34 science fiction books for the non-scifi reader


I asked on Twitter and Facebook and it started a lively debate. Add your thoughts below!


Here were the most recommended and discussed books:

  1. Ender’s Game is a classic that has probably been read by almost all scifi fans. Jan Nieuwenhuizen, Filip Hanik, Jon Lotz and Debbie Moynihan all recommended it. As Debbie pointed out, it will be a movie this year too and will likely be read by a much wider audience.  The government is recruiting children to be part of their army. They are trained together and play mock battles. The main character, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, is a child genius who struggles growing up in a school for soldiers – growing up with a bunch of other kids can be lonely.
  2. Iain Bank’s books were highly recommend and they were by far the most discussed books. Debate was around which of the books was the best to start with: The Player of Games, Use of Weapons or Consider Phlebas. Sean Kerner, Emmanuele Bassi, Ross Burton, Luis Villa and Hubert Figuière all participated in the discussion. I think my book group should thank Havoc Pennington though. He said  “as long as storming knows it’s likely to be the most revolting thing anyone’s ever read” made me rethink Iain Bank as a book club recommendation. I did add his books to my own wishlist though.
  3. Old Man’s War by John Scalzi was recommended by Laura Dragan and Emmanuele Bassi. This military sci fi book is really about humanity. The 75 year old protagonist signs up for the military in exchange for a new, young and enhanced body. Scalzi is often compared to Heinlein – I love both their books.
  4. Neuromancer was recommended by Emiliano Figueroa and kbedell. I really like William Gibson but I find the way his players plug into and travel through cyberspace a bit confusing at times. (Although I totally want to try it!) I don’t think I’d recommend them to people who don’t read much scifi but maybe I’m underestimating their readability.
  5. Debbie Moynihan and Rikki Endsley recommended Ready Player One. I haven’t read it but it sounds like it’s about a future where most people spend their time escaping in virtual reality playing games – including a game that’s supposed to contain the winning lottery ticket. It’s extremely well rated on Amazon.
  6. Mary Beth recommended Wool Omnibus and full heartedly agree. I read the whole series in a row and was thinking the whole time it would be a great book for those not used to reading scifi to experience some of it. The Wool Omnibus. The first part of  Wool is free for Kindle right now. (Be warned though, you will be hooked and have to buy the rest of them.)
  7. Ross Burton and Luis Villa both liked Ken MacLeod’s Fall Revolution series but warned it is not easy reading.

And here are all the other great recommendations, many classics with a few lesser know but (at least for the ones I’ve read) great books:

  1. Dune was recommended by Frederic Crozat.
  2. Suzy Millett Bullett recommended The Prisoner of Cell 25. (And I discovered I’d bought this book two months ago and haven’t read it yet. I bumped it up!)
  3. Debbie Moynihan recommended James Patterson’s The Angel Experiment as an easy read for those not used to sci fi. (And I didn’t realize it had turned into a series. Adding more to my wishlist.)
  4. Emiliano Figueroa recommended The Songs of Distant Earth.
  5. Mike Olson recommended short stories like Time Considered, Aye, and Gomorrah, and We in Some Power’s Employ.
  6. Rikki Endsley recommended The Handmaid’s Tale. I thought this one would be a great one for my book club. I even thought about pretending I hadn’t read it.
  7. Paul Christofanelli recommended Manifold: Time by Stephen Baxter.
  8. Michael Schulz recommended the classic The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I think humorous science fiction can often be bizarre to non scifi readers.
  9. Brian King recommended A Scanner Darkly.
  10. Flowers for Algernon was suggested by Neil Levine. I agree it’s an awesome book. My book club has had a streak of lost their memory, lost who they are type books though. Plus I’ve read it.
  11. Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson was suggested by Perry Ismangil.
  12. I Am Legend was suggested by Neil Levine.
  13. Sean Kerner suggested Asimov’s Foundation. I’ve been thinking about rereading that series. As soon as I get through the rest of these great books that I haven’t read yet.
  14. Neil Levine suggested The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. It’s similar to Old Man’s War but instead of old people getting young bodies to fight aliens, young people go fight aliens and Earth ages without them.
  15. Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon by Spider Robinson was suggested by furicle. I remember really enjoying reading this series but I can’t say I remember many specifics at all.
  16. furicle also suggested Armor by John Steakley.
  17. andreasn1 sugggested The Other Side Of The Sky (And he’s talking about the one by Arthur C. Clarke not the The Other Side of the Sky: A Memoir by the woman from Kabul. I think.)
  18. as well as I, Robot. The book where Asimov’s 3 laws of robotics were developed. There was also a movie made with Will Smith.
  19. Emmanuele Bassi suggested Accelerando
  20. and Robopocalypse.
  21. Ross Burton suggested The Night Sessions.
  22. Luis Villa suggested Wiliam Gibson’s Pattern Recognition. I really enjoyed this one. It made me think of branding in a completely different light.
  23. Luis Villa also suggested John Varley’s Steel Beach.
  24. Federico Mena Quinte suggested a different John Varley book, The Persistence of Vision. (It looks like you may have to hit the library or the used bookstore to find this one.)
  25. as well as Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. (What an awesome name for a book!)
  26. Deb Nicholson suggested Eifelheim by Michael Flynn
  27. as well as Connie Willis’s books on time travel To Say Nothing of the Dog (funny, according to Deb) and Doomsday Book (darker).

