I would argue that Brave New World is one of the best sci-fi reads. It combines cloning technology with sleep-teaching and conditioning experimentation and the science of drugs (Soma) to create a future dystopia that is just far enough out there to believe it could never happen, but just realistic enough to be afraid that it might.
A close second, I think, would be HG Wells' classic, The Time Machine. This has inspired many similar stories about what it would be like to be able to jump back and forth between the eras.
I love anything by Harlan Ellison. For me, he is the greatest living sci-fi writer. He has a very sharp wit however, so I don't recommend him if you have thin skin. Ellison has a gift for exposing human flaws and highlighting the cruelty and beauty of which we're capable. Deathbird Stories is one of the best American short story collections of the 20th century. Richard Matheson, author of I Am Legend, Duel, and What Dreams May Come (among so many others) is also incredible. He mixes fantasy skillfully with the mundane.
Of course, I have to add Kurt Vonnegut, although he wouldn't agree. Player Piano and Cat's Cradle are marvels of mid-century science fiction, and Vonnegut always weaves a playfulness into his works.
I have to second post #2 and vote for Ender's Game, but I am prejudiced because first, I do not typically enjoy Sci-Fi as a genre, and second, Ender's Game is one of my all time favorite books. Others which I believe would be added to this list by my friends and students, however, include:
- Dune (Herbert)
- The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (Tolkien)
- Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Adams)
I got this huge silly smile on my face thinking on my favorite SciFi books of all times because I am a closet geek when it comes to that. However, to make my selection easier I will NOT include the GOD of Sci Fi, HG Wells, and I will move on to something a bit more recent. Michael Crichton is one of my "modern" favorites. My favorite book written by him is undoubtedly The Andromeda Strain. I just really enjoyed his narrative, the manner in which the plot flowed, and the ending was really cool. That would definitely have to be my choice.
I know this is not really high-class, but I like S.M. Stirling's "Emberverse" series. There, he imagines what happens to our world if all our technology suddenly stopped working. I think that counts as what Post 3 calls examining ourselves through imaginary societies. Stirling looks in a very interesting way at how civilized we are or are not and what sorts of societies we would make for ourselves in a stressful situation.
More conventionally, I suppose I would pick Brave New World. That is a classic look at what makes people truly human, set in a futuristic world. Huxley does a great job of asking us to think about how important suffering and pain and instability are and what the consequences of a desire for material well-being might be.
It's so hard to pinpoint only one top sci-fi novel. The two that immediately come to mind are Ender's Game (by Orson Scott Card) and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (by Philip K. Dick). Ender's Game began as a short story and was later developed into a full-length novel. The novel won the Hugo and Nebula Awards and spawned three sequels. It is especially popular with younger readers since the main character is young Ender Wiggin, who is only six years old when the story begins. Do Androids became one of sci-fi's greatest films as Blade Runner, and the book explores many themes, including that of the differences between android and human emotions.
I'm surprised that no one mentioned Issac Asimov's works. He broke the science fiction barrier so to speak. His novel was the first sci fi novel to make the New York Times Best Seller list.
My favorite of his is I, Robot. Its about this robot psychologist who has to basically code ethics and morality into robots. Invariably, things go wrong and two men (the main characters) come in to figure out what went wrong. Each ending gives meaning to a larger principle at hand.