Top Ten Science Fiction Novels of All Time
Tough to Pick Ten, So I Cheated, Shhh!
I once came across a list when I was in my early twenties (I'm now 49) of the top fifty greatest sci-fi novels of all time. This list was polled from the readers of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Analog. Although I had read many of the top ten already, the lesser forty or so I hadn't read, so I endeavored to track down and read all of them. This lead me to write this article the top ten science fiction novels of all time.
I did exactly that and more, and although I haven't read a good sci-fi novel in years as my interests have taken me in a different direction, I can still remember fondly the books that made the biggest impression on me.
Without further ado I give them to you with a brief reason of why I liked them.
The Top Ten
Dune is only the first in a series of books, written by the author Frank Herbert. This monumental saga takes us on a ride of Galactic intrigue and spiritual awakening.
1. Dune by Frank Herbert (1965)
I first read Dune when I was 13 or 14 and most of the symbolism was a little over my head, but the description of the Navigators floating in a container of orange spice gas, literally immersed in the very substance they are addicted to, as they fold space to guide the heighliners (interstellar spacecraft) to their destinations, was classic concept that opened my mind to new ideas.
Growing up in the Seventies the son of an AF Officer allowed me to see the world and appreciate many cultures. Dune showed me the possibilities of a Galactic culture populated with humans while linking them to cultures from our planet. I was first introduced to the concept of a Religious Jihad and it's implications. Of the concept of becoming more than human, of evolving into a being capable of exploring the inner human and beyond.
If the complexities of the plot and the evolution of Paul Atreides from homeless refugee to Messiah wasn't enough, Dune introduced me to so many new concepts, that it left my young mind reeling with the possibilities. Considered by many to be the best science fiction novel of all time, It is the only book in my life I've ever read more than once.
This book is the first of a trilogy that includes Dune Messiah and Children of Dune and covers a story of the evolution and eventual Ascension of the human species. It was eventually made into a movie (1984) directed by David Lynch, starring Kyle MacLachlan.
The plot is your basic political intrigue, based 10,000 years in the future of humanity, and involves two royal households competing over the rights involved in the production of a drug (spice) only produced on the desert planet of Dune. This invaluable drug known as 'spice' allows for the expansion of human consciousness and the development of the folding of space that reduces the amount of time involved in travel throughout the Universe.
The book is a direct reflection of the current political paradigm on Earth in 1965 and is chalk full of symbolic innuendo but was also full of revolutionary ideas and concepts that enthralled my young expanding awareness.
2. The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov (1966)
If I thought Dune was mind boggling, this trilogy (and all the other books related to it) were simple staggering. This epic tale begins with a mathematician Hari Seldon who creates his own branch of mathematics using the laws of mass action. He calls this psychohistory and as he studies it , learns that he can predict the future on a large scale. He determines the fall of the current empire will result in 30,000 years of anarchy and chaos, which will happen soon. He also foresees a possible outcome in which the anarchy will only last a thousand years. He reveals to the current Galactic Empire his findings and implores them to allow him to set up a foundation in order to preserve all the knowledge mankind has accumulated to date, and to work on preserving civilization.
The Empire agrees and hence the story begins, with the creation of the first Foundation to be run by Seldon's hand picked staff known as the Encyclopedists. He foresees the need for two Foundations and separates the two by putting their locations on opposing ends of the Galaxy. This second Foundation location is kept a secret from all even the first Foundation.
Foundation as the first book is called, simple put, shows the rise of power of the first Foundation from it's location on Terminus. The location of the first Foundation creates the need for it to become self reliant and in essence creates the momentum necessary for Seldon's predictions to bear fruition.
Foundation and Empire the second book introduces us to a whole new list of characters, all playing their part in the grand scheme of things. The first Foundation because it is a compilation of all the knowledge known to mankind, creates sophisticated technology that the rest of the Galaxy doesn't have and uses this to become so powerful that they threaten the Empire itself, War ensues and the Empire is defeated. However another powerful intelligence is thrown into the mix and due to it's ability to manipulate emotion soon begins conquering known Foundation worlds, this power is known as the Mule.
The Foundation learns of the second Foundation and sends out it's best agents to learn of it's whereabouts, knowing full well that the Mule is searching also. Upon discovering it's location the agent is killed before he can reveal it, leaving both parties still in the dark to it's location.
Second Foundation concludes the trilogy with the first Foundation thinking it has located the second and destroyed them. As the first Foundation as grown in power due to it's sophisticated technology (the physical sciences), the second Foundation is built on the mental sciences. Using telepathy they confront the Mule and convince him that he has destroyed them and to return to his kingdom of world's and reign in peace.
