Sunday, January 20, 2019

Top 100 Sci Fi Books List


This list presents what I consider the best sci-fi books of all time. The criteria for making it on this list includes the following:

How influential is this book?
Is the book fun to read?
Does the book deal with an important theme or concept?

That is to say, these are the best SF reads I enjoyed the most and that I think others should read given their importance and enjoyability. You might argue that some of the books on here are not sci-fi, including my #13 pick, Thomas Pynchon's Vineland. But I disagree. Pynchon writes about shifting identities as a result of social, political, and economic realities. Ursula K. Le Guin calls this kind of science fiction social science fiction. Social science fiction is tantamount to speculative fiction. In my opinion, science fiction focusing on social commentary is the most fun to read and the most rewarding.


Literary Sci-Fi & Hard SF


That is not to say that books dealing with hard science don't make my list. The works of the hard sf greats take up a lot of space here: Arthur C. Clarke, Carl Sagan, Kim Stanley Robinson, Larry Niven, Alastair Reynolds, and several others. But my academic training, primarily in English Literature, skews my fictional enjoyment to the literary. 

Influential & Seminal SF

Some books and authors have to find their way onto top 100 lists. When particular authors influenced every other author in the genre, it's a mistake to not include them on the list. That's why this list has Verne, Wells, and Van Vogt. The list is missing Nnedi Okorafor, Nalo Hopkinson, and only has one book by Samuel Delany. I considered Einstein Intersection, Nova, and Dhalgren. Make a case for adding one of those books in and what book should come out! Because my plan is for this list to evolve over time. So, I would appreciate if you'd leave comments below about books that should be on the list in place of others that shouldn't, remembering that recommended books should be enjoyable. I'm not looking for beach-read page-turners; rather, a book that makes this top 100 Sci-Fi Books list should inspire awe, read well, and deal with an important theme that fits somewhere into the purview of speculative fiction. 

As an example, I switched out We Can Build You by Philip K Dick for Ubik by Philip K Dick. 

I might add that when I say book here, I really mean novel. Otherwise, I'd include the best sci fi books of short stories and novellas like William Gibson's Burning Chrome and Cory Doctorow's Radicalized.

If you're a completist, consider comparing this list to the top 100 sf books on the Sci-Fi Lists page, a page that has greatly influenced my own reading. I found the sci-fi lists page in 2009 and read straight through the list but haven’t always agreed with the choice of some of the books there or the position. Thus, I’ve made a new list. Here we go!

Top 100 Science Fiction Novels List

Contact - Carl Sagan

1.     Contact – Carl Sagan

Contacting extraterrestrials was lifework for Sagan, but this novel shows the importance
of making contact with our fellow humans.


A Scanner Darkly - Philip K Dick

2.     A Scanner Darkly – Philip K. Dick

The title is taken from a biblical quotation: For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully. In Dickian fashion, this mirror only reflects darkness, whether the darkness of corporate greed or the darkness of drug addiction.

Snow Crash - Neal Stephenson

3.     Snow Crash – Neal Stephenson

A lovesong to cyberpunk, Hiro Protagonist is the best swordfighter in the world and in cyberspace, and to protect both of those worlds, he'll have to use his chops.

the island of doctor moreau - wells

4.     The Island of Doctor Moreau – H.G. Wells

The rule of the men beasts is not to go on all-fours, but even humans can't abide by the rule. Wells' thoughts on evolution are at play here. What are we really? How far removed are we from the lower species?

william gibson - neuromancer

5.     Neuromancer – William Gibson

A novel of poetic, head-spinning future-making jujitsu. Gibson wrote a new romance to replace the staid science fiction of the day, a genre dominated by names popularized in the '50s and '60s. While this wasn't the first cyberpunk fiction, it remains the greatest.

the time machine - wells
6.     The Time Machine – H.G. Wells

This cover is dumb, but I had this copy as a kid so I appreciate it because of nostalgia. The time traveler finds a world that is eerily a reflection of his own world. Does the time traveler recognize that reflection? Did any of Wells' 19th-century readership to which he was appealing, showing them the injustice of their day?

Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury

7.     Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

This book was written fast. But it's not a classic because it was written fast. It's a classic because it deals with media transference. When a culture transitions from one dominant media type to the next, it always comes with the fear that intellectual activity will slowdown or halt. Plus, the book presents party ideology masked as televised entertainment. Fox (Faux) News anyone?

Altered Carbon - Richard K. Morgan

8.     Altered Carbon – Richard K. Morgan

The book is better than the TV series, always right? Kovacs deals with psychological trauma, remembering past deaths, past bodies he's inhabited, past lovers he'll never meet again.

Consider Phlebas - Iain Banks

9.    Consider Phlebas – Iain Banks

Banks is a top-tier genre writer, a master of the page turner. He knows how to make the character want something, even, like Vonnegut says, if it's just a glass of water. But it's never merely a glass of water with Banks, it's power, it's wealth, it's living past the laser fight.

Dr. Adder - K.W. Jeter

10.  Dr. AdderK.W. Jeter

Could be called Dr. R-Rated, but it's a singular work of genius. Dr. Adder prefigures
cyberpunk by nearly a decade but operates with its tropes: prosthetic as power relic, defend information in cyberspace, information is power, the guide is a femme fatale.

2001: A Space Odyssey - Arthur C. Clarke


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

Humans have long been on an evolutionary course. Clarke starts us with the apes, takes us to the moon, and then to the stars!

The Forever War - John Haldeman

12.  The Forever War – John Haldeman

Spoiler alert: the Forever War is the Vietnam Conflict. I heard Joe Haldeman say so. He served in the war, poor guy. If, as you read, you get a strong sense of trauma, you're reading it right. It's in earnest. 

Vineland by Thomas Pynchon

13.  Vineland - Thomas Pynchon

This book is a perfect send-up of America's free love hangover. A hippy avoids shakedowns decades after the psychedelic era has ended.

Gateway - Frederik Pohl

14.  Gateway – Frederic Pohl

Pilot an alien ship at your own risk! Maybe you'll find priceless artifacts! Maybe you'll starve
to death! Maybe you'll burn out in a supernova! In your off-time, hit the slots, drink yourself into oblivion, and mate like there's no tomorrow.

The Lathe of Heaven - Ursula K. Le Guin

15.  The Lathe of Heaven – Ursula K. Le Guin

Effective dreamers can alter reality by dreaming. Can an effective dreamer harness this power for good?

Solaris - Stanislaw Lem

16.  Solaris – Stanislaw Lem

The world of Solaris is an intelligent world. Humans can't figure it out. Can Solaris figure out humans?

Distraction - Bruce Sterling

17.  Distraction – Bruce Sterling

This is basically a book about disinformation campaigns and fake news released decades before such things were possible or problematic.

The Space Merchants - Frederik Pohl & Cyril Kornbluth

18.  The Space Merchants – Frederic Pohl & Cyril Kornbluth

Corporations market their products to specific segments of the population. Sometimes they make the product addictive. You don't want to get on the bad side of corporations.

Enders Game - Orson Scott Card

19.  Ender’s Game - Orson Scott Card

A child genius is recruited to fight an alien horde. Aliens read as non-heterosexually oriented humans.

White Noise - Don Delillo

20.  White Noise – Don Delillo

A deadly gas threatens middle America's status quo. Are we free to take on whatever identity we want? Or is freedom an illusion?

1984 - Orwell

1984 - George Orwell
21.  1984 - George Orwell

We're all rats in Big Brother's cage. He's watching everyone. The consequences of resisting conformity are not good.

Schismatrix - Bruce Sterling

22.  Schismatrix – Bruce Sterling

The mechanists and shapers both work to extend life. Many use the technologies of both. Even really old people can be awful.

To All Your Scattered Bodies Go - Jose Philip Farmer

23.  To All Your Scattered Bodies Go - Philip Jose Farmer

Anyone that ever lived is reincarnated in a nearly never-ending river valley so aliens can learn more about humanity. You'll meet some despicable people in your travels along the valley.

Software - Rudy Rucker

24.  Software – Rudy Rucker

What does the evolution of AI look like?

