Goodreads’ 100 Most Popular Sci-Fi Books List: I’ve Got Some Stuff On It
Posted on July 8, 2020 Posted by John Scalzi 36 Comments
Specifically Old Man’s War, Redshirts, Lock In and The Collapsing Empire. Neat! Here’s the full list for your amusement, perusal and commentary. In all it’s an interesting list, and it’s (reasonably) balanced between classics and newer work; the timeframe here ranges two centuries, from Frankenstein to some of current Hugo nominees.
It’s worth noting that a) the list only concerns itself with adult science fiction, so YA SF and adult (and YA) fantasy books are not included in the list (including some books which could be considered either SF or Fantasy, like NK Jemisin’s Broken Earth series), b) Goodreads excluded multiple books from a series, so any one series is represented by its most popular entry only, c) “popular” is different from “best” or “most important” or “influential,” although of course there is some overlap. It’s a list meant to be argued with, basically.
Because I was curious and also have an ego, I checked to see if any other author had four books (or more) on the list. Turns out, no! There’s a seven-way tie for second place, with Heinlein, Bradbury, Clarke, Vonnegut, Dick, (HG) Wells and Stephenson placing three works each on the list. This is, I expect, literally the only time I’ll have one up on that group of writers, so I will take it, thank you.
(Even then there a couple of caveats, including the fact that my top-ranked book, Old Man’s War, shows up at #44. Sure, I have two more books on the list than George Orwell, but his two books are at #1 and #2, so he has that going for him, which is nice. But! Still! Four!)
Anyway, this is my little ego boost for the day. Thought I’d share. It’s nice to write things people seem to like. I hope I get to keep doing it for a while longer.
I was surprised that so many of the books listed were classics. Worth so much SF being published these days, I would have expected heavier representation from stories published in the last couple decades. But I guess that’s the benefit of longevity; more time for readers to find the works and adopt them as favorites.
This is a cool list; I’ve read most of these, and can treat the rest as a to-do list.
That being said: Why is so much science fiction so dystopian?
The entire top five are either specifically dystopias, or — in the case of animal farm — a thinly veiled one!
What’s going on with that? Is it …. sample bias because Orwell, Bradbury, Huxley, and Atwood are exceptional writers?
(waves at world)
I looked at the list and, I suspect like many, was struck by the glaring omissions. No Poul Anderson? No Jack McDevitt? Was Kate Wilhelm in there? James Tiptree?
Meanwhile, ‘Solaris’? Really?
Of course, jmo, ymmv
Took a look at the list and that was fun! Took a look at the comments and realized a number of people didn’t understand number crunching. The first 3 books on the list are required reading in high schools throughout the country, so many non-sf fans will read them and have opinions on them. Since I’m not a big sf reader myself, I was surprised at how many of the books on the list I had read. Of course all the books by the Master, Bradbury. When it comes to that author John Scalzi, I will say I have a whole self of Scalzi books — everything written and published. Usually I donate lots of read books to library sales and the like so there is room to move in my house. The fact that your books, Mr Scalzi, have stayed on my self through numerous purges may be an indication of their possible status as classics in the future.
I meant shelf, of course.
Remember that the adjective here is “popular” and specifically “popular at Goodreads.” I suspect generally speaking Goodreads advantages “classics” (i.e., things likely to have been assigned in school/college) and also newer stuff.
Congrats, John! But tell the truth, did you after reading the list do a Mr. Burns and say, “excellent.” :)
Can someone extract the list as a text file? It’s tiresome to page through multiple images, though I’m sure the advertisers like having us doing that.
No Tiptree, no Poul Anderson, no Spider Robinson — whah?
That’s some pretty rarefied air you’re breathing up there, John. Nice work.
Solid list that re-affirms my faith that science fiction readers have great taste. And are generally smart and good looking, too.
Wait, no Cherryh? Is there a search tool somewhere I’m missing?
Congratulations, John. That is some very very impressive company, no matter now the numbers are crunched.
