100 Best Science Fiction Novels: A consolidated ranking of 11 other lists

I’ve been a voracious reader for a while now, reading hundreds of books a year, collecting more than I could ever shelf or feasibly transport from one house to the next. Moving from Orlando to Portland more than seven years ago resulted in the donation of five huge totes of books to the local library system, and shipping another dozen or so boxes across the country. But it wasn’t until about four years ago that I really got deep into reading science fiction. Having Powells down the road provided access to an incredible selection, so I jumped from one author to the next: Heinlein to Asimov, Clarke to Lem, Vonnegut to Philip K Dick. However, there were others I was missing, a whole world of inspiration and tropes built into each generation of successful novels. I kept noticing patterns that were conceptualized and developed in one book, only to realize that the concept was actually introduced decades earlier in another book by authors I wasn’t yet familiar with. I scoured the Internet for top one hundred lists, trying to isolate the most pivotal and inspirational science fiction stories, needing to know the deep inner connections between these stories, getting the inside jokes, and having that quintessential perspective on a genre I had already invested so much time into. I built queues of “read next” books and organized lists of recommendations, however each list I found seemed twisted in one direction or another, some favored fantasy books, others weighted classic turn-of-the-century books, and others held space sagas over everything else. In a genre that attracts tech geeks, LARPers, and literati, there was too much dissension and opinion in the ranks to agree.

I searched for as many “best of science fiction lists” I could find, eliminating those that didn’t actually rank the books. I created a Google Spreadsheet of the eleven sources and used their values to compare the rankings from each list. There are a whole bunch of additional steps I used to attempt the equal weighting of my list, but I’ll spare you the details.

One list to rule them all (Science Fiction top 100 by Ryan Gensel):

1 Dune Frank Herbert
2 The Left Hand of Darkness Ursula K. Le Guin
3 The Moon is a Harsh Mistress Robert A. Heinlein
4 Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) George Orwell
5 Ender’s Game Orson Scott Card
6 The Stars My Destination Alfred Bester
7 The Dispossessed Ursula K. Le Guin
9 A Canticle for Leibowitz Walter M. Miller
8 Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury
10 Stranger in a Strange Land Robert A. Heinlein
11 Gateway Frederik Pohl
12 The Forever War Joe Haldeman
13 Neuromancer William Gibson
14 Flowers for Algernon Daniel Keyes
15 Childhood’s End Arthur C. Clarke
16 The Man in the High Castle Philip K. Dick
17 Hyperion Dan Simmons
18 Ringworld Larry Niven
19 Rendezvous with Rama Arthur C. Clarke
20 The Martian Chronicles Ray Bradbury
21 A Clockwork Orange Anthony Burgess
22 Lord of Light Roger Zelazny
23 More Than Human Theodore Sturgeon
24 The Demolished Man Alfred Bester
25 Startide Rising David Brin
26 A Fire Upon the Deep Vernor Vinge
27 Brave New World Aldous Huxley
28 The War of the Worlds H. G. Wells
29 To Your Scattered Bodies Go Philip Jose Farmer
30 Starship Troopers Robert A. Heinlein
31 Frankenstein Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
32 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Philip K. Dick
33 The Gods Themselves Isaac Asimov
34 Way Station Clifford Simak
35 The Day of the Triffids John Wyndham
36 Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adams
37 The Foundation Trilogy Isaac Asimov
38 The Time Machine H. G. Wells
39 Stand on Zanzibar John Brunner
40 Earth Abides George R. Stewart
41 I, Robot Isaac Asimov
42 The Space Merchants Pohl & Kornbluth
43 Doomsday Book Connie Willis
44 UBIK Philip K. Dick
45 The City and the Stars Arthur C. Clarke
46 Red Mars Kim Stanley Robinson
47 Speaker for the Dead Orson Scott Card
48 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Jules Verne
49 Snow Crash Neal Stephenson
50 Slaughterhouse Five Kurt Vonnegut
51 The Shadow of the Torturer Gene Wolfe
52 The Diamond Age Neal Stephenson
53 The Lord of the Rings J. R. R. Tolkien
54 The Sirens of Titan Kurt Vonnegut
55 Timescape Gregory Benford
56 Mission of Gravity Hal Clement
57 Roadside Picnic Arkady & Boris Strugatsky
58 Solaris Stanislaw Lem
59 A Journey to the Center of the Earth Jules Verne
60 City Clifford Simak
61 Cat’s Cradle Kurt Vonnegut
62 Tigana Guy Gavriel Kay
63 Slan A. E. Van Vogt
64 The Caves of Steel Isaac Asimov
65 The Book of the New Sun Gene Wolfe
66 2001: A Space Odyssey Arthur C. Clarke
67 The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch Philip K. Dick
68 Gray Lensman E. E. ‘Doc’ Smith
69 Deathbird Stories Harlan Ellison
70 The Long Afternoon of Earth (Hothouse) Brian Aldiss
71 Cities in Flight James Blish
73 Star Maker Olaf Stapledon
72 A Princess of Mars Edgar Rice Burroughs
74 The Door Into Summer Robert A. Heinlein
75 The Fall of Hyperion Dan Simmons
76 Out of the Silent Planet C. S. Lewis
77 Blood Music Greg Bear
78 Downbelow Station C. J. Cherryh
79 The Time Ships Stephen Baxter
80 Barrayar Lois McMaster Bujold
81 Last and First Men Olaf Stapledon
82 The Midwich Cuckoos John Wyndham
83 Dhalgren Samuel R. Delany
84 Tau Zero Poul Anderson
85 The World of Null-A A. E. Van Vogt
86 The End Of Eternity Isaac Asimov
87 A Wrinkle In Time Madeleine L’Engle
88 The Sword of the Lictor Gene Wolfe
89 The Lost World Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood
91 Foundation Isaac Asimov
92 Cryptonomicon Neal Stephenson
93 The Puppet Masters Robert A. Heinlein
94 The Postman David Brin
95 The Mote in God’s Eye Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
96 The Anubis Gates Tim Powers
97 Norstrilia Cordwainer Smith
98 Dying Inside Robert Silverberg
99 Camp Concentration Thomas Disch
100 The Hobbit J. R. R. Tolkien


The Data

Here’s a link to the Google Spreadsheet I built that shows the weighting between the lists, and how almost 700 mentioned books compare. I encourage you to make a copy, sort, filter, and manipulate the data to compare authors, years, lists, etc.

The Motivation to Share

I created this list to bring more awareness to books that weren’t yet on my radar, or weren’t yet going through a resurgent trend that brought them to popular attention. There is a whole world of great literature collecting dust, just because a Hollywood director hasn’t optioned the screenplay, or a famous celebrity hasn’t gotten an obscure tattoo relating to a not-yet cliche story. Choose what inspires you, but here’s a list to give you nudge in the right direction.

Here are links to the source lists I’ve used to build my list.

As the science fiction authors influenced each successive generation, I appreciate these sites for their contribution to my list.

PS (No longer online)
TC (No longer online)