The Top 10 Title Names in Science Fiction

Funniest titles, most provocative titles, or titles that just sum up a book or story's contents really well, you nominated dozens of great science fiction titles that are all worth reading their full contents (here's the original nomination list from the blog, and the original nomination list from the Facebook group, with well over 80 titles!). After meanly forcing a choice between the top 10 selections from the combined lists, we have the top 10 title names Discover Sci Fi readers and fans enjoy. Happy reading!

10. Have Space Suit—Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein

At tenth place we have Robert A. Heinlein‘s Have Space Suit–Will Travel. It's a short book for young readers, as well as old, which some of you on our Facebook site shared was your first science fiction read! Heinlein's presence is also closer to the top of our list as you scroll down, but this title is certainly charming.

The story follows Kip Russell who wants nothing more than to go to the moon. But after entering a contest to help realize his dream, he is thrust into a space adventure he could never have imagined—with the most unlikely of friends and enemies.

9. (a) The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

We had a tie for ninth place!

By far the oldest title on this list, The War of the Worlds was written by H.G. Wells in 1898. It's been adapated to other media, including film, but also to radio drama by Orson Welles in 1938. That live broadcast became a bit famous for having incited panic in listeners who allegedly believed it was a real newscast, but that panic seems to have been hyperbolized over the years.

In the original novel, Earth is invaded by Martians and is one of the earliest stories to detail a conflict between mankind and an extraterrestrial race. In first-person narrative we follow an unnamed protagonist in Surrey and his younger brother in London as southern England is invaded. Apparently, Wells said that the plot arose from a discussion with his brother Frank about the catastrophic impact of the British on indigenous Tasmanians. He wondered what would happen if Martians did to Britain what the British had done to the Tasmanians. (Although the Tasmanians did not have the lethal pathogens that Britain is armed with in the novel!)

Not only did this work numerous adaptations it even influenced the work of scientists, notably Robert H. Goddard, who, inspired by the book, invented both the liquid fuelled rocket and multistage rocket, which resulted in the Apollo 11 Moon landing!

9. (b) So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish by Douglas Adams

Coming in tied for ninth place is So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish. This is the fourth book in the Hitchhiker's Guide trilogy (not a typo) by Douglas Adams. It continues to follow Arthur Dent, who we met in the first book of the series, who is now back on earth. He wonders whether the last few years of his life were a complete figment of his imagination. But then he receives a mysterious fishbowl and realizes all the earth's dolphins have disappeared. When he uncovers his badly battered copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy he begins to realize something really did happen, and God left a Final Message of explanation as to what it all means.

7. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury has a number of curious titles, so it's interesting that this is the one that made the cut. Something Wicked This Way Comes is a slightly unsettling story of friendship and balances dualities like childhood versus the old, dark versus light, and good versus evil. A strange show comes to town one week before Halloween. Two boys, Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway, soon discover the evil of this carnival, which promises to make your every wish and dream come true. But with those wishes and dreams comes a price that must be paid. Behind the mirrors and the mazes is the nightmare of a lifetime.

6. I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison

A creepy title for an appropriately creepy shorty story by Harlan Ellison! One of our Facebook members read it as a fairly young child and still shudders thinking of it.

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream is set in a post-apocalyptic world where four men and one woman are all that remain of the human race. Programmed to wage war on behalf of its creators, AI became self-aware and turned against all humanity. The five survivors are prisoners, kept alive and subjected to brutal torture by the hateful and sadistic machine in an endless cycle of violence.

5. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

The original title that the 2004 movie is based on, I, Robot is a short story collection by Isaac Asimov. It covers a number of robots of all kinds: funny ones, insane ones, and ones with a cult-personality complex. Many of the stories are rooted in the often-referenced “Three Laws of Robotics:”

1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm
2) A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

4. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Another title that was adapted to film is this novel with this curious title, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by one of the masters of curious titles, Philip K. Dick (PKD). Another of his interesting titles that was discussed was Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said. Of course, the movie adaptation is a bit different.

Simulacra of humans are built and sent along with immigrants to Mars to take the place of the millions of humans that have died after the World War in 2021. The governments on Earth become fearful of these androids abilities to blend in, and ban them from Earth. Rick Deckard, an officially sanctioned bounty hunter, is commissioned to find rogue androids and “retire” them.

