The Goodreads community knows how to make a list. The site’s listopia section has lists galore and lets you vote and post new books.
In honor of the Oct. 22, 2021, release of Frank Herbert’s Dune on the big screen (and HBO Max!), directed by Denis Villeneuve, here is my interactive chart of 100 of the Greatest Science Fiction novels. Have some fun changing the order of the books and let the endless debate begin!
Also, shout out to Dan Simmons, the genius behind the best sci-fi novel ever written, Hyperion (and the three books following). Hyperion for life!
Ted Chiang is one of the most acclaimed speculative fiction writers of a generation – he is, quite simply, on another level.
Chiang’s short stories are giants in the genre and consistently capture the wonders of the universe, taking you right to the edge, and over it, into other existences.
This ranking of all his stories by Grant Forbes on Tor.com is fantastic. Great Top 5. To Forbes’ point, “The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling” is astonishing and should be more highly acclaimed. I’m glaring at him for putting “Exhalation” in the middle of the pack. On the “intellectual” metric he uses, “Exhalation” rates a 5 for me. It is a fascinating look at mortality and an original take on answering life’s biggest questions. Here’s an interactive chart of the rankings I was inspired to make.
The Dark Tower is Stephen King’s magnum opus. Considered by its author to be a single novel written over the course of more than forty years, the eight-book series is a dark visionary tale of one man — Roland Deschain, last of the gunslingers — wandering a forsaken land and hoping beyond hope that he and his new ka-tet, or family, can discover what lies at the end of the world inside the dark tower.
The 2006 Pulitzer-prize winning novel “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy is bleak, by any standard of the definition. If you want a glimpse of what the post-apocalypse really looks like, you’ll find it here. The story focuses on one man and his child wandering on a road south to escape the cold in a gray ruined world with a sky that never shows the sun or stops raining ash.
The world that once was will never be again. In the aftermath of the apocalypse there is no wildlife at all, and humanity is slowly nearing extinction as cannibalism becomes the norm. Those few details exist to let you know how hopeless the world is, but the central struggle is a father trying to keep his son alive and to find some meaning beyond the stretch of road he can see in front of him.
I would contend that this is the alpha of post-apocalyptic novels. There’s no respite from the natural elements and human dangers in a world that’s edging to oblivion.
There were few nights lying in the dark that he did not envy the dead.
The story puts the reader right into its world. One example is the bitter relentless cold. I can remember back more than a decade to a nighttime Army exercise in winter with “cold to crack the stones,” to borrow a phrase from McCarthy. I can’t imagine living day-to-day not being able to get warm and being perpetually miserable.
They went on. Treading the dead world under like rats on a wheel. The nights dead still and deader black. So cold.
There’s a moral compass that the father tries to stay true to, and it’s his son that likely keeps him from giving in completely or to his darker nature.
What makes this book rise above others of similar ilk is the relationship and the conversations that the boy and his father have. What they talk about and how sparse their conversations are hit exactly the right tone for this world. There’s not much to talk about and they have very little energy to do it. The story is pure in the sense of a father and boy being able to rely on each other and live only for each other, and that in itself has some haunting beauty, despite the father knowing that they are on borrowed time.
Then there’s the gallows humor:
What’s the bravest thing you ever did? He spat into the road a bloody phlegm. Getting up this morning, he said. Really? No. Dont listen to me. Come on, let’s go.
Every decision they make means life or death. Living that way for years on end would tear down even the most resilient of people. The father desperately needs to get his son to the coast, someplace warmer, but then what next? That’s a question he himself does not have an answer to. Don’t expect a traditional narrative arc where you’re given the answers at the end. I think the story, at least for me, is part fiction and part study for reflecting on your values.
The frailty of everything revealed at last. Old and troubling issues resolved into nothingness and night.
I learned a lot from “The Road” — examining more closely what I have in life, the resilience of the human spirit, the fragility of the world, putting relationships first, and not giving in to your darker self, to name a few.
The novel is bleak, depressing, and utterly devoid of hope, but that’s what the end of the world really looks like.
5 of 5 stars
p.s. I did an analysis of votes by Goodreads’ fans for top dystopian fiction by creating an interactive graphic. Design inspired by “The Road.” Check it out.
So what book tallied the most votes in the Goodreads Choice Awards 2020 for science fiction? (The winners were announced Dec. 8.) I think a much more interesting question is “How did the number of award votes compare to the lifetime ratings for each book?” Well, it’s not hard to browse and find out, but I wanted to do a more direct comparison and see how books published across the year stacked up.
