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By Thomas Lombardo

Science fiction literature offers an immense wealth of reading resources for futurists. But, where to start?

As an avid science fiction enthusiast who has incorporated science fiction in my work as a professional futurist, I’ve identified a selection of important authors and books spanning the entire history of science fiction that I believe futurists would find informative, intellectually stimulating, and valuable to read. 

If you are a reader of science fiction, I apologize if I didn’t include one or some of your personal favorites, but the number of noteworthy science fiction novels and authors is gigantic and I needed to constrain my list to a manageable size.[1] I present my list in roughly chronological order, and I have also included some groupings of authors and novels centered around some selective themes in science fiction.   

Why (Should Futurists) Read Science Fiction?

Although science fiction does not exclusively deal with the future, for it includes alternate histories and realities as well, its primary focus has been on the future, and in this regard it offers a multitude of diverse and detailed narratives of hypothetical futures. 

To a significant degree, these futures narratives are informed and inspired by modern science and technology and contemporary social-philosophical thought. Expanding our imagination of possible and plausible futures, science fiction makes the future feel real through its dramatic storylines, richly detailed concrete settings, and unique characters and their personal challenges and interactions. 

In addition, to various degrees, science fiction offers integrative and holistic visions of the future, covering all dimensions of (human) reality from science and technology to ecology, culture, psychology, politics, and society as a whole. Science fiction deals with “the future of everything.” Although science fiction often contains plausible predictions about the future, its core value is in stimulating all dimensions of our consciousness of the future, from thought, imagination, and foresight to emotion, ethics and values, and personal identity. Throughout its history, science fiction has facilitated the ongoing evolution of “holistic future consciousness.”[2]


Science fiction has a long history extending back hundreds (if not thousands) of years. For futurists, it’s valuable to see how the future has been envisioned in the past; science fiction provides a history of futurist thinking.

  • Francis Bacon, New Atlantis (1626): An amazing and highly prescient array of technological and scientific predictions set in an ideal utopian society organized on ethical and religious principles. 

  • Jules Verne, Paris in the Twentieth Century (1863): Another incredible array of future predictions but set in a dystopian reality that in many ways is similar to contemporary society. 

  • Albert Robida, The Twentieth Century (1883): A highly engaging “slice of life” with comical characters, hundreds of fascinating illustrations, and again highly prescient predictions about the future. Both Robida and Verne’s novels highlight how human characters are affected by social and technological transformations.   

  • Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward: 2000-1887 (1888): An optimistic, rationalistic, and constructive vision of the future based on social engineering. A psychological jolt and challenge to our contemporary pessimistic and nihilistic modes of consciousness about the future. 

  • Camille Flammarion, Omega: The Last Days of the World (1893): An extensively researched historical review of imagined ways the world and humanity could end.  

  • John Jacob Astor, A Journey in Other Worlds (1894): An intricate multi-faceted optimistic vision of the future, embracing capitalism, economic growth, advancing technologies, and space travel, all enveloped in a religious theistic cosmic framework. 

  • Hugo Gernsback, Ralph 124C 41+ (1911): Gernsback, who popularized the expression “science fiction” (beginning in 1929), wrote this highly didactic and utopian vision of the 27th century; filled with an immensity of technological predictions. 

  • Laurence Manning, The Man Who Awoke (1933): Anticipating the collapse of modern industrialization, the destruction of the environment, and the emergence of virtual reality, an inspiring and cosmic vision of the far future evolution of humanity in search of the meaning of existence. 

H. G. Wells

Wells wrote dozens of science fiction stories, and an equal number of non-fiction works on history, science, contemporary affairs, and the future emergence of a global society. He articulated the idea of an academic discipline to study the future. (See Anticipations, 1901 and The Discovery of the Future, 1902) One of the greatest minds in the history of science fiction and futures studies. His writings illustrate how evolution — Wells’ central theoretical principle — can be applied to futures thinking. His most noteworthy futurist science fiction include: 

  • The Time Machine (1895): The definitive inspirational starting point for subsequent time travel stories; based on current trends, it offers a social-biological extrapolation on human evolution millions of years into the future.

