My thoughts on… The 100 Most Popular Sci-Fi Books on Goodreads

I recently watched Eric’s vlog (here) on how he wants to read more SF, and that the Goodreads list (here) might be a good place to get some recommendations. I checked out the list and discovered I’ve read a good quantity of them, want to re-read some, always planned to read a few more, and discovered yet more to add to my wishlists. As a teenager, student and beyond, my reading of SF & Fantasy outweighed all other genres (I made exceptions back then for Maigret, Christie, the Russians and ancient Greek / Latin classics) – for the three years I was at uni it was 100% SF&F! These days, I read occasional SF novels and very little fantasy, but I would like to read more ‘proper’ SF – so maybe I’ll be inspired by this exercise too.

Arguably this list contains some degree of what is (IMHO) literary dross! But, it is based on popularity not quality. It also contains many titles that purists would classify as dystopian, speculative fiction, fantastical – but it’s hard to get too worked up about the list not being pure SF. I thought I’d share the list with you with my own pithy commments and links to those I’ve reviewed since I started blogging, (there are several in this list that appear in my Desert Island Books).

It is also a very unbalanced list. 19 authors have multiple books on it – John Scalzi has 4! I’ve not read him at all – why is he so popular? (Bradbury, Vonnegut, Heinlein, Dick, Wells, Clarke and Stephenson all have 3 entries each). There are 18 women represented which is actually more than I expected, but still very low. It’s very US-centric – but a good few UK authors, very few indeed from beyond the UK/N.America though. It’s also pretty BAME-lite.

I have, at some time, read exactly half of this list (bolded). Links in the titles will take you to reviews where they exist.

