List of sci-fi essentials
January 31, 2010 7:38 PM   Subscribe

I am looking to compile a reading list for myself of the essential sci fi novels. What should be on it? And also what order should they be read in?

Below is the list of what I would consider are the Sci-Fi books I've read. All suggestions would be appreciated:

H G Wells: Time Machine, Island of Dr. Moreau, Invisible Man, War of the Worlds,

Kurt Vonnegut: Slaughterhouse Five, Cat's Cradle

Orson Scott Card: Ender's Game, Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, Ender's Shadow,

Phillip K. Dick: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep

Isaac Asimov: Foundation (Just the first novel not the whole series)

Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451, Illustrated Man

Neal Stephenson: Snow Crash
posted by trojanhorse to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (67 answers total) 114 users marked this as a favorite
William Gibson, all.
posted by fixedgear at 7:44 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Karel Capek - R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots)
Douglas Adams - Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Hmm, not so sure about the order. I agree with what you have so far though!
posted by hellomina at 7:45 PM on January 31, 2010

Robert Heinlein: Starship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land.

Neil Stephenson: Cryptonomicon.
posted by axiom at 7:48 PM on January 31, 2010

I'm sure you'll get no end of answers to this question. If you are trying to get yourself a good sampling of the field, Burroughs' A Princess of Mars would be a good representation of the pulp area of the genre.

You'll need some Heinlein and Larry Niven too. Stranger in a Strange Land for Heinlein, I liked Mote in God's Eye by Niven, others may recommend his Ringworld series.

posted by marxchivist at 7:48 PM on January 31, 2010

Everything by Clifford Simak, but especially City and Way Station.
posted by guybrush_threepwood at 7:51 PM on January 31, 2010

Perhaps you mean "just the original trilogy not the whole series" for foundation?

"I, Robot", Dune, Brave New World. Is 1984 sci-fi?

Not sure order matters at all.
posted by about_time at 7:52 PM on January 31, 2010

Yeah, I would definitely put Brave New World on your list.
posted by phunniemee at 7:55 PM on January 31, 2010

Oh, thinking back on my science fiction literature class: Childhood's End by Clarke, Frankenstein (by Shelley, natch) and Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis. We also read I, Robot , A Princess of Mars, and The Invisible Man (last three already mentioned).
posted by marxchivist at 7:59 PM on January 31, 2010

Ursula K. Le Guin: The Dispossessed

Phillip K. Dick: A Scanner Darkly

Stanislaw Lem: Fiasco

Joe Haldeman: The Forever War

Larry Niven: Ringworld

Arthur C. Clarke: Rendezvous with Rama

Isaac Asimov: all of his short stories :)

Isaac Asimov/Robert Silverberg: Nightfall

James P. Kelly: Think Like a Dinosaur (novelette)

Max Brooks: World War Z

Mmmm I love science fiction. I'll post again if I think of some more really essential ones.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 7:59 PM on January 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

Nthing Stranger in a Strange Land.

Also Childhood's End (Arthur C Clarke) and Ender's Game (Orson Scott Card).

IANA science fiction guru.
posted by Lutoslawski at 8:03 PM on January 31, 2010

Oh, and I've said it here before, but my favorite sci fi short story is Heinlein's All You Zombies.
posted by Lutoslawski at 8:05 PM on January 31, 2010

Best answer: Alfred Bester: The Demolished Man.

William Gibson: Neuromancer (it really is tremendously seminal).

Also: someone has already done this for you (kind of).
posted by smoke at 8:12 PM on January 31, 2010

Ursula K. Leguin - The Left Hand of Darkness

Dan Simmons - Hyperion
posted by shaun uh at 8:14 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Dune, of course. And Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination. Heinlein, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.
posted by Bron at 8:17 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I cannot say enough about Dune, Enders Game, and Cryptonomicon. Those were my first into Sci-Fi. Fountains of Paradise is also awesome. I remember reading it 8 years ago going " talks about google here...when was it written...holy shit, 1979."

Clarke is a modern-day Nostradamus.
posted by hal_c_on at 8:17 PM on January 31, 2010

Here are two good places to start, to get a good feel of some of the classics.

Some of my personal favorites:

Frederik Pohl. The Gateway series is classic. Also some of his short stories are fantastic.

