The 50 Most Significant SF&F Books

Michael came across this list of the 50 most significant SF&F books of the last 50 years at this website here; apparently the list came from somewhere else, though it’s not clear to me where. The books are listed in order; I’ve bold-faced the ones I’ve read, and added some comments. I’ve put “+++” by the ones I’ve read multiple times, “—” by the ones I’ve read but didn’t much like, and “000” by the ones I’ve read that I can’t remember anything about. As you’ll see, I’ve read 40 of the 50, and at least tried to read most of the others.

  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. I started this one, and hated it,
    and never finished it. This almost never happens.
  7. +++ Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke.
  8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick. I’ve
    read a little of Dick’s work, and didn’t like it, so I never tried
    this one.
  9. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley. I’ve read a fair
    amount of Bradley’s “Darkover” series; I’m not sure why I’ve never
    read this one. It seems to be targetted more at women than men, though.
  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 Never heard of this one.
  15. +++ Cities in Flight, James Blish.
  16. +++ The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett. Though this is hardly the best of the series.
  17. Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison.
  18. Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison.
  19. +++ The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester.
  20. Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany. Couldn’t get through this one, either.
  21. +++ Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey.
  22. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card. The short story is better.
  23. +++ The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson.
  24. 000 The Forever War, Joe Haldeman.
  25. Gateway, Frederik Pohl. I’ve never read anything by Pohl that
    I cordially liked.
  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. I’ve tried to re-read this several times, and never gotten very far. Interesting, but I don’t think I ever really understood what was going on.
  32. +++ Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny.
  33. The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick. See above.
  34. Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement.
  35. More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon. I don’t remember whether
    I’ve read this one or not.
  36. +++ The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith.
  37. On the Beach, Nevil Shute. Oddly, I’ve not read this one; I
    tried it when I was far too young, and didn’t like it. I ought to
    give it another try.
  38. +++ Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke.
  39. +++ Ringworld, Larry Niven.
  40. 000 Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys.
  41. +++ The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien.
  42. 000 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. Like Pohl, Benford does nothing
    for me.
  50. — To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer.
  • By Laura, October 24, 2006 @ 7:54 pm

    I’ve read about half of the books, but can’t remember a lot. I remember hearing Hal Clement give a talk about science fiction in a college class of mine over 25 years ago. He was pretty adamant that SF writers needed to be careful of their science facts or they’d ruin what they wrote for their readers. As an example he cited Golding’s Lord of the Flies (which I didn’t particularly think of as SF or F) and a character’s eyeglass lens being used to start a fire. He snorted at the thought because “everyone knows one must have a convex lens and not a concave lens to concentrate light.” I thought “Yeah, and how many millions of people read and have read William Golding’s book, and how many read yours?”

  • By Rachel, October 25, 2006 @ 8:13 am

    The Silmarillion? Please. The Lord of the Rings, absolutely, but how many people have waded through the Silmarillion? It’s like reading a history textbook.

    I’ve read most of those. I rather liked Children of the Atom, but it astonishes me to see it on this list. The Foundation books are the ones that I always thought were good, but even so just not for me.

  • By Steve Martin, October 29, 2006 @ 7:46 pm


    I can’t believe that you’ve read The Forever War and can’t remember anything about it! At the very least, it makes a great comparison of a WWII veteran writer vs. a Vietnam veteran writer. I have a challenge for you! Read both The Forever War and Starship Troopers back to back.

    Steve Martin

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