We all know about Lord of The Rings and I, Robot, but what are some equally influential and unmissable SFF novels that, well, you might have missed?

Hopefully a few of these will be new to you - I envy anyone reading these for the first time. Just don't be surprised if something about them seems eerily familiar…

As ever, we'd love to hear your recommendations for overlooked or cult classics on Twitter.

Science Fiction


Hyperion is a lyrical space opera, overflowing with wildly imaginative concepts, storytelling devices and a breathtaking exploration of a galaxy-spanning AI. Spoken of in reverent tones by its cult following, I think it deserves to be shouted from the rooftops instead.

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The Dark Forest

Us westerners don’t get treated to much in the way of localised Chinese literature, but with an Amazon series purportedly in development, Cixin Liu’s series is about to take over the world. Read this theoretical and hugely ambitious hard sci-fi ‘before it was cool’.

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Ok, technically a graphic novel, but a defining moment in science-fantasy storytelling nonetheless. Saga tells the story of two fugitive parents (and their forbidden union) against the backdrop of a brutal, pointless war of attrition between their respective races. It’s so vividly drawn and wonderfully written, it’s not to be missed even if you usually prefer a thousand words to a picture.

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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Blade Runner set the cyberpunk aesthetic in tone, but K. Dick’s novel that inspired it is a more interesting morality play, and seems to be less widely-read in the cyberpunk canon than Neuromancer et al. Great in its own right, makes for a fascinating comparison to the film and all that it inspired.

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The Eternal Champion: Elric of Melniboné

Straddling the line between sci-fi and fantasy is Moorcock’s epic Eternal Champion cycle which hops between dimensions, chronologies and human incarnations. The most influential of which is arguably the albino, drug-dependent Elric of Melnibon√©. By turns intimate, surreal and epic and told with the kind of pacing that would leave even Robert E. Howard breathless, Elric is really one of a kind.

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The Earthsea Quartet

The overarching narrative of these four interconnected stories concerns the wizard Ged, the diverse, titular archipelago and themes of what makes for good vs evil magic and the responsibility the powerful have to the weak. Margaret Atwood has called Earthsea “one of the wellsprings of fantasy literature” – but the book’s influence is most clearly understood when you realise it helped popularize the idea of a ‘wizard school’. And maybe without that, we wouldn’t have quite the same books from the likes of Rowling and Rothfuss.

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The Gormenghast Trilogy

Often celebrated as the origin of ‘fantasy of manners’, this is a gothic, non-magical fantasy with an unparalleled cast of Machiavellian oddballs and prose that stands up to, if not surpasses, its contemporary Lord of The Rings. Also spawned a criminally underrated BBC series starring a very young Jonathan Rhys Meyers.

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Assassin's Apprentice

Assassin’s Apprentice evolves from courtly intrigue to epic fantasy, while also folding in an enigmatic and costly magic system, truly epic and heartbreaking romance and the iconic character of ‘Fool’. The trilogy is stunning, and the beautifully sketched relationship between protagonist Fitz and his Wolf-bond surely set the template for animal-companions in plenty of other books.

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The Lies of Locke Lamora

The most recently published on this list, TLoLL is an almost worryingly compelling tale of rags to riches, cunning criminal underworlds and Locke himself, one of the most dashing and unforgettable protagonists in recent memory. This con/heist/fantasy fusion is sure to prove its influence in the time it takes your watch to be swiped from your wrist.

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