Also I really enjoyed Stephen Donaldson's GAP sequence when I read it a while ago. His fantasy stuff is good too, though I've always found the titles embarrassingly bad.

2001 and the Rama series by Arthur C. Clarke. And most any of his other stuff.

Anything by Ursula Le Guin. (anthropology + sci fi = fascinating)

I would also highly recommend checking out some compilations of short stories. Science fiction is a lot more short story driven than other genres. (or seems that way to me...)
posted by ropeladder at 8:19 PM on January 31, 2010

Samuel R. Delany: Dhalgren
John Brunner: Shockwave Rider
Larry Niven: World Out of Time
Arthur C. Clarke: Against the Fall of Night
posted by jet_silver at 8:22 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Here is a recent list of the 100 best sci-fi or fantasy books of all time.
posted by shothotbot at 8:23 PM on January 31, 2010

What's the purpose of a big reading list to you? Different purposes might have different lists. An "I want to read the classics" list will be different from a "I want to get the in-references in current/recent fiction" list.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:26 PM on January 31, 2010

Last year the Guardian ran one of those "1000 novels everyone must read" things, with a three-part section on science fiction. Might be useful.

If you go back to Jules Verne, be sure to get a modern translation by someone like William Butcher; Verne was translated into English horribly early on, which still keeps him unfairly pigeonholed as a kid's writer.

William Gibson, all.

Well, start with Neuromancer. That and the Mirrorshades anthology edited by Bruce Sterling are must-reads to get a flavor of the first cyberpunk wave.
posted by mediareport at 8:26 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm a little surprised no one mentioned John Varley, but maybe he's seen as too derivative of Heinlein. I liked The Gaea Trilogy.
posted by Nabubrush at 8:32 PM on January 31, 2010

Instead of Čapek's R.U.R. you should read, maybe, his War With the Newts, which is very similar in its darkly satirical elements but is a much snappier read. Other non-Anglo-American stuff (by which I guess I mean east European and Soviet) that I'd call essential:

Yevgeny Zamyatin's We
Stanisław Lem's Cyberiad, Memoirs Found in a Bathtub, and Solaris (I haven't read His Master's Voice yet 'though I hear over and over that it's one of his best; and be forewarned - there's only one translation of Solaris available in English and it blows.)
the Strugatskys' Roadside Picnic and Beetle in the Anthill, although there are lots more I could recommend if I wasn't trying to keep myself in check
and a lot more stuff that's only available in MacMillan's anthologies of Soviet SF from the '70s, which are cheap now on Amazon.

I've also always been all about Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven, but Left Hand of Darkness is probably more essential to a quick glimpse of her work and her effects on the genre.
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 8:48 PM on January 31, 2010

More Than Human -- Theodore Sturgeon
Titan -- by John Varley
Star of the Unborn --by Franz Werfel
Valis, The Divine Invasion, and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer -- by PK Dick
Ingathering (The People) -- Zenna Henderson
posted by pushing paper and bottoming chairs at 8:49 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, check out Cordwainer Smith's work:
The Rediscovery of Man
posted by pushing paper and bottoming chairs at 8:53 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'll add my recommendation to exploring short stories. Frederick Pohl - Gold at Starbow's End is one of my favorites. Was at Pandemonium in Boston recently and came across a book called Starburst that is a novelization of the short story and is terrible. It really shows how some stories work as short stories but not as novels.

Eric Frank Russell is great - get the Minor Ingredients anthology.

From opposite ends of the spectrum, Dangerous Visions and Fast Forward are both great anthologies too.

That SF Masterworks list is great - though there a few I've never even heard of. Pavane? But really, just read those and you're off to a great start.

For a couple more offbeat ones, Nicholson Baker's Fermata is worth a read; Replay is not much of a book, but an interesting take on the Groundhog Day concept, though Replay came first.

More modern, I love Peter Hamilton's Night's Dawn trilogy and his Void Trilogy is shaping up quite well too.
posted by slide at 8:54 PM on January 31, 2010

Ubik, by Philip K. Dick
posted by alligatorman at 8:57 PM on January 31, 2010

No science-fiction tour is complete without my favorite book, The Diamond Age by Neil Stephenson. Snow Crash, of the same author, isn't a bad bet either.

