13 Best Science Fantasy Books

I believe this is from the Starfinder role-playing game.

It takes a deft hand to combine advanced technology and magic in a way that isn’t embarrassingly silly. These books do exactly that, or something close enough to earn a place on this list.


The Compleat Enchanter
by L. Sprague de Camp – 1941

The Mathematics of Magic was probably the greatest discovery of the ages—at least Professor Harold Shea thought so. With the proper equations, he could instantly transport himself back in time to all the wondrous lands of ancient legend. But slips in time were a hazard, and Shea’s magic did not always work quite as he expected….

This omnibus volume of all of the Magical Misadventures of Harold Shea contains The Incomplete Enchanter, The Wall of Serpents, and Castle of Iron.

“Pure extravaganza and pure delight!”
—The New York Times

The Many-colored Land
by Julian May – 1981

In the year 2034, Theo Quderian, a French physicist, made an amusing but impractical discovery: the means to use a one-way, fixed-focus time warp that opened into a place in the Rhone River valley during the idyllic Pliocene Epoch, six million years ago. But, as time went on, a certain usefulness developed. The misfits and mavericks of the future—many of them brilliant people—began to seek this exit door to a mysterious past. In 2110, a particularly strange and interesting group was preparing to make the journey—a starship captain, a girl athlete, a paleontologist, a woman priest, and others who had reason to flee the technological perfection of twenty-second-century life.

But far from being uninhabited, Europe in the Pliocene is the home of two warring races from another planet. There is the knightly race of the Tanu—handsome, arrogant, and possessing vast powers of psychokinesis and telepathy. And there is the outcast race of Firvulag—dwarfish, malevolent, and gifted with their own supernormal skills. Taken captive by the Tanu and transported through the primordial European landscape, the humans manage to break free, join in an uneasy alliance with the forest-dwelling Firvulag, and, finally, launch an attack against the Tanu city of light on the banks of a river that, eons later, would be called the Rhine.

“The allure of Julian May’s fantasy and science fiction inventions are so powerful I find it impossible to ‘read just one.'”

Black Sun Rising
by C.S. Friedman – 1991

Over a millennium ago, Erna, colonists from far-distant Earth settled on a seismically active yet beautiful world. The colonists found themselves caught in a desperate battle for survival against the fae, a terrifying natural force with the power to prey upon the human mind itself, drawing forth a person’s worst nightmare images or most treasured dreams and indiscriminately giving them life.

Twelve centuries after fate first stranded the colonists on Erna, mankind has achieved an uneasy stalemate, and human sorcerers manipulate the fae for their own profit, little realizing that demonic forces which feed upon such efforts are rapidly gaining in strength.

Now, as the hordes of the dark fae multiply, four people—Priest, Adept, Apprentice, and Sorcerer—are about to be drawn inexorably together for a mission which will force them to confront an evil beyond their imagining, in a conflict that will put not only their own lives in jeopardy but the very fate of humankind.

“Stunning… A feast for those who like their fantasies dark, and as emotionally heady as a rich, red wine.”

Tales of the Dying Earth
by Jack Vance – 1950

This omnibus volume comprises all four books in the series:

  • The Dying Earth
  • The Eyes of the Overworld
  • Cugel’s Saga
  • Rialto the Marvelous

The stories included in the first book, The Dying Earth introduce dozens of seekers of wisdom and beauty, lovely lost women, wizards of every shade of eccentricity with their runic amulets and spells. We meet the melancholy deodands, who feed on human flesh and the twk-men, who ride dragonflies and trade information for salt. There are monsters and demons. Each being is morally ambiguous: the evil are charming, the good are dangerous.

The Dying Earth and its sequels comprise one of the most powerful fantasy/science-fiction concepts in the history of the genre. They are packed with adventure but also with ideas, and the vision of uncounted human civilizations stacked one atop another like layers in a phyllo pastry thrills even as it induces a sense of awe.”
—Dean Koontz, author of the Odd Thomas novels

Bone Dance
by Emma Bull – 1991

Sparrow’s my name. Trader. Deal-maker. Hustler, some call me. I work the Night Fair circuit, buying and selling pre-nuke videos from the world before. I know how to get a high price, especially on Big Bang collectibles. But the hottest ticket of all is information on the Horsemen―the mind-control weapons that tilted the balance in the war between the Americas. That’s the prize I’m after.

But it seems I’m having trouble controlling my own mind.

The Horsemen are coming.

“Style and gusto and fireworks. Great stuff.”
―Neil Gaiman

The Planet Savers
by Marion Zimmer Bradley – 1958

The Planet Savers is the first book in the popular Darkover series, which includes dozens of novels and short stories.

Darkover was experiencing a flare-up of Trailmen’s fever, an episodic disease that would decimate the entire human population of Darkover, from the Comyn to the Terrans.

The Medical Branch at Terran HQ had the start of a cure, but in order to finish it, they needed Trailmen to come out of their homes in the trees in the Hellers Mountains and donate blood. Only one man on Darkover stood any chance of persuading the Trailmen to help, but he occupied the same body as the doctor capable of doing the medical side of the work, and he was the personality the doctor had utterly suppressed. Even with hypnosis, only one of them could be active at a time, and the solution would need both of them.

