The list author says: "Here I shall rank the greatest science fiction novels I have ever read. No fantasy or horror here, and no anthologies. I only list a sequel as a separate entry if it is substantially different from the original, and worthy of a place on its own merits."
"Louis Wu and a motley crew explore a ring (radius ~1 AU) spinning around a star. The Ringworld Engineers/The Ringworld Throne/Ringworld's Children are a continuation of this same story of exploring/understanding one of the largest structures ever built. Throne is the weakest, but worth reading to get to Children. Double winner of the Hugo/Nebula."
"Stranger may be Heinlein's masterpiece, but Moon is his best read by far. A thrill ride of revolution on the Moon. You might not put it down until you've finished it. Won the Hugo. So you've noticed there's lots of Heinlein in my top ten; he's the original grandmaster for a reason. If you're an adult Heinlein newbie, Moon is a good place to start."
"Young boy Ender heads to space to go to Battle School and train to fight the Bugs. It's a classic; the Harry Potter of science fiction (published over a decade before J.K. Rowling's work). Double winner of the Hugo/Nebula."
"Brilliant epic about the son of a Duke and his place in the galactic Imperium. Entire cultures with politics, religion, and hard SF technology have been created here with detail and subtlety. Truly visionary. Has a slow section at the start of part 2, but it's worth weathering to get to the rest. Many elements found here were borrowed for the Star Wars movies. Double winner of the Hugo/Nebula."
"Technically the sequel to Ender's Game, but it is so different from that novel that it deserves a separate entry. Fandom and experts alike agreed, as it won both the Hugo & Nebula the year after Ender's Game pulled the same feat. Xenocide/Children of the Mind continue this story."
"Friday is one of science fiction's greatest characters. An artificial person, I first thought her to be an android, but she is a genetically engineered human. She's practically superhuman, a James Bond-style secret agent on missions from Boss. Nothing is beyond her abilities, except maybe trying to be an ordinary human."
"The first truly great work of military science fiction. Troopers space jump from orbit then loose tactical nukes off their backs to defeat an alien enemy so powerful, it may mean the end of the human race. Won the Hugo."
"Heinlein's masterpiece and the first Heinlein I read. Only book he wrote an outline for 1st. I was 15 and it actually disturbed me a little bit, yet managed to instill a Heinlein addiction in me. Most (especially those younger than I was) probably should start with a juvenile like Space Cadet or Have Spacesuit-Will Travel instead. I cried reading the end. Read the uncut version. Won the Hugo."
"Book 1 of the Gap Cycle is a thrilling ride through the gritty side of SF. The future tech here has been done before, but it's more about the characters, their twisted psyches, and moral dilemmas. Still there's plenty of interstellar action and double-crosses. Continues in Forbidden Knowledge/A Dark And Hungry God Arises/Chaos & Order/This Day All Gods Die."
"Will open up more awe and wonder inside you than you ever thought possible. Continued in Rama II/Garden of Rama/Rama Revealed. Most disparage the sequels with Gentry Lee, but I liked them. They have more developed characters and allow further exploration. I understand why some would be disappointed with the final explanation of everything but the idea posited is one way to answer things."
"Still reads as contemporary science fiction in 2009, nearly 60 years after publication. Classic tale of murder in a telepathic society. Winner of the first ever Hugo award in 1953. I think if the Nebula had existed before 1965, Demolished probably would have won it too. It's that good."
"The newest great take on military SF. Quite a bit more cheerful than Forever War, while still being gory and racking up an impressive body count. Has some of the craziest and most advanced tech I have ever read about, and puts a new spin on the standard military SF tropes. Continues in The Ghost Brigades/The Last Colony/Zoe's Tale. Read Forever War first, as it's an earlier take on the same genre."
"Possibly the most chilling book ever. Don't read it if you're looking for a pick-me-up. Do read it if you want to see what the future may hold if we aren't careful. Published in 1949, it predicted so much that has already come to pass. First third is slow, but just hang in there. Powerful ending. Animal Farm is also good, but read it first, or that fable-like tale will pale in comparison."
