The Best Fiction of All Time: 26 Books You Must Read

1. The Lord of the Rings, John Tolkien

  • Goodreads rating: 4.4.
  • Awards: International Fiction Award for Fiction (1957), SFinks Award for Book of the Year (2000), Prometheus Award for Hall of Fame (2009).

The Tolkien trilogy, based on which Peter Jackson made the legendary film saga , stands the test of time and sets the bar for fantasy fiction. The book is different from the film, so the reader will be pleased with many interesting details and unexpected plot twists.

The hobbit Frodo and his companions set off on a journey through the fairy-tale universe to destroy the Ring and restore peace on earth. Many dangers await them on the way, which will require great valor and courage from little heroes.

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2. Dune, Frank Herbert

  • Goodreads rating: 4.2.
  • Awards: Hugo Award for Best Novel (1966), Nebula Award for Best Novel (1965), SFinks Award for Book of the Year (2008).

The action takes place in the distant future, where social life and culture revolve around the spice, and there is a constant struggle for the extraction and use of this special substance. At first glance, it may seem that this is another story of the confrontation between good and evil, nobility and selfish interests. However, the book is more polyphonic.

Herbert managed to create a kind of chronicle of the distant future, which explores the issues of politics, religion, ecology and technology, rightfully considered the most striking and original in the history of world fiction.

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3. A Song of Ice and Fire, George Martin

  • Goodreads rating: 4.4.
  • Awards: Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Award – first two books (2001), Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Award – first three books (2002).

This ranking would be incomplete without the Game of Thrones saga. The book allows you to follow the endless confrontation between the Starks and Lannisters without downloading the next season of the series. Magic, mystery, intrigue, passion, romance and adventure fill its pages and take the reader to a whole new world.

According to the author, in the last volumes he did not kill those characters who die on the screen, which allows him to follow the fate of his favorite heroes for a longer time.

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4. “1984”, George Orwell

  • Goodreads rating: 4.1
  • Awards: Prometheus Award in the Hall of Fame category (1984).

Orwell managed to create an antipode to the great, but not universally recognized dystopia of the 20th century – Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. The author tries to answer the question, what is more terrible: an ideal consumer society or an ideal idea society? It turns out that there is nothing worse than complete lack of freedom in both the first and second cases.

Orwell predicted the total power of television, ubiquitous surveillance, and many other cultural phenomena that we see today. Therefore, the book has not lost its relevance over the years.

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5. The Gods Themselves, Isaac Asimov

  • Goodreads rating: 4.
  • Awards: Hugo Award for Best Novel (1973), Nebula Award for Best Novel (1972), Locus Award for Best Novel (1973), Dietmar Award for “Foreign Fiction (USA, novel)” (1973).

Isaac Asimov’s novel consists of three parts, the titles of which, if listed in the correct sequence, make up the famous saying of Friedrich Schiller: “Against stupidity, the Gods themselves are powerless to fight.”

Two worlds appear before the reader: dying and full of strength. The greatest scientific discovery in the history of mankind gives people an inexhaustible source of cheap energy, which gives hope for saving the fading universe. But everything is not so simple, and the price for this discovery is too high for everyone.

6. Date with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke

  • Goodreads rating: 4.
  • Awards: Hugo Award for Best Novel (1974), Nebula Award for Best Novel (1973), Locus Award for Best Novel (1974), British Science Fiction Association Award for category “Best Novel” (1974).

The case when the novel received as many as seven prestigious awards in the field of science fiction (Lifehacker listed the most famous of them) and marked the beginning of a series of books by different authors that explore the relationship of earthlings with a different mind.

The action takes place in the near future. An unusually shaped asteroid is moving across the galaxy towards the solar system. The crew of earthlings land on the surface of the asteroid and begin to collect data that only complicate the search for an answer to the main question: “Who and why created this hulk? ..”

7. Roadside Picnic, Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

  • Goodreads rating: 4.5.
  • Awards: Jules Verne Prize in the Novel (USSR) category (1979), Golden Graulli Prize in the Foreign Novel category (1981).

