The top 10 sci-fi books of all time.

Did you know that there is an official Discover Sci-Fi Facebook group?

Fueled by the opinions of hundreds of sci-fi fans like yourself, each week we spark a new debate where you guys battle it out over which books rank at top of best ever lists.

Ordered from 10 to 1 below based on your votes in the group, we kicked off our “top 10” list with a bang seeking out the winner for best sci-fi book of all time.

Click on any of the links to pick up copies of those you're missing from your collection, and then add your comments at the bottom of this post (or in our Facebook group) to let us know if you agree (or not!).

10. Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein

Johnnie Rico never really intended to join up—and definitely not the infantry. But now that he’s in the thick of it, trying to get through combat training harder than anything he could have imagined, he knows everyone in his unit is one bad move away from buying the farm in the interstellar war the Terran Federation is waging against the Arachnids.”

Rounding out the top 10 list is cult classic Starship Troopers (the first of 3 books by Robert A. Heinlein that made this list). In this controversial Hugo Award-winning bestseller, a recruit of the future goes through the toughest boot camp in the Universe—and into battle against mankind’s most alarming enemy…

9. 1984 by George Orwell

In 1984, London is a grim city in the totalitarian state of Oceania where Big Brother is always watching you and the Thought Police can practically read your mind. Winston Smith is a man in grave danger for the simple reason that his memory still functions. Drawn into a forbidden love affair, Winston finds the courage to join a secret revolutionary organization called The Brotherhood, dedicated to the destruction of the Party. Together with his beloved Julia, he hazards his life in a deadly match against the powers that be.”

At number 9, George Orwell’s 1984 has taken on new life with extraordinary relevance and renewed popularity in recent days. Among the seminal texts of the 20th century, Nineteen Eighty-Four is a rare work that grows more haunting as its futuristic purgatory becomes more real. Published in 1949, the book offers political satirist George Orwell's nightmare vision of a totalitarian, bureaucratic world and one poor stiff's attempt to find individuality. The brilliance of the novel is Orwell's prescience of modern life–the ubiquity of television, the distortion of the language–and his ability to construct such a thorough version of hell. Required reading for students since it was published, it ranks among the most terrifying novels ever written.

8. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein

In Heinlein's gripping tale of revolution on the moon in 2076, “Loonies” are kept poor and oppressed by an Earth-based Authority that turns huge profits at their expense. A small band of dissidents, including a one-armed computer jock, a radical young woman, a past-his-prime academic and a nearly omnipotent computer named Mike, ignite the fires of revolution despite the near certainty of failure and death.”

Widely acknowledged as one of Robert A. Heinlein's greatest works, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress rose from the golden age of science fiction to become an undisputed classic–and a touchstone for the philosophy of personal responsibility and political freedom. A revolution on a lunar penal colony–aided by a self-aware supercomputer–provides the framework for a story of a diverse group of men and women grappling with the ever-changing definitions of humanity, technology, and free will–themes that resonate just as strongly today as they did when the novel was first published. 

7. Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey

“On a beautiful world called Pern, an ancient way of life is about to come under attack from a myth that is all too real. Lessa is an outcast survivor—her parents murdered, her birthright stolen—a strong young woman who has never stopped dreaming of revenge. But when an ancient threat to Pern reemerges, Lessa will rise—upon the back of a great dragon with whom she shares a telepathic bond more intimate than any human connection. Together, dragon and rider will fly . . . and Pern will be changed forever.”

Coming in at #7, read Dragonflight and you're confronted with McCaffrey the storyteller in her prime, staking a claim for being one of the influential fantasy and SF novelists of her generation – and doing it, remarkably, in the same novel.

6. Ringworld by Larry Niven

“Louis Wu, accompanied by a young woman with genes for luck, and a captured kzin – a warlike species resembling 8-foot-tall cats — are taken on a space ship run by a brilliant 2-headed alien called Nessus. Their destination is the Ringworld, an artificially constructed ring with high walls that hold 3 million times the area of Earth. Its origins are shrouded in mystery.”

Winner of both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel, RINGWORLD remains a favorite among science fiction readers, and came in at #6 according to the DSF community.

5. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game tells the story of a young boy, Ender Wiggin, who is sent to a training academy named Battle School, located in orbit above the Earth, built to train people to become soldiers that will one day battle against a vast alien race known as “Buggers”. Ender goes up there, trying his best to become promoted in the difficult training scheme; his brother and sister are trying to restore the world and to make it a better place. For Ender, the training is tough. He is granted a very special teacher, who will help him to become a commander to save humanity from the Third Invasion.”

This futuristic tale involves aliens, political discourse on the Internet, sophisticated computer games, and an orbiting battle station. Yet the reason it rings true for so many is that it is first and foremost a tale of humanity; a tale of a boy struggling to grow up into someone he can respect while living in an environment stripped of choices. Ender's Game is a must-read book for science fiction lovers, and a key conversion read for their friends who “don't read science fiction.”

4. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

Raised by Martians on Mars, Valentine Michael Smith is a human who has never seen another member of his species. Sent to Earth, he is a stranger who must learn what it is to be a man. But his own beliefs and his powers far exceed the limits of humankind, and as he teaches them about grokking and water-sharing, he also inspires a transformation that will alter Earth’s inhabitants forever…”

Robert Heinlein's Hugo Award-winning all-time masterpiece, the brilliant novel that grew from a cult favorite to a bestseller to a science fiction classic.

3. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Join Douglas Adams's hapless hero Arthur Dent as he travels the galaxy with his intrepid pal Ford Prefect, getting into horrible messes and generally wreaking hilarious havoc. Dent is grabbed from Earth moments before a cosmic construction team obliterates the planet to build a freeway.”

Nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read, Discover Sci-Fi fans agree, placing The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams at #3 on your top sci-fi book list.

You'll never read funnier science fiction; Adams is a master of intelligent satire, barbed wit, and comedic dialogue. The Hitchhiker's Guide is rich in comedic detail and thought-provoking situations and stands up to multiple reads. Required reading for science fiction fans, this book (and its follow-ups) is also sure to please fans of Monty Python, Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, and British sitcoms.

2. Dune by Frank Herbert

This Hugo and Nebula Award winner tells the sweeping tale of a desert planet called Arrakis, the focus of an intricate power struggle in a byzantine interstellar empire. Arrakis is the sole source of Melange, the “spice of spices.” Melange is necessary for interstellar travel and grants psychic powers and longevity, so whoever controls it wields great influence.

The troubles begin when stewardship of Arrakis is transferred by the Emperor from the Harkonnen Noble House to House Atreides. The Harkonnens don't want to give up their privilege, though, and through sabotage and treachery they cast young Duke Paul Atreides out into the planet's harsh environment to die. There he falls in with the Fremen, a tribe of desert dwellers who become the basis of the army with which he will reclaim what's rightfully his. Paul Atreides, though, is far more than just a usurped duke. He might be the end product of a very long-term genetic experiment designed to breed a super human; he might be a messiah. His struggle is at the center of a nexus of powerful people and events, and the repercussions will be felt throughout the Imperium.”

A stunning blend of adventure and mysticism, environmentalism and politics, Dune won the first Nebula Award, shared the Hugo Award, and formed the basis of what is undoubtedly the grandest epic in science fiction.

1. The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov

“The Foundation Trilogy is a series of tales set so far in the future that Earth is all but forgotten by humans who live throughout the galaxy. Yet all is not well with the Galactic Empire. Its vast size is crippling to it. In particular, the administrative planet, honeycombed and tunneled with offices and staff, is vulnerable to attack or breakdown. The only person willing to confront this imminent catastrophe is Hari Seldon, a psychohistorian and mathematician. Seldon can scientifically predict the future, and it doesn't look pretty: a new Dark Age is scheduled to send humanity into barbarism in 500 years. He concocts a scheme to save the knowledge of the race in an Encyclopedia Galactica. But this project will take generations to complete, and who will take up the torch after him?”

Coming in at #1 , The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov is loved by sci-fi fans the world over. Asimov was one the world's most celebrated and prolific science fiction writers, having written or edited more than 500 books over his four-decade career. Your choice of Foundation being the top read in sci-fi is recognized by sci-fi fans everywhere. In 1966, the Foundation Trilogy received the Hugo Award for Best All-Time Series, beating out the Lord of the Rings.

Well, what do you think of that list? Do you agree, or do you feel as though your most-loved book is missing/didn't place as you think it deserved? Feel free to join us here in our Facebook group to chime in on the debate, and then check out our most recent poll while you're there. Don't have Facebook? Feel free to add to the comments below.

*All book-related copy in this post was pulled from Amazon and Wikipedia.

39 replies
  1. Bob Neumann
    Bob Neumann says:

    I wonder how many responders had read all ten books. I have. I agree strongly with all being in the top ten. The fact Heinlein has three in the mix is not surprising. Moon is my personal #1. In the early sixties I and a group of teens took the Santa Fe to Chicago for the Hugo Awards and met with Robert Heinlein and the great Isaac Asimov. The fondest memory of my youth. Thanks for the list.

    • Ehsan
      Ehsan says:

      I did not like Stranger in a Strange Land but agree with the rest. I’d say Revelation Space deserves the place instead.

  2. Edward Taylor
    Edward Taylor says:

    There’s some interesting choices there…so many great books missing at the expense of some mediocre Heinlein novels. Where is The Day of the Triffids? The Time Machine? Neuromancer? Cryptonomicon? Nothing by Philip K Dick? Is 1984 really science fiction? Surely it’s more social and political commentary? Foundation may have been great in it’s day but it doesn’t stand up to the test of time, although I accept it is incredibly influential. What criteria were used in the voting?

  3. Mack McManus
    Mack McManus says:

    Starship Troopers was my first science fiction novel and remains my favorite. Most of the rest of the list I read immediately after ST and while I have reread Dune twice more over the years, I am a trooper at 💓

  4. Bill Reich
    Bill Reich says:

    Such choices are necessarily subjective but I wonder at their being no LeGuin on the list. Poul Anderson is also missing, as is Chip Delaney. Still, I can’t decide on any to eliminate except the Asimov.