  1. 1984 by George Orwell – top of the list! A dystopia really, but I don’t mind that. See also my review of Barnhill by Normal Bissell, a novel about Orwell writing 1984.
  2. Animal Farm by George Orwell – Not SF at all unless you include walking pigs! I do object to this one being in the list.
  3. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – first read in my teens. I have the lovely Folio Society edition now (right) for a re-read – but again this is dystopian rather than SF.
  4. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – the first spec fiction/dystopia on the list with some SF in it. Visionary, yet itself influenced by Wells and Zamyatin – note the latter’s We is not on the list.
  5. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – Back to dystopian societies. I should re-read this one.
  6. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – the modern comedy classic that says so much about the human condition. I’ve read it at least three times over the years.
  7. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley – I’ve seen the marvellous NT production twice, and all the films. I know all about the book and the circumstances of its writing – not least recently from Marcus Sedgwick here, but have never read the book itself! To remedy.
  8. Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut – the bombing of Dresden in WWII combines with alien abduction and time travel in this modern classic. Great book group discussion on this one.
  9. Enders Game by Orson Scott Card – read as a student, but can’t remember it. It and its sequels don’t attract me now at all.
  10. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – I recently saw the film of this novel set in 2044 where the real world is horrid but VR makes it bearable. The film was fun, if ultimately unmemorable (other than for Mark Rylance), so I don’t need to read the book too.
  11. The Martian by Andy Weir – Marooned on Mars – the originally self-published phenomenon. Very blokey, but great fun. Bit of a marmite book for many.
  12. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton – not one I’ve read, nor need to, but ideal for middle grade readers.
  13. Dune by Frank Herbert – I describe this book, which I’ve read three times (most recently last month), as ‘the Moby Dick of SF’ – so influencing – e.g. Star Wars etc. Wonderful politics and world-building in an eco-thriller epic SF novel.
  14. The Road by Cormac McCarthy – Can you call post-apocalyptic survivalist fiction SF? Who cares – I loved this dark novel. Reminds me I need to revisit his westerns though.
  15. The Stand by Stephen King – One I’ve not read but would like to. Again this is post-apocalyptic.
  16. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess – a marmite book due to some disturbing content and lots of dialect, but one I enjoyed. Another dystopia rather than SF.
  17. Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes – A lovely book about IQ vs EQ – Charlie’s story never fails to make me cry!
  18. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro – Read pre-blog and enjoyed a lot. Borderline SF, but I liked it and Ishiguro’s style.
  19. The Time Machine by HG Wells – Ground-breaking time travel novel says a lot about what we might become!
  20. Foundation by Isaac Asimov – I read all of Asimov’s Foundation series back in the day, and re-read the original trilogy back in the early 1990s. I wouldn’t bother with them now though.
  21. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut – one I’d like to read.
  22. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick – Read at least twice pre-blog. The basis for Blade Runner.
  23. Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel – Post-pandemic survival this time – utterly fabulous. Love this book.
  24. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A Heinlein – One of Heinlein’s best, but I can’t remember much about it. Possible re-read.
  25. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov – In which we are introduced to Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. Very influential because of that.
  26. Neuromancer by William Gibson – Gibson is a superb ideas man, advancing technology in thrillers set in the near future. One to re-read again.
  27. 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C Clarke – the book was written after the film! Adapted and expanded into the film by Clarke and Kubrick from one of Clarke’s short stories, The Sentinel. I re-watched the film again recently – so good still!
  28. The War of the Worlds by HG Wells – my memories of reading this are coloured totally by Jeff Wayne’s album! Duh-duh-daaaa, duh-duh-daaaa.
  29. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch – man wakes up in an alt-universe. Thriller. Seems to be well though of. Mebbe…
  30. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson – this novel was almost too much whilst reading it, but Stephenson’s high tech near future has grown on me massively since I read it. I can see influences of this in Ready Player One.
  31. Red Rising by Pierce Brown – sounds like sectors of The Hunger Games on Mars. Not for me.
  32. The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton – Alastair McLean’s 1960s Satan Bug updated for the space age – a deadly bug reaches Earth on a returning satellite. Read ages ago, can’t remember the detail.
  33. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood – I must re-read this so I can read Children of the Flood and Maddaddam which are on my shelves.
  34. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell – I wish I could find my copy of this I do have one somewhere – I recently saw the movie and very much enjoyed it. All the stories linked beautifully in the film.
  35. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury – I’m sure I did read this but can’t remember anything about it. Bradbury is an author I’m keen to revisit.
  36. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne – read as a teen. Enjoyed it. Maybe worth a re-read.
  37. Blindness by Jose Saramago – Not SF at all bar the blindness epidemic. Dystopian – Yes. Wonderful writing – Yes.
  38. Starship Troopers by Robert A Heinlein – I didn’t enjoy this one back in the 1980s. Jingoistic even then – even more controversial nowadays.
  39. Hyperion by Dan Simmons – I’ve not read Simmons, (I used to have a copy of his Dickensian chunkster Drood, but have little time to read chunksters, so it went the way of the charity shop). If someone tells me he’s worth reading, I might see what the library has.
  40. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick – Alt-history in which the Nazis won WWII. Arguably not true SF. I must read it though, somehow I never did before.
  41. Artemis by Andy Weir – Fun but a poor relation to The Martian.
  42. Leviathan Wakes by James SA Corey – Space opera / crime. Sounds good, but a chunkster. Mebbe…
  43. Wool by Hugh Howey – I know many loved this post-apocalyptic troglodyte silo world – Mebbe…
  44. Old Man’s War by John Scalzi – first of four entries on this list. Not read him, this one doesn’t attract.
  45. Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer – YES! The first part of a mind-boggling, weird, eco-thriller, aliens trilogy. Wonderful and bonkers.
  46. The Power by Naomi Alderman – on the TBR shelves – ought to read.
  47. The Invisible Man by HG Wells – read as a teen – can’t remember beyond the obvious premise.