Also Cryptonomicon is intensely boring
posted by Electrius at 9:03 PM on January 31, 2010

Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Or his Friday.

An Iain Banks "Culture" novel --I like Excession.

Some Greg Egan -- very hard scifi -- probably the excellent Permutation City.

Niven's Ringworld.

Some Stephen Baxter -- I like Evolution.

Pohl's Gateway series is very fun, but his terribly depressing Jem hits harder.
posted by orthogonality at 9:16 PM on January 31, 2010

Walter Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz.
posted by Jahaza at 9:26 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Lord of Light, by Roger Zelazny.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:30 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

In addition to Shockwave Rider by John Brunner, check out some of his other books. The Sheep Look Up, for example, and Stand on Zanzibar. Both were written at a time when there was a lot of doom and gloom about pollution (Sheep) and overpopulation (Zanzibar) and take the crisis to pretty amazing conclusions. Of the same vein, Make Room, Make Room by Harry Harrison is where Soylent Green came from, but has pretty much nothing to do with the film. It's an amazing story about population explosions, overcrowding, and what it can do to people, and how much they can endure. The last line is one of the most stunning sentences I've ever read.

Deathbird Stories, by Harlan Ellison. If you like it at all, try Stalking the Nightmare, Angry Candy, and Angry Candy, all short story collections by Ellison. Also Repent, Harlequin, said the Ticktock Man is pretty seminal stuff for S(peculative) F(iction).

Definitely check out Dune, Dune Messiah, and Children of Dune. After that, well, proceed with caution.

If you liked Do Androids Dream, check out Flow my Tears, the Policeman Said, and The Man in the High Castle, both by Dick. The Man in the High Castle, particularly, is a great alternate reality/history story about the Axis winning WWII and America being divided between Germany and Japan along the Rockies.

Finally, try Schismatrix, by Bruce Sterling. There's a collection out there, called Schismatrix Plus that includes the short stories he wrote set in the same world. It's pretty different from most of his other writing, and probably the most science-fictiony "Cyberpunk" novel that got written.
posted by Ghidorah at 9:51 PM on January 31, 2010

On the lighter side (but still good science fiction), nothing beats The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison*. Except Harry's other series, Bill, the Galactic Hero (a satire on Heinlein's Starship Troopers). Or maybe Callahan's Crosstime Saloon by Spider Robinson. Okay, they're all good fun, and classics on the humourous side of science fiction.

* Harrison did serious work too, such as Make Room! Make Room! which was the basis for the film Soylent Green.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 9:52 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Here are a few that haven't been mentioned in no particular order.

Imperial Earth by Arthur C. Clarke.

A Ring of Swords by Eleanor Arnason.

The Word for World Is Forest by Ursula K. LeGuin.

The Fifth Head of Cerberus by Gene Wolfe.

The Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars)

Babel-17 and The Einstein Intersection by Samuel R. Delany.

The Female Man by Joanna Russ.

Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner.

Distress by Greg Egan.
posted by Kattullus at 9:57 PM on January 31, 2010

Edwin Abbott's "Flatland" was written in 1880 and imagines a two-dimensional world inhabited by sentient geometric shapes who think their planar world is all there is. On Google Books, but there are better illustrated editions out there.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 9:58 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

James Blish's Cities in Flight hasn't been mentioned; this one riveted me as a teenager. An epic space opera if there ever was one; it includes a protagonist who lives over 800 years by utilizing every advance in medicine and cybernetics as they are disovered. From Tintodoescult blog:
At the decline of modern civilization, Earth's cities utilize anti-gravity machines to lift off into space and become independent contractors, offering their technological services to alien civilizations willing to meet the price they designate. These cities are known as "Okies", a powerful new economic space class constantly forging political and economic bargains with the aim of ensuring the survival (and, if lucky, prosperity) of their Okie populations.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 10:08 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding "Mirrorshades", although I would argue that the only essential William Gibson book would have to be Neuromancer. I really liked how Gibson shifted points of view by utilizing video feed from Molly Millions' bionic eyes.

Starship Troopers is a must-read, coupled with the Forever War.

