Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books: 70 Tickets to Explore Unknown Worlds (2020)

Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books

Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books

Where should you start? One of the best ways to read more is to read from curated lists. And that’s exactly what I’ve put together today with 70 of the best Sci-Fi and Fantasy books of the last 100 years.

Why Sci-Fi and Fantasy? Because I love them. Because they’re well-defined genres. Because their worlds, heroes and anti-heroes transport and challenge us. And because Erin and I can’t let go after reading Dune (#4) and Hyperion (#24).

Why these books? This list is a snapshot of every nominee and winner from the prestigious Locus and Hugo awards PLUS all the fantastic suggestions I receive in person, by email and in the comments section. This is the best of the best.

As usual, I’ve sorted those titles by a combination of Goodreads rating, number of reviews and first publication date to surface the most loved, most read and most enduring titles.

NOTE: To maximise diversity I’ve only included the top-ranked book in a series where multiple books in a series would have made the top 70. That’s why you’ll find e.g., the Hobbit (ranked #1 in my long list) but not Lord Of The Rings (ranked #2) in the list below.

I’m not saying you have to (and definitely not that you should only) read Sci-Fi and Fantasy. But if a good Sci-Fi or Fantasy book suggestion is what you’re after, you won’t find a much better place on the web to get started.

Begin at the top, pick the first book that grabs you and don’t be afraid to come back if your first choice doesn’t pan out.

There are plenty more options to choose from.


P.s., Think something’s missing from this list? I LOVE recommendations. Leave a comment below and if it makes the cut, I’ll definitely include it on the next iteration.

P.p.s., Looking for something different? Check out this list of every fiction book from Tim Ferriss’s excellent Tools of Titans for some more fantastic and diverse suggestions.