  48. Forever War by Joe Haldeman – Interstellar war – yawn.
  49. Rendevous with Rama by Arthur C Clarke – read but forgotten this one about first contact. Would re-read.
  50. The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin – Chinese first contact novel. Would love to read this.
  51. Childhood’s End by Arthur C Clarke – Really enjoyed Clarke’s novel of first contact and benign alien dictatorship
  52. Contact by Carl Sagan – Read when it was first published. Jodie Foster was in the film. First contact yet again.
  53. Kindred by Octavia E Butler – a time-slip novel in which a young woman from the 1970s is transported back to the time of slavery. I have only read one Butler – her vampire novel. Fledgling. Would like to read this one.
  54. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin – I tried to read this, but Le Guin’s style just didn’t work for me.
  55. The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut – Another for the wishlist.
  56. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A Heinlein – My favourite Heinlein set in a penal colony on the moon, involving a lonely computer and a group of convicts ready to riot. Introduced the acronym TANSTAAFL to a wider audience.
  57. Ringworld by Larry Niven – Read but forgotten. Space opera.
  58. Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson – want to read this one. First volume in his future histories series.
  59. The Passage by Justin Cronin – spec fiction really with added paranormal aspects. Chunkster with chunkster sequels. Very wordy it seems – won’t be reading.
  60. Parable of the Sower by Octavia E Butler – more spec fiction than SF, refugees go north. One has ‘hyperempathy’. Mebbe…
  61. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams – crime romcom with time travel – sweet and chucklesome.
  62. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell – one I must re-read. A philosophical novel about the experiences of Jesuit missionary spacemen returning from contact with another alien race.
  63. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers – First and most fun novel from Chambers who has developed into an author of wonderful thoughtful SF. This one was Red Dwarf meets Star Trek. Loved it.
  64. The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle – Read and forgotten
  65. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller Jr – Another SF classic I should re-read. Generations after an apocalypse an order of monks preserves artifacts from the past.
  66. Steveneves by Neal Stephenson – bit of a chunkster but meant to be excellent. Man has to leave the Earth for living in space.
  67. The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham – first SF novel that I read in first year of senior school. Started it all off for me! The Chrysalids, about mutant powers is better, as is Chocky – about a first contact.
  68. A Scanner Darkly by Philip K Dick – Not read this, but would love to.
  69. Altered Carbon by Richard K Morgan – you can transfer into another shell and never die, but they own you as an AI. Not attracted to the narrator.
  70. Redshirts by John Scalzi – yes the title is inspired by Star Trek references to the guy in the red shirt on an away mission always dies. Sounds fun.
  71. The Dispossessed by Ursula K Le Guin – Sorry this doesn’t attract me either.
  72. Recursion by Blake Crouch – sounds like it was inspired by We Can Remember it for You Wholesale – Philip K Dick story (filmed as Total Recall) – False memories driving people mad. I’ll re-read the PKD.
  73. Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie – 2nd in a trilogy. I’ve been wanting to read these books for ages. The first won a host of awards.
  74. The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury – short stories framed as tattoos that come alive. Weird really rather than SF. Want to re-read
  75. Doomsday Book by Connie Willis – an author I’ve long meant to explore. Time travel and the human condition.
  76. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor – Exciting young BAME author. I have her book The Book of Phoenix about a girl with fire superpower to read.
  77. Shards of Honour by Lois McMaster Bujold – Don’t think I ever read her space operas, published in 1986.
  78. Consider Phlebas by Iain M Banks – First of Banks’s wonderful ‘Culture’ series. Superb world-building. The Player of Games is my favourite.
  79. Out of the Silent Planet by CS Lewis – I read this and sequels as a teenager. About voyage to Venus. Heavy-handed on the Christian stuff.
  80. Solaris by Stanislaw Lem – Filmed twice – super space/ghost novella. Been meaning to re-read Lem for ages and ages.
  81. Star Wars: Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn – Star Wars? No thank you!
  82. Stories of Your Life by Ted Chiang – Short stories, title story is the one the film Arrival was based on. Film was rubbish, if good to look at. Laura tells me the stories are so much better.
  83. All Systems Red by Martha Wells – Book 1 of the Murderbot diaries apparently – not bothered,
  84. Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky – one of the current British stars of SF. Mankind’s survival amongst the stars. Would like to read.
  85. We are Legion (We are Bob) by Dennis E Taylor – a chap dies and wakes up as AI in an interstellar probe – light-hearted – will give this one a miss.
  86. Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson – First in sequence set on Mars. Epic – enjoyed them, but don’t need to read more.
  87. Lock in by John Scalzi – I have this on my shelves – assumed it was a thriller – it is but also futuristic, with a scary pandemic. Must read.
  88. The Humans by Matt Haig – Lovely novel about a mathematics professor who is taken over by an alien who must then learn how humans work. Sweet. Loved it.
  89. The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett & John Baxter – given my resistance to Pratchett, I’ll give this collaboration a miss.
  90. Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel – Canadian, sounds like a cross between parts of Clarke’s 2001 with something else I can’t identify at present. Would read.
  91. Vox by Christina Dalcher – Dystopian not SF really. Atwoodian story in which women may only speak 100 words per day. In my TBR.
  92. Severance by Ling Ma – a post-pandemic survival story of a young woman who has a secret. Not really SF. Mebbe…
  93. Exhalation by Ted Chiang – Laura says his new book of short stories are even better than the previous one.
  94. This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone – warring factions – agent on each side correspond – sounds like an SF version of film Mr & Mrs Smith – don’t need to read this one.
  95. The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu – short stories. Mix of SF, Fantasy, spec fiction. Prize-winning.
  96. Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir – Zombies & necromancy – more paranormal fantasy surely.
  97. The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi – 1st in a new space opera series, and 4th entry on this list for Scalzi!
  98. American War: A Novel by Omar El Akkad – Set in 2074, a nightmare vision of the near future. Would like to read.
  99. The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal – Sounds fun-ish. Set in 1950s, meteorite strike is making Earth uninhabitable, and one girl wants to become the first woman astronaut. Mebbe…
  100. Provenance by Ann Leckie – what Leckie did next. Will read the other books first.

