This list is a sampler of some of my favorites, from among thousands of fine works. It also includes a few of my personal favorites from my own work. It does not pretend to be exhaustive. I have listed relatively few very recent works. That’s because I can’t keep up! Look for some excellent reference works toward the end of the list.
Linked titles will open a new browser window displaying that book at Amazon.com. (I hope to continue adding these links as time allows.)
If you have a title suggestion, email me with a brief description. I’ll add it to the list of your recommendations (but it might take me a little while).
For a good introduction (and for younger readers)
- Barnes, John — Orbital Resonance (teenagers cope with life in a hollowed-out asteroid)
- Butterworth, Oliver P. — The Enormous Egg (Great book for kids–about a boy whose chicken lays a triceratops egg!)
- Carver, Jeffrey A. — Dragons in the Stars, and the longer and more complex Dragon Rigger (starflight leads to encounters with a realm of dragons, and a centuries-old struggle)
- Duane, Diane — So You Want to be a Wizard, Deep Wizardry, High Wizardry, and further additional sequels (SF/F blend set in modern world, teenaged heroes face important choices); also Spock’s World (Star Trek novel)
- Gardner, Craig Shaw — popular funny fantasies include A Malady of Magicks and other “Ebenezum” novels (a wizard allergic to magic); also the “Cineverse” books, starting with Slaves of the Volcano Gods (hero trapped in B-movie worlds)
- Heinlein, Robert A. — early (pre-1970) books from “the dean of science fiction writers”; for example, Starman Jones, Double Star, or The Door Into Summer. Excellent collection, The Past Through Tomorrow, includes stories that helped define the field. (Much of his later work suffers by comparison.)
- Lewis, C.S. — The Chronicles of Narnia (classic fantasy series including The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)
- L’Engle, Madeleine — A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels (choices made by young protagonists may affect all of creation)
- McCaffrey, Anne — Dragonflight, Dragonquest, and numerous sequels (far-future planet where humans and dragons together combat threats to survival)
- McIntyre, Vonda N. — Starfarers and related novels (humanistic SF novels with biology as the scientific focus)
- Norton, Andre — Star Guard, The Stars are Ours, Starman’s Son, Galactic Derelict (The titles alone are enough to make you feel 12 years old again; classic young adult SF, evocative of everything that drew you to science fiction.)
- Rowling, J.K. — Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban are the wonderful and sometimes scary adventures of a young student and his friends at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Classic good vs. evil tales spun with delightful wit and humor. My kids love these books, and they’re terrific for reading aloud.
- Tolkien, J.R.R. — The Hobbit (sets the stage for the much deeper story told in The Lord of the Rings)
- Vinge, Joan D. — Psion (slum kid of the future with telepathic powers); sequel, Catspaw
- Vinge, Vernor — True Names (what is “real” in the cyberworld?)
- Yep, Lawrence — Dragonwings (fantasy with an Asian flavor)
- Yolen, Jane — The “Pit Dragon” series: Dragon’s Blood, Heart’s Blood, A Sending of Dragons (bond with dragons on another world); Here There Be Unicorns (story collection)
More ambitious reading
- Anzetti, Toni — Typhon’s Children and its sequel Riding the Leviathan (terrific undersea-on-alien-world novels; great imagination of biological sciences and what humanity could become)
- Asimov, Isaac — The Foundation Trilogy (galactic empire saga); much loved by readers, if a bit clunky in the telling
- Bear, Greg — The Forge of God and Anvil of Stars (Earth is destroyed by an unseen enemy from the stars and her surviving children seek vengeance)
- Bethke, Bruce — Headcrash (wickedly funny and somewhat baudy sendup of our future on the net)
- Benford, Greogry — In the Ocean of Night and its sequels Across the Sea of Suns and others (hard SF, excellent literary quality)
- Bester, Alfred — The Stars My Destination and The Demolished Man, two classics of the field, by an author who was also a brilliant short story writer
- Bowker, Richard — Replica, Dover Beach (near-future SF/mystery, good writing and characterization); also, though not SF, his novel Senator is a wonderful read, a political mystery
- Bradbury, Ray — The Martian Chronicles (SF about a Mars that never was), Something Wicked This Way Comes (a small town is visited by a mysterious and dangerous carnival)
- Brin, David — Startide Rising and The Uplift War (interstellar adventure; a “must” if you like dolphins or chimpanzees)
- Bull, Emma — Finder (Elfland and a grungy modern civilization coexist; luminous writing and delightful characters)
- Butler, Octavia — Wild Seed, Kindred, Dawn — just about anything you can find from the first SF writer to win a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant
- Bujold, Lois McMaster — The Warrior’s Apprentice (A “Miles Vorkosigan” novel — entertaining interstellar adventure with vivid writing, warmth, humor, and fine characterization; also, many sequels.)