One of the few works of Russian-language science fiction that does not lose, but only gains popularity over time.

“Roadside picnic” is reflected in world culture. According to him, Andrei Tarkovsky shot his legendary film “Stalker”. A few decades later, the story formed the basis of a computer game and became the beginning of a series of books set in the fictional world created by the Strugatskys.

After the aliens visited the Earth, Zones appeared on it, in which completely different laws of existence operate. Society turned out to be unprepared for the “gifts” of aliens and is struggling to adapt to the new reality, following the few Stalkers.

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8. “Speaker for the Dead” by Orson Scott Card

  • Goodreads rating: 4.
  • Awards: Hugo Award for Best Novel (1987), Nebula Award for Best Novel (1986), Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (1987), Academy of Science Science science fiction, fantasy and horror in the category “Best Foreign Book (USA)” (1995).

In Russian translation, the book is also known under the titles “Voice of those who do not exist” and “Herald of the Dead”. This novel was a direct sequel to Ender’s Game, which also won several literary awards and received a great response from fans of fantasy.

Earthlings meet another race of advanced beings. The differences between them are so great that it almost leads to a new conflict of civilizations.

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9. American Gods, Neil Gaiman

  • Goodreads rating: 4.1.
  • Awards: Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel (2001), Hugo Award for Best Novel (2002), Nebula Award for Best Novel (2002), Locus Award for Best Novel (Fantasy)” (2002), Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Award in the category “Best Fantasy (UK/USA)” (2001).

The book formed the basis of the TV series of the same name, which was highly appreciated by both viewers and critics. Therefore, if you want to understand modern fiction, this novel is one of the first to read.

The main character spent three years in prison and was finally released. He does not yet suspect that the main tests for him are just beginning. His wife dies in a car accident, and a strange man named Wednesday draws the hero into confusing events…

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10. The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood

  • Goodreads rating: 4.
  • Awards: Governor General of Canada Literary Award in the category “Prose in English” (1985), Los Angeles Times Book Award in the category “Fiction” (1986), Arthur C. Clarke Award in the category “Best Novel” ( 1987).

Another book based on a popular dystopian TV series . Margaret Atwood builds a pretty compelling panorama of a future that could come as soon as tomorrow.

In the new world, women do not have the right to own property, work, love, read or write. They are here only for one thing – to give birth. And if some of them are not capable of this, she is left to work in hard labor until her death, which under such conditions comes earlier than usual. The main character of the book, Fredov’s maid, challenges the system, for which she has to pay.

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11. 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

  • Goodreads rating: 4.1.
  • Awards: New Dimension Magazine Award for Best Book (UK/Sri Lanka) (1968).

An example of how a book is born after the film of the same name – and finds its audience, living its own life. Arthur Clark wrote his science fiction novel based on a screenplay he worked on with Stanley Kubrick. It is believed that the work was ahead of its time.

An unknown object has been discovered on the Moon that sends a powerful signal into space . Scientists managed to find out that the signal goes towards one of the satellites of Saturn. The interplanetary ship “Discovery” is sent there to explore the unknown expanses …

12. Ready Player One by Ernest Kline

  • Goodreads rating: 4.2.
  • Awards: Prometheus Award in the Best Novel category (2012), Alex Award (2012).

In the not-too-distant future, when the world is going through another economic downturn and resource shortages, you can truly feel alive only in the virtual space where the representatives of humanity spend their days. Before death, the creator of this space makes up a series of the most difficult puzzles. The one who solves them first will inherit his huge fortune and power over the whole world. The protagonist decides to try his hand and begins to look for clues.

In 2020, the sequel Ready Player Two was released, so readers have the opportunity to find out what happened to their favorite characters.

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13. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula Le Guin

  • Goodreads rating: 4.
  • Awards: Hugo Award for Best Novel (1970), Nebula Award for Best Novel (1969), Italian magazine Nova SF Award for Best Novel (1972), SFinks Award for Best Novel Book of the Year (1996).