They also predict that the first Foundation will try to destroy them and they use the same tactics on the first Foundation, convincing them by allowing them to locate 50 of their group located on Terminus and killing them, thus insuring their anonymity.
Asimov goes on to write many more novels relating to The Foundation Trilogy and is able to use them to unify his Universe, truly a bold accomplishment. The Foundation Trilogy is in most peoples top ten sci-fi novels list and is usually number one.
Stranger In A Strange Land
Robert A. Heilein
3. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein (1961)
Written in 1961 and heavily reflective of the new spiritual movement of the time, this enchanting tale chronicles the life of Valentine Michael Smith. The orphaned child of two astronauts from the first expedition sent to Mars. He grows up learning the Martian ways, after the crew dies. The Martians are a race of beings in complete control of their bodies and minds, skills that Valentine soon learns.
The second expedition, twenty years later discovers him and returns him to Earth, and the story begins. Although there is plenty of action, unlike the first two books on my list this book deals solely with the spiritual and is basically the second coming, science fiction style.
To love this book is to Grok it's essence, a term that introduces us to Valentines understanding of God as 'one who Grok's'. He, from the teachings of the Martian culture, believes all is one, hence his proclamation Thou Art God.
Due to Earth's gravity and atmosphere he is initially confined, but through the workings of a sympathetic nurse and reporter, he manages to elude the One World Government and hooks up with a writer willing to help. After exploring his new home and finding it perplexing and limited, he soon discovers religion and ultimately creates his own church, the Church of All Worlds. The ending is bitter sweet and I can still feel the emotions I felt back then.
For any of those that have yet to read it, I won't spoil the ending, however one only needs to look at a our sad history to realize his fate. It became apparent to me soon after reading this book that not only is ascension a worthy goal, it is necessary. A religion organization was started after the founders read this book a Stranger In a Strange Land and of course called it the Church of All Worlds, that is how profound an impact this book has made on many humans and why it also made my list of top ten science fiction books of all time.
4. The Forever War by Joe Halderman (1974)
To me the greatest science fiction love story of all time was the Forever War. I wish this novel would have been five times as long because it was so good. However most critics claim it was an autobiography of the authors Vietnam War experiences set into a science fiction scenario. It won the Hugo and Nebulae awards and has been heralded by Heinlein when he said "may be the best future war story I've ever read!" and coming from the author of Starship Trooper that is quite a compliment.
In retrospect it obviously was a reflection of the Vietnam War, from the alienation of returning to a world that doesn't care about you to fighting a useless war, the metaphor is easily recognized. However when I read it, I was young and in love, so I instantly made the connection to the main character's (Mandella) connection to his love interest (Marygay), two souls that connect and then are separated by time, not space, surrounded by a world that doesn't make sense to them.
Each time the main characters return from a mission, the world in which they are defending has changed so radically after 100's if not thousands of years having elapsed that the only people they can relate to are the other soldiers and so they keep reenlisting.
Easily the best War/Love story of modern science fiction, destine to be a classic and my favorite on my top ten science fiction list.
Chris Moore's Illustration of Guille Foyle
Star My Destination
5. The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester (1957)
As simple as the plot of The Forever War was, the plot of The Stars My Destination is complex and diverse. It introduces us to the concept of teleportation known as Jaunting and the problems that could arise from it. Gully Foyle the main character with a tattooed face that glows when he gets emotional is thrust into one incredible situation after another. But basically the one thing that motivates our hero is revenge. Revenge for being marooned on a wrecked spaceship drifting in the deep and when rescue arrives is ignored and left to die alone.
This act of abandonment motivates Gully to survive his ordeal in space and is rescued, after rigging the wreck and propelling it into inhabited space. His rescuers tattoo his face in their traditions, with the letters of the name of the ship he is found in NoMAD.
After many twist and turns in the plot our hero figures out that his marooning in the space wreck was all part of an elaborate plot to get him to reveal a talent he didn't know he possessed. Finally realizing his full potential he finds himself in the position to make a perhaps fatal decision on the destiny of mankind. The Stars My Destination is the story about whether one man can make a difference, but in doing so what sacrifices must be made. Faced with the question of service to others or service to self, he juants to the center of the Galaxy looking for answers.
This book has received high praise from many of the genre's best writers
"Our field has produced only a few works of actual genius, and this is one of them,"
"on everybody's list of the ten greatest SF novels"
The ultimate realization that he has been used, but is able to overcome this, rise above it and seek a higher purpose is why it made it into the top five of my top 10 sci-fi list.
