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

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. And nothing makes Jack (or Jane) more painfully dull than deciding “I only read non-fiction books”.

Trust me. I meet a lot of people trying to live their best lives. But when I hear people say those five words, it physically pains me inside.

It’s not because there’s more to life than reports and instruction manuals.

It’s not because they’re missing some of the most staggering, absorbing and (in the best cases) instructive achievements of the human mind.

It’s because well-meaning people who read only non-fiction almost always read significantly less overall (and usually even far less non-fiction) than those with balanced literary diets.

Why? Because it’s not an either/or problem.

The most impressive people I know always have at least one fiction and one non-fiction title going at the same time. That way, whether it’s an hour in bed, or 5 minutes between stops, they always have something to chew that fits their time, mood and appetite.

Adding high-quality fiction to your diet keeps your reading versatile and enjoyable. And keeping your reading versatile and enjoyable is the most important factor underpinning a sustainable, voracious and life-long habit of reading.


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 (#27).

Why these books? This list is a snapshot of every nominee and winner from the prestigious Locus and Hugo awards. I also periodically update the list to include all the fantastic suggestions I receive in the comments section.

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.

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
    Rated 4.3 over 2,487,100 reviews on Goodreads
  2. The Lord of the Rings (1955), J.R.R. Tolkien
    Rated 4.5 over 491,700 reviews on Goodreads
  3. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950), C.S. Lewis
    Rated 4.2 over 1,858,700 reviews on Goodreads
  4. Dune (Dune Chronicles, #1) (1965), Frank Herbert
    Rated 4.2 over 603,600 reviews on Goodreads
  5. Childhood’s End (1953), Arthur C. Clarke
    Rated 4.1 over 112,000 reviews on Goodreads
  6. The Caves of Steel (Robot #1) (1954), Isaac Asimov
    Rated 4.2 over 68,600 reviews on Goodreads
  7. Cat’s Cradle (1963), Kurt Vonnegut
    Rated 4.2 over 306,500 reviews on Goodreads
  8. The Sirens of Titan (1959), Kurt Vonnegut
    Rated 4.2 over 98,600 reviews on Goodreads
  9. The End of Eternity (1955), Isaac Asimov
    Rated 4.2 over 37,700 reviews on Goodreads
  10. Fahrenheit 451 (1953), Ray Bradbury
    Rated 4.0 over 1,383,300 reviews on Goodreads
  11. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966), Robert A. Heinlein
    Rated 4.2 over 96,800 reviews on Goodreads
  12. Flowers for Algernon (1966), Daniel Keyes
    Rated 4.1 over 408,400 reviews on Goodreads
  13. Starship Troopers (1959), Robert A. Heinlein
    Rated 4.0 over 168,000 reviews on Goodreads
  14. Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), Kurt Vonnegut
    Rated 4.1 over 1,002,500 reviews on Goodreads
  15. The Dispossessed (Hainish Cycle #6) (1974), Ursula K. Le Guin
    Rated 4.2 over 69,800 reviews on Goodreads
  16. Out of the Silent Planet (The Space Trilogy, #1) (1938), C.S. Lewis
    Rated 3.9 over 63,800 reviews on Goodreads
  17. Ender’s Game (Ender’s Saga, #1) (1985), Orson Scott Card
    Rated 4.3 over 993,800 reviews on Goodreads
  18. The Forever War (The Forever War, #1) (1974), Joe Haldeman
    Rated 4.2 over 120,100 reviews on Goodreads
  19. A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959), Walter M. Miller Jr.
    Rated 4.0 over 81,500 reviews on Goodreads
  20. The Left Hand of Darkness (Hainish Cycle #4) (1969), Ursula K. Le Guin
    Rated 4.1 over 95,700 reviews on Goodreads
  21. Rendezvous with Rama (Rama, #1) (1973), Arthur C. Clarke
    Rated 4.1 over 117,200 reviews on Goodreads
  22. The Lathe of Heaven (1971), Ursula K. Le Guin
    Rated 4.1 over 42,800 reviews on Goodreads
  23. Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), Robert A. Heinlein
    Rated 3.9 over 251,300 reviews on Goodreads
  24. The Demolished Man (1953), Alfred Bester
    Rated 4.0 over 25,500 reviews on Goodreads
  25. Dragonquest (Pern, #2) (1971), Anne McCaffrey
    Rated 4.1 over 38,000 reviews on Goodreads
  26. The Gods Themselves (1972), Isaac Asimov
    Rated 4.1 over 47,200 reviews on Goodreads
  27. Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos, #1) (1989), Dan Simmons
    Rated 4.2 over 154,400 reviews on Goodreads
  28. The White Dragon (Pern, #3) (1978), Anne McCaffrey
    Rated 4.2 over 39,000 reviews on Goodreads
  29. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999), J.K. Rowling
    Rated 4.6 over 2,308,300 reviews on Goodreads