  • A Modern Utopia (1905): Inspired by Plato’s Republic and containing an extensive in-depth philosophical discussion of utopian thinking throughout history, the story envisions a global utopian society in a perpetual state of evolutionary transformation.

  • The Sleeper Awakes (1910): Informed by Anticipations, the book presents a huge wealth of predictions of amazing future technologies, but as eventually revealed in the story, this wondrous future civilization is a social and ethical dystopia.

  • Men Like Gods (1923): Describes a utopian society of telepathic, selectively bred humans, who embrace continuous change and invention, this book highlights the central importance of education and the pursuit of knowledge in human life. 

  • The Shape of Things to Come (1933): His most comprehensive synthesis of science fiction and futures studies. Highly interdisciplinary and decidedly optimistic, the book presents an extensive global analysis of human society, past and present, and an extrapolation into the future that emphasizes the importance of psychological evolution. 

Olaf Stapledon 

With a Ph.D. in philosophy and psychology, Stapledon probably possessed the most colossal cosmic imagination — especially regarding the future — of any science fiction writer. Inspired by the theory of cosmic evolution, he integrates ideas on future science and technologies and the possibilities of the future evolution of life with psychology, ethics, aesthetics, social-cultural thought, and philosophical theory. For a big picture vision of the future — a “future of everything” — Stapledon is essential reading. 

  • Last and First Men (1931): Speculations on the future evolution of humanity (through eighteen different species) two billion years into the future. An ongoing philosophical discussion on the nature of humanity — of strengths and failings — and the ideal society. 

  • Odd John (1935): A highly realistic narrative of an evolutionarily advanced human and his attitudes and interactions with current humans and contemporary society. 

  • Star Maker (1937): The evolution of intelligence in the universe fifty billion years into the future, culminating in a cosmic mind and trans-galactic civilization. Filled with technological and social visions of the far future. Presented in narrative form, a philosophical theory of reality and ethics. 

Robert Heinlein 

The most popular American science fiction writer of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, Heinlein wrote dozens of novels and stories about the future. As just a small sample, the following ones are noteworthy: 

  • Beyond this Horizon (1942): A philosophically in-depth personal narrative on genetic engineering, extended human longevity, and the meaning of life.  

  • Waldo (1942): A psychologically engaging story on a technologically enhanced human cyborg.

  • By His Bootstraps (1941) and All You Zombies (1959): Two of the best time travel stories ever, filled with time paradoxes and circular temporal loops of causality. 

  • Starship Troopers (1960): A highly controversial, realistic and gritty vision of future war, involving technologically advanced weaponry and a militant political philosophy and human society. 

  • Stranger in a Strange Land (1961): Perhaps his most famous novel, a retelling of the “Messiah” myth, involving the emergence of a new religion, resonant with the “free love” philosophy of the Hippie counter-culture. 

  • The Past through Tomorrow (1967): A collection of Heinlein’s “Future History” stories (written over a period of roughly twenty-five years) extending thousands of years into the future and told through the personal experiences and challenges of numerous characters. 

Isaac Asimov 

  • I, Robot (1950): Early classic stories on the evolution of robots and philosophical and practical issues pertaining to Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics.” 

  • The Caves of Steel (1953): One of several novels by Asimov on robots as police detectives and human prejudices against artificial intelligence. 

  • Although Asimov is famous for his robot stories, the best robot novel of the period (in my view) was Jack Williamson’s The Humanoids (1949), a philosophically and scientifically astute examination of the potential dangers of robots (or advanced artificial intelligence) as servants of humanity.

  • Foundation Series (Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation) (1951, 1952, 1953) and Foundation’s Edge (1982): One of the most famous “future history” series. Can we predict and control the long-term future? The significance of “Black Swans” in history. The comparative importance of physical-technological versus psychological evolution. 


  • Yevgeny Zamyatin, We (1921): One of the most influential and highly regarded dystopian novels; psychologically and socially inventive and very strange. Envisioning a dramatically different kind of human mind. A critique of communalism, collectivism, and rationalism. 