Not the most famous novel by an American writer, but big, complex and serious. In it, Le Guin poses and resolves global philosophical and moral questions – this is precisely why fans of intellectual fiction love him.

The book describes the world of the distant planet Zima, to which the protagonist arrives on a mission of goodwill – the unification of many planets into one system. But to do this, he must bridge the gap between his own views and the ideas of a completely alien culture with which he encounters.

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14. Prince of Light, Roger Zelazny

  • Goodreads rating: 4.7.
  • Awards: Hugo Award for Best Novel (1968), Lazar Komarchic Award for Best Foreign Novel (1985).

The writer’s biographers agree that the science fiction writer was well versed in Eastern culture. And the novel is proof of this, because on its pages the gods of the Hindu pantheon come to life, who interact with people and demons.

This book is more of a philosophical discussion of being than a classic science fiction novel. However, the sharp plot keeps the reader’s attention throughout the story.

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15. Infinity War, Joe Haldeman

  • Goodreads rating: 4.1.
  • Awards: Hugo Award for Best Novel (1976), Nebula Award for Best Novel (1975), Locus Award for Best Novel (1976), Lazar Komarchic Award for Best Foreign Novel (1986).

The most famous book of the author, thanks to which his name is heard today among fans of science fiction. Haldeman fought in Vietnam, which had a great influence on all his work and this novel in particular. The work can be called anti-militarist.

The main character is a soldier of the space forces who fights against insidious aliens and dreams of returning home. When he finds himself on his native Earth, he realizes that he feels like a stranger here too. It turns out that finding happiness and your place in life in peacetime is even more difficult than in wartime.

16. The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury

  • Goodreads rating: 4.1.
  • Awards: Italian magazine Nova SF Award in the category “Best Novel” (1970).

This science fiction novel brought Bradbury his first success. Thanks to him, the writer received many prestigious awards and gained the love of fans around the world.

The novel consists of separate stories-chronicles, in which the author reflects on the pressing issues of the existence of mankind – both on Earth and in the Universe. People so dream of conquering the cosmos, but they don’t think about how endless longing for everything human that remains at home can seize them …

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17. Standoff, Stephen King

  • Goodreads rating: 4.3.
  • Awards: Barry Levin Award for Book of the Year (Restored and Expanded Edition) (1990), Balrog Award for Best Novel (1979), World Fantasy Award for Best Novel (1979).

Despite the fact that other books brought King great fame, this novel received many awards. Agree, a good reason to pay attention to it.

The population of America is dying out because of the virus, however, even in such a situation, the struggle for world domination does not subside. A mysterious man who can subjugate the weak seeks to seize power. Few of those who managed to survive and retain adequate ideas about good and evil decide to stop the impostor at all costs.

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18. Starship Troopers, Robert Heinlein

  • Goodreads rating: 4.
  • Awards: Hugo Award for Best Novel (1960).

In Russian, this book was also published under other names: Star Infantry, Star Rangers, Space Marines and Space Soldiers. Even if you watched the film adaptation of Paul Verhoeven, it is still worth reading the book. Heinlein focuses on important political and social phenomena, and the plot boasts even more unpredictable twists. At the same time, the novel is considered one of the most controversial works of the science fiction writer: after its release, Heinlein was called a militarist and accused of promoting fascism.

Earth is being attacked by a dangerous enemy, and the Star Marines must confront an intelligent Bugs civilization that has nothing to do with humans. In such a war, strength decides everything, because there is simply no time to seek reconciliation.

19. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

  • Goodreads rating: 4.
  • Awards: Nebula Award for Best Novel (1966)

The book will appeal to those who want to take a break from space fantasy, switching to works with a universal face. The novel is deeply psychological and makes you think about the questions of love and responsibility that we often ask ourselves in everyday life.