  30. The Eye of the World (The Wheel of Time, #1) (1990), Robert Jordan
    Rated 4.2 over 323,300 reviews on Goodreads
  31. Lord of Light (1967), Roger Zelazny
    Rated 4.1 over 24,500 reviews on Goodreads
  32. The Mote in God’s Eye (1974), Larry Niven
    Rated 4.1 over 56,900 reviews on Goodreads
  33. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000), J.K. Rowling
    Rated 4.6 over 2,160,500 reviews on Goodreads
  34. Ringworld (Ringworld, #1) (1970), Larry Niven
    Rated 4.0 over 93,300 reviews on Goodreads
  35. A Storm of Swords (2000), George R.R. Martin
    Rated 4.5 over 592,500 reviews on Goodreads
  36. Foundation’s Edge (Foundation #4) (1982), Isaac Asimov
    Rated 4.1 over 60,700 reviews on Goodreads
  37. The Fall of Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos, #2) (1990), Dan Simmons
    Rated 4.2 over 82,400 reviews on Goodreads
  38. The Sword in the Stone (1938), T.H. White
    Rated 3.9 over 21,600 reviews on Goodreads
  39. Speaker for the Dead (Ender’s Saga, #2) (1986), Orson Scott Card
    Rated 4.1 over 201,900 reviews on Goodreads
  40. Way Station (1963), Clifford D. Simak
    Rated 4.0 over 19,300 reviews on Goodreads
  41. Gateway (Heechee Saga, #1) (1977), Frederik Pohl
    Rated 4.1 over 35,900 reviews on Goodreads
  42. More Than Human (1953), Theodore Sturgeon
    Rated 4.0 over 13,600 reviews on Goodreads
  43. That Hideous Strength (The Space Trilogy, #3) (1945), C.S. Lewis
    Rated 3.9 over 26,700 reviews on Goodreads
  44. The Robots of Dawn (Robot #3) (1983), Isaac Asimov
    Rated 4.2 over 33,800 reviews on Goodreads
  45. The Diamond Age (1995), Neal Stephenson
    Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer
    Rated 4.2 over 74,300 reviews on Goodreads
  46. Cryptonomicon (1999), Neal Stephenson
    Rated 4.3 over 90,400 reviews on Goodreads
  47. Lucifer’s Hammer (1977), Larry Niven
    Rated 4.0 over 37,200 reviews on Goodreads
  48. Children of Dune (Dune Chronicles #3) (1976), Frank Herbert
    Rated 3.9 over 90,700 reviews on Goodreads
  49. Have Space Suit—Will Travel (1958), Robert A. Heinlein
    Rated 3.9 over 23,800 reviews on Goodreads
  50. American Gods (2001), Neil Gaiman
    Rated 4.1 over 646,700 reviews on Goodreads
  51. Old Man’s War (Old Man’s War, #1) (2005), John Scalzi
    Rated 4.2 over 134,000 reviews on Goodreads
  52. A Fire Upon the Deep (Zones of Thought, #1) (1992), Vernor Vinge
    Rated 4.1 over 46,400 reviews on Goodreads
  53. Time Enough for Love (1973), Robert A. Heinlein
    Rated 4.0 over 29,400 reviews on Goodreads
  54. To Your Scattered Bodies Go (1971), Philip José Farmer
    Rated 4.0 over 26,200 reviews on Goodreads
  55. Double Star (1956), Robert A. Heinlein
    Rated 3.9 over 17,700 reviews on Goodreads
  56. A Dance with Dragons (2011), George R.R. Martin
    Rated 4.3 over 488,900 reviews on Goodreads
  57. Barrayar (Vorkosigan Saga, #7) (1991), Lois McMaster Bujold
    Rated 4.3 over 21,800 reviews on Goodreads
  58. Little Fuzzy (Fuzzy Sapiens, #1) (1962), H. Beam Piper
    Rated 4.0 over 8,300 reviews on Goodreads
  59. Pebble in the Sky (Galactic Empire #3) (1950), Isaac Asimov
    Rated 3.9 over 16,000 reviews on Goodreads
  60. Islandia (1942), Austin Tappan Wright
    Rated 4.3 over 500 reviews on Goodreads
  61. The Vor Game (Vorkosigan Saga, #6) (1990), Lois McMaster Bujold
    Rated 4.3 over 18,700 reviews on Goodreads
  62. Galactic Patrol (Lensman, #3) (1937), E.E. “Doc” Smith
    Rated 4.0 over 3,600 reviews on Goodreads
  63. The Rise of Endymion (Hyperion Cantos, #4) (1997), Dan Simmons
    Rated 4.2 over 38,700 reviews on Goodreads
  64. A Feast for Crows (2005), George R.R. Martin
    Rated 4.1 over 548,200 reviews on Goodreads
  65. Count Zero (Sprawl, #2) (1986), William Gibson
    Rated 4.0 over 40,200 reviews on Goodreads
  66. Startide Rising (The Uplift Saga, #2) (1983), David Brin
    Rated 4.0 over 27,100 reviews on Goodreads
  67. Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (1974), Philip K. Dick
    Rated 3.9 over 29,700 reviews on Goodreads
  68. A Deepness in the Sky (Zones of Thought, #2) (1999), Vernor Vinge
    Rated 4.3 over 26,400 reviews on Goodreads
  69. Protector (Known Space) (1973), Larry Niven
    Rated 4.1 over 8,800 reviews on Goodreads
  70. Stand on Zanzibar (1968), John Brunner
    Rated 4.0 over 13,000 reviews on Goodreads
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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.


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.


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

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

Heather von Stackelberg
Heather von Stackelberg

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..