The Gunslinger
by Stephen King – 1982

This book has one of the best opening lines ever:

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

In a desolate reality, one that mirrors our own in frightening ways, a lone and haunting figure known only as Roland makes his way across the endless sands in pursuit of a sinister, dark-robed mystery of a man. Roland is the last of his kind, a “gunslinger” charged with protecting whatever goodness and light remains in his world—a world that “moved on,” as they say…and the only way he can possibly hope to save everything is to first outwit and confront this man in black, then make him divulge his many arcane secrets.

For despite the countless miles he’s already traversed, Roland knows these will merely be his initial steps on his spellbinding and soul-shattering quest to locate the mystical nexus of all worlds, all universes: the Dark Tower.

“An impressive work of mythic magnitude that may turn out to be Stephen King’s greatest literary achievement.”
—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Lord of Light
by Roger Zelazny – 1967

In a post-apocalyptic world where a few technology-endowed immortal humans rule the Earth as the pantheon of Hindu gods, one among them, Siddhartha, dares to oppose their tyranny.

The City & the City
by China Miéville – 2009

When a murdered woman is found in the city of Beszel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks to be a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he investigates, the evidence points to conspiracies far stranger and more deadly than anything he could have imagined.

Borlú must travel from the decaying Beszel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own. This is a border crossing like no other, a journey as psychic as it is physical, a shift in perception, a seeing of the unseen. His destination is Beszel’s equal, rival, and intimate neighbor: the rich and vibrant city of Ul Qoma. With Ul Qoman detective Qussim Dhatt, and struggling with his own transition, Borlú is enmeshed in a sordid underworld of rabid nationalists intent on destroying their neighboring city, and unificationists who dream of dissolving the two into one. As the detectives uncover the dead woman’s secrets, they begin to suspect a truth that could cost them and those they care about more than their lives.

What stands against them are murderous powers in Beszel and in Ul Qoma, and, most terrifying of all, that which lies between these two cities.

“[B]estseller Miéville offers an outstanding take on police procedurals.”
—Publishers Weekly

A Wrinkle in Time
by Madeleine L’Engle – 1962

Winner of the 1963 Newbery Medal

Meg Murry, her little brother Charles Wallace, and their mother are having a midnight snack on a dark and stormy night when an unearthly stranger appears at their door. He claims to have been blown off course and goes on to tell them that there is such a thing as a “tesseract,” which, if you didn’t know, is a wrinkle in time. Meg’s father had been experimenting with time travel when he suddenly disappeared. Will Meg, Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin outwit the forces of evil as they search through space for their father?

A Wrinkle in Time is the first book in The Time Quintet, which consists of

Artemis Fowl
by Eoin Colfer – 2001

Twelve-year-old criminal mastermind Artemis Fowl has discovered a world below ground of armed and dangerous—and extremely high-tech—fairies. He kidnaps one of them, Holly Short, and holds her for ransom in an effort to restore his family’s fortune. But he may have underestimated the fairies’ powers. Is he about to trigger a cross-species war?

“Will grab your interest, no matter what your age.”
―The New York Post

by Anne McCaffrey – 1968

On a beautiful world called Pern, an ancient way of life is about to come under attack from a myth that is all too real. Lessa is an outcast survivor—her parents murdered, her birthright stolen—a strong young woman who has never stopped dreaming of revenge. But when an ancient threat to Pern reemerges, Lessa will rise—upon the back of a great dragon with whom she shares a telepathic bond more intimate than any human connection. Together, dragon and rider will fly . . . and Pern will be changed forever.

“Read Dragonflight and you’re confronted with McCaffrey the storyteller in her prime, staking a claim for being one of the influential fantasy and SF novelists of her generation—and doing it, remarkably, in the same novel.”

The Shadow of the Torturer
by Gene Wolfe – 1980

Book 1 of the 4-volume The Book of the New Sun series.

Severian is a torturer, born to the guild and with an exceptionally promising career ahead of him, until he falls in love with one of his victims, a beautiful young noblewoman. Her excruciations are delayed for some months and, out of love, Severian helps her commit suicide and escape her fate. For a torturer, there is no more unforgivable act. In punishment he is exiled from the guild and his home city to the distant metropolis of Thrax with little more than Terminus Est, a fabled sword, to his name. Along the way he has to learn to survive in a wider world without the guild—a world in which he has already made both allies and enemies. And a strange gem is about to fall into his possession, which will only make his enemies pursue him with ever-more determination . . .

This book is technically science fiction, as it takes place far in the future, but definitely has more of a fantasy feel to it.

“[A] masterpiece of science fantasy comparable in importance to the major works of Tolkien and Lewis.”
—Publishers Weekly on The Book of the New Sun series

4 thoughts on “13 Best Science Fantasy Books

  1. I enjoyed reading your list. For my own part, I think Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber series merits a mention too.

  2. Caution: The City & the City is not science fantasy. The book contains no elements of science fiction nor fantasy. The base structure is very much that of a modern day police procedural. I guess, it’s been mistaken for speculative fiction because the setting, the eponymous two cities, is fictional – and more importantly, impossible. So bizarre as to appear fantastical, even.

  3. Good list. Woefully short since I believe the best sci-fi has to have elements of magic and lots of allegory to work well. I mean really the spice must flow after all. Just sayin.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.