Nice. The variety of those books on the list would please me, if they were mine. Good on you, Mr Versatile!
I think the general lack of Big Names is the result of the list being not specifically made by active, lifelong fans, rather casual readers. Which, again, a win for Scalzi. Four novels popular with the millions of people who are not the thousands of “insiders.”. Cha-ching!
I also think the relative dearth of newer works is the result of the veritable cornucopia of new stef flowing into the world every day. There are many paths to SF wisdom, grasshopper.
All the plaudits you’ve received are well-deserved. I’ve loved Goodreads ever since I learned of it almost 10 years ago, and it’s thanks to a recommendation on there from a college friend that I discovered (and subsequently devoured) your work.
Congratulations! I’ve read two of your four books on the list, and will likely read at least one more soon. I’m glad to see they made the list!
#101 – Fuzzy Nation!
At first tally, I have read over half of these and seen adaptations of a handful of others. Most of these, I enjoyed. Another handful are on my to-read list. Not sure what this says about the list or me, but it’s interesting anyway.
This is such a bad list, I would not advertise my place in it, if I were you. No Wolfe, Cherryh, Tiptree, Zelazny, Sterling. Banks and LeGuin are ridiculously low in the rankings.
No matter what era, style or political leaning you champion, there are parsec wide gaps in this thing’s coverage of what SF is. Just a gimmick really.
I disagree vehemently with the rankings but, in general, this is a good compilation of 100 SF books that Science Aficionados *should* read to get a sense of the genre.
It will be interesting to see this list in 20, or even 10 more years. I bet a lot will have changed.
I would like to see a list done by SF readers and writers at the next convention. It could benefit from better read contributors.
I’d do a much different list if I were doing “best” but they aren’t even pretending to do “best” so I have no beef at all. It sounds like they are explicitly doing an objective “most extant Goodreads reviews, from all genre books with a minimum 3.5/5 rating” so you can’t really argue with it at all. You have beef? Take it up with the entirety of the Goodreads community, as it is their aggregate being listed here.
You really should be so proud to be on here. Love your work and I think you have earned it. “ the futures so bright”. And all that.
Eric in austin
I have always referred to Hugo/Nebula winners/nominees when I need good SF to read. Nothing on this list causes me to re-think that strategy.
I’m one of the people who once rated a lot of books on Goodreads around the time I signed up – disproportionately the ones I had liked and remembered in the course of a life’s reading, and all of the ones which were on my Kindle at the time. I now count 26 books I gave 5 star ratings to that are on that list. I would guess about the same number of 4 star ratings. Just one two star rating (for a book I started reading in 1962 and never finished, though it certainly found its audience without my help).
So I’d read this as follows: among the SF that people have generally enjoyed, these are the ones (on Goodreads) that the most people have read. Not much in Russian either, or in the original Chinese, so the parenthetical restriction is of the essence. (I suspect the group skews older, too?)
I also see 23 books that I’ve read but hadn’t gotten around to rating at all, either because I didn’t think of them at the time or because I read them after my big rating spree. Most of these I’d rate pretty highly, a few are actually favorites, so I’m adding another three 5 star ratings.
The list seems perfectly reasonable to me, it measures what it measures. It’s kind of remarkable that by #14 we hit recent work (as well as the first one I haven’t read, probably not coincidentally).
But as suggested in the OP much of the fun to be had is in the grumbling.
“Most popular” is a misnomer, imho. It’s a list of the ‘most reviewed’ books in the genre. I mean, 1984 has 66,000+ reviews, Old Man’s War has 9,298 reviews. Longevity gives a huge leg up in this formula. And, of course, how many reviews would 1984 have gotten if Goodreads existed in 1949 instead of coming on-line in 2006?
I like Nick’s comment when he says, “this is a good compilation of 100 SF books that Science Aficionados *should* read to get a sense of the genre.”
And in any case, congratulations for your success on this list, John. It just confirms what we all knew all along – you’re. a hell of a writer!