Startide Rising by David Brin is also a classic.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:35 PM on January 31, 2010

Of course there's no definitive answer to this question. There are many good resources I used in assembling lists. It is a project that can certainly keep you busy indefinitely. I'm listing a few sources I particularly liked because they give extra context or because they get into some out of the way territory and some authors that are increasingly forgotten. One of the grim facts of science fiction publishing is that the arc to go out of print seems even more merciless than average. If you start to get into it you will be amazed at how many "recognized classics" and "great establishing works" of the genre are completely out of print after only a few decades. Luckily things are usually pretty available used. Read the old stuff! Despite obvious anachronisms I'm often amazed at how fearlessly the pioneers of the genre took the speculative challenge and imagined worlds the science (and politics, and social norms) of their day could only hint at.

James Gunn's list is nice as it has lots of links and annotation. A lot of other resources around there as well.

This list by Claude Lalumiere is more personal and idiosyncratic and I think it's more recent selections now betray a certain going-with-the-flow of the times (Ribofunk part of the essential library? Not in my book but then again where's MY bookshop?). Lots of commentary to get you into the history and context of the genre though.

David Pringle's list of the 100 best Science Fiction novels is getting to be pretty badly out of date now and has some (to me) odd choices but is worth paying attention to.
posted by nanojath at 11:00 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, and if you're interested in the history and context of the 40s-on era classic SF, read Frederick Pohl's blog. At 90 he is one of the very few of that era (among such figures as Heinlein and Asimov) left to tell the tales.
posted by nanojath at 11:09 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Lots of Heinlein. Other sci-fi authors frequently slip Heinlein references into their own works.

For the most rewarding experience, I suggest reading them in the order in which they were published. Then you can observe how authors influenced each other over time and how the field developed.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:18 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just last month one of the discussion groups (2,000-some members strong) over at LibraryThing came up with a pretty good consensus list:

111 Science Fictions Books to Read Before a Supernova Kills Us All

I'd also look at the list of Hugo Award-winners (given by fans) and the Nebula Award-winners (given by SF writers) - and especially at the books that appear on both lists.

(See the links to the Hugos and Nebulas given by ropeladder, above.)
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 11:27 PM on January 31, 2010

Logan's Run by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson.

I second The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

I think Gibson's Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive are also excellent. They are sequels to Neuromancer.

More Ray Bradbury: The Illustrated Man (a collection: does that count?) and Something Wicked This Way Comes.

The Ship Who Sang, by Anne McCaffrey (also a collection).

Links to the Hugo and Nebula awards web sites were given, but for convenience here are lists of the best novel recipients only: Hugo, Nebula.
posted by halonine at 11:32 PM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding (or thirding, or fifteenthing) Dune and The Diamond Age.
Octavia Butler should be somewhere on your list. So should JG Ballard.
To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Farmer is also worth a look.
Pick up some Jorge Luis Borges, too. Labyrinths is a good place to start.
I really want to suggest Black Hole by Charles Burns, but that might be considered more of a body horror than science fiction.
Don't concern yourself with the order so much. If you do need to impose some sort of reading order, use something arbitrary like number of dead aliens on the cover or how awesome the space guns are.
posted by Lemmy Caution at 12:19 AM on February 1, 2010

I don't know that I'd go after all of Gibson or too much or Harrison's commedic stuff. And after a while I find myself saying, "OK Bob, I get it, you're more gung ho than I'll ever be" while reading Heinlein and, "If it's God like aliens again Arthur, I'm going to scream." followed by "Arrrrrrrrrrgh!"when reading Clarke.

So here are some I didn't see thus far:

Mission of Gravity - Hal Clement

Kiln People - David Brin (The Postman and his Uplift stuff are also good)

Deepness in the Sky - Vernor Vinge

Read Niven's short story collection "Neutron Star" before you read Ringworld.

And seconding short story collections.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:26 AM on February 1, 2010

Seconding Ubik by PKD. I was given Ubik and once I read that I went on to read every PKD book he has ever published. It was that good.
posted by koolkat at 4:14 AM on February 1, 2010

The Wolves of Memory & Heroics - George Alec Effinger
A Case of Conscience - James Blish
The Stars My Destination - Alfred Bester
∞th-ing Stranger in a Strange Land - Robert Heinlein, also Starship Troopers (to see what all the fuss is about) as well as The Puppet Masters in a similar vein and inspiration of more movies than you'd ever have thought possible.
posted by rocketpup at 7:03 AM on February 1, 2010

I'll try to stick to things that have not been mentioned. All of these are classics of some sort (or ought to be anyway):

James Tiptree Jr. - One of the best short story writers, in any genre, let alone SF. Her Smoke Rose Up Forever is the best place to start.