  1. The Hobbit or There and Back Again (1937), J.R.R. Tolkien
    366 pages. Rated 4.3 over 2,696,800 reviews on Goodreads.
  2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Chronicles of Narnia, #1) (1950), C.S. Lewis
    206 pages. Rated 4.2 over 2,001,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  3. 1984 (1949), George Orwell
    237 pages. Rated 4.2 over 2,843,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  4. Dune (Dune Chronicles, #1) (1965), Frank Herbert
    604 pages. Rated 4.2 over 670,800 reviews on Goodreads.
  5. Brave New World (1932), Aldous Huxley
    288 pages. Rated 4.0 over 1,340,700 reviews on Goodreads.
  6. Cat’s Cradle (1963), Kurt Vonnegut
    306 pages. Rated 4.2 over 324,500 reviews on Goodreads.
  7. Childhood’s End (1953), Arthur C. Clarke
    224 pages. Rated 4.1 over 120,100 reviews on Goodreads.
  8. The Caves of Steel (Robot #1) (1954), Isaac Asimov
    206 pages. Rated 4.2 over 74,700 reviews on Goodreads.
  9. The Sirens of Titan (1959), Kurt Vonnegut
    224 pages. Rated 4.2 over 105,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  10. Fahrenheit 451 (1953), Ray Bradbury
    194 pages. Rated 4.0 over 1,538,700 reviews on Goodreads.
  11. The End of Eternity (1955), Isaac Asimov
    192 pages. Rated 4.2 over 40,700 reviews on Goodreads.
  12. Flowers for Algernon (1966), Daniel Keyes
    216 pages. Rated 4.1 over 446,500 reviews on Goodreads.
  13. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979), Douglas Adams
    193 pages. Rated 4.2 over 1,324,600 reviews on Goodreads.
  14. Ender’s Game (Ender’s Saga, #1) (1985), Orson Scott Card
    324 pages. Rated 4.3 over 1,064,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  15. Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), Kurt Vonnegut
    275 pages. Rated 4.1 over 1,068,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  16. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966), Robert A. Heinlein
    288 pages. Rated 4.2 over 102,800 reviews on Goodreads.
  17. A Wrinkle in Time (Time Quintet, #1) (1962), Madeleine L’Engle
    218 pages. Rated 4.0 over 1,004,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  18. Starship Troopers (1959), Robert A. Heinlein
    335 pages. Rated 4.0 over 179,100 reviews on Goodreads.
  19. The Day of the Triffids (1951), John Wyndham
    228 pages. Rated 4.0 over 84,800 reviews on Goodreads.
  20. The Dispossessed (Hainish Cycle #6) (1974), Ursula K. Le Guin
    387 pages. Rated 4.2 over 77,200 reviews on Goodreads.
  21. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999), J.K. Rowling
    435 pages. Rated 4.6 over 2,546,200 reviews on Goodreads.
  22. The Forever War (The Forever War, #1) (1974), Joe Haldeman
    278 pages. Rated 4.2 over 129,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  23. The Drawing of the Three (The Dark Tower, #2) (1987), Stephen King
    463 pages. Rated 4.2 over 202,100 reviews on Goodreads.
  24. Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos, #1) (1989), Dan Simmons
    482 pages. Rated 4.2 over 170,200 reviews on Goodreads.
  25. Rendezvous with Rama (Rama, #1) (1973), Arthur C. Clarke
    243 pages. Rated 4.1 over 125,200 reviews on Goodreads.
  26. A Storm of Swords (2000), George R.R. Martin
    1,177 pages. Rated 4.5 over 633,600 reviews on Goodreads.
  27. We (1921), Yevgeny Zamyatin
    255 pages. Rated 3.9 over 62,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  28. A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959), Walter M. Miller Jr.
    334 pages. Rated 4.0 over 85,800 reviews on Goodreads.
  29. Out of the Silent Planet (The Space Trilogy, #1) (1938), C.S. Lewis
    224 pages. Rated 3.9 over 68,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  30. The Eye of the World (The Wheel of Time, #1) (1990), Robert Jordan
    814 pages. Rated 4.2 over 355,900 reviews on Goodreads.
  31. War with the Newts (1935), Karel Čapek
    241 pages. Rated 4.2 over 9,100 reviews on Goodreads.
  32. Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), Robert A. Heinlein
    528 pages. Rated 3.9 over 264,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  33. The Blue Sword (Damar, #1) (1982), Robin McKinley
    256 pages. Rated 4.2 over 54,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  34. The Lathe of Heaven (1971), Ursula K. Le Guin
    176 pages. Rated 4.1 over 47,300 reviews on Goodreads.
  35. Sword of Destiny (The Witcher, #0.75) (1992), Andrzej Sapkowski