Orson Scott card
6. Enders Game by Orson Scott Card (1985)
Like Gully Foyle in The Forever War, Andrew 'Ender' Wiggin becomes a pawn of The Powers That Be a child prodigy of the (IF) International Fleet created to destroy the Formics, also known as the "buggers" a hive like alien species with a group consciousness. In the ongoing "bugger" Wars, as they are called, the IF recruits the brightest and most promising children to train them to become fleet commanders. These students are trained at an elite program called the Battle School in endless strategic games, that get harder and more grueling as the training progresses.
Enders success due to innovative strategies and a desire for the hardship of training to end at the school propels him to high rank, causing much dissension among his fellow classmates. He begins to doubt his sanity as exhaustion, fatigue and strange dreams become common to his daily routine. However he keeps winning the 'war games' and is quite unexpectedly promoted, without precedence, to Command School. It is about this time that he begins to suspect that perhaps these 'war games' are all to real and that he is not getting the whole story.
His final 'exam' is a no win situation in which he cleverly, so he thinks, cheats by using a 'special weapon' that not only destroys the buggers and their planet but his fleet as well. Later he is informed that all the war games were real and kept from him in order to protect him from the knowledge that the whole human race was riding on his decisions.
Realizing that he was solely responsible the destruction of a complete civilization of sentient beings, not to mention much of his own fleet, he becomes catatonic and falls into a complete depressive state. Upon awakening he and his sister (also a pawn used to keep Ender in line) leave to start the first colony on a bugger world. On this world he is given a chance to redeem himself, as it is revealed what his disturbing dreams during battle school really were. He becomes a writer and calls himself Speaker For The Dead . . . ah but that is another story entirely.
7. Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard (1982)
Comes in number seven because of the all encompassing plot that goes from the humble beginnings of Jonnie 'Goodboy' Tyler, a remnant of the human race. Survivor of the massive world wide extermination program instituted by the Psychlos using cigar like drones airships to spray a grid of humanicide over the planet. This race of large humanoid Cat like aliens have occupied Earth for hundreds of years mining precious minerals and exterminating the native populace.
Captured initially as a pet, Jonnie soon learns their language through their computers and begins to calculate his ingenious plot to take back what belongs to the human race. Along the way we learn just how clever humans can be when faced with impossible odds. This book has everything a true sci-fi fan demands, cosmic justice all American style, twist and turns in the plot that you don't see coming, inter-galatic intrigue.
It uses a somewhat anti climatic style as you realize when victory is close at hand there are too many pages left, and that winning is only half the battle. The book is written in a very straight forward format, but with a complexity that leaves no loose ends.
Thoroughly entertaining page turner with plenty of pages to turn (over two thousand in paper back) and like Lord of The Rings cannot be made into just one movie. A must for every top ten list.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep
1st British Edition
Philip K. Dick
8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick (1968)
The movie Blade Runner starring a young Harrison Ford was based on this awesome novel by cult favorite Philip K. Dick. It chronicles the day in the life of Rick Deckard an Android bounty hunter who is very good at his job.
Set in a post-apocalyptic future where most animals are extinct due to radiation poisoning and owning a live one is considered a status symbol, the common man owns electric replicas. This novel attempts to focus our attention on the way we humans have a tendency to look at all life forms not of our species as insignificant and expendable, and how this view relates to our servants, whether they are real or artificial.
Dick, introduces us to such great concepts as Kipple and Kipplelization, the "Empathy Box" and "Buster Friendly" while reminding us of our human frailties and insecurities. In a world where replicas of animals are sophisticated and prized by the masses, the question of why a replicant animal should have more rights than an android slave becomes a prominent theme of the book.
Our hero begins to doubt himself and question his morality as he hunts for six Nexus 6 android renegades that have escaped their imprisonment on Mars and come to Earth. While tracking these renegade he enlist the help of a stunningly beautiful replicant and has sex with her, knowing full well she isn't human. The ending is truly stunning as predictable as the outcome is the emotions it reveals is empathy, the question is for whom.
Arthur C. Clarke
9. Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke (1953)
Begins with the Overlords as they are soon called, arriving at the planet Earth when the two super powers America and Russia are competing in a military space race. These Overlords put a large spacecraft over every major city and assume control eliminating war and installing a new golden age to mankind of peace. They eliminate disease and hunger and stop all human suffering including Apartheid. Many suspect their motives not believing them to be benign and seek to discover their true identity, as they will not reveal themselves in person until they have been on Earth fifty years.
The price for this Golden Age is as you may have guessed by the title is an end to children everywhere as the human population becomes sterile, and the children that are left are eventually quarantined on their own continent. The Overlords eventual reveal themselves as the spitting image of the mythical demon complete with horns, bat-like wings and a forked tail.