Beggars in Spain - Nancy Kress

25.  Beggars in Spain – Nancy Kress

Some humans evolve to not need sleep. They have a distinct advantage over sleepers. That doesn't explain why the girl on this cover is wearing a nightgown.

Slaughterhouse-Five - Kurt Vonnegut

26.  Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut

Each of Vonnegut's books is about his traumatic war experience. This is the best version. So, it goes.

Dune - Frank Herbert

27.  Dune – Frank Herbert

Easily the best example of sci-fi world building.

The Stars my Destination - Alfred Bester

28.  The Stars my Destination - Alfred Bester

Dude travels through spacetime with his mind. He doesn't have much control over this power.


The Diamond Age - Neal Stephenson

29.  The Diamond Age – Neal Stephenson

Classism is enforced through education. What would happen if the disenfranchised had access to the same education as the enfranchised?

I Robot -  Isaac Asimov

30.  I Robot – Isaac Asimov

The robot's positronic brain is hard coded to protect humanity, but those rules are sometimes at odds with each other and have some far-reaching ramifications. Should genius-level, benevolent robots make decisions for humanity?

Ringworld - Larry Niven

31.  Ringworld – Larry Niven

A vanished civilization left a big dumb object for travelers to explore. There isn't much there, but it's really cool.

Cats Cradle -  Kurt Vonnegut

32.  Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut

A scientist creates a compound capable of ruining all the water on earth. Does it get dropped into the ocean? This book is referenced over and over again in literature and film, so you might as well read it.

Starship Troopers - Robert Heinlein

33.  Starship Troopers – Robert Heinlein

A classic novel of military science fiction. Kill or be killed in space.

Mao II -  Don Delillo

34.  Mao II – Don Delillo

Image result for 20000 leagues under the sea


35.  20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – Jules Verne

Captain Nemo is sick of human society. The ocean is cool though.

Octavia Butler - The Parable of the Sower

36.  Octavia Butler - The Parable of the Sower

Is it a superpower to feel what others feel or a handicap?

Holy Fire - Bruce Sterling


37.  Holy Fire – Bruce Sterling

What is the holy fire? Feeling the near immortality of seeing your progeny alive and well? Undergoing a radical surgery to become young again?

Cryptonomicon - Neal Stephenson

38.  Cryptonomicon – Neal Stephenson

A math genius breaks the Nazi code.

All You Need is Kill - Hiroshi Sakurazaka

39.  All You Need is Kill – Hiroshi Sakurazaka

A guy is stuck in a day of war. He dies, and dies, and dies, but always improves his skill. Better than the movie Edge of Tomorrow. Though I'm a sucker for a Tom Cruise feature. The movie misses the novel's samurai theme.

All Tomorrows Parties - William Gibson

40.  All Tomorrow’s Parties – William Gibson

The book is better than the Velvet Underground song. I rate this is as Gibson's most fun novel after Neuromancer.

Man Plus - Frederik Pohl

41.  Man Plus – Frederic Pohl

Mars isn't all that hospitable to mankind, but with a little technological adaptation, humans can make it on the red planet. Still, who wants to be a guinea pig?

Sphere - Michael Crichton

42.  Sphere - Michael Crichton

Humans find a submerged crashed spaceship. The ship has a gift from an alien race in its vaults. The gift amplifies whatever is going on in the mind's of those that come into contact with it. Humans are paranoid, anxious, and mostly crazy, so things don't end up well.

End Zone - Don DeLillo

43.  End Zone – Don DeLillo

Thermonuclear war is compared to football. And it's DeLillio, so the previous homology is also compared to sex.

The Road - Cormac McCarthy

44.  The Road – Cormac McCarthy

A father and his son trek across the a post-apocalyptic version of America. Watch out for cannibals.

2061: Odyssey 3 - Arthur C. Clarke

45.  2061: Odyssey 3 – Arthur C. Clarke

Dudes are in space. They find a planet with water. So, yeah, the story is kind of forgettable but Clarke is one of science fiction's finest.

flowers for algernon - daniel keyes

46.  Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes

A profoundly dumb man receives experimental therapy that turns him into a supergenius. The therapy only works for a while. After you read this, watch the Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode Flowers for Charlie.