There are so many wonderful SF books missing from this list. I’ve mentioned a few in passing, but which would you add?

Do tell me your recommendations.

Do you read SF? How many have you read on this list?

23 thoughts on “My thoughts on… The 100 Most Popular Sci-Fi Books on Goodreads

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    Interesting post. Annabel, and the list seems to me – well, odd. Several on there, as you point out, aren’t really sci fi. It’s not very adventurous either – I’ve read a lot of Russian sci fi and I rate it highly. Also, there was a whole range of sci fi written by women authors published by the Women’s Press – Joanna Russ springs to mind – and they seem to be missing. However, if I’m honest I don’t have a lot of faith in Goodreads lists. I’ve looked at them in the past when looking out books for our Reading Clubs, and they seem a bit all over the place (to say the least).

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      That’s Goodreads for you. But doing this post kept me occupied at work today. I was covering reception at school and it wasn’t busy today at all, yesterday was a different story! However, the phone went often enough, that composing a post based on lists meant I never lost my chain of thought!

      I thought of you as I typed Lem’s name – the lone E.Europea author. I made sure I got Zamyatin in for a mention (should have squeezed in Bulkakov’s Fatal Eggs too). I must read more Russian/E.European SF – I have some of the Strugatsky brothers’ books, but am up for other recommendations. With Goodreads being so US biased, most of the few women to feature were predictable, but at least Octavia Butler and Nnedi Okorafor (who is Nigerian/American) are BAME; there are men and women authors of Chinese extraction, and El Akkad is Egyptian.

      • kaggsysbookishramblings says:

        Lem is brilliant and what I’ve read of the Strugatsky brothers too. And yeah, Fatal Eggs is great! I’m rubbish at remembering names and titles, but any of the ones I’ve reviewed on the blog have been great – Aelita, for example, is a good one. Trouble is, they’re often very hard to get hold of.

        As for school, we closed for children a week ago, and PD days finished Wednesday. Still seemed to find myself working at home today though… ;D

  2. Rebecca Foster says:

    I’m amazed to see that I’ve read 14 of these (not counting the LeGuin DNF)! Most recently, I read the two Octavia E. Butlers earlier this year and they were terrific. I’d like to read a lot more by her. I tend toward the literary SF/speculative end: Atwood, Mandel, McCarthy, Orwell, Russell. I don’t know how many more of these I would read. I do have copies of Flowers for Algernon and Cloud Atlas, though.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Still haven’t found my copy of Cloud Atlas – can’t believe I’ve got rid of it.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Exactly – but I’m willing to let the stuff on the borders in – as long as it has some sort of science-base and was futuristic when published – I can live with that. But I discovered that the zombie book at 96. does go into space in sequels, so I may have to eat my words!

