23 Amazing Science Fiction Books That Should Be Considered Essential Reading

There is a special place in my heart for science fiction books. Ever since I started reading, the genre has been my ticket to new and exciting places — ones I couldn't imagine even in my wildest dreams. They were portals to carefully constructed yet fantastical worlds filled with alien races, revolutionary technology, and unimaginable possibilities. The characters were complicated heroes and misguided villains, both of which I loved trying to understand. Science fiction was and still is a wonderful, scary, and exciting literary escape.

When it comes to science fiction, though, readers either really love or think that they hate it — but I am convinced that anyone who gives the genre a try will find something to fall for. When it's done well, science fiction has adventure, action, and romance. It asks questions of morality and challenges normative thinking. It looks into the future and, in portraying it, shows the greatest fears from the past and present. Although it wasn't always taken seriously in the literary world, science fiction has broken through to the mainstream, and has become a respected genre, thanks to the thought-provoking work of authors like Aldous Huxley, Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. Le Guin, and William Gibson, to name a few.

Science fiction is a huge and expansive genre that can take readers from far off galaxies to unknown futures, but there are some books that every reader, sci-fi fanatic or not, love — and for good reasons. Here are 23 of the best science fiction books that are so good everyone should read them:

Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov

OK, so this is obviously more than one book, but you have to take Asimov's masterpiece as a whole series. The Foundation books are the only recipients of "Best Series" award from the Hugo Awards, beating out J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy. The series, which spans space and massive amounts of time, chronicles the collapse of the Galactic Empire, the 30,000 years in the Dark Ages that followed, and the eventual return of an even stronger Empire. These books are long and complicated, but with they're filled with enough excitement, action, and emotion that rightfully earned them their prestigious accolades.

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Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

The book that was on everyone's high school reading list, Brave New World, should actually be on every science fiction-lover's list as well. The technology and the government that Huxley creates on the pages of this classic dystopian novel are so intricate and well thought out that it seems like an all too probable future. Dark and disturbing, Brave New World is the perfect dystopian sci-fi.

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Neuromancer by William Gibson

If you think being an EGOT winner is impressive, try getting the science fiction hat trick, which includes the Nebula Award, Hugo Award, and Philip K. Dick Award, too. The only book to have done that is William Gibson's Neuromancer, the first installment in his Sprawl trilogy. Set in a world where the Matrix is real (yes, the same kind of Matrix from the Keanu Reeves movie), Neuromancer is the story of a down-and-out computer hacker hired by a mysterious employer to take down a dangerous business empire. Lots of heart-pounding action and questions of morals follow, making this book completely addicting. It's no wonder it won so many awards.

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Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Marry Shelley's pioneering work of horror and science fiction appears on many "best of" lists, but there's a reason for that. At the time it came out almost 200 years ago, Frankenstien was a groundbreaking work of fiction, pushing the boundries of its mixed genre and asking hard-hitting questions about life and death. Despite being written before modern technology as we know it, the ideas and concepts in Frankenstein are still terrifying and thought-provoking, and the book is as startling and engrossing as ever.

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1984 by George Orwell

Possibly one of the best (or maybe worst) last lines in literature comes from George Orwell's masterpiece, 1984. "He loved Big Brother" will always haunt me, as does the entire terrifying world of Oceania, where there is an entire ministry dedicated to torture and brainwashing and the government is always, always watching. A thought-provoking novel complete with its own terms an concepts, including doublethink and thoughtcrimes, 1984 is hands down one of the best science fiction books of all time.

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The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin

Though he longs to escape his home on Anarres, Shevek, the protagonist in Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed, finds that the grass isn't always greener on the other side, or, in this case, on the other planet. A close look at rebellion, anarchy, and government, The Dispossessed examines the complicated nature of society and civil unrest. Intricate and politically charged, The Dispossessed asks the question: Is there such thing as utopia?

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Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Not all science fiction has to travel to a distant planet. Jules Verne imagines dark and strange place right here on Earth in his classic underwater adventure, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Hop on board the Nautalis, where three men from a washed up ship — a professor, a servant, and a whaler — find themselves on an under water journey around the world with the mysterious, flawed Captain Nemo. A wild and imaginative adventure, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is a classic for a reason.

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Dune by Frank Herbert

"Epic" doesn't even begin to cover it when it comes to Frank Herbert's sci-fi tour de force, Dune. Expansive and imaginative, Dune is the story of Paul, a young son of a noble family and the man who has the power to change the galaxy as he knows it. With several prequels and sequels, there is enough Dune-related reading to keep you enthralled for a long while.

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Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany

Another novel that plays with genre, Samuel R. Delaney's Dhalgren mixes science fiction, magical realism, and metafiction to create a prolific and far-reaching book that tackles issues of race, sex, class, and identity. When Bellona, a Midwestern city in the United States, is stricken with a mysterious and devastating disaster, the residents flee, looking for a better life, while others, like the Kid, flock to the city looking for a new existence. A unique book that explores the relationship between those in the story, those reading the story, and the one who wrote the story, Dhalgren is a exceptional and innovative work of science fiction.

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Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

The grand dame of science fiction earned her name by writing books like her beloved sci-fi thriller Parable of the Sower. In it, Lauren, a young woman who is cursed with the ability to feel any pain she sees, flees her home when everyone and everything she knows is destroyed by disease, violence, and global environmental catastrophe. On her journey to stay alive, she begins to develop her own faith, Earthseed, but more importantly, finds hope in a seemingly hopeless world. Moving and provocative, Parable of the Sower and its sequel Parable of the Talents is science fiction writing like no other.

