Top 10 Favorite Science Fiction / Fantasy Books

by kajohu

In August 2011, NPR (National Public Radio) listed the top 100 Science Fiction / Fantasy books from their summer readers survey. Here's a quick look at the top 10 from that list.

I've loved reading science fiction and fantasy books since I was very young, and so has the rest of my family. I see it as an expression of our inquiring and creative natures, and the desire to be exposed to new ideas!

I was excited to find this list of the Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books as chosen by listeners to NPR (National Public Radio) for the summer readers survey in August 2011. According to NPR, 5000 people nominated their favorites, and more than 60,000 people voted. It's fascinating to see the mix of classics with newer books on the list.

NOTE: This list doesn't include young adult books, such as the Harry Potter or Twilight series, and no horror books. NPR assures us that these categories of books will be voted on during another summer readers survey (2012)!

The Top 10 Fantasy and Science Fiction Books From NPR

From the 2011 National Public Radio summer readers' survey

Here are the first 10 books that are listed in NPR's summer readers' survey for the best science fiction and fantasy books.

I've read 9 of the top 10 science fiction and fantasy books on this list.  How many of these books have you read?

#1 The Lord of the Rings

by J.R.R. Tolkien

"One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them"

In Lord of the Rings, the hobbit Frodo Baggins sets out with his companions to destroy the evil Ring of Power that was found by his older cousin Bilbo Baggins, and restore peace to Middle Earth.

Lord of the Rings is #1 on the NPR list, and it's also my personal #1 favorite fantasy book series. I first read these books when I was in high school, and I remember being enthralled with the elves and with Strider / Aragorn, and terrified of the Nazgul.  To give you an idea of how geeky my husband and I are, as a wedding gift I gave him a hard-cover copy of LOTR with gilt-edged pages. And he re-reads it every 2 - 3 years.  

#2 The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

by Douglas Adams

Although Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy isn't in my personal top 10 scifi / fantasy books, it's a ridiculously funny read. 

In Hitchhiker, Adams spoofs the hard-core science fiction themes of space travel, aliens, and interstellar war, and makes these ideas seem very commonplace and silly.

At the beginning of this saga, Arthur Dent is rescued by an alien only moments before the Earth is destroyed (to make room for a hyperspace bypass), and goes off to explore the galaxy.  

Readers describe the book as "brilliant insanity" and "inspired lunacy".

#3 Ender's Game

Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game is in my top 5 personal favorite science fiction books, and it's also been a favorite of one of my sons, who says he's read the book at least 10 times.   Our copy is well-worn!

In Ender's Game, the Earth is trying to figure out how to battle insect-like aliens who have attacked Earth twice already.   There are government programs for breeding military geniuses and training them as soldiers to fight the "Buggers", or insect-like aliens.  The young boy, Andrew "Ender" Wiggin, is one of these geniuses, and is drafted to the orbiting Battle School for military training.

Part of my fascination with this book is the look at the underlying psychology of the main characters.

#4 Dune Chronicles

by Frank Herbert

Dune, the first novel of the Dune Chronicles, is another in my personal top 5 favorite scifi / fantasy books.  It has a good blend of both science fiction and fantasy themes: space travel between planets, generations-long genetic experiments to produce super-humans, and mysticism and the development of psychic abilities through the use of the special Melange spice.

Due to treachery against his family, the young Paul Atreides is thrown out into the harsh desert environment of Arrakis (Dune), and learns to survive with the desert-dwelling Fremen.   He becomes the mysterious Muad'dib, a messiah-like figure, for that world.

#5 A Song of Ice and Fire Series

by George R.R. Martin

I hadn't read this series when I first came across NPR's list of the top favorite sci fi / fantasy books.  I have since remedied that!  I read the five books that are currently out during spring and summer of 2012, and I'm among the eager hordes waiting for GRRM to finish the next novel in the series.

The Song of Ice and Fire Series takes place on a planet where the seasons are long -- summers and winters each last for years, not months. 

In first book of the series, A Game of Thrones, winter is coming to the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, which resembles Middle Ages Europe.  There are multi-level plots throughout the book, including a political battle for the throne, and non-humans to the north are starting their advance southward before winter sets in.

A Game of Thrones has been made into an HBO television series.

