian M. Banks’ Culture novels but so far the only one I have read is Use of Weapons, which was splendid and smart.

    That is a pretty solid list from my science fiction shelves.

    • Mike March 14, 2011, 4:39 pm

      Judd, I just read The Sparrow based on your recomendation. It’s very interesting. Although science fiction it’s really sort of phylosiphy of religion / atheism. The science fiction serves to sharpen the moral issues.

      I’m a huge Dune fan so not sure if I’d put this higher or lower – not that it makes a bit of difference. A good book is a good book. I went right out and got the sequel: Children of God. So I’m becoming a Mary Doria Russell fan.

  • Johan February 17, 2011, 4:52 am

    Dune by Frank Herbert, definitely.

    Starfarers by Poul Anderson. Humans discover signs of the first Alien civilization, and a group of people set out to meet them in the best spaceship ever build, but still at sub-light speeds. Time is different when traveling at sub-light speed, weeks on board means centuries pass on earth.

    The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. Vietnam veteran wrote book on the absurdity of war but set on a galactic scale. Ships also travel at sub-light speed. Which gives planning ahead a whole new meaning.

    Sub-light speed novels are something different, no easy solutions like warpspeed or hyperdrive.

    The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross. Mix of hard SF, cyberpunk, Lovecraftian horror, and James Bond, sprinkled with wit and sarcasm. Special, you will probably either like it or loathe it.

    Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. Modern version of George Orwell’s book, including teens, hacking, anonymous, and Department of Homeland Security.

  • Gingersnapper February 17, 2011, 7:25 am

    I’m not too picky about sorting out the difference between SF and fantasy, but my thumbnail def would be that SF is about the effect of science and/or technology on humans and their relationships and societies, with said science being a plausible extension of current knowledge. There are some stories that fall right smack in the middle, or challenge that definition (ex: Heinlein’s “Magic, Inc.” or “Glory Road”; much of Bradbury.)

    At any rate, my favorite SF short story is John Varley’s The Pusher. It not only meets my criterion 🙂 but it’s a brilliant story in itself, I think. I can’t pick a favorite novel, but I’ve always enjoyed “This Perfect Day” by Ira Levin and “Time Enough For Love” by Heinlein.

  • Stephanie Tournas February 17, 2011, 11:39 am

    H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine is my husband’s favorite. He’s the fantasy-lover at our house.

  • Andria February 17, 2011, 2:14 pm

    I love reading about others’ favorites. Can you also do a blog/poll about other readers’ favorite fantasy authors/novels/series? I have plenty of long standing favorites in this genre, and I would be really interested in hearing what else you and others recommend. Great post, as usual, Josh! And by the way, I hope you write another book of your own. 🙂

  • wil February 19, 2011, 4:56 pm

    Hi. I just discovered your blog. Your five recommendations are some of my favorites as well.

    Lately I haven’t read much hardcore sci-fi, and I’m not sure these technically count as sci-fi, but they’re both great and definitely fantastical/reality-bending: The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall and House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (which I see you’ve read as well).

  • RAHUL March 1, 2011, 8:36 am

    Good morning,i am Rahul ,from INDIA, i Like science Fiction.
    i Believe our Rebirth is also on other planets as Aliens; in that planets Aliens Life span is 1,000years,or 10,000years,or 100,000years; in that planets Aliens Live without polution(They use solar energy,not use petrol,diesel Like us);They are Looking so Beautiful compare to us(not Like as Hollywood film Aliens);God created Not only our Dirty planet,he also created,good world’s,for who people did good Things,in their past Life;if God is not Here,Then all planets,stars(suns),Asteroids,Black Holes are collapsed (crushed by Accident);
    i Think There is No Hell and No Heaven; God created only Hell Type of planets(Like our planet)& Heaven Type of planets;
    i Think There is No Ghost. if There is Ghost, Then God Didn’t created our planets&universe; Because,Ghost Destroy our planets & universe; only ourr past Life karma is Deside our Luck or Bad Luck; But suicide is Not Death;
    Note:There are 9 planets,100 moons in our solar system,There are 10,000crores (100 Billions) above solar systems in our Galaxy,There are above 10,000crores(100 Billions) Galaxies in our Universe; There are Lot of universes in space; .

  • AJ Risio March 16, 2011, 12:14 pm

    Johan already mentioned the Forever War, which I think would also qualify in the hard science category. It is a wonderful piece and it works on multiple levels. It addresses the alienation felt by soldiers returning home as only a veteran could.
    I consider great science fiction to be those books I come back to, again and again. I am a sucker for the classics and many of these hit my list. Asimov needs to be mentioned (I would choose the Foundation series over the Robot series-even though they do merge in the end.) Between the already mentioned Dune and Starship Troopers by Heinlein, it is tough to figure out which one holds the distinction of having been reread the most. I also loved Bio of a Space Tyrant by Piers Anthony. Finally, I have to include Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvius with Rama. I find these stand the test of time and read as well to my adult tastes as they did to my teenage dreams.

  • smanzig April 10, 2011, 9:55 pm

    LOVED “Hyperion” series by Dan Simmon! Also by him…”The Terror” and…recently…”Drood”. Simmons kills me almost every time!

  • smanzig April 10, 2011, 9:56 pm

    LOVED “Hyperion” series by Dan Simmon!

  • Eldar May 17, 2011, 7:08 pm

    1. Enders Game (Interchangeable with Dune)
    2. Dune (Without a doubt one of the best Sci Fi Novels ever written)
    3. Hyperion (awesome books)
    4. Foundation (Isaac Assimovs best books, Ideas and Characters)
    5. Honor Harrington Series (Good reading, never gets old)
    6. Mutineers Moon (a new approach to an old idea)
    7. Starfarers (Great book….)
    8. Psion (Awesome book and series)
    9. Neuromancer (Let’s just say “Interesting and leave it at that”)
    10. The Forge of God (Do I need say anything?)

    Note: This is my opinion on the top 10. I’m open to whatever disagreements you may have and may actually agree with you. It’s been a long time since I’ve read some of these.

  • m October 5, 2011, 7:41 pm

    I like reading about other folks’ favorite books–so thanks for sharing.

    I like a lot of various science fiction…I’ll throw out a few that have been special to me.

    *A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller Jr.
    *The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin (among several others)
    *To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip Jose Farmer
    *the John Carter of Mars books by Edgar Rice Burroughs
    *the Han Solo books by Brian Daley
    *Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
    *Nightwings by Robert Silverberg
    *The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin
    *several Philip K. Dick books (Galactic Pot-Healer and Maze of Death are two of many)
    *All My Sins Remembered by Joe Haldeman (and, like has been already mentioned, The Forever War)