Bones of the Earth - Michael Swanwick

47.  Bones of the Earth – Michael Swanwick

Swanwick's response to Jurassic Park. This book is less about the dinosaurs and more about human society. What is the ideal human community? When a group of scientists travel in time to study dinosaurs, they learn more about human society. Bring plenty of prophylactics.

Broken Angels - Richard K. Morgan

48.  Broken Angels – Richard K. Morgan

More fun than the first Kovacs novel.

The World of Null-A - A.E. Van Vogt

49.  The World of Null-A – A.E. Van Vogt

One of the novels that Philip K. Dick cut his teeth on. Worth it to better understand what came after.

Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

50.  Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

Drugs are awesome and you can have sex with anyone, but babies are made in test tubes. Shakespeare is better.

Slan - A.E. Van Vogt

51.  Slan – A.E. Van Vogt

Pulp sci fi at its finest.

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom - Cory Doctorow

52.  Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom – Cory Doctorow

The new currency is social currency. While you might be thinking, ok, what's new, this book predates our current runaway era of the social media influencer.

Boneshaker - Cherie Priest

53.  Boneshaker - Cherie Priest

Tightly, tightly written story, a page turner from page one until the end. A big swath of Seattle is unlivable because of poison gas dug up from below. But people still live there--yes, cli-fi. A son ventures in to find out the truth about his father. His mother follows to protect him.

2010: Odyssey 2 - Arthur C. Clarke

54.  2010: Odyssey 2 – Arthur C. Clarke

Clarke had a PhD in astrophysics, and this book works in properties of space travel.

The Merchants War - Frederik Pohl & Cyril Kornbluth

55.  The Merchant’s War – Frederic Pohl & Cyril Kornbluth

Biting satire focused on American capitalism in the '50s. More Pohl and less Kornbluth than The Space Merchants.

Jurassic Park - Michael Crichton

56.  Jurassic Park – Michael Crichton

Scientists figure out how to reconstruct dinosaurs. They make a park. What could go wrong?

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep - Philip K. Dick

57.  Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep – Philip K. Dick

They do.

The Puppet Masters - Robert Heinlein

58.  The Puppet Masters – Robert Heinlein

The aliens take over. They use humans as hosts. Reads as red scare commentary (commie-tary?).

Ubik - Philip K. Dick

59.  Ubik – Philip K. Dick

Cryogenics was pretty new. Dick creates a story about the consciousness of those in suspended animation.

Pattern Recognition - William Gibson


60.  Pattern Recognition – William Gibson

Mostly poetic. Important because Gibson wrote it during 9/11.

Time Out of Joint - Philip K. Dick

61.  Time Out of Joint – Philip K. Dick

"The time is out of joint; O cursed spite!/That ever I was born to set it right!" Shakespeare's Hamlet.

The Man in the High Castle - Philip K. Dick

62.  The Man in the High Castle – Philip K. Dick

The book is better than the television show. What would American life be like if the Axis powers had prevailed? By the way, not much would have had to change for history to have been dramatically different like this. For more on this, read Stephenson's Cryptonomicon.

The Invisible Man - H.G. Wells

63.  The Invisible Man – H.G. Wells

A scientist makes himself invisible. Ironically, as a result he becomes more visible to society.

Starfish - Peter Watts

64.  Starfish – Peter Watts

A badass lady walks across the seafloor.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress - Robert Heinlein

65.  The Moon is a Harsh Mistress – Robert Heinlein

The loonies revolt! Get number three arm and number four wife.

crichton - lost world

66.  The Lost World - Michael Crichton

Same story as Jurassic Park, but probably more fun. Crichton never wrote sequels but Spielberg secured a lot of money for the project. The T-Rex is more of a problem than the first one.


The Fountains of Paradise - Arthur C. Clarke

67.  The Fountains of Paradise – Arthur C. Clarke

The Space elevator book.

Old Man's War - John Scalzi

68.  Old Man’s War – John Scalzi

Scalzi's Forever War and it has a space elevator. Fun.

Image result for Red Mars – Kim Stanley RobinsonRed Mars - Kim Stanley Robinson

69.  Red Mars – Kim Stanley Robinson

Another space elevator book. Robinson knows a lot of geology too.

