Fifty Most Significant SF and Fantasy Books

According to the Science Fiction Book Club, below is a list of the fifty most significant SF Books from 1953-2002. I’ve placed an asterix beside the ones I’ve read, which makes 28, or 56%. How many have you read?

1. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien*
2. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov*
3. Dune, Frank Herbert*
4. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein*
5. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin
6. Neuromancer, William Gibson*
7. Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke*
8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick*
9. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
10. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury*
11. The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe
12. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.*
13. The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov*
14. Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras
15. Cities in Flight, James Blish
16. The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett*
17. Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison
18. Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
19. The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester
20. Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany*
21. Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
22. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card*
23. The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson*
24. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman*
25. Gateway, Frederik Pohl
26. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling*
27. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams*
28. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
29. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice*
30. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
31. Little, Big, John Crowley
32. Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny*
33. The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
34. Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement*
35. More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon
36. The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
37. On the Beach, Nevil Shute
38. Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke*
39. Ringworld, Larry Niven
40. Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys
41. The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien*
42. Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut*
43. Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson*
44. Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
45. The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
46. Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein*
47. Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock
48. The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks*
49. Timescape, Gregory Benford*
50. To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer*

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13 thoughts on “Fifty Most Significant SF and Fantasy Books

  1. The Alternative One

    If you havn’t read Gateway by Frederik Pohl then I envy you the moment you finish. It’s a great read!

  2. petcarbocation

    I’ve read 18 of them. I wouldn’t call even The Silmarillion science fiction, but, come on, *Interview with the Vampire*?

  3. M. D. (Dominique) Benoit

    I agree with you, some of those titles stretch the definition. That’s why I prefer the terms Speculative Fiction (SF) or Alternate Realities to science fiction. Also, note that it’s a mix of SF and Fantasy, although with all the mixed genres, calling a book one or the other is often a misnomer.

  4. palindrome

    Hooray! I’m happy to see Bester, Sturgeon and Cordwainder Smith represented on this list.

    Nice list, I’ve got some reading to do.

  5. palindrome

    Oh, and I remember the Science Fiction Book Club. It’s like those CD clubs, and every bit the same rip-off. Only full of SF goodness.

  6. Pete Hart

    It’s quite a list (and I’ve read at least 40 of them) but it’s lacking some really stellar (pun intended) names. What about C.J. Cherryh (Chanur Series, Downbelow Station, Cyteen, etc) , Poul Anderson, Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven and oh so many more? And why is On the Beach listed among them – yes, technically it qualifies ’cause atomic catastrophe has ended the world, but it’s really only a soap opera.

  7. M. D. Benoit

    I agree it’s not a complete list. I think instead of “best” they used “significant”, meaning that the books are representative of a start of, let’s say, sub-genre. For instance, I don’t particularly find Terry Brooks’s Sword of Shannara a well written book, but he jump-started the fantasy trek saga, basing himself on Tolkien’s concept. I’m pretty sure he was the first to do that, followed by countless others.

  8. Ben G

    I agree about the Shute book also Snow Crash is an odd entry as is interview with a Vampire and I am Legend – and no Doc Smith’s Lensmen? or van Vogt’s Space beagle. Incidentally has anyone got access to Eric Frank Russell’s The Great Explosion? preferable in ebook format?


  9. Duncan Watson

    Personally I have read 38 of these (76%). I think Snow Crash absolutely belongs there as it is both an excellent book but it also ushered in a genre. Which is why Interview is there though I am not a fan of Anne Rice. Someone above commented that Niven isn’t on the list but his work Ringworld is on the list and probably representative of the entire known space arc.

    I do think a representative of Military SF should be there as it is one of the few SF genres still getting routinely published today.

    Pournelle’s work is not especially influential and both his fiction and non-fiction is generally devoid of insight. Poul Anderson is sadly missing and highly influential.

  10. Kiwiscott

    Military SF is on the list, Joe Haldemans The Forever War in at #24. A great book.
    I’ve read 13 on that list, wierdly, half of them (for the first time) in the last year. How I missed them in the preceeding 30 odd years I dont know.

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