  5. Paul
    Paul says:

    I like them all but hhgttg as great. Not seeing Ursula Leguinn left hand of darkness or I robot or Red green and Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson or Eon by Greg Bear

  6. Lynn
    Lynn says:

    Then of course, there’s Heinlein’s Door into Summer. A ‘re-readble’. I’d have a hard job picking my best ever, but that would definitely rate right up there.

  7. Kenneth Climan
    Kenneth Climan says:

    The only book I haven’t read is the hitchhikers guide and from the movie I’ve seen I have no intention of reading the book. All the others are incredible, each in a different way and as far as I’m concerned the order is immaterial all 9
    books stand number one.

    • Mick Colgan
      Mick Colgan says:

      Hey Ken. Do not be put off reading Hitchhikers by a poor film that did nothing to show the wit of Adams. Its nothing like any other sci-fi you will have read – a delight on every page.

      • Lee
        Lee says:

        I tried to read the book several times but I just can’t get interested in it. Much like “Ender’s Game” it is a recognized as among the top in the genre but not for me.

        • JBL
          JBL says:

          Never mind the movie. Never mind the books. Find the original radio series that started it all – 12 half hour episodes that will keep you mightily entertained.

  8. Will
    Will says:

    Also missing: Murray Leinster; Tom Godwin (Mother of Invention); Brian Stableford (The Fenris Device); James Blish (many, including Cities in Flight and of course the Star Trek novelisations); and I’d have suggested Anderson’s _The Makeshift Rocket_ as my personal favourite.

    As far as Heinlein’s novels go, I think _… And He Built a Crooked House_ was his best.

    And I’d have gone with _The Ship Who Sang_ as McCaffrey’s best SF, but YMMV.

  9. maaxiim
    maaxiim says:

    A list like this is always going to divide. I’d rather see a list of 250(arbitrary number) books and the number of votes each received.
    Having said that, i disagree with almost every book on this list.
    Iain M Banks, Samuel Delany, Theodore Sturgeon, Joe Haldeman, John Scalzi, Alistair Reynolds, Peter F Hamilton, Octavia Butler, Connie Willis,
    Neal Stephenson, William Gibson, Greg Bear, Stanislaw Lem, Kurt Vonnegut, PKD, Charles Stross…
    What happened, did people stop buying books in 1990?

    • Ruby
      Ruby says:

      Oh – I’m glad someone else thought that! Butler, Stephenson and Gibson got me into sci fi and some of these are very difficult to get into!

    • Bob Neumann
      Bob Neumann says:

      As I approach the decrepit age of 70 I look back to the “journeys” taken in my imagination. ERB I began reading before my teens. I distinctly remember THe CHESMEN of MARS as the FIRST Adult book I ever read.
      One book I think could have been on some list, somewhere, was Pat Franks “Alas, Babylon”…….
      As I look at the world today i fear something has been lost and I doubt that mankind will find again that spark that was kindled over a century ago. When Moon Landings became repetitive and non exciting we should have noticed.

  10. Nessie
    Nessie says:

    I’ve read each and everyone of these. Several more than twice. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is one of my all-time favourites. Andre Norton. Arthur C. Clarke and Phillip Dick could all mhave been contenders as well.

  11. Nessie
    Nessie says:

    I’ve read each and everyone of these. Several more than twice. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is one of my all-time favourites. Andre Norton. Arthur C. Clarke and Phillip Dick could all have been contenders as well.

  12. Lance Russell
    Lance Russell says:

    I read all the Heinlein books and loved them. I read all of the “Top Ten” listed. Personally, I think Tunnel In The Sky should have been in the ten but I did love Herbert’s Dune very much. Starship Troopers was great as well, and I was quite shocked when the movie came out and it had such graphic violence. I took my young children and was quite shocked.

  13. Rich Black
    Rich Black says:

    1984 is many things, but science fiction it is not. Plus, Also, Too, Besides; I have read all these and Foundation, IMO, is hardly the best. To be honest, I could name a few books that should be on this list, because they are better. Again, my opinion. Still, 1984 does not belong.

  14. Ruby
    Ruby says:

    These all seem books that men of a certain age might love – or am I wrong? I’ve read classics like the time machine, the day of the triffids, 1984 etc but have really struggled to get through some of these which seem very dated. The only one I’ve read being Enders Game. I’d love to know what the criteria were and why they are almost all from the same time period. Should I really try to read these again?

  15. Geoff Doherty
    Geoff Doherty says:

    I’ve been an avid F&SF fan since I could read, I’m 83 next month. I’ve read all the books in this top 10 and agree wholeheartedly. There are so many good authors it is difficult to sort them out and there are new good ones appearing all the time. I would suggest in no particluar order (dramatic TV style pause, which always annoys me), C J Cherryh, Jim Butcher, Kate Griffin, Steven Brust, Celia Friedman, Joe Abercrombie, Ben Aaronovitch,, Richard Morgan. All these and more are on the bookshelf alongside me now as I make this comment.


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