3. Stranger In a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

This is only Robert Heinlein's second title that made it to the top 10 titles list here at Discover Sci-Fi (yep, wait for it, there's one more). Stranger In a Strange Land is a Hugo Award-winning novel about a man raised by Martians on Mars. He has never seen another member of his species. When he is 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.

This title comes from the Biblical book of Exodus 2:22 “And she bare him a son, and he called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land” (King James Version). The verb “grok” became part of our English vernacular, thanks to Heinlein. It roughly means to understand (something) intuitively or by empathy.

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

Yep, it's the titular series-opener by Douglas Adams. Not only is this series featured twice in this list, it's also been nominated several times in other lists here at Discover Sci-Fi, including as a top film sci-fi book-to-film adaptation, and as the source of a most iconic character, Arthur Dent.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy‘s title is based off a book within the story itself. Ford Prefect, a friend of Arthur Dent, reveals himself to be a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and has been, for the last fifteen years, posing as an out-of-work actor. The contents of The Guide have all sorts of advice, including drinks recommendations. It also is the source of the famously supreme utility of the towel:

… a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: nonhitchhiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, washcloth, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet-weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitchhiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitchhiker might accidentally have “lost”. What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

(The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams, chapter 3.)

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

Discover Sci-Fi readers are smitten with Heinlein! The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is Heinlein's third title in our top 10 titles list, threading his way to the very top. It really is an evocative title name, as well as one of Heinlein's greatest works.

In this novel we witness a revolution on a lunar penal colony—aided by a self-aware supercomputer. This is 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.

So, did your favorite title make through the nominations and to the top ten list? There are so many great titles out there! Some of the runners-up include The Lefthand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin and “Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman by Harlan Ellison. Share some of your favorites below and let us know what you thought of some of the winners of this list.

And don't forget to make your voice heard during future nominations round to be sure your vote can be considered for the top 10 finale.

*Some copy in this post was pulled from Amazon & Wikipedia.

9 replies
  1. Robert D Heinz
    Robert D Heinz says:

    Awesome! I loved Heinlein growing up. Was saddened by his passing. His place was taken by “Larry Niven”. These two along with others mentioned in this list were my mainstay when I was growing up.

    • Tomas Classon
      Tomas Classon says:

      I _think_ only the titles are ‘judged’ here, not content. Otherwise I’d agree with you. As it is, I’m totally on board with these choices. Wouldn’t mind Neuromancer in the list but don’t know which to replace…

    • Gerry RingErickson
      Gerry RingErickson says:

      I agree with Karen. Asimov’s Foundation trilogy is at the top of my favorite 10 list. Also Frank Herbert’s Dune. Although 3 Heinlein books made the list, my favorite of his is Glory Road. A 1961Clifford Simak story, “Time is the Simplest Thing” is my #4. Roman Godzick’s new book, “No Higher Ground” is my #5. Then the Safehold series and the Honor Harrington series by David Weber. Finally, Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings and James Hogan’s Thrice in Time.

  2. Luke A Ball
    Luke A Ball says:

    Solid choices although I’d replace 9b with Neuromancer. IMO a much more scifi name. RAH is my favorite author so your choices made it easy for me to agree. Bradbury and Asimov being right behind, with Ellison, NIven, Pournelle, Card up there too. Looks like a list compiled by a fan of the originals. I’m ok with that! 🙂

  3. BrianMitchell
    BrianMitchell says:

    Ursula K. LeGuin should have made the field. “The Dispossessed” is among the best sci-fi works ever published, with “The Left Hand of Darkness? a close second.

  4. Alan Bernier
    Alan Bernier says:

    I have no mouth and I must Scream

    The Beast that shouted love at the heart of the World

    Dangerous Visions

    -Harlan Ellison has the best titles…

    Except— The Castle of the Otter by Gene Wolfe… Best title ever since its origin was a misunderstood rendering of his earlier title The Citadel of the Autarch. He caught the errant pass and ran it back for a touchdown.

  5. Skipper Dunn
    Skipper Dunn says:

    Doc Smith “lensman” series, Roger Zelasny, Mercedes Lackey, Andre Norton. Many young peoples books just right for an inquiring mind.

  6. John Medlin
    John Medlin says:

    The topic seems to focus on remarkable titles; the discussion seems to focus on favorite authors or books. Both are interesting!


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