- Card, Orson Scott — Ender’s Game (thoughtful look at interspecies conflict) and its sequel Speaker for the Dead, as well as numerous other novels
- Carver, Jeffrey A. — Eternity’s End, The Infinity Link, The Rapture Effect, From a Changeling Star and Neptune Crossing (some of my personal favorites: explorations of alien contact, AI, viewpoints on human consciousness and purpose, with science and sense of wonder; the latter book begins a new series, THE CHAOS CHRONICLES, inspired by the science of chaos.)
- Cherryh, C.J. — Downbelow Station, Cyteen, and other popular novels set among the stars
- Clarke, Arthur C. — Childhood’s End, The City and the Stars, and Rendezvous with Rama (transcendent SF, classics in the field; the sequels to Rama don’t come close to the original, sadly)
- Clement, Hal — Mission of Gravity (classic “hard science” SF, life on a planet with gravity that varies drastically depending upon location) — now back in print as part of Heavy Planet: The Classic Mesklin Stories
- Crowley, John — Little, Big (beautifully crafted present-day fantasy)
- Czerneda, Julie E. – A Thousand Words for Stranger (Striking first novel, with evocative writing and sharp characterization.)
- Delany, Samuel R. — Babel-17 and Nova (Great examples of 60’s “New Wave” writing, with innovative style, nifty ideas, and excellent characterization.)
- Haldeman, Joe — The Forever War (anti-war novel about a future interstellar war); Mindbridge (SF novel about telepathic communion between species)
- Heinlein, Robert — The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Stranger in a Strange Land (Heinlein at the apex of his career)
- Herbert, Frank — Dune (classic galactic empire saga)
- Hughart, Barry — The Bridge of Birds and The Story of the Stone (wonderfully told and often funny fantasy tales set in an imaginary China of the distant past)
- Jones, Diana Wynne — The Tough Guide to Fantasy (Not fiction, but a hilarious and extremely perceptive compendium of the vast number of cliches in modern fantasy)
- Keyes, Daniel — Flowers for Algernon (basis for the movies Charly and, more recently, Flowers for Algernon; a true classic in the field, both as a short story and as a novel)
- Landis, Geoffrey — Mars Crossing, a Nebula-nominated hard SF novel, written by an author who actually works for NASA on Mars exploration; excellent writing and characterization, as well as science
- LeGuin, Ursula K. — A Wizard of Earthsea and other books of Earthsea (a young wizard grows into wisdom); The Left Hand of Darkness (an SF classic set on a world where humans must live both as male and as female)
- McDevitt, Jack — The Engines of God (interstellar archaeology, and a story told with wisdom and grace); by the author of many fine short stories. Also, more recently, Ancient Shores.
- McIntyre, Vonda N. — Dreamsnake (SF grounded in biology, but feels like lyrical fantasy)
- Miller, Walter M., Jr. — A Canticle for Leibowitz (post- holocaust novel, with religious overtones; a classic)
- Niven, Larry — Ringworld (SF with mind-stretching ideas and fascinating aliens) and sequel Ringworld Engineers; also numerous story collections
- Niven, Larry and Pournelle, Jerry — A Mote in God’s Eye (grand galactic space opera, well conceived and told)
- Pangborn, Edgar — A Mirror for Observers and Davy (recognized classics; strong characterization and writing)
- Pohl, Frederik — Gateway and sequel, Beyond the Blue Event Horizon (psychology, space exploration, innovative style)
- Sawyer, Robert J. — The Terminal Experiment (Nebula Award winner) and Starplex (hard SF with interesting scientific and philosophical speculations)
- Scott, Melissa — Dreamships (an interesting and unusual take on future societies among the stars)
- Simmons, Dan — Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion (ambitious far- future SF, inspired by Keats’ poem, with Canterbury Tales structure; superbly written).