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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep ? by Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick has written 44 novels and 121 stories, primarily of which were works of science fiction, and (almost) all of which are worthy of making this list. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the novel which Ridley Scott's Blade Runner film was based off of, is a post-apocalyptic story of a man trying to determine what it means to be human in a world full of robots — and kicking a whole lot of ass along the way. I mean, when you have a science fiction award named after you, it must mean you must know a thing or two about the genre, right?

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The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Though the categorization of this novel has been highly debated, even by the author herself, I am counting The Handmaid's Tale as one of the best science fiction books ever. Although it doesn't have the futuristic elements of advanced technology or nonhuman species, this terrifying (and entirely possible) look into a dytopian future is a feminist staple in the genre. In a world run by totalitarian Christian government where women have lost their rights and become completely subjugated, one woman tells her struggle as she fights for an unsure future at the hands of men. Whether you want to call it speculative fiction or science fiction, it deserves a place on everyone's "best of" list.

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Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson

Magic, mythology, and quantum realities collide in Nalo Hopkinson's breathtaking novel, Midnight Robber. At Carnival on the Caribbean-colonized planet of Toussaint, the Robber Queen is just a costume honoring a mythic woman of great powers. That is until Tan-Tan and her father are exiled for his unspeakable crimes to the extradimensional planet New Half-Way Tree. There, Tan-Tan finds herself becoming her favorite Carnival costume, powers and all. The superb world building in this complex novel makes Midnight Robber a must-read for science fiction-lovers.

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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Not all science fiction is dark and serious. Douglas Adams adds hilarity and absurdity to interstellar adventure in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a humorous novel based off of Adams's original comedy radio broadcast about the galactic space travel of a doomed Englishman, Arthur Dent, and the many humans, aliens, and robots he meets on his journey. Fanciful and wholly original, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, in all of its forms, is a funny and visionary piece of writing.

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Elysium by Jennifer Marie Brissett

Though a recent novel and a debut work from Jennifer Marie Brissett, Elysium makes my list of best science fiction novels for its beautiful writing and emotional resonance. Intricate without being too complicated, Elysium is a story of humanity, artificial intelligence, and love that deserves to be shelved alongside fellow Hugo Award winners.

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Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Speaking of humor and science fiction, Kurt Vonnegut has mastered the combination of the two in his celebrated satirical sci-fi novel Slaughterhouse-Five. In it, Billy Pilgrim travels from the fire-bombings in Dresden in WWII to the zoo on the planet Tralfamador, where he is a popular exhibit to the alien creatures. Captivating and laugh-out-loud funny, Slaughterhouse-Five is a beloved classic for a reason.

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The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

A librarian, a life-long love, and time traveling collide in this dazzling and powerful novel that is part science-fiction, part romance, and all heart. Henry and Claire try to keep their love alive, despite separations of time and space, separations that neither of them can control. Sentimental and intriguing, The Time Traveler's Wife is a unique addition to the sci-fi genre.

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Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

In a world where children are sent away to elite military ships to be trained to fight giant space bugs, one young boy stands out from the rest and just might hold the fate of the entire universe in his hands. Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card's poignant YA novel that combined gaming and warfare, is Ender's dark, violent search for the truth, and for peace in a galaxy full of death.

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Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Gaming and science fiction seem to go hand in hand. Ernest Cline's Ready Player One, which will be adapted by Steven Spielberg and released for film in 2017, makes winning and losing a game of life or death for Wade Watts, a young player whose only desire is to escape the real world around him. A nail-biting, exhilarating read, make sure you read Ready Player One, and not just because it will be a movie.

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Downbelow Station by C. J. Cherryh

Set in the Alliance-Union universe form C. J. Cherryh's expansive series, Downbelow Station is a mesmerizing space opera that chronicles the war between Earth and it's many space colonies. A piece of a fictionalized 5,000 years of civilization's history, this masterwork features memorable characters, unforgettable settings, and plenty of action and adventure. Though not the first in the series, Downbelow Station, much like Cherryh's other books, can be read and enjoyed on its own.

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The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

The Martian Chronicles is vast and inventive short story collection that recounts the colonization of Mars by humans, and one of Ray Bradbury's finest contributions to science fiction. Suspenseful, mysterious, and wildly imaginative, The Martian Chronicles is a fascinating must-read collection of storytelling at its finest.

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Ringworld by Larry Niven

Set in a place three million times larger than the Earth, Ringworld is a sweeping face opera about an expedition to a world unknown. Filled with plenty of drama, excitement, and creativity, Ringworld is considered one of the most influential science fiction books of all time.

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The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

Wildly popular in China, Cixin Liu's The Three-Body Problem, which is now available in English as translated by another sci-fi great, Ken Liu, is an eloquent and vivid work from a science fiction mastermind. When space signals sent from China's government are captured by an alien civilization that is close to total destruction, Earth's inhabitants are divided on whether or not to welcome and assist the unknown beings in forming a new world, or fight against them to preserve the one they know. A recent addition to the English language science fiction library, The Three-Body Problem ranks among the best of them.

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Image: Shruti Muralidhar/Flickr