Hidden Gems for Lifelong Fans of Fantasy & Sci-Fi

Posted by Hayley on August 20, 2018
Goodreads SFF Week 2018

You know all that is gold does not glitter. You're no stranger to stranger lands. You don't forget your towel. For a seasoned traveler of fictional realms and worlds like yourself, we skipped the classics to help you discover a hidden gem.

To create our list, we chose books with fewer than 300,000 adds—for context, members have added The Fellowship of the Ring to their Goodreads shelves more than 2 million times—and only selected titles with at least a four-star rating. Then we broke down the results into recommendations for fans of J.R.R. Tolkien, Douglas Adams, Octavia Butler, George R.R. Martin, and Robert A. Heinlein.

Explore our picks below, add what catches your eye to your Want to Read shelf, and then tell us your own under-the-radar favorites in the comments!


If you love J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings
(or good-versus-evil adventures with stalwart underdogs)…

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If you love Douglas Adam's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
(or hilarious space romps featuring a quirky sidekick or two)…

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If you love Octavia Butler's Kindred
(or thought-provoking journeys through time and space)…

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If you love George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones
(or gritty sagas full of betrayal, political intrigue, magic, and mayhem)…

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If you love Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land
(or otherworldly dramas with a different outlook on life and humanity)…

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What's your favorite underrated fantasy or sci-fi novel? Share it with us in the comments!


Comments Showing 1-50 of 153 (153 new)


message 1: by Juliet (new)

Juliet Smith Probably, either Garth Nix's Abhorsen series or the Dreamhunter duology.


message 2: by tash (new)

tash Juliet wrote: "Probably, either Garth Nix's Abhorsen series or the Dreamhunter duology."

I second Abhorsen as definitely underrated.


message 3: by Holly (new)

Holly I already have Lord Dunsany on my to read......and I'm considering adding Ill Met in Lankhmar (Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, #1-2) by Fritz Leiber


message 4: by Ian Miller (new)

Ian Miller I recently discovered the works of classic sci-fi and fantasy novelist Poul Anderson - he should definitely be more known!


message 6: by Rindis (last edited Aug 20, 2018 10:13AM) (new)

Rindis I wouldn't call many of those 'hidden' gems, they're well-known works that a 'lifelong fan' is probably already aware of.

Though I would certainly skip Fuzzy Nation and go back to the original H. Beam Piper Little Fuzzy (and all of his other works, he deserves to be better known than he is).

The Wanderer is the best Fritz Leiber I've ever read (I find most of Lankhmar so-so), and is a little-known member of the 'global disaster movie' genre.

Another old gem are the Harold Shea stories of Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague deCamp.

The Mote in God's Eye is definitely Niven and Pournelle at their best; Niven at his best would be A World Out of Time

Early James P. Hogan is very good with Inherit the Earth being a good scientific mystery, and Code of the Life-Maker is his best.

Over on the fantasy side, there's Diane Duane's Young Wizards series, in something of the same vein as A Wrinkle in Time, and most of Barbara Hambly's books, most notably the Sun Wolf and Starhawk series.


message 7: by Wendy (new)

Wendy Goerl One of my favorite series is Diane Duane and Peter Morwood's "Space Cops." I got the first book in a grab bag, and I had to find the other two. Too bad the series never got beyond three books.


message 8: by Patrick (new)

Patrick Mcnelis To create our list, we chose books with fewer than 300,000 adds...

Maybe you should have gone with a much smaller number. Some of these books are well known by fans of the genre. The Mote in God's Eye being one...and simultaneously being one that should have been omitted. It's not a good book.


message 9: by Adger (new)

Adger Williams Juliet wrote: "Probably, either Garth Nix's Abhorsen series or the Dreamhunter duology."

The Abhorsen books (Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen, Clariel, Goldenhand, Beyond the Wall) certainly ought to be on these lists somewhere!


message 10: by Charles (new)

Charles The Reality Dysfunction -- awesome book that blends science fiction and horror. First and best of The Night's Dawn trilogy.


message 11: by Barbara (new)

Barbara One of my favorites, which I never see on other lists is "Earth" by David Brin. Also "Kiln People". Then, of course, all the 'robot books' and everything else by Asimov. "Childhoods End" et. al. by Clarke. Everything by T. Sturgeon, Heinlein,


message 12