  • Thea von Harbou, Metropolis (1926): Dionysian, sensationalistic, and theological adaptation and further development of the classic silent movie. 

  • Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1932): A critique of Wells’ utopianism. A profound and prescient extrapolation on contemporary cultural trends. A philosophical debate on what is the “good society.” 

  • George Orwell, 1984 (1949): A bleak and compelling futurist vision of global totalitarianism and the loss of individual self-determination.  

  • Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 (1953): A highly literary and unsettling tale of the near future in which books are banned and burned.  

  • Walter Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959): One of the most highly regarded science fiction novels examining the aftermath of World War III through the perspective of a cyclic theory of human history. 

  • J. G. Ballard, The Drowned World (1962) and The Crystal World (1966): Two among many of Ballard’s highly imaginative postmodernist “end of the world” stories. The psychological “inner space” of the end of civilization. Ballard, a central leading figure in “New Wave” (1960-1975) science fiction, rejected the dominant industrial-technological-economic progress vision of the future. 

  • Margaret Atwood The Handmaid’s Tale (1985): Another psychological and introspective novel, delving into the dangers of religious chauvinistic authoritarianism. A warning for our times. 

Arthur C. Clarke 

  • The City and the Stars (1953): Clarke was an outspoken advocate of the value of outer space exploration, and this epochal tale of the far future delves into advanced artificial intelligence and humanity’s journey into the cosmos. 

  • Childhood’s End (1953), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and 2010: Odyssey Two (1982): Weaving together science, evolutionary theory, and religious-mythic themes, Clarke envisions advanced aliens facilitating the future evolution of humanity and life in the solar system. 

Alfred Bester 

  • The Demolished Man (1953): A tale of murder, psychopathology, and telepathically empowered police in the future. Written in a graphic and psychedelic style, creating a language of the future and anticipating later “New Wave” and “Cyberpunk” literary trends in science fiction.

  • The Stars, My Destination (1956): Another famous tale of madness and the evolution of psychic abilities in the future. These two novels by Bester are generally rated as among the best science fiction novels ever written. 

Frederik Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth’s The Marching Morons (1951) and The Space Merchants (1953) 

A highly prescient forecast and satirical and comical critique of capitalism, consumerism, and the power of advertising, anticipating the growing conflict between big business and environmentalism. One of the biggest selling science fiction novels.   

Cordwainer Smith’s Norstrilia (1975) and The Rediscovery of Man (1993) 

Another intricate and rich “future history” of humanity told through the experiences of colorful and bizarre characters, extending fifteen thousand years into the future, and delving into drugs, extended longevity, human-animal hybrids, computers, and robots. 

Philip K. Dick

Philosophically sophisticated and psychologically informed, and repeatedly questioning the distinctions between fantasy and reality and madness and sanity in his writings, Dick has become one of the most academically studied of all contemporary science fiction writers. All the basic principles of a rational and objective understanding of reality and the future are jettisoned in Dick’s novels. Often post-apocalyptic and filled with religious themes and laced with hallucinatory experiences and drugs of the future. 

Noteworthy futurist novels include: Dr. Bloodmoney (1964), The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965), Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), Ubik (1969), and his “psychotic-like” autobiographical novel Valis (1981). His famous alternate reality novel The Man in the High Castle (1962) (inspired by Ward Moore’s alternate history of the American Civil War, Bring the Jubilee, 1955) provides a provocative counter-factual scenario that futurists should consider in contemplating historical causation. 

Frank Herbert’s Dune (1965) is the classic environmentalist and ecologically attuned science fiction novel, involving another retelling of the “Messiah” myth and the imaginative “world building” creation of a complex human society of diverse cultures. 

Ursula LeGuin 

LeGuin believed in the positive transformative power of fictional narratives, which could provide alternative future visions to combat the technologically obsessed and fearful nature of current human society. Deeply influenced by Taoist philosophy and contemporary anthropology, her best-known works include: 

  • The Left Hand of Darkness (1969): Examines human-centric gender and sexual stereotypes.

  • The Lathe of Heaven (1971): An exploration of multiple alternative utopian visions of human society. 

