One of my favourite quotes about reading is from the award-winning author, Jhumpa Lahiri. She said, ‘that’s the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet.’, which is so true. Fiction can allow you to experience the far-flung corners of the world, but a great science fiction book can do more than that. The best science fiction books of all time can transport you to worlds you didn’t even know existed; meet creatures and beings that have burst out of an author’s mind and travel through both time and space. Perhaps this is why the genre is so popular, with book sales from the genre doubling since 2010.  

I am personally a big fan of all things sci-fi, so when I decided to compile a list of the best science fiction books of all time, I was excited to see which books would make such a list.  To assemble this list of the best science fiction books of all time, I have reached out to some wonderful authors from the genre.  Although there was the typical collective groan of – ‘how can I possibly nominate just three books?!’ – I managed to have four great guests nominate what they believe to be the best science fiction books of all time. Collectively they have authored many books in this genre and read many hundreds more! Before we discover which books have made this special list, we must first meet that panel of science fiction aficionados…

Ada PalmerAda Palmer

Ada Palmer is an author and historian. Her first science fiction novels Too Like the Lightning, Seven Surrenders, and The Will to Battle explore how humanity’s cultural and historical legacies might evolve in a future of borderless nations and globally commixing populations. Too Like the Lightning was a Best Novel Hugo finalist, and won the Compton Crook Award, while Ada received the Campbell Award. She teaches history at the University of Chicago.

Jack McDevittJack McDevitt

Jack McDevitt is a science fiction author whose novels frequently deal with attempts to make contact with alien races and with archaeology or xenoarchaeology. McDevitt’s novels frequently raise questions which he does not attempt to answer. He prefers to leave ambiguities to puzzle and intrigue his readers: “Some things are best left to the reader’s very able imagination.” The novel Seeker won the 2006 Nebula Award for Best Novel, given by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

jo WaltonJo Walton

Jo Walton is an author whose most recent book is entitled An Informal History of the Hugos, in which she takes a personal look back at science fiction’s Hugo Awards. She won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2002, the World Fantasy Award for Tooth and Claw in 2004, the Hugo and Nebula awards for Among Others in 2012, and in 2014 both the Tiptree Award for My Real Children and the Locus Non Fiction award for What Makes This Book So Great.

David PedreiraDavid Pedreira

David Pedreira is a science fiction author, who is also a former reporter for newspapers including the Tampa Tribune and the St. Petersburg Times. David won awards for his writing from the Associated Press, the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Newspaper Editors. His most recent release, Gunpowder Moon; has been recognised by numerous publications, including Barnes & Nobles including it in a list of ’25 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Debuts to Watch for in 2018′.

Now, let’s discover which great sci-fi books they have selected…

Phoenix by Osamu Tezuka

Ada Palmer:

A twelve-volume manga epic responding to World War II, that uses historical fiction and deep future science fiction to seek a way to understand how the Buddhist message that “All life is sacred” could be an honest description of our universe where living beings–humans–endure such suffering as World War brings and also commit such atrocities as genocide. The volumes alternate in time, the first taking place at the very beginning of the historical record, the second in the extreme far future as humankind is dying out on an exhausted Earth, the third in the slightly less archaic past, the fourth in a slightly less distant future, converging toward the present and reflecting on the life cycle of humanity as a species, but woven together with atemporal reincarnation so that sometimes sufferings people endure in the distant past turn out to be karmic justice for atrocities they committed in the distant future. The work asks whether a justice humans can never understand is truly justice, and what the sacredness of life means in a cosmos governed by the Phoenix and her “wise and cruel law” that “All things are born, and all things die.”

Future History: The Past Through Tomorrow by Robert A. Heinlein

Jack McDevitt:

This is a collection is of glimpses at what life might look like as the world changes and technology moves on. Highways transport vehicles in “The Roads Must Roll.” Occupants of a space ship must stop an air leak by sitting on the problem in “Gentlemen, Be Seated.” A married couple living in Luna City yearn for the good old days on Earth in “It’s Great To Be Back.” When they do return, life is not the way they remembered and they’re ultimately relieved to get back to the Moon. Other stories are equally powerful. Also included in the collection is “The Green Hills of Earth,” which gets my vote as the best SF story ever.

Cyteen by C.J. Cherryh

Jo Walton:

Cyteen is the story of a powerful scientist and politician on a planet in the future, and the attempt to clone her and reproduce her life after her original is murdered. But that’s just the beginning because the issue of replicating a personality leads to the question of how to replicate a whole human society and its values. Cyteen deals head-on with identity, power, sexuality, psychology, sociology, and personal responsibility, spiralling in on what it means to be human. It also has excellent characters and an utterly absorbing world.

Dune by Frank Herbert

David Pedreira:

Dune has so many layers. It is part sci-fi and part epic fantasy, and in my opinion it handles politics better than any other novel in the science fiction genre, because the political structures never feel forced or fabricated. For a book set millennia into the future, it remains incredibly timely and human, with its blend of mysticism, declining empires, environmental decay, and epic struggles over natural resources.  But more than anything, it leaves behind a cinematic vision that never goes away. When I think of Dune, my mind goes orange. I can smell the spice in the sand, and feel the movement of sandworms under my feet.