  3. Café Society says:

    I’ve read eleven and I’m amazed it’s as many as that because I’m not normally an SF reader. Actually, a good number are dystopian novels which, as you say, are not quite the same thing. However, one of the eleven is probably the most important book I’ve ever read in terms of the effect it had on me at the time and that is The Sparrow, which I must go back to soon.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      The Sparrow is like nothing else I’ve read too. I do need to re-read it and understand it better though, but it has stayed with me since encountering it when it first came out in paperback.

  4. Calmgrove says:

    I’ve only read 17 of these, and scarcely any the lower down the list one went. Our tastes largely overlap, where we share reads, but I do have a thing for Le Guin’s writing — still hanker after fantasy more than SF but I do like a good ideas-based bit of speculative fiction.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I tried The LH of Darkness last year, but just didn’t like her style of writing. There are plenty on this list, and others by authors on the list that I already have on my shelves, so some good reading ahead when I’m in the SF mood.

      • Calmgrove says:

        I get that not everybody appreciates her style in the forays she did in SF: it’s quite dark and serious, and somewhat alienating, but I quite like it. Certainly a Marmite author! But there’s plenty else to read, I agree, though as many have said the Goodreads list isn’t the best, being rather skewed, uneven and with several black holes.

  5. Davida Chazan says:

    Margaret Atwood would be pissed at finding any of her books on this list. She does not consider her books to be Science Fiction, but rather Speculative Fiction.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Some peeps now prefer to say SF is a subset of Spec Fiction! I’m happy with there being an overlap. 😀

      • Dark Puss says:

        It’s just fiction! Are genre definitions helpful at all? They are super irritating in public libraries I can tell you. Do I find, for example, “Rubyfruit Jungle” under “literature” or Lesbian & Gay? etc. Grrrr (or possibly yowl).

        • AnnaBookBel says:

          For everyone who finds genre categorisation a pain, there’s someone who finds it useful – so use the library index perhaps! 😉

  6. Laura says:

    So many things I could comment on! Would recommend the Ancillary Justice trilogy, Leviathan Wakes and The Calculating Stars. I thought Ready Player One (book) was infinitely better than the film, but it is a totally self-indulgent book, so it depends how you get on with that. American War was a big disappointment to me, but I still rate El Akkad as a writer.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Well, any list is only a reflection of those who compile it – and from other SF lists I’ve seen, the top half tends to agree largely. I am interested to find some new authors to read in the bottom half (and am particularly looking foward to Ted Chiang).

  7. Dark Puss says:

    I have read 18 of these. Never really sure what SF is so I am not going to join in the yes it is/no it isn’t discussions 🙂 In the spirit of some of these I would add We by Zamyatin, Redshift by Alan Garner (bound to be one that fuels the is/isn’t debate) and Murakami’s Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (one might just about include his 1Q84 too).

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I can’t comment on Murakami – only read a couple of his novels. Yes to Zamyatin and Yes to Alan Garner!

  8. Lory says:

    If you have not read the original Frankenstein you mustI I found it quite eye-opening, in many ways a mess, in others brilliant. Kindred is also a must read, but I would not call it sci-fi — it has time travel but there is not even an attempt at a scientific explanation. I categorize it as horror personally.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      There’s another overlap with Horror – SF is the widest of categories – on balance that’s a good thing. Yes, I will read the original Frankenstein soon (I know the story fully though as the adaptation for the theatre a few years ago followed the text closely). Kindred appeals to me less than The Parable of the Sower or her other trilogy. If Kindred is SF, so is Marganita Laski’s The Victorian Chaise-Longue!

      • Lory says:

        Kindred may not be sf but it is a brilliant exploration of the past and present horror of slavery, a time that (as we can well see nowadays) is not dead and gone. I’ve not read any other Butler yet but I definitely want to.

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