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Top 20 Greatest Science-Fiction Novels

As a science-fiction writer, it occurs to me that I don't write a whole lot about science-fiction. With that in mind, I decided to list the top science-fiction novels that have ever been published. I kept a one-book-per-author rule, but otherwise left the field open to anything, even novels that aren't traditionally recognized as sci-fi. I won't spend much time on numbers 20 through 11, but I will explain my top ten choices in more detail.

THE TOP 20-11
#20The Magician's Apprentice
by Tom McGowen
A poorly written and slightly derivative young adult fantasy novel, Tom McGowen's The Magician's Apprentice demands a place on this list not only because it was hugely influential to a young me but also because it was the first book to ever blow my mind *SPOILER!* with the twist ending in which we learn that the secrets of magic are actually the fruits of forgotten science that has been lost since a nuclear war took place 3,000 years earlier.
by Philip K. Dick
Picking a single Philip K. Dick novel for this list is virtually impossible, but if you must read just one, read VALIS; it will blow your mind to smithereens, reconstruct it, and then force it through a spaghetti strainer, and you will love it.
#18Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
by Jules Verne
Jules Verne was one of the first science-fiction greats, and his novels are equal parts science and adventure; Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is easily his best novel. Trivia: the title actually refers to distance travelled while underwater, not how deep they go.
by Edwin Abbott Abbott
Actually a satire of Victorian England, Flatland is a thought experiment about what life would be like if you lived in a two-dimensional space. The novel isn't traditionally taught in English classes, but rather in science, physics, logic, and mathematics classes, as an example of how you have to change your thinking in order to understand abstract concepts. As a novel that will affect your perspective on everything, Flatland is arguably the best science-fiction has to offer.
#16Starship Troopers
by Robert A. Heinlein
Not to be confused with the abomination of a movie "based" on the book, Starship Troopers is actually a very contemplative novel about the virtues of citizenship, duty, and the military in a time of war. While Stranger in a Strange Land is more highly regarded in academic circles, I can't name anything but Starship Troopers as Heinlein's best work.
by Frank Herbert
Never in the history of literature has an allegory been stretched as far as Frank Herbert stretched his allegory for the Middle East and oil in Dune. It is without a doubt the hardest read on this list, but it is definitely worth it.
#14Jurassic Park
by Michael Crichton
Eaters of the Dead notwithstanding, Crichton is a one-trick pony whose novels mostly follow the same general formula. The science-run-amok stories that define Crichton's work are best exemplified by Jurassic Park, a great novel that taps into the fascination every young boy has for dinosaurs, mixes it with some chaos theory, and turns it all into something frighteningly realistic.
#13Fahrenheit 451
by Ray Bradbury
A love song for free expression and a warning against censorship, Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 is a bonafide American classic. Trivia: paper actually burns at 842 degrees Fahrenheit.
by Mary Shelley
Frankenstein is usually creditted as the first science-fiction novel ever published. That seems like reason enough for it to be on this list, but it's also really well-written and scary.
#11The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
by Douglas Adams
It's funny, but it's also surprisingly relevant and influential. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a book I've read more times that I can count, and it makes me laugh out loud every single time.

by William Gibson
by William Gibson

Pattern Recognition is probably my favorite William Gibson novel, but there's no denying how staggeringly important his very first novel, Neuromancer, has become. Often credited with starting the cyberpunk subgenre of science-fiction (not really true, but Gibson is undoubtedly the master of cyberpunk), Neuromancer is the story of a man who has incurred brain damage that has prevented him from interfacing with the global computer network. Addicted to drugs and seemingly hopeless, the man, Henry Dorsett Case, is approached by a "street samurai," Molly Millions, with an offer to fix his brain in exchange for a job as a hacker for a mysterious man named Armitage. The story climaxes over the possible creation of a powerful artificial intelligence, and the whole thing is so mind-bendingly epic that it takes several readings to fully understand. Not only did Neuromancer pave the way for things like The Matrix and Ghost in the Shell and predict an Internet that is even more pervasive than it is today, but it set the stage for one of the finest science-fiction writers alive today.

by Ayn Rand
by Ayn Rand

While Ayn Rand is better known for her political tomes The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, her much shorter and simpler novel Anthem is, in my opinion, her best work of fiction. A morality tale about the evils of collectivism and the loss of individuality, Anthem isn't constrained by Rand's long-winded proselytizing or obtuse narratives. It is the very simple tale of a man lost in a society that no longer respects achievement or ambition, and how he tries to break free of it. Rand's work is as relevant today as it has ever been. While Atlas Shrugged is the favorite for objectivists and Libertarians alike, Anthem is a far more approachable and entertaining story that I always recommend first.

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-e. magill 3/16/2010

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