- Smith, Cordwainer — Norstrilia (novel) and The Rediscovery of Man (short stories); (quirky, original, and wonderful)
- Smith, David Alexander — In the Cube and, as editor, Future Boston (both set in a transformed Boston of the future)
- Sturgeon, Theodore — More Than Human (What does “human” mean?)
- Tolkien, J.R.R. — The Lord of the Rings (The tale of Gandalf, Frodo, and Middle Earth, this is a true masterpiece of fantasy and one of the great works of world literature. It inspired countless successors, but none that match its brilliance and depth.)
- Vinge, Joan D. — The Snow Queen and The Summer Queen (far-future SF, steeped in myth)
- Vinge, Vernor — The Peace War and sequel Marooned in Realtime(imaginatively conceived hard SF and mystery combined); also A Fire Upon the Deep and his latest, A Deepness in the Sky (richly detailed novels filled with great sweep and scope)
- Vonnegut, Kurt — Slaughterhouse Five and The Sirens of Titan, two of the best and funniest novels of this fine satirist.
- Willis, Connie — Doomsday Book (hauntingly beautiful tale of time-travel researcher stranded in plague-decimated England) and many short stories
- Wolfe, Gene — The Shadow of the Torturer (far-future SF with a fantasy feel; superb writing); followed, in order, by The Claw of the Conciliator, The Sword of the Lictor, and The Citadel of the Autarch
- Yolen, Jane — Cards of Grief (SF with lyrical fantasy feel) and Briar Rose (heartbreaking fantasy about a woman’s search for her roots in the ashes of the Holocaust)
Nebula Award winners
Another good place to start is with novels that have won the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s Nebula Award. Note that the awards are actually given out in the spring following the year listed; the latter corresponds generally to year of publication. Here’s the list to date:
2004 Paladin of Souls — Lois McMaster Bujold
2003 The Speed of Dark — Elizabeth Moon
2002 American Gods — Neil Gaiman
2001 The Quantum Rose — Catherine Asaro
2000 Darwin’s Radio — Greg Bear
1999 Parable of the Talents — Octavia E. Butler
1998 The Forever Peace — Joe W. Haldeman
1997 The Moon and the Sun — Vonda N. McIntyre
1996 Slow River — Nicola Griffith
1995 The Terminal Experiment — Robert J. Sawyer
1994 Moving Mars — Greg Bear
1993 Red Mars — Kim Stanley Robinson
1992 Doomsday Book — Connie Willis
1991 Stations of the Tide — Michael Swanwick
1990 Tehanu: The Last Book of Earthsea — Ursula K. Le Guin
1989 The Healer’s War — Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
1988 Falling Free — Lois McMaster Bujold
1987 The Falling Woman — Pat Murphy
1986 Speaker for the Dead — Orson Scott Card
1985 Ender’s Game — Orson Scott Card
1984 Neuromancer — William Gibson
1983 Startide Rising — David Brin
1982 No Enemy But Time — Michael Bishop
1981 The Claw of the Conciliator — Gene Wolfe
1980 Timescape — Gregory Benford
1979 The Fountains of Paradise — Arthur C. Clarke
1978 Dreamsnake — Vonda N. McIntyre
1977 Gateway — Frederik Pohl
1976 Man Plus — Frederik Pohl
1975 The Forever War — Joe Haldeman
1974 The Disposessed — Ursula K. Le Guin
1973 Rendezvous with Rama — Arthur C. Clarke
1972 The Gods Themselves — Isaac Asimov
1971 A Time of Changes — Robert Silverberg
1970 Ringworld — Larry Niven
1969 The Left Hand of Darkness — Ursula K. Le Guin
1968 Rite of Passage — Alexei Panshin
1967 The Einstein Intersection — Samuel R. Delany
1966 Flowers for Algernon (tie) — Daniel Keyes
1966 Babel-17 (tie) — Samuel R. Delany
1965 Dune — Frank Herbert
Complete Nebula and Hugo Awards Lists
Browse the lists of not just the winners, but also the many worthy nominees down through the years. These lists include short fiction as well as novels.