    384 pages. Rated 4.3 over 64,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  36. The Gods Themselves (1972), Isaac Asimov
    288 pages. Rated 4.1 over 49,800 reviews on Goodreads.
  37. The White Dragon (Pern, #3) (1978), Anne McCaffrey
    423 pages. Rated 4.2 over 40,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  38. The Mote in God’s Eye (1974), Larry Niven
    596 pages. Rated 4.1 over 60,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  39. The Name of the Wind (2007), Patrick Rothfuss
    662 pages. Rated 4.5 over 653,700 reviews on Goodreads.
  40. The Demolished Man (1953), Alfred Bester
    250 pages. Rated 4.0 over 26,600 reviews on Goodreads.
  41. Lord of Light (1967), Roger Zelazny
    296 pages. Rated 4.1 over 26,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  42. Ringworld (Ringworld, #1) (1970), Larry Niven
    288 pages. Rated 4.0 over 98,600 reviews on Goodreads.
  43. Foundation’s Edge (Foundation #4) (1982), Isaac Asimov
    450 pages. Rated 4.1 over 64,600 reviews on Goodreads.
  44. Cryptonomicon (1999), Neal Stephenson
    1,139 pages. Rated 4.3 over 94,600 reviews on Goodreads.
  45. The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials, #2) (1997), Philip Pullman
    370 pages. Rated 4.1 over 339,200 reviews on Goodreads.
  46. The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentleman Bastard, #1) (2006), Scott Lynch
    752 pages. Rated 4.3 over 196,600 reviews on Goodreads.
  47. The Diamond Age (1995), Neal Stephenson
    Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer
    499 pages. Rated 4.2 over 77,600 reviews on Goodreads.
  48. Gateway (Heechee Saga, #1) (1977), Frederik Pohl
    278 pages. Rated 4.1 over 37,700 reviews on Goodreads.
  49. Way Station (1963), Clifford D. Simak
    210 pages. Rated 4.0 over 20,800 reviews on Goodreads.
  50. American Gods (2001), Neil Gaiman
    635 pages. Rated 4.1 over 710,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  51. Old Man’s War (Old Man’s War, #1) (2005), John Scalzi
    332 pages. Rated 4.2 over 146,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  52. The Sword in the Stone (1938), T.H. White
    352 pages. Rated 3.9 over 22,500 reviews on Goodreads.
  53. Ready Player One (Ready Player One, #1) (2011), Ernest Cline
    374 pages. Rated 4.3 over 786,800 reviews on Goodreads.
  54. Barrayar (Vorkosigan Saga, #7) (1991), Lois McMaster Bujold
    336 pages. Rated 4.3 over 23,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  55. Islandia (1942), Austin Tappan Wright
    1,040 pages. Rated 4.3 over 500 reviews on Goodreads.
  56. More Than Human (1953), Theodore Sturgeon
    186 pages. Rated 4.0 over 14,300 reviews on Goodreads.
  57. Before They Are Hanged (The First Law, #2) (2007), Joe Abercrombie
    441 pages. Rated 4.3 over 103,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  58. Stories of Your Life and Others (2002), Ted Chiang
    281 pages. Rated 4.3 over 52,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  59. A Fire Upon the Deep (Zones of Thought, #1) (1992), Vernor Vinge
    613 pages. Rated 4.1 over 49,100 reviews on Goodreads.
  60. Lucifer’s Hammer (1977), Larry Niven
    629 pages. Rated 4.0 over 38,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  61. The Warded Man (Demon Cycle, #1) (2008), Peter V. Brett
    416 pages. Rated 4.3 over 102,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  62. Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse, #1) (2011), James S.A. Corey
    561 pages. Rated 4.3 over 146,500 reviews on Goodreads.
  63. Beyond the Shadows (Night Angel, #3) (2008), Brent Weeks
    689 pages. Rated 4.3 over 83,100 reviews on Goodreads.
  64. Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon (Callahan’s #1) (1977), Spider Robinson
    224 pages. Rated 4.2 over 9,700 reviews on Goodreads.
  65. Time Enough for Love (1973), Robert A. Heinlein
    589 pages. Rated 4.0 over 30,600 reviews on Goodreads.
  66. Have Space Suit—Will Travel (1958), Robert A. Heinlein
    276 pages. Rated 3.9 over 25,500 reviews on Goodreads.
  67. Neuromancer (Sprawl, #1) (1984), William Gibson
    261 pages. Rated 3.9 over 248,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  68. The Graveyard Book (2008), Neil Gaiman
    307 pages. Rated 4.1 over 412,000 reviews on Goodreads.
  69. Pebble in the Sky (Galactic Empire #3) (1950), Isaac Asimov
    308 pages. Rated 3.9 over 17,400 reviews on Goodreads.
  70. Little Fuzzy (Fuzzy Sapiens, #1) (1962), H. Beam Piper
    252 pages. Rated 4.0 over 8,700 reviews on Goodreads.

