The Dune Sextet – Frank Herbert – OK this is six books and then there are additional books penned by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. If on the other hand you have no patience for reading entire series you should at least read Dune and God Emperor of Dune.
Frankenstein – Mary Shelly – The most fantastic story to come out of the Romantic period of British literature. Shelly’s vision of the Modern Prometheus is touching, moving and enthralling, everything great speculative fiction should be.
I Robot – Issac Asimov – It should be enough that this collection was written by the Godfather of modern science fiction but more than that it established one of the fundamentals of science fiction: the three laws of robotics. Asimov was one of the most prolific and brilliant authors of the twentieth century and a good portion of his offerings should be on your life list but this one collection is a must.
Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card – There is a case to be made for Card being the best living science fiction writer (apologies to Robert J. Sawyer) and one of the best arguments is Ender’s Game. As both a study in morality and speculative fiction it is a brilliant work and an easy read.
Neuromancer – William Gibson – Gibson is considered by many to be the originator of cyberpunk though a better case could be made for Philip K. Dick. Still among the early successful novelists in this genre Gibson stands head and shoulders above Rucker, Stephenson and Sterling. Neuromancer won the Nebula, Philip K. Dick and Hugo awards for fiction. By any stretch this novel belongs on all bookshelves not just SF bookshelves.
The Dispossessed – Ursula K. Leguin – Could Anarchism as a way of living actually work? Leguin gives a brilliant social and political analysis in one of the best science fiction novels created. Older readers will recognize cold war elements (proxy wars etc). A good solid read.
The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula K. Leguin – Set in the same fictional universe as The Dispossessed, Leguin’s Left Hand of Darkness is one of the first uniquely feminist works of science fiction. A society of sequentially hermaphroditic citizens, an expanding society, a society without war – winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards this is a winner from start to finish.
Dragonflight – Anne McCaffrey – Anne McCaffrey is easily one of my personal favourites when it comes to the fantasy genre and Dragonflight was such an eye opener when I picked it up as a young reader that it deserves a place here. McCaffrey has a knack for creating stories where the characters are rich and full and not merely plot devices. Dragonflight is a story where the bad guy isn’t a person at all but rather a societies apathy and a natural scourge for which that society is unprepared.
Crystal Singer – Anne McCaffrey – Next to Dragonflight, Crystal Singer is McCaffrey’s finest work (apologies to The Ship Who Sang) and once again pits man against his environment with well drawn fully developed characters. Who would deliberately choose a life where senility was a guarantee in order to provide communications technology for others?
The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever – Stephen R. Donaldson – Naturally people will make a link between Covenant and Tolkien’s trilogy but there is far more to the metaphysical exploration of responsibility and power in Donaldson’s series. The first three books are a must read the balance of the series is not really necessary – smacked a little of going to the well once too often though the ending was satisfying and one of the more memorable characters in the series is in the second trilogy.
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson – Doesn’t really need an explanation as Dr. Jekyll believes that there is a good and an evil side to humans and that with the application of medical science one can be separated from the other. It is tightly written and a brilliant book there is a reason it has been made and remade into movie versions so many times.
20000 Leagues Under The Sea – Jules Verne – Verne – Really I could have chosen anything by Verne but 20000 Leagues Under The Sea offers a hero who is less than perfect, technology which is leaps and bounds ahead of anything available at the time the book was written. The entire Verne body of work is deserving of your bookshelf but if you could only choose one the odyssey of Captain Nemo.