33-year-old floor washer Charlie Gordon is mentally retarded. Despite this, he has a job, friends and an overwhelming desire to socialize. After he takes part in a scientific experiment, his life is turned upside down. Charlie’s IQ almost triples, and he begins to comprehend things familiar to him in a completely new way.

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20. Harry Potter books, JK Rowling

  • Goodreads rating: from 4.3.
  • Awards: British National Book Award for Children’s Book of the Year (1998), Nestle Children’s Book Award (1997-1999), Whitbread Award for Children’s Book of the Year (1999).

Although the Harry Potter books have already formed a separate literary movement, they are technically classified as science fiction. The books have won numerous awards (Lifehacker listed just a few).

There is no point in retelling the plot, since even those who have not read Rowling’s novels must have watched the movie saga. Let’s just say that this series of books is one of the best examples of children’s literature, for which Rowling has been compared to Jane Austen and the ancient Greek poet Homer.

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21. “We”, Evgeny Zamyatin

  • Goodreads rating: 4.5.
  • Awards: Prometheus Award in the Hall of Fame category (1994).

The second Russian-language book on this list, which is widely known outside of Russia. This novel influenced the work of Aldous Huxley and George Orwell, and many of the metaphors from the novel have long since disappeared.

The inhabitants of Utopia have lost their individuality so much that they distinguish each other by numbers. In this world, they feed on artificial food, draw down the curtains on cue to rest, and unanimously re-elect a permanent head of government every year.

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22. Discworld, Terry Pratchett

  • Goodreads rating: 4.
  • Awards: Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Award (1995–1999)

Pratchett writes in the genre of humorous fiction, which today enjoys success far beyond the borders of the UK. The books in this series are a kind of parody of classic fantasy. They not only entertain and ironically point out the shortcomings of modern society, but also make you think about things that are important for everyone.

The writer is distinguished by the original style of narration, thanks to which his works are loved even by those who are far from science fiction.

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23. Solaris, Stanislav Lem

  • Goodreads rating: 4.2.
  • Awards: Geffen Prize (2003)

The novel describes the relationship of people with the intelligent ocean of the planet Solaris. At the same time, Lem disputes the position of other science fiction writers who believe that contact with extraterrestrial civilizations will bring total happiness to humanity. The heroes of Solaris cannot cognize the alien mind, they feel lonely far from the Earth and are afraid of everything new.

The action takes place in the distant future. But the author raises philosophical questions that are relevant for humanity in the present. Perhaps that is why Andrei Tarkovsky made a film of the same name, and the idea of a smart ocean was reflected in the work “Stars are Cold Toys” by Sergei Lukyanenko.

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24. Transfer Station, Clifford Simak

  • Goodreads rating: 4.
  • Awards: Hugo Award for Best Novel (1964).

Simak became known for his original ideas, carefully crafted plots, and his ability to talk about complex things in a simple way.

The hero of the novel from the American wilderness. At first glance, he leads a measured and uninteresting lifestyle. Everything would be fine, but only a person does not age . This is what attracts the attention of a CIA agent to him.

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25. Hyperion, Dan Simmons

  • Goodreads rating: 4.2.
  • Awards: Hugo Award for Best Novel (1990).

This novel by an American writer is often compared to the Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, where the narrative includes several timelines at once, and several characters can be called the main ones.

Many worlds are involved in an interstellar war, and the fate of mankind depends on how it ends. On the planet Hyperion, which occupies a key place in this confrontation, the Tombs of Time begin to open – gigantic structures that move from the future to the past. Seven pilgrims are sent to these objects to solve their mystery and save people.

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26. The Witcher, Andrzej Sapkowski

  • Goodreads rating: from 4.
  • Awards: Lituanikon Prize (2006).

The cycle can be attributed to the so-called dark fantasy. The main character – the witcher Geralt – protects people from monsters. The action takes place in the world of many races, peoples, communities, each of which strives to defend its interests at all costs.

Sapkowski draws analogies with our reality and ridicules the vices of modern society .

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