II. Best Books Of All Time

These are the overall best books to read (by type).

III. Best Nonfiction Books (A-Z)

These are the best nonfiction books to read (by topic).

IV. Best Fiction Books (A-Z)

These are the best fiction books to read (by genre).

Or, you can read all my book recommendations.
Arthur is a productivity coach and writer who helps top young execs and entrepreneurs be more productive, find more balance and live more meaningfully. Want to know more? Take this 2-minute quiz to discover your Productivity Quotient (PQ) and learn how to get BIG things done. Take the Quiz →
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Bertrand Kuentzler
Bertrand Kuentzler
4 months ago

It’s a solid list and I don’t want to argue about who should have been in there but isn’t, etc.
Here’s my top 3 SF books: (1) Fahrenheit 451 (R. Bradbury) (2) God Emperor of Dune (F. Herbert); (3) Altered Carbon (R. K. Morgan)
And my top 3 fantasy books: (1) A vos souhaits (F. Colin); (2) The Hand of Oberon (R. Zelazny); (3) Royal Assassin (R. Hobb)


Michelle Dyason
Michelle Dyason
4 months ago

Totally agree that Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series is special but there’s many more in your list I’ll have to read

4 months ago

Some great ones on the list. My top three, not on your list:
Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut; Children of the Night, (?) Simmons, a modern twist on vampires; and Synbat, Bob Meyer, combining human and ape DNA to make the ultimate soldier. Thanks

5 months ago

Love sooo many of these authors, and am excited to try the ones I either haven’t read yet, or heard of. Currently without a book, and I hate that. Was thinking back on lots that I’ve read, and remembered Roger Zelazny, and The Books of Amber. Read them as a teenager, and recently re-read as an adult, and found the whole series still very engrossing. Just a thought, for a fun fantasy read. Thanks for the recommendations, keep them coming!

1 year ago

The Name of the Wind is the best fantasy novel I have read. The sequel is just as good. I read them both years ago, and I’m loving the audio book versions just as much.

1 year ago

I liked the books on the list, and of the ones on here I’ve read (about half including the entire top 10 in your list) I’d agree should be on the list. However, I feel like there are few glaring omissions: 1984, George Orwell; Brave New World, Aldous Huxley; War of the Newts, Karel Čapek; We, Yevgeny Zamyatin; and A Wrinkle In Time, Madeleine L’Engle. Forgive me if I missed these on the list or if I misunderstand what qualifies as science fiction/fantasy. I feel as if these five should actually all be near the top of the list. War of the Newts is pretty obscure (as is We), but War of the Newts is really one of the greatest sci-fi novels ever, and We is an influential novel that is great in its own right.

1 year ago

Arthur, thanks for this list.

Suggestion: I thought Ready Player One was excellent 😀 (especially the Audiobook performed by Wil Wheaton!)

Donna J Williams
Donna J Williams
1 year ago

Please add Anne Lackey’s Ancillary Justice (#1 of Ancillary series) as at least 71.

Heather von Stackelberg
Heather von Stackelberg
1 year ago

I love me a good Sci-fi reading list, so thanks for this! Just a few comments, though. First, the two books by Bujold are not numbers 6 and 7 in the series, but numbers 2 and 4. The first four books in the series are novellas that can also be found together in “Cordelia’s Honor” (books 1 & 2) and “Young Miles” (books 3 & 4, plus a short story). I can understand the mistake, though, because the novellas were published independently later, once Bujold had gotten a larger fan base, so if you’re just going by publication date, they look later in the series than they actually are.

The whole series is very, very worth reading, Bujold is one of my favorite authors.

About the whole list, though – I’m not arguing with any specific entry in your list, but you are rather heavy on the old white guy authors, and much too light on the non-white non-male authors, despite my joy at finding both Bujold and McCaffrey on the list. So as a starting list of who you’re missing – N.K. Jemisin (the only author to win a Hugo for all three books of a trilogy) and her “Broken Earth” trilogy, Ada Palmer’s “Too like the lightning” series, Robin McKinley’s many fantastic fantasy books, especially “The Blue Sword” and “The Hero and the Crown”, Anne Leckie’s “Ancillary” series, and Canadian authors Tanya Huff (who was writing excellent vampire stories before vampire stories were cool) and Kelley Armstrong. In the non-white but male category, you’re also missing Ramez Naam and his fantastic “Nexus” series

In the older white guy category, I’d also add Iain M. Banks and his Culture series, Richard Morgan’s “Altered Carbon” series, “The Expanse” series by James Corey, and Canadian author Charles deLint, who was the author who basically invented urban fantasy. Spider Robinson should probably be on the list, especially “Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon” which has some of the best long-winded jokes ever.

I’m also disappointed that while you included Larry Niven, you didn’t include his partner, Mercedes Lackey…

I could go on for a while longer, but I think I’ll stop there. I hope I’ve significantly increased your reading list..

Edit: I realized that I also missed suggesting Charles Stross (His Laundry Files series is the best – and funniest – Lovecraft-inspired fiction ever. It’s like Lovecraft and James Bond had a baby…) and Cory Doctorow; “Pirate Cinema” is my favorite of his, which is about copyright enforcement, but his most famous is “Little Brother”, about surveillance..