Their ultimate purpose is revealed to be an intermediate race of beings working for the omnipotent Overmind to help sentient races ascend to oneness with this Overmind.
The ending is somewhat anti-climatic and sad, due to it's nature and is why it ended up so far down the list. A great book and definitely ahead of it's time, but kind of depressing in a very realistic way.
The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress
Robert A. Heilein
10. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein (1966)
Is the story of a prison on the moon that is extensible run by a super computer which after becoming sentient is named Mike by his repairman. The repairman Mannie and Mike become friends and come to the conclusion based on the newly sentient computers calculations that the 'Loonies' as the prisoners call themselves on Luna will be out of food and water very soon and something must be done.
Although it is glaringly obvious that this story is written with a positive outlook on human behavior when confronted with a threat to their existence, probable a somewhat naïve perspective, it makes for a good story. The loonies have been supplying Earth with food supplies for far too long and combined with Mike's super sentient and incorruptible computer mind are able to form a plan to revolt and succeed from Earth's control.
Of course the noble revolutionaries try diplomacy first, but fail and then escape the clutches or Evil Earth and return to Luna. A battle ensues as Earth tries to retake their penal colony, complete with star fighters and laser beams, but is thwarted. Luna retaliates by dropping huge rocks bombs on uninhabited areas.
A final show down in space happens when Earth thinking they have knocked out the Rock Launcher, attack again, but the rebels prevail and the good guys win or do they as their hero 'Adam Selene' as the computer is known by his adversaries is either damaged and 'dies' or is unwilling to continue in his role as friend and severs the connection, we are left wondering.
I like the under dog, especially when they are being persecuted by evil overlords and rise above their evil suppressors to win the day. It was a little corny and staying true to his writing style had a happy ending of sorts.
That we were slaves I had known all my life — and nothing could be done about it. True, we weren't bought and sold — but as long as Authority held monopoly over what we had to have and what we could sell to buy it, we were slaves.
Considering the new revelations by whistleblower Corey Goode in his Gaiam TV series Cosmic Disclosure narrated by David Wilcock, this book has some prevalence to a Full Disclosure Event revealing Secret Space Programs (SSP) and bases on the Moon in our near future.
This rounds out my top ten science fiction list of all-time, and although I may have left out some greats such as More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon and the Gateway Series by Fredrick Pohl, these are the ones that left the biggest impression on me as a reader.
Incredible scope and magnitude, a truly staggering achievement and great adventure. This book was just the beginning, but what a start, WOW!
These are my alternatives, and worth mentioning because they made picking the top ten so difficult. Putting two books by one author in the top ten was a consideration, also.
11. Ringworld by Larry Niven (1970)
This staggering novel expands the limits of the human mind with dimensions that are hard to conceive of let alone digest. But it gives the reader a great adventure into a world that is all too familiar, but beyond human comprehension in terms of scale and scope.
This book describes an ancient builder race that constructs a huge ring around a star in which is hollow with the interior side facing the star open to allow sunlight to reach the bottom interior. A group of Aliens and one human begin a voyage of discovery to this world which is the entire premise of the first book. The sequel Ringworld Engineers delves more into this ancient builder race and revisits our heroes from the first book.
12. Across Real Time by Vernor Vinge (1986)
Is actually two books for the price of one The Peace War and Marooned in Real Time and both books include Bobble Technology as their main premise, which is ancient technology discovered in America in 1800s, that exist today but has been censored from public knowledge.
The second book, Marooned In Real Time, is a murder mystery involving the disappearance of the human race and the one human that holds the key to reuniting the fragments of humanity. The first is the introduction of Bobble Technology to bring about lasting peace.
Arthur C. Clarke hub page, worth the read
- Was Arthur C. Clarke the Greatest Science Fiction Writer?
A great hub on whether or not Arthur C. Clarke should be considered the greatest science fiction writer of all time. This hub inspired me to do my top ten list, which entailed a lot more than just compiling a list.
- Five Great Science Fiction Novels You Must Read before Aliens Invade!
This article suggests a list of five excellent novels lovers of science fiction should enjoy reading.
- Top Ten New Age Books For Truth Seekers, 6 Thru 10
This article is the second part of a two volume set detailing the Top 10 New Age books for Truth Seekers with brief descriptions of each book and why they made the list.
- My Top Ten Best Science Fiction Novels
This was another inspiration to finish my list and is very well written. We shared some of the same books on our respective lists, which is refreshing to know. This hubber is very good writer and well worth the time to read the hub.
- Ten Great Science Fiction Movies (You Probably Haven't Seen)
A list of underrated science fiction films that every fan should see.