  • “The Word for World is Forest” (1973): An ecologically informed critique of colonialism and imperialism.

  • The Dispossessed (1974): A philosophically informed interplanetary drama set in the future on science and politics, authoritarianism and anarchism, capitalism and socialism, and the quest for both a scientific theory of everything and an interstellar utopian civilization.  

James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Sheldon): Her Smoke Rose Up Forever (1990) 

Sheldon, a Ph.D. in psychology, writing under the pseudonym of James Tiptree, Jr., wrote a plethora of famous short stories — graphic, poetic, and colorful in style and collected together in the above cited volume — weaving together psychology, feminism, biotechnology, pop culture, entertainment, evolutionary theory, space travel, aliens, and recurrent speculations on pain and death. A key inspirational New Wave writer in feminist and trans-gender science fiction. 

Robert Silverberg 

Immensely prolific and one of the most intellectually astute “New Wave” writers, in his novels he addressed the “future of everything,” from space travel, time travel, cyborgs, bio-engineering, androids, and future cities to over-population, religion, social conformity, sexuality, telepathy, crime, politics, destiny, future human evolution, and the quest for immortality. His best futurist novels include Tower of Glass (1970), The World Inside (1971), and the psychedelic far future Son of Man (1971).  

John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar (1968)  

Perhaps the most prescient and intellectually and artistically impressive novel of the New Wave period, Brunner correctly foresees an immense assortment of future technological and social developments. A behemoth and complex novel richly articulating a “slice of life” in a hypothetical near-future human society. 


Informed and inspired by contemporary developments in both technology (especially computer-related technologies) and human society, and further intensifying these trends in popular culture, cyberpunk science fiction offered a distinctively unsettling and often dark general narrative of the future.  

  • Rudy Rucker, The Ware Tetralogy (1982-2000): A comedic, colorful, and flamboyant multi-faceted narrative, highlighting robot evolution and the merging of humans and machines.   

  • Bruce Sterling, Schismatrix (1985): A guardedly optimistic cyberpunk novel chronicling the future evolution of humans through computer and bio-technologies.  

  • William Gibson, Neuromancer (1984): Coining the expression “cyberspace,” set the benchmark for later cyberpunk novels, and his subsequent novel, The Peripheral (2014), weaves together time travel and the collapse of modern civilization with a huge array of imaginative future computer and virtual reality technologies.   

  • Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash (1992): Perhaps the best and most entertaining and intricately realistic of all cyberpunk novels, Stephenson coined the term “metaverse” in the novel. Highly recommended for futurists to read.  

  • Charles Stross, Accelerando (2005): A highly realistic future history over the next hundred years, as advanced AI (transcending the “Technological Singularity”) gains control of the earth. Incredibly imaginative and fast-paced and filled with technological and social extrapolations, another must read for futurists.  


  • Reflecting the anti-war, anti-big government movements of 1960s pop culture, and provoked by Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, Joe Haldeman in The Forever War (1974) published the most highly regarded military science fiction novel of the future of war— a trenchant critique on the value of war — and followed up with another hi-tech anti-war award-winning novel Forever Peace (1997).  

  • One of the most entertaining and comical contemporary science fiction writers, John Scalzi imagines future war in outer space (fighting various aliens) with techno-enhanced, redesigned human soldiers in the Old Man’s War Series (2005-2009) and speculates on the nature of reality and the futurist visions of Star Trek in Redshirts (2012).  

Greg Bear 

One of the most intellectually and philosophically astute contemporary science fiction writers, Bear delves into nanotechnological evolution in Blood Music (1985); explores human technological augmentation, psycho-technologies, and computer self-consciousness in Queen of Angels (1990); and speculates on the next stage in human evolution and social reactions to this transformation in Darwin’s Radio (1999). 

Octavia Butler   

The first African-American woman to publish award winning novels and stories in science fiction. Her novels Parable of the Sower (1993) and Parable of the Talents (1998) present gritty, violent, and realistic depictions of the near future — told from a young Black girl’s perspective — in which religious fundamentalism seeks to gain control of American society.