Frontera - Lewis Shiner

70.  Frontera – Lewis Shiner

Rudy Rucker recommended this book on a public access TV show back in '80s.

Implied Spaces - Walter Jon Williams

71.  Implied Spaces – Walter Jon Williams

Sword and Singularity. Mixes fantasy with sci-fi.

Islands in the Net - Bruce Sterling

72.  Islands in the Net – Bruce Sterling

A sword that cuts through anything! A balm that can permanently change skin tone! Data havens! High political and economic intrigue!

The Three Body Problem - Liu Cixin

73.  The Three Body Problem – Liu Cixin

Honestly, I struggled to finish this book. It has moments of brilliance--probably one amazing novella and a couple great short stories of material in here--but the video game they play is just about the most boring game I've ever heard of, especially for an online multiplayer. I'd much rather play Cardhunter. Some readers have mentioned that the second book in this series is better, but I can't work up the nerve to start.

The Stepford Wives - Ira Levin

74.  The Stepford Wives – Ira Levin

Dudes in a small town kill their wives and replace them with subservient robots. The funny thing is, women of the era were already living as if they were subservient robots. The story highlights the problem.

Escapology - Ren Warom


75.  Escapology – Ren Warom

Gender bender cyberpunk narrative, a book of cyberpunk virtuality that demonstrates there is no divide between the real and the virtual.

Immortality, Inc. - Robert Sheckley

76.  Immortality, Inc. – Robert Sheckley

Berserkers kill civilians randomly because they've bought immortality and are ready to die. Why not, like an Egyptian Pharaoh, take several with you?

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe - Charles Yu

77.  How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe - Charles Yu

Time loops and metafiction.

Ready Player One - Ernest Cline


78.  Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

Willy Wonka meets virtuality with '80s nostalgia. Still waiting for the sequel, Ready Player Two.

Redshirts - John Scalzi

79.  Redshirts – John Scalzi

The redshirts always die. Some redshirts figure this out and start to hide.

Frankenstein - Mary Shelley

80.  Frankenstein – Mary Shelley

A creature is animated from the bodies of the dead. It is suprahuman in strength and intellect and it is scorned by its maker. It seeks revenge.

The War of the Worlds - H.G. Wells

81.  The War of the Worlds – H.G. Wells

The aliens are here and they are walking around in tripods killing everyone. Better be glad you need a flu shot.

A Canticle for Leibowitz - Walter Miller

82.  A Canticle for Leibowitz - Walter Miller

Long, long ago, atomic war kills off most of humanity. But some people remain, including monks that keep stuff they find that wasn't atomized. Leibowitz had a grocery list and now monks treasure it as a holy relic. Unfortunately, they also treasure information that helps future generations rebuild atomic bombs so progress can get arrested again.

Little Brother - Cory Doctorow

83.  Little Brother – Cory Doctorow

Homeland security sucks. It's full of power-happy assholes that don't give a damn about democracy. Some kids with techno know-how get together and resist. Some of the kids also have sex, but that's neither here nor there.

The City and the Stars - Arthur C. Clarke


84.  The City and the Stars – Arthur C. Clarke

No one leaves the city until the nude guy in the picture there. He figures out much of the knowledge of his people are based on falsehoods.

for The Windup Girl - Paolo Bacigalupi

85.  The Windup Girl - Paolo Bacigalupi

Life sucks in the climate changed future.

A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess

86.  A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess

Young people go beat up old people for no reason. The state gets revenge. Burgess ruins classical music for all of us.

Image result for Martian Time-Slip – Philip K. DickMartian Time-Slip - Philip K Dick

87.  Martian Time-Slip – Philip K. Dick

Affairs happen off-world too. If it happens during the thirty minutes after midnight, did it really happen?

When Gravity Fails - Alec Effinger

88.  When Gravity Fails – Alec Effinger

You can mod your personality and perception with a program--moddies and daddies. You can also take lots of drugs.

Valis - Philip K. Dick

89.  Valis – Philip K. Dick

Vast Active Living Intelligence System. God is either a Russian-backed conspiracy or a knowable entity. Or wait, maybe both.