Hugo Award winners — voted by the members of the annual World Science Fiction Convention (readers, writers, editors, fans)
[with Amazon purchase links]
Nebula Award winners — voted yearly by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA)
[with Amazon purchase links]
A complete Hugo Awards list, including finalists, but without the purchase links.
A complete Nebula Awards list, including finalists, but without the purchase links.
A good place to find quality short stories is in any of the annual “best of the year” anthologies–for example, The Year’s Best Science Fiction, edited by Gardner Dozois, or The Year’s Best Fantasy, edited by Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow.
Or try the many anthologies of past works such as The Science Fiction Hall of Fame or The Best of the Nebulas, stories chosen by members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, or The Hugo Winners, stories which have won the reader-voted Hugo Award.
Numerous magazines publish a continuing stream of fine work, including Science Fiction Age, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Analog, and Asimov’s SF Magazine.
Film and Video
This is a new section, which I hope to add to over time. I’m starting with some of the best.
- The Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring (widescreen extended version, DVD) (or VHS)
- The Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers (widescreen extended version, DVD)
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (widescreen DVD) (or VHS)
Reference and History of the Field
- The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, edited by John Clute and Peter Nicholls–a massive compendium of information about SF, its authors, its editors, and its artists. Also available in hardcover.
- The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, edited by John Clute and John Grant, a similar volume on fantasy. Also available in hardcover.
- Science Fiction of the 20th Century: An Illustrated History, by Frank M. Robinson, a stunningly beautiful coffee table book. Crammed with science fiction cover art spanning the century, it’ll bring back memories real and imagined.
On Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy
Writing help online:
My own Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy teaches the fundamentals of storytelling, and includes such topics as getting from idea to story, world building, creating human and alien characters, plot and conflict, style, finishing, rewriting, submitting to publishers, and more. It’s free. Give it a try, at writeSF.com.
Books on the craft of writing SF and fantasy
- The Craft of Science Fiction, edited by Reginald Bretnor
- How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, by Orson Scott Card
- Conceiving the Heavens: Creating the Science Fiction Novel, by Melissa Scott
- Beginnings, Middles and Ends, by Nancy Kress
- Characters and Viewpoint, by Orson Scott Card
- Writing and Selling Science Fiction, by various members of the Science Fiction Writers of America
There are many others. Check your local library.
General books on writing
- How to Get Happily Published, by Judith Appelbaum, is one of the best general guides to writing an publishing around.
- Self-editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King is full of useful advice on taking that promising manuscript and beating it into shape.
- How to be Your Own Literary Agent, by veteran agent Richard Curtis offers many insights into the process of working with an agent and with publishers.
- Bird by Bird : Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott—a hilarious and insightful look into the writing process, with many fine suggestions. Highly recommended.
- The Spirit of Writing, edited by Mark Robert Waldman, presents short essays by a variety of authors (including my own, “Of Starships and Dragons Claws”).
A more complete list of titles is available on the SFWA web site.
Magazines such as Writer’s Digest can offer a good deal of helpful information.
On writing workshops
Not seen but recommended to me: The Complete Guide to Writer’s Groups, Conferences, and Workshops (Wiley Books for Writers Series) lists over 400 organizations and conferences and sources. The bulk of the book addresses the dynamics of writing groups, starting up your own, etc.
Also, check out SFWA’s list of workshops.
Other Reading Lists
Further recommendations are available at SFWA’s Suggested Reading page. Note particularly the Dozois and Kessel lists.
For SF stories that incorporate interesting science (particularly astronomy), take a look at Science Fiction Stories with Good Astronomy & Physics from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.
Happy Reading! –Jeffrey A. Carver