David Brin 

Aside from writing highly scientifically informed science fiction, for decades Brin has been actively involved in publishing non-fiction futurist writings. His The Uplift War (1987) delves into technologically enhanced dolphins, chimps, and gorillas partnering with humans in space exploration. Earth (1990) addresses artificial intelligence, the nature of mind, and a host of environmental issues. In Existence (2012), Brin creates a rich and complex vision of near future Earth and provides an extensive examination of Fermi’s Paradox. 

Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos (Hyperion, 1987; The Fall of Hyperion, 1990; Endymion, 1996; and The Rise of Endymion, 1997)

One of the most literary, imaginative, and intricate science fiction sagas ever written, Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos presents a rich and complex “future of everything”—covering ecology, technology, space travel, advanced AI, religion, personal immortality, time travel, and culture — set roughly 800 years in the future.

Greg Egan

Known for his intellectually challenging, scientific and mathematical expositions and high-powered abstract theorizing, Egan envisions robotic and virtual minds, virtual and alternate universes, and the far future evolution of humanity in his Permutation City (1994), Diaspora (1997), and Schild’s Ladder (2002).

Stephen Baxter

At the zenith of contemporary cosmic speculation and scientific-technological extrapolation, Baxter, incorporating the “many-worlds” interpretation of quantum physics, wrote the ultimate time travel novel in The Time Ships (1995); created a big history epochal saga of the future of intelligence and interstellar war in the universe—spanning billions of years—in Vacuum Diagrams (1997); and chronicled the evolution of humanity across millions of years, from the deep past into the far future, in Evolution (2003). 

Ian McDonald 

In the first decade of the new millennium, McDonald published three consecutive science fiction literary masterpieces: River of Gods (2004), examining the future of India; Brasyl (2007), dealing with both the past and future of Brazil; and The Dervish House (2010), set in a near-future Istanbul. All these novels are profoundly rich in cultural detail and synthesize history, religion, mythology, computer science, super AI, robotics, nanotech, and quantum science into intricate “world building” futurist narratives and visions.

Neal Stephenson

After Snow Crash (cited above) Stephenson over the last few decades has published some of the most intellectually intricate and expansive novels in science fiction. The Diamond Age (1995), a “wisdom narrative” of the future, describes a highly realistic and multi-cultural future human society pervasively transformed by nanotechnology; delving into parallel universes and the nature of consciousness and reality, Anathem (2008) is one of the most philosophical science fiction novels ever; and Seveneves (2015) chronicles the destruction and rebuilding of human civilization and the future evolution of humanity through selective breeding and biotechnology.  


Outer space adventures in the future — a mainstay of early science fiction — continue to be popular in science fiction. Some of the best, more recent ones include: A Fire Upon the Deep (1992) by Vernor Vinge envisions a galactic Internet and galactic politics and disasters, and a host of inventive aliens; Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space (2000) and House of Suns (2008) cover billions of years, and chronicle the rise and fall of galactic civilizations and the achievement of immortality; M. J. Harrison, in his novel Light (2002), creates a psychedelic and surrealistic retelling of Clarke’s 2001; James Corey’s Expanse series, beginning with Leviathan Wakes (2011), presents a multi-faceted depiction of human civilization having spread across the solar system; and Annie Leckie, in her Ancillary Justice (2013), envisions a space-faring interplanetary human civilization, in which conscious space ships mentally integrate with human minds.  

Connie Willis 

Willis has written some of the most engaging and well-known, and historically and culturally informed, time travel stories in recent years — often involving time paradoxes and dark comedies of human error — including Doomsday Book (1992), To Say Nothing of the Dog (1998), Blackout/All Clear (2010), and Time is the Fire (2013).  

Elizabeth Moon’s The Speed of Dark (2003)

An introspective and psychological novel on the pros and cons of rectifying mental “disabilities” with new medical and biotechnological procedures. 

China Miéville

Combining fantasy, science fiction, and gothic horror literary genres, Miéville’s “New Weird” novels Perdido Street Station (2000) and The Scar (2002) powerfully stimulate and stretch human imagination in their fantastical depictions of strange minds, bizarre life-forms, extraordinary technologies, and outlandish societies. His novel, Embassytown (2011), presents one of the most astute examinations of the challenge of communicating with truly alien minds. 