Famous Science Fiction Stories edited by Raymond J. Healy and J. Francis McComas

Jack McDevitt:

An early anthology of gripping stories by Robert Heinlein, A. E. Van Vogt, Alfred Bester, Isaac Asimov, Anthony Boucher, L. Sprague de Camp, John W. Campbell (writing as Don Stuart), and others. Most of the stories were originally published by Campbell during the era when he was guiding SF to its golden days.

1984 by george orwellNineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Ada Palmer:

Big Brother, doublethink, thoughtcrime, the chocolate ration has been increased to two ounces; Orwell created a vocabulary for thinking and talking about totalitarianism and authoritarianism, which have disseminated around the world, far beyond the millions who have read the book itself. Orwell was right that the vocabulary in which we think and speak can make it harder or easier to express ourselves or even fully form ideas, both personal and political.  Thus the inventor of Newspeak and its chilling project to make language incapable of expressing resistance gifted us just the opposite, language which lets us pack immensely sophisticated critiques of the darker turns of modern civilization into a single word: Orwellian.

The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin

Jo Walton:

The Dispossessed is written iike a Maori spiral pattern, starting and ending in the middle. It follows the life of Shevek, a scientist from Anarres, a planet founded as a utopian experiment by dissidents from Urras, now a hundred and fifty years later it is something else. It’s the story of Anarres and Urras, which are each other’s moons and shadows, of politics and physics and communication. Le Guin wrote a number of wonderful hugely influential books, but I think this is her masterpiece, written at the top of her powers. You don’t even think of this as worldbuilding, it’s as if she’s reporting from somewhere real.

2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

David Pedreira:

This is one of the first science fiction novels I read as a kid, and it got me hooked. I don’t think the novel gets enough credit because it is so inextricably tied to the movie. Both are brilliant, especially because they take different paths to the same destination. The novel hits primordial nerves and leaves you with a sense of wonder and mystery about the universe. And it’s all told through the story of Earth, humanity, and the pros and cons of human invention. And, of course, it has Hal—still my favorite AI of all time.

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

Jack McDevitt:

Possibly Bradbury’s best work, which is probably saying enough. A collection of connected stories about our early years on Mars as we thought, during the 40’s and 50’s, they might actually occur. The Martians themselves are missing. The tales are wistful, framed with a sense of loss. My favorite moment depicts a family with three sons standing on the edge of a canal –yes, the canals are there—and when one of the boys asks, Daddy, where are the Martians? You told us they were here, he responds by saying they are here and invites them to look down at their reflections.

The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe

Ada Palmer:

the book of the new sun - best science fiction books of all timeDeep Future, science fiction set so far down humanity’s path that every mountain on the planet has been carved into a famous face, and the days before First Contact and space empires are remembered only in mythology.  In contrast with imagined worlds where readers have learned to expect and accept the Star Trek one-culture-per-planet, writing a long Earth history is a different kind of worldbuilding challenge, requiring the extra density of showing layered eras stacked like tree rings: ancient, Medieval, Renaissance, and many beyond, the cumulative complexity of a culture filling up the time between the present and the dimming of the sun.  The Book of the New Sun set new standards for complexity of world, writing style, narration, and the reader’s relationship with the narrator, innovating in spheres far beyond plot and characters, and pushing the envelope of the genre’s ambition.

Stars in my Pocket like Grains of Sand by Samuel R. Delany

Jo Walton:

Rilke’s poem The Archaic Torso of Apollo ends “You must change your life” and reading Delany often makes me feel that way too. Stars in My Pocket is a kaleidoscopic immersion into a future that feels — unusually — as complex and diverse as the present. SF tends to give us worlds that are sparse and pared down, but Delany does not just full sensory but worlds that are full of the kinds of quirks, historical remnants, customs, expectations and culture clashes that we find in real history. Stars in My Pocket is about the possibility of entire world going into cultural fugue and spontaneously destroying themselves for reasons nobody understands, but it is also about aliens, economics and true love, and will make you think about feminism, sexuality, and the purpose of art.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

David Pedreira:

A lot of great science fiction has been written in the last forty years (heck, a lot of excellent work has been published in the past five years!), but I’m going to stick with the foundational stuff. And Frankenstein is foundational. I mean, it’s archetypal. It probably has influenced more novelists, musicians, comic book writers, playwrights, and filmmakers than any other novel—everything from Alien to Asimov to Stephen King. It’s been copied, spoofed, and spun off into new franchises and genres. I think it’s endured because it is beautifully written, and it stirs that ancient and abiding fear of what happens when humans play God.

What do you think are the best science fiction books of all time? Let us know which books you’d nominate as the best science fiction books of all time, on Facebook and Twitter. If you enjoyed this, don’t miss our recent reading list, The Best Fantasy YA Books.