I think for most of us such a list would be generational. I came of age in the 60s and 70s, reading the Grand Masters and those ranked just below them. Ever since then for a story to be “great” and not just “really good” it has to surpass the ones I read back then, which is a high hurdle to jump. For someone coming along later their reference point would be different, with different styles, authors, stories, and the like.
I’ve read 16 on the list, 1 of which are your… the Collapsing Empire. Just finished the whole trilogy.. wow! My first read of anything by you and loved it.. just hated that it ended ;) thanks for the sheer joy and chuckles.
Going to devour the rest of your books now!
Some of my favourite authors like Peter F Hamilton, Stephen Baxter and Greg Bear missing from the list.
Who here thinks Station 11 is science fiction? The only slightly SF aspect is the disease, which is becoming less fictional by the day.
Harry @ July 8, 2020 at 6:45 pm
Defining what is or isn’t science fiction, what is or isn’t fantasy is once of those things may seem obvious at first glance, but no one can ever come up with clear rules that don’t produce a lot of cases that don’t fit. I don’t know about the young adult or adult distinction.
Someone in the comments over there asked why Anne McCaffrey was missing. In her case, very likely because her best known work is right in the fantasy or science fiction grey area.
Too many of these are not sci-fi or fantasy. They are lumped in there because Goodreads is an Amazon company trying to sell books. Also any online list can be manipulated. Just because it’s dystopian doesn’t make it sci-fi or fantasy. But please do read 1984. If you still vote for one of the two major parties after reading it, you are the problem.
“Remember that the adjective here is “popular” and specifically “popular at Goodreads.””
More specifically: “Most reviewed”, not most rated (which is why they mention they also cut at a minimum of 3.5 stars rating – I suspect there were some particularly shining… gut bacteria-laden examples heavily reviewed by angry readers).
Congratulations, Mr. Scalzi.
This week four books on the list.
What are the plans for next week? Have a call from the Queen of England to become sir?
Aim hi! :)
As a “most popular” list, I think this is spot on. Older books with a broader audience are ranked higher, as can be expected. The newer works on the list are all by the best contemporary sci-fi writers. Also to be expected. Congrats on making it on there.
I know it’s not a “best 100 sci-fi books ever” list, but were I to compile one of those, there would be significant overlap, probably 85-90%. Goes to show that quality will out. Good writing eventually becomes popular writing.
To be Scrupulously Fair, Orwell’s other novels would not be able to make the cut on the “Adult Science Fiction only” requirement. Though I must say I would rather re-read Redshirts than The Clergyman’s Daughter or Keep the Aspidistra Flying.
Why yes, I’m a recovering Orwell completist! How could you tell?
On the other hand wouldn’t mind rereading “Homage to Catalonia” and, I suppose, “Down and Out in Paris and London.” I haven’t read or heard of “The Clergyman’s Daughter” so I suppose I’m very far from a completist, simply reading whatever of his has come to hand. As for the aspidistra, I recall being mildly entertained by it at an age when I could not understand why Robert Benchley was considered a humorist (not having gone back to the latter since, I can only assume this would now be clear to me). Orwell seems to me more of an essayist, and a brilliant one.
And arguing about definitions of science fiction is even more fun than grumbling about lists (in small doses).
I’ve read only 36 on that list–and I’ve been reading SF since 1955 and reviewing it since 1980 or so. Am I not a trufan?
It has the usual marks of an internet list–skewings toward the relatively recent, the movie/TV connected, the school-assigned. What’s interesting (to me anyway) is what the list and its generating methodology suggests about the readership behind it, the members of the Goodreads community. One of the things I note as I read this site and File 770 is the reading tastes and preferences of the participants. It confirms what Charles Brown pointed out to me early in my Locus reviewing career: that reviewers are not normal readers. (That’s a distributive and functional rather than a normative “normal.”) It’s not a good or bad thing, it’s just a thing.