#6 1984

by George Orwell

Nineteen Eighty-Four (or 1984) was published in 1949, and was one of the dystopian books that was required reading when I was in high school (1970 - 1973).  I remember that it was a thought-provoking book, but rather gloomy.

1984 takes place in a province of Oceania, where there is perpetual war, all-pervasive government surveillance, and mind-control.   Terms that we're familiar with now, such as Big Brother, though-police, and double-think, were introduced in the book 1984.  The term Orwellian refers to official deception and secret surveillance in a society.

#7 Fahrenheit 451

by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 , written in 1953, is another dystopian novel that takes place in a totalitarian regime, and another book that was required reading in my high school.

In this book, reading is outlawed to suppress dissenting ideas, and firemen are ordered to burn all books, and the houses where books are found.   The title, Fahrenheit 451, is the temperature at which paper burns.  

Author Ray Bradbury commented that the book isn't that much about censorship, but "a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature, which leads to a perception of knowledge as being composed of factoids, partial information devoid of context." (Fahrenheit 451 : Wikipedia )

#8 The Foundation Trilogy

by Isaac Asimov

Foundation and its sequels were among my favorite science fiction books when I was younger, and I'm guessing that they'd be equally enjoyable if I read them again.

This series takes place far in the future, when humankind has spread throughout the galaxy.  Mathemetician, Hari Seldon, has developed a branch of mathematics called psychohistory, in which the future of civilization can be scientifically predicted.  Hari predicts the Galactic Empire will fall, and a following dark age will last for centuries.  To shorten this dark age, Hari and followers put together two Foundations at opposite ends of the Galaxy, as places to safe-guard all human knowledge.

#9 Brave New World

by Aldous Huxley

Brave New World, written in 1931, is another engrossing dystopian novel that we were required to read in high school.

In this 2540 AD society, humans are bred genetically and born in labs, and they're anesthetized to "fight depression", but more so to remain complacent under the ruling forces.  There's no violence, and all needs are provided, but the main character, Bernard Marx, feels that there should be more to life.

#10 American Gods

by Neil Gaiman

The refreshing, innovative American Gods is the most recently published book (2001) on this top 10 list.   My sons recommended this book to us (they're both huge Neil Gaiman fans), and it's unlike any book I've read before. 

The main character, Shadow, has just been released from prison, and is given a job by the enigmatic Wednesday as a bodyguard, driver, and errand runner.

The idea behind the book is that gods and other mythological creatures such as elves, dwarves, and other spirits exist because people believe in them.   These older mythological creatures from the "Old World" are becoming weaker because current society's "gods" are being paid more attention (money, power, fame).   A battle is brewing between the old "gods" and the new.

What's Your Favorite Science Fiction or Fantasy Book on This Top 10 List?

Is your top favorite scifi/fantasy book on this list? If not, you can tell me your favorite book below.
Updated: 01/22/2015, kajohu
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Have You Read Any of These Books? What's Your Favorite Science Fiction / Fantasy Book?

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Mira on 01/06/2013

I'll read American Gods then :). Not that I have read all the others, but have read one Neil Gaiman book and have to say it was brilliant. I was able to imagine that whole world better than if I had seen CGI of the kind they used in The Hobbit.

jan111 on 09/04/2012

The Lord of the Rings is my all time favourite - I've read it so often that the cover broke and I had to buy a new book!

The Shannara books and the David Eddings books are also good.

nickupton on 06/06/2012

Lord of the Rings is brilliant stuff, Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy is really funny but 1984 has so much to reflect upon; it is dismal but for virtually everything any modern day politician does a parallel can be found in 1984.

kajohu on 03/13/2012

I hope you find a good book on tape from this science fiction list, Katie! I like listening to books on tape while driving long distances.

katiem2 on 03/13/2012

Happy to find this, my homework is to get a book on tape and listen to it writing a book report on it. To get the different prospective of actually listening without the visual of written text... I get to choose. I found myself stumped while at the book store earlier today. Now I have some good titles to look for. Thanks

kajohu on 02/11/2012

I hope you enjoy American Gods, fanfreluche! It's an unusual book (I think), but it was totally engrossing for me.

fanfreluche on 02/11/2012

I have never read Ender's Game and American Gods. I put American Gods on my to read list now. It looks interesting!

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