What would you add to the list?

Which ones would be best for people not used to reading science fiction?

9 Replies to “34 science fiction books for the non-scifi reader”

  1. Dragonflight
    The White Dragon

    Hard to believe that the first story was written about 45 years ga

    by Anne McCaffery

    If you can find a collection of Phillip. K. Dick short stories, I just finished reading Minority Report and it has about six shorts in it.

    EE Doc Smith if you want some really old and classic sci-fi.

    1. Anne McCaffery’s Pern books are some of my favorite – I like the ones with the girl that becomes a musician/drummer.

  2. I’d highly recommend anything by Lois McMaster Bujold (Her Sharing Knife and Barrayan Saga series are unrivalled in my opinion). Also, Paolo Bacigalupi’s post-oil world is gritty and very compelling – his book “The Windup Girl” is brilliant.

    1. Lois McMaster Bujold’s Barrayan series is one of my favorite. I also enjoyed her recent book about writing science fiction. Interestingly, I find myself not suggesting them to first time sci fi readers because they don’t seem serious and yet they are the books that I reread the most.

  3. Madeline L’Engle’s “Wrinkle in Time” series, although it’s really for kids. Wonderful, nonetheless.

    Harry Harrison’s “Stainless Steel Rat” series. Extremely fun, and a dangerous introduction to Esperanto (dangerous in that if you are truly a nerd, you end up learning it).

    Personally, I loved “Anathem”, but apparently it’s a bit of a slog for most folk.

    “Ringworld”, by Larry Niven. The rest of the series is great as well, but Ringworld is the first book I read where the aliens were really *alien*.

    Were I to introduce someone to sci-fi now, however, I would definitely start with Wool. What a great, great series.

  4. If you don’t mind a well-edited indie ebook, try This Corner of the Universe by Britt Ringel. I was part of the beta reader team, many of us not usual sci-fi readers, and we enjoyed it.

  5. Bennett Coles ‘Casualties of War’ is a great sci fi book that would be enjoyed by fans of military fiction. I’ve just finished reading it. I’ve never considered myself a big sci fi fan but always enjoyed military stories. It was a great introduction for me into sci fi and I think I’ll browse that section a little next time I’m in the book store. Really great book with complex characters and a compelling story. http://www.bennettrcoles.com/works/casualties-of-war

  6. George Alec Effinger’s Budayeen novels are a must-read.

    The entire (small) body of work by Cordwainer Smith (Paul Linebarger – he also authored what is still a reference: “Psychological Warfare”; His godfather was Sun Yat-sen)
    IMHO, one of the all time greats.

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