Top Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels of All Time (with focus on religion)?

Many of the sci-fi blogs I read (IO9, Biology in Science Fiction, and SF Signal) mentioned NPR’s choice of their top 100 science fiction and fantasy books, and then asked for people to vote for their top 10.

When working on the book Religion and Science Fiction that was just released, we adopted from the outset an approach that would make the book interesting and useful to those whose own choice of favorites might be different from those of a given contributor. Each chapter treats a specific theme, such as artificial intelligence, good and evil, scientists playing God, or the sociology of fandom. It may focus on specific examples from the seemingly endless number of books, movies and TV shows in the sci-fi genre, but is written in such a way as to be not merely intelligible but relevant and easy to connect with other texts that touch on the same themes.

What would your choice of the top 10 science fiction (or fantasy, if you prefer) novels be that touch on religion as a major element in the story? Feel free to let yourself be guided by NPR’s suggestions, or come up with ones they didn’t include in their top 100.

For me, I think my religion and sci-fi list would include the following:

Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos series

Frank Herbert’s Dune series

Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow and Children of God

Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man and/or The Martian Chronicles (his story “The Fire Balloons” was only in some editions of the latter)

Perhaps also Contact by Carl Sagan, for this particular category.

Then there are a great many that I would find it hard to choose between for the remaining slots.

What would be on your list?

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  • Daniel Kirk

    I am quite pleased to discover that of the three sci fi novels I’ve ever read in my life (including one I’m 1/3 through right now), two are on your list!

    I am absolutely loving Children of God, having read The Sparrow when I was on vacation in July.

  • Tom Verenna

    Y U NO USE Ender’s Game?

  • Just Sayin’

    I reluctantly gave up on The Sparrow after 100 pages because the Jesuit character was so unbelievable.

  • Brad Matthies

    Von Daniken’s “Chariots of the Gods” does a wonderful job of blending fiction with religion. 😉

    On a serious note: I read ERB’s John Carter of Mars in high school. Loved it! You’ll be pleased to learn they are making it into a movie:

    • Gary

       Per Brad Matthies….I loved the Mars series. Just couldn’t figure out how to get to Mars by just staring at it, at 12 years old. I liked Brave New World, Time Machine, and Animal Farm (more political satire than SciFi). Voltere’s Candide, though not SciFi, really wacks religions of the time – and fits into fantasy, I would say, like Pirates of the Caribbean, only Sparrow always loses.

  • Anonymous

    I would say that Herbert’s Destination: Void series should be on this list.

  • Bernie

    A Canticle for Leibowitz, hands down.

  • Anonymous

    To Open the Sky – Robert Silverberg
    Dimension of Miracles – Robert Sheckley
    The Chrysalids – John Wyndham
    The Stars My Destination – Alfred Bester
    Hour of the Dragon – Robert E. Howard
    Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen – H. Beam Piper
    Behold the Man – Michael Moorcock
    Bring the Jubilee – Ward Moore
    The Man in the High Castle – Philip K. Dick

  • admiralmattbar

    You would like Mike Flynn’s Eifelheim.  It’s about a historian in the near future and a priest in the middle ages.  Also I, Robot has that story “Reason” in it which is pretty good.

  • Just Sayin’

    C.S. Lewis science fiction trilogy.

  • Arni Zachariassen

    *taking notes* 

  • Eric Thurman

    Geez, no William Gibson mentions? Neuromancer just about has to be on any Top 10 Sci-Fi list. I’d add the Bridge trilogy: Virtual Light (1993); Idoru (1996); and All Tomorrow’s Parties (1999). 

  • Daniel Connell

    I whole-heartedly agree with the first three selections on your list. I would add Neal Stephenson’s Anathema.

  • Jonathan Hendry

    Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods
    Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, Good Omens

  • Anonymous

    Cat’s Cradle Vonnegut

  • David Evans

    James Blish: A Case Of Conscience, Black Easter, The Day After Judgement, Doctor Mirabilis

    Robert J. Sawyer: Calculating God

    Patrick Tilley: Mission

  • Johnxroe

    Canticle for Liebowitz
    Childhoods End
    Its a Good Life (short story)

  • Eriol11

    I second “Anathema” and would suggest Dick’s “Ubik”.

  • James F. McGrath

    I can’t believe I left Calculating God off, although it didn’t get mentioned in the NPR list. There are others that people have mentioned I would have too, but I have read only the short story that later got turned into a novel – e.g. A Canticle for Leibowitz and Behold the Man.

  • James F. McGrath

    @80c82b1b143624027c0647704cb3faaa:disqus , I expected you to leap to the defense of The Sparrow in response to @d7f45ed2df049a7b0f21c07aab0c8c94:disqus   ! I  did not find Emilio Sanchez unbelievable, and found the two books to be a powerful exploration of theodicy, among other things. Would either of you care to say more?

  • Susan Thornton

    “Mysts of Avalon,” or are we only talking Judeo/Christian theology?

  • Anonymous

    Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents
    Tananarive Due’s The Living Blood

  • Anonymous

    Frank Herbert- The White Plague  The priest’s role in that novel is crucial to understanding the context and the Catholic-Protestant divide in Ireland.

  • Revruthucc

    Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein has to be at the very top of my list in terms of exploration of religion as a sociological phenomenon.  I second the works by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman mentioned above and would add American Gods by Gaiman, as well.  Stephen Lawhead’s fantasies (particularly The Song of Albion series) are set beautifully within Celtic Christian tradition.

  • James F. McGrath

    @Susan, it is not limited to Judeo-Christian religion by any means! Any and all stories at the intersection of any religion and any sort of Sci-Fi are welcome!

  • Ian Carmichael

    Zelazny’s Lord of Light is interesting (as I remember.) Charles L. Harness’ Ring of Ritornel, Dick’s Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldridge are another three worth investigating. Eric Frank Russell’s short-short story ‘Sole Solution’ in Aldiss’ Penguin Science Fiction is also interesting reading.

  • David Evans

    Philip Pullman: His Dark Materials
    Jane Jensen: Dante’s Equation
    Liz Jensen: The Rapture

  • David Evans


    Just reading Robert J. Sawyer’s Neanderthal trilogy. Very interesting so far. Sort of a mirror image of Calculating God.

    I’ll stop now.

  • ConnorO

    Somewhat surprised no one has mentioned Gene Wolfe. Religion is a major theme of much of his work, I’d say especially in the tetralogy The Book of the Long Sun, about a generation starship on which major dynastic and political personages of Earth have seemingly “uploaded” themselves as the Gods of “the Whorl” as the ship is called by its inhabitants.

    It’s theoretically independent of the 1st tetralogy, The Book of the New Sun, that is, you can read the second without reading the first, but New Sun is so awesome I don’t know why you’d want to skip it (and it does also freature some religious themes, just not to the extent that Long Sun does). The whole sprawling series concludes with the trilogy The Book of the Short Sun, set after the generation ship has delivered the colonists to their new star system, and in a lot of ways it might be the best of the lot. I heartily recommend the whole thing, though eleven books (twelve, if you count the coda to New Sun, Urth of the New Sun) is rather a commitment of time and attention.

  • James F. McGrath

    I am grateful for all these comments, since in addition to being proposals for the top books in this category, they are also helpful recommendations for things to read. Maybe I can even manage ConnorO’s series of twelve in the lead up to the next time I teach my class on religion and science fiction.