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There’s no shortage of good science fiction novels, with several great new additions to the genre coming out every year. But hey, just because there are a bunch of great books coming out, that doesn’t mean we should ignore the stories that the genre is built upon. To truly appreciate modern examples of science fiction, it’s nice to revisit the classics.
That said, being old doesn’t necessarily mean a book is good. Even for well-regarded stories, some hold up better than others. That’s why we’ve put together a list of classics that still hold up.
You can’t go wrong with almost any Ray Bradbury, but the only loosely connected short stories that make up The Martian Chronicles are bite-sized, making this an easy read. The stories range from sheer sci-fi wonder to humor to sadness, and even the weaker stories in the collection are worth reading at least once.
C.S. Lewis might be best known for The Chronicles of Narnia, but his Space Trilogy is equally worthy of attention. Out of the Silent Planet is the first and most straightforward in the trilogy, and worth reading even if you never read the two books that followed it. Lewis made no bones about the debt this novel owes to H.G. Wells, so if you’re a Wells fan, definitely don’t miss this one.
Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy is a major influence on modern science fiction, and this first novel of the same name is the one that started it all. A sprawling whole made up of five interconnected short stories, this novel incorporates characters from Asimov’s earlier works, but they aren’t required reading if you want to start here.
Brave New World isn’t just talked about as one of the most important works of science fiction of all time, but one of the most important books of the last century. One part social satire and one part dystopian look at a world that seems increasingly familiar, this isn’t exactly a feel-good novel. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth reading.
The oldest novel on this list by a fair margin, The War of the Worlds was a major influence on, well, most everything. Though it was essentially a sci-fi twist on the invasion literature that was popular at the time, it was unlike anything that came before. While some of the ideas seem unusual now due to the time it was written, it’s still surprisingly readable.
While Edgar Rice Burroughs is best known for creating Tarzan and the Barsoom series, his Venus series is often overlooked. This first book in the series came later than Burroughs’s more popular works, so it has the benefit of experience. This is more science fantasy than science fiction, as there is very little actual science, but that makes for a fun read.
Robert Heinlein was a prolific author, so much so that his body of work definitely has low points. Starship Troopers is not one of those points. A fantastic early example of military sci-fi, this book possesses a subtlety and wit that you won’t find in the film of the same name.
As evidenced in his best-known work, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke was never short of big ideas. Childhood’s End, which follows a suspiciously peaceful alien invasion, is another example of this. There is a sort of melancholy that settles over the entire book, which may not be what you’re looking for, but certainly suits the events of the story.
Aldous Huxley was at one time George Orwell’s French teacher and later critiqued his work. Maybe this has something to do with why 1984, like Brave New World, is a look at a dystopian yet somehow familiar world that has you feeling like you need a pick me up when you’re finished reading it.
Looking for Classics on the Cheap?
You can buy most of the books on this list for relatively affordable prices. Assuming you want to buy eBook versions, you can get them even cheaper. That said, you can save even more if you opt to buy them used.
If you’ve got a local used book shop, that’s probably your best bet. Those shops are becoming rarer though, so that may not be an option. If you haven’t got a local shop, take a look at our list of the best sites to buy used books online.