Fans of books published in the first quarter remembered their love and came back to vote for Q1 books (Riot Baby and The Hidden Girl and Other Stories). Midyear books (April-July) were strongest for both lifetime ratings and award votes. But the books that faired the best for voting season came out in August and September. Three of the four books with the most votes had at least twice the number of votes as lifetime ratings and were published in August or after. These include Harrow the Ninth, The Space Between Worlds, and the genre’s award winner To Sleep in a Sea of Stars. To see book details, explore the interactive data graphic. – Josh
The 1966 Corridors of Time by Poul Anderson hits the #1 spot on Apple’s sci-fi ebook best sellers list this Memorial Day weekend. After coming off the incredible time-travel novel Recursion from Blake Crouch, I’m looking for another book in the same vein to grab my attention. The description of The Corridors of Time has me fairly jazzed up:
The corridors of time connect the ages to each other. Through them, one can travel backwards and forwards over the history of man. But rival factions have waged war for centuries: the gates onto time are bitterly fought for and jealously guarded.
The first book in Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers sci-fi trilogy moved up from #8 last week to the top spot on the Apple ebooks sci-fi best sellers this week. At $2.99, the novel “The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet” is a steal. The trilogy won the 2019 Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction series.
Other bargain books round out the top three:
#2 BRAVE NEW WORLD | Aldous Huxley $1.99
#3 CHILDREN OF TIME | Adrian Tchaikovsky $2.99
The priciest best seller is the stunning Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy by Cixin Liu costing $25.99.
Having read the first book, the story redefined for me what science fiction could be. It’s a complex, mind-warping ride about the possibilities of technology and other civilizations.
Sidenote: “Halo: The Fall of Reach” has been a best seller for at least two consecutive weeks. I remember it having great space naval battles, but Master Chief got short changed in the narrative. There are better books to spend your money on in my opinion, even for hardcore Halo fans.
Explore more best sellers below and click on the image to interact.
It looks like “May the Fourth Be With You” continues to hold sway over fans of a galaxy far away. No less than seven Star Wars books are currently Apple ebook best sellers, including the highest priced book on the list, the $15 adaptation of the film “The Rise of Skywalker.” Maybe it will make fans happier than the movie did?
Several Hugo and Nebula short-listed books from 2020 and years past also make the list. And I’m happy to see an Arabic translation of “Dune” cracking the top 50. Great sci-fi has no limits.
We also have another sci-fi classic, “Ender’s Game”, going strong. That book got me into reading again, so I’m glad to see a new generation discovering it.
Subscribing to Kindle Unlimited ($10/m) will give you access to $400 worth of the top 100 best selling Kindle ebooks for 2019 but how many of these would you actually read? It’s the Netflix problem, but in book form.
So you basically save 75% off the cover price if you subscribe to Amazon’s ebook streaming, um, ebook renting service rather than licensing ebooks outright. Are there any gems here? Browse by clicking on the image and see for yourself.
Most common among the 2019 best sellers are $5 ebooks (44 titles), all of which are on Kindle Unlimited, but none of the four most expensive best sellers ($15 each) are part of the service.
Priciest Kindle Best Sellers ($15 each) Aren’t on Kindle Unlimited:
#1 Where the Crawdads Sing
#59 The Guardians: A Novel
#18 Educated: A Memoir
Personally, looking at this list gave me that feeling of browsing the Wal-Mart bargain DVD bin. But hey, to each his or her own.
The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones book series ruled the 2010s in sales on the Kindle e-reader (owned by Amazon). The first book in each series was a best seller for 5 of the 11 years. George R. R. Martin’s ongoing fantasy tale had a consecutive 5-year streak while Suzanne Collins’ dystopian saga held a record for 4 and then reappeared in 2017 after a 3-year hiatus.
While Amazon categorizes The Hunger Games in the “Teen and Young Adult” genre, I would disagree. This was an important fictional story for the new century that transcends such a simple designation. The story stars a younger set of protagonists but centers on heady topics such as authoritarianism, survival, and society’s decay (in the form of a live televised blood sport where children are forced to kill each other). On some levels, it rivals Game of Thrones in scope and depth of character and does so without the need for full-on graphic violence. And a big bonus; the story is complete.
The Hunger Games’ main character defies an entire government and society designed to make her fail, and Katniss’s will to survive her brutal reality is still one of the most riveting narratives in dystopian written fiction.