Vernor Vinge - A Fire Upon the Deep, A Deepness in the Sky (these can be read in the reverse order, but this order is better). Rainbows End is also arguably essential.

Several people have mentioned Neal Stephenson already, but no one has mentioned Anathem, which I think is arguably his best work (well, maybe it's not better than Snow Crash, but it's close) and one of the best SF novels in quite some time.

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. Elegaic and beautiful.

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester. An all too often forgotten classic.

Canticle for Liebowitz by Walter M. Miller

Also, I'd second Cordwainer Smith (the short stories especially), Heinlein (The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Stranger in a Strange Land are just great), and Dan Simmon's Hyperion (mainly the first book or two though).

I'm sure I'm forgetting many more. A good source of this sort of thing is Jo Walton's series of blog posts on There are quite a number of them and Walton covers an impressive range of books, both well-known and obscure.
posted by pwicks at 7:17 AM on February 1, 2010

Sadly all previous posters have not mentioned Jack Vance. Hard to come by apart from second hand. Jack Vance is one of the few 40-50-60-70's authors whose stories have not aged (plotlines related to punchcards fo example). The earlier stores are great, superb concise writing. Try the Demon Princes books and the Durdane trilogy. The Tschai trilogy is very good too.
posted by Eltulipan at 8:33 AM on February 1, 2010

this is a great list - thanks everyone. i wanted to 2nd about time and suggest you read the foundation trilogy, and not just the first one. I'm finishing up the 3rd one now (Second Foundation), and the three books are one continuous story. It would be a shame to stop after the first one.

The only sci-fi book that I love and don't see in this list already is "Time Out of Joint" by Phillip K. Dick
posted by askmehow at 8:33 AM on February 1, 2010

2nd Neuromancer (plus other Gibson although some of it isn't sci fi and not all of the rest is essential), Dune (the first one at any rate), Dhalgren, some Iain Banks and absolutely Borges if he counts as sci fi (which I'm not sure he does, but he's fantastic anyways, certainly my favorite fiction writer ever).
posted by juv3nal at 10:54 AM on February 1, 2010

I'd like to recommend Blood Music by Greg Bear.
posted by crios at 10:55 AM on February 1, 2010

Oh, Timescape by Gregory Benford and Paul DiFilippo is definitely worth checking out.
posted by Kattullus at 11:41 AM on February 1, 2010

Gregory Benford wrote Timescape on his own. I meant that the writer Paul DiFilippo is also worth checking out.
posted by Kattullus at 11:42 AM on February 1, 2010

May I suggest two books by Mary Doria Russell - The Sparrow and its sequel, Children of God?
posted by DandyRandy at 11:53 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I forgot to mention Fredric Brown earlier. He wrote a prodigious amount of pulp stuff, both sci-fi and mystery. Anyone who writes a story Philip K. Dick describes as "what may be the most significant - startlingly so - story SF has yet produced" probably isn't all bad. Stranger in a Strange Land is dedicated to him, among others. I would recommend What Mad Universe and Martians, Go Home.
posted by Nabubrush at 12:13 PM on February 1, 2010

Nthing Dune
posted by Truthiness at 1:08 PM on February 1, 2010

Most of the books I'd recommend have been listed, re-listed, and nthed. You've gathered quite a terrific list, here.

For a specific Octavia Butler book, I'd point you to "Wild Seed".

"The Man Who Fell to Earth" - Walter Tevis - the book isn't the same as the movie; a perfect complement to "Stranger in a Strange Land"
"The Giver" - Lois Lowry
"Bellwether" or "To Say Nothing of the Dog" - Connie Willis
"Little Fuzzy" - H. Beam Piper - a classic of the classics, wickedly anachronistic, still topical
"In the Mother's Land" - Elisabeth Vonarburg
"I Who Have Never Known Men" - Jacqueline Harpman
"Omnibus of Science Fiction" - edited by Groff Conklin - incredible anthology with stories so classic you've probably read modern treatments and had no idea it had been told better 50 years ago.
posted by batmonkey at 1:45 PM on February 1, 2010

I really enjoyed Spin, by RC Wilson, which came out a few years ago. It's one of the more memorable SF pieces I read recently.