Kim Stanley Robinson 

Highlighting environmental issues in his many novels, in his Mars trilogy (Red Mars, Blue Mars, Green Mars) (1991, 1994, 1996) Robinson created the most realistic and comprehensive books ever — utopian in vision — on the settlement of Mars, including detailed geological, ecological, biological, psychological, social-cultural, technological, and political extrapolations. 2312 (2012) extensively delves into the possibilities of ecological engineering in outer space. Combining personal narrative with extensive didactic sections on climate change, global warming, and the pitfalls of capitalism, The Ministry of the Future (2020) not only provides forecasts (and warnings) on numerous global social-environmental trends, but also offers visionary prescriptions, rational guidelines, and calls to action for creating a positive future. An excellent book for futurists. 

Lavie Tidhar 

Central Station (2016) is a highly realistic, personal, distinctively inventive, and richly multi-cultural “slice of life” of humanity’s future set in the Middle East. Providing numerous non-Western perspectives on the future, Tidhar’s The Best of World SF (2021-2023) provides an excellent extensive selection of contemporary science fiction stories from around the world. 

Adrian Tchaikovsky 

The Children of Time (2015) and The Children of Ruin (2019) by Tchaikovsky are highly intelligent and scientifically informed chronicles on terraforming, the evolution of non-human forms of intelligence and technological societies, and the challenges of communication with them, including thoughtful speculations on a “swarm mind” mentality and spider and octopus modes of consciousness. 

Cixin Liu 

Astonishingly comprehensive in its coverage of cutting-edge scientific theory and research and filled with an incredible array of bedazzling speculative future technologies, the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy (The Three-Body Problem, 2014; The Dark Forest, 2015; and Death’s End, 2016) by the Chinese writer Cixin Liu provides an in-depth perspective on non-Western science fiction. Dealing with the classic science fiction scenario of alien invasion, the novels address Fermi’s Paradox and the possibility of scientifically advanced civilizations being able to manipulate the laws of nature. The saga eventually extends out millions of years into the future and the creation of new universes. 

Charlie Jane Anders 

My favorite contemporary woman science fiction writer, Anders has created highly imaginative and entertaining stories of humanity’s near and far future. All the Birds in the Sky (2016) deals with the future conflict of science and magic (including witchcraft) in determining the fate of human society and the life on earth, and The City in the Middle of the Night (2019) delves into the merging of human and alien bodies and minds and alternative visions of ideal societies, human and otherwise. 


From Bacon and Verne, and Wells and Stapledon, to Tchaikovsky, Cixin Liu, and Anders and all their novels about the future, that’s my recommended list of important authors and books in science fiction for futurists to read. Different readers undoubtedly have different literary tastes and topics of special interest, but the above list covers all dimensions of the future, from the technological to the social, and all manner of styles from “hard science” expositions to the introspective and artistic, often combining all of the above. There is a multiverse of futures—a plethora of cosmos, ecologies, civilizations, and minds—vividly imagined in science fiction. 



  1. For much more in-depth treatments of science fiction, see my Science Fiction: The Evolutionary Mythology of the Future (Volumes 1, 2, and 3) (2018, 2021, 2021) and The Evolution of Science Fiction Webinar Series: A compressed history of science fiction can be found in my dual articles in Roberto Poli’s Handbook of Futures Studies (forthcoming). 

  2. See my book Future Consciousness: The Path to Purposeful Evolution, Chapter 7 (2017) for a detailed description of my concept of “future consciousness.”


Tom Lombardo, Ph.D., is the Director of the Center for Future Consciousness, Fellow and Executive Board member of the World Futures Studies Federation, long-standing member of the Association of Professional Futurists, and Professor Emeritus and Retired Faculty Chair of Psychology, Philosophy, and the Future at Rio Salado College. He has published thirteen books and over sixty articles and has given over a hundred professional presentations and online video webinars on numerous futurist topics. Presently he lives with his wife Jeanne in the Phoenix, Arizona, metropolitan area.

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