13 Best-Selling Science Fiction Books of All Time
Science fiction fans, unite! If you're a bookworm with an affinity for wormholes (or other space-time warps), the books on this list are for you.
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Must-read sci-fi books
No matter the genre, a great story stands the test of time. But great science fiction books give us a little something extra: fantastical universes, wacky technology, and crazy experiments gone wrong. We’ve rounded up the best-selling sci-fi books of all time so you can check them off your reading list. Already zoomed through these classics? Check out our roundup of the best thriller books.
Frank Herbert’s tome is arguably the most popular science fiction book ever published; millions of copies have been sold since its first run in 1965. The story takes place in the year 10,191 on the planet Dune—the most valuable planet in Herbert’s lushly imaginative universe. Lauded as the precursor to George Lucas’s Star Wars, Dune includes the stuff of sci-fi fantasy magic: heart-pounding action, an iconic fictional world, and a main character that is very human in an inhuman universe. If you’re into world-building like Dune and Star Wars, see if you can guess these Star Wars facts everyone gets wrong.
George Orwell’s 1984 was perhaps his most dystopian novel—it was also the author’s last. Despite time marching on past the titular year, sci-fi fans argue the book is as relevant today as it was the day it hit bookstore shelves. There’s a chilling familiarity to Orwell’s descriptions of Big Brother, and high school English teachers all over the country enjoy sparking class discussions over parallels between the totalitarian regime in 1984 and political issues of today. Have you read any of these iconic books that almost didn’t get published?
Isaac’s Asimov’s Foundation series snagged the one and only “Best All Time Series” Hugo Award in 1966. What made the collection such a big deal? According to publisher Penguin Random House, Foundation is a sci-fi classic—perhaps the best representation of the genre ever written—because the books “probe the questions of technology and destiny, war and politics that have captured readers’ imaginations for generations.” Though the books are a little younger, Asimov himself would have been 100 years old in 2020. Check out this list of more things you had no idea happened in 1920.
Out of the Silent Planet
C.S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet marked the first chapter in the author’s Space Trilogy. In this interplanetary tale, Lewis emphasized the importance of friendship while also calling out the absurd racism that still exists in modern times. Speaking of C.S. Lewis, have you read these books everyone should have read by now? (Hint: one of the author’s other classics is on the list!)
The Time Machine
Possibly the best science fiction writer of all time, H.G. Wells wrote sci-fi classics like War of the Worlds and our favorite, The Time Machine. Both were adapted to films, and both have withstood the test of time. The Time Machine includes several of the best sci-fi book themes, like out-of-control technology, a dystopian future, and post-apocalyptic human conflict. If this appeals to you, you’ll also want to watch these time travel movies that will make you question everything.
Science fiction fans are divided on whether or not Kurt Vonnegut’s work fits neatly within the genre. Is it science fiction, fantasy, or both? But the post-apocalyptic world of Cat’s Cradle focuses on the decidedly sci-fi conflict of science, technology, and religion. Whether you believe it should be called science fiction, fantasy, or simply dystopian fiction, it’s still wildly popular. Learn more about the author in this letter Vonnegut wrote to high schoolers.
Andy Weir’s 2011 award-winning novel The Martian was turned into a movie starring Mat Damon in 2015. Though many best-selling science fiction books are decades old, still standing tall against the test of time, Weir’s story about an astronaut stuck on Mars became an instant classic. The book also allowed catapulted the author to quick success and fame. The Martian is a good sci-fi book for those new to the genre since it deals with a familiar place: the Red Planet. It’s also one of 18 books that are now hit movies.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
No list of great science fiction books is complete without Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s the book that taught us that time is an illusion. Spoiler alert: It revealed that the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life is 42. It told us what defines a learning experience. On top of being endlessly quotable, the book is downright hilarious and it’s one of the 18 classic books you can read in a day.
Ready Player One
Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One is scary and enthralling because it is set in the very near future. In the story, the main character blurs the lines between the real world and virtual reality as he searches for a hidden fortune that could turn his life around forever. This thrilling bestseller keeps readers on the edge of their seats, wondering if Wade Watts will find the game’s Easter egg before his rivals find him first.
2001: A Space Odyssey
A mesmerizing trip through the solar system, Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is nearly synonymous with science fiction and fantasy. This bestseller has been boggling minds since 1968. The sweeping novel manages to stay relatable while also tackling big topics like evolution, the vastness of the universe, and technology’s unwieldy dangers. Fun fact: The novel and Stanley Kubrick’s film version were released in tandem.
In 1985, Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game opened a new world to science fiction fans: the world of his young hero’s genius mind. It’s a militaristic twist on sci-fi, and one welcomed by those who enjoy reading historical fiction and novels about war. Ender’s Game won both a Hugo and Nebula award. Discover the most popular book the year you were born.
Ray Bradbury never set out to be one of the best science fiction authors of all time. He categorized himself as a fantasy and horror writer, two genres well represented in the best-selling book Fahrenheit 451. The book is about pursuing reading and education in a society that has banned books. If you already have this great science fiction book on your shelf, consider upgrading to this special edition that is only revealed by burning the ink.
Our final best-selling science fiction book is Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. Published in 1992, Snow Crash takes on a plethora of topics, from computers and cryptography to archaeology and anthropology. The book is a self-aware take on science fiction, with a hero named Hiro who is both a pizza delivery guy and a virtual warrior prince. Snow Crash landed on Time’s list of 100 best English-language novels, and we can see why. Read on to find out the books that were banned the decade you were born.