Regarding Stephenson, Anathem and Crypto both are light years beyond any of his other work (including Snow Crash). Crypto has a more subdued SF element, though, as does Baroque Cycle.
posted by dervish at 2:25 PM on February 1, 2010

Lots of the good ones have been mentioned, but I'll add a few that haven't:

- Lord of light, by Roger Zelazny
- The rediscovery of man, by Cordwainer Smith
- Only forward, by Michael Marshall Smith
posted by escher at 6:12 PM on February 1, 2010

My favorites not really in any order are:

William Gibson: Neuromancer - fantastic!
Pearce Anthony's Anthonology - warning some of it flat out scary but still fabulous!
Douglas Adams Hitchhiker series - especially after the Anthonology you will need a laugh

A great book by a fantastic thinker - not science fiction is Meir Christianity by C.S. Lewis.
posted by DovieSeals at 9:35 PM on February 1, 2010

When faced with this question myself, I turned to the S.F. Masterworks series (linked above). I have read up to Nr. 21 of that list. It may be a very pedestrian and uninteresting way to build a collection, but hey.. the matching covers look nice too!

To give some individual favorites though:

- Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner

- Last and First Men, Olaf Stapledon. Star Maker, too.

- Earth Abides, George R. Stewart.

- The Fifth Head of Cerberus, Gene Wolfe. Though I admit I found this one hard to understand.

- Martian Time-Slip, Philip K. Dick.

And of course, Ringworld by Niven.
posted by Harry at 2:46 AM on February 2, 2010

A Princess of Mars, From the Earth to the Moon, and the rest of pre-science-fiction adventure are always worth a shot.

If I was going to read one book by William Gibson, I'd skip Neuromancer and pick up his book of short stories; Burning Chrome.

Neil Stephenson's Diamond Age probably deserves a nod; Cryptonomicon and later do *not*.

Heinlein's Starship Troopers and the book Forever War pair incredibly well; one is from a military man who loves the military circa Korea, and one is from a disiillisioned Vietnam vet inventing the concept of future shock.
posted by talldean at 5:21 AM on February 2, 2010

Thirding "Dhalgren" (Samuel Delaney) and let me throw out Ben Bova's "Jupiter" as well.

Totally not a "classic," but if you find you like post-apocalyptic stuff (like Dhalgren), try "Aftermath" by LeVar Burton. I know, I know...Geordi wrote a book?! Don't forget, he hosts Reading Rainbow, and his parents were English teachers. It's surprisingly good. I love post-apocalyptic stories myself, and I really enjoyed it.
posted by etoile at 6:14 PM on February 2, 2010

I'd recommend Olaf Stapledon (first and last men, starmaker) and Stephen Baxter (evolution or any of the xeelee sequence) if your looking for big ideas, both of them blew my mind.

More votes for:

Frank Herbert (its worth reading outside of the dune series, The santaroga barrier and The Dosadi Experiment are both great)

Iain Banks

Peter F hamilton

and I don't think it would be called classic scifi but i really enjoyed alastair reynolds' books. As for the foundation series i found it to be so dry that i didn't really enjoy it, still read them all tho so who knows...
posted by chelegonian at 8:04 AM on February 5, 2010

also i forgot John Wyndham, The chrysalids
posted by chelegonian at 8:08 AM on February 5, 2010

Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars) is a modern classic.

Connie Willis, Doomsday Book.

Vernor Vinge, A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky, absolutely incredible.
posted by gottabefunky at 12:40 PM on February 7, 2010

It's a new golden age for sci-fi at the moment. Best series I've read in the last decade is Dan Simmon's Hyperion books. You can get Hyperion as an Omnibus edition but make sure you also read the follow-ups Endymion and The Rise of Endymion.
posted by shimmerbug at 9:20 PM on February 9, 2010

I disagree with shimmerbug. Read Hyperion and then stop. It is by far the best. Oh, and since I've gotten on top of this rather high horse, let me add that you should avoid Orson Scott Card's Xenocide. It is terrible, doubly so considering how good Speaker for the Dead is.
posted by Kattullus at 9:52 PM on February 9, 2010

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