"Plausible and interesting science speculation. Great ideas about humans living on the moon. The star here is the science itself. Predicted we'd find water on the moon long before we did. The alien sex and society is also intriguing. Double winner of the Hugo/Nebula."
"Startide Rising is hailed as Brin's masterpiece, but I like Sundiver better. Ride a spaceship inside the sun itself on a great adventure with advanced tech and truly alien aliens. A fun, fast moving read. You could read Startide first without reading Sundiver, as the characters are all different, but I wouldn't."
"Post Vietnam take on military SF. Gorier, more cynical, and more depressing than Starship Troopers, it is also harder SF, with no FTL engines. It takes you far into the future, revealing a destination only Haldeman can imagine. Double winner of the Hugo/Nebula. You'll probably be disappointed by the sequel, Forever Free, so it might be best to skip that one."
"A space-age goldrush of sorts, where failure means horrific death, and success is like winning the biggest lottery imaginable. Top-rate hard science fiction, very gritty, and original. Fantastic climax. Double winner of the Hugo/Nebula. First book of the Heechee Saga."
"The book that defined cyberpunk for a generation. Cybernetic implants, extreme body modification, computer networks (long before the web) all against the backdrop of the decaying society of the Sprawl. Double winner of the Hugo/Nebula. I didn't care for the next book, Count Zero. But Mona Lisa Overdrive is also good."
"Another seminal cyberpunk book, but on a bigger scale. Your sole civil liberty is "the right to die" in these cylinder-style space stations (The Concatenated Worlds) filled with Mechanists & Shapers. There's more/longer spaceflight than Neuromancer and a lot of grit. Get this "Plus" version with the Schismatrix short stories which are also great. Read the shorts first."
"A genre-bender, Shadow of the Torturer looks like fantasy at first glance, but high technology is hiding everywhere in it, so to me it's science fiction. Young Severian becomes a Torturer, an honorable profession in this dying Urth with a red sun. Won the BSFA. Continues in Claw of the Conciliator/Sword of the Lictor/Citadel of the Autarch. Shadow of the Torturer was the best volume by far."
"About as bleak, dark and cold as a novel can get, literally. Starts slow, about an alien culture on a planet dubbed Winter. The aliens each have both sexes/genders. A fight for survival itself, it's not the most fun read ever, but a powerful one. Double winner of the Hugo/Nebula."
"Turning Mars into an earth-like planet has long been a science fiction dream, and Robinson's Mars Trilogy does it best. The first-step on Mars is long past, and now a ship of colonists are traveling to the Red Planet to start the long process of terraforming it. This is hard science fiction--big time. Won the Nebula & BSFA. Continues in Green Mars/Blue Mars."
"Is a civilized society without government and power seekers possible? Shevek is from Anarres, a planet that professes this ideal, but he must travel to Urras, a propertarian planet, to finish his grand theory of physics. Delve into utopia, anarchism, capitalism, authoritarianism, revolution, morality and more. Not much action but a lot to ponder. Double winner of the Hugo/Nebula."
"An overlooked Heinlein--some call it a lesser work, and I can't disagree more. It fits in perfectly with his later novels. This "ultimate transplant" is addictive and supercharged with sexual innuendo. If you liked Friday and Stranger, I can't imagine you'll dislike this. Released when Heinlein was very ill, it didn't get the same editing treatment, but I almost didn't notice."
"Dr. Vannevar Morgan sets out to build Earth's first space elevator, which will launch humanity into a new age. But politics and engineering problems stand in the way of the Orbital Tower. Top-notch hard SF here. Double winner of the Hugo/Nebula."
"A quirky cyberpunk classic. Read Software first (Book 1), but Wetware is even better. Weird futuristic slang, drugs, punks, bioengineering and robots (boppers) on the moon. Plus a few good shocks here and there for good measure. Software & Wetware both won the Philip K. Dick Award. Continues in Freeware/Realware."
"Matt Dodson goes to the Space Academy to be a Space Cadet with intent to join the Solar Patrol and explore/defend the solar system. A "Heinlein juvenile," this book is a great place for a young reader to start in the science fiction genre when he/she wants to see what exists beyond Star Wars and Star Trek."