Revelation Space - Alastair Reynolds

90.  Revelation Space – Alastair Reynolds

The Nostalgia for Infinity is a lighthugger. It can travel almost at the speed of light. It has a lot of big ass weapons capable of killing semi-sentient robots from far away. The ship is also in a state of decay. Some semi-sentient robots from far, far away destroy sentient life when they find it. They are closing in.

Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy -  Douglas Adams

91.  Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

This is a silly book, but it's fun. I probably should have made this #44 on the list.

Involution Ocean - Bruce Sterling

92.  Involution Ocean – Bruce Sterling

Sterling's first novel. It's got interspecies love, drugs, and adventure!

Babel 17 - Samuel Delany

93.  Babel 17 – Samuel Delany

Dhalgren is Delany's masterwork, but come on, who of you has actually gotten through Dhalgren, the Gravity's Rainbow of science fiction? Since none of us are probably going to sit down with Dhalgren any time soon, this poetic near novella will have to do.

Foundation - Isaac Asimov

94.  Foundation – Isaac Asimov

Some critics maintain this book is about the rise and fall of the Roman empire. My read is that it's about four distinct eras in the life of the US.

I am Legend - Richard Matheson


95.  I am Legend – Richard Matheson

Nearly everyone has turned into vampires. One guy is still good, but he's losing it.

The Glass Hammer - K.W. Jeter

96.  The Glass Hammer – K.W. Jeter

The most popular form of entertainment is a reality TV show in which dudes in fast cars dodge missiles shot from satellites as they run illegal computer parts across a desert.

The Hollow Earth - Rudy Rucker

97.  The Hollow Earth – Rudy Rucker

The earth is hollow and Edgar Allen Poe is the guide. Bonus: the people in the hollow world are not sexist or racist.

Heavy Weather - Bruce Sterling

98.  Heavy Weather – Bruce Sterling

A better version of Twister.

Virtual Light - William Gibson

99.  Virtual Light  – William Gibson

A corporation plans to rebuild San Francisco using nanotechnology.

Mona Lisa Overdrive - William Gibson

00.  Mona Lisa Overdrive – William Gibson

Prostitutes and dudes uploading their consciousness into a cyber hard drive.

Can you think of a different book you'd like to see on this list that you'd say earn honors as one of the best sci-fi books?


If you wish to dispute or praise any of the top 100 Sci-Fi Books on this list, please leave a comment or email me! Make a strong enough argument, and I will alter the list.

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8 comments:

  1. Thanks Joe -- I go through such agony in looking for a new Nook book to read (my eyes have trouble with regular books). There are lots on this list I have never even heard of. Peace- Dan

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    1. Let me know which book you read. I'd love to hear your thoughts about it. Have you read all the titles by Bruce Sterling and William Gibson on this list? Those guys pair a literary sensibility with man's experience of future technology. Sterling's thoughts on genetic alteration are as exciting as they are frightening in Schismatrix, for instance.

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    2. Love you and your family, Dan. You will be missed.

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  2. Doc Smith's Skylark and Lenmen books effectively created modern space opera. How is Skylark of Space (1st published fictional trip out of the solar system) not on there? How do you not have Children of the Lens, with antagonists literally throwing planets (and planet-sized chunks of anti-matter), through wormholes at each other?

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  3. Contact is one of my favorite books, but while I would always place it in the top ten, it is hardly the greatest Sci-Fi book ever. Dune certainly deserves MUCH higher than #27. Foundation anyone? You put 2061 above 2010? Also, people always leave out 'The Dragonriders of Pern series.

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    1. Good thoughts on arrangement. I love McCaffrey's Pern series. While I think it deserves a berth on a top 100 fantasy books list, I'm not so sure about a sci-fi list.

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    2. Pern is very much Sci-Fi. The Dragons in the book were bred from small cat-sized flying lizards and the entire series is about rediscovering the past and adopting lost technology. They have AI, fly in space, they use spaceships, and alter the course of an entire planet.

      VERY much Sci-Fi. Don't let the dragons fool you.

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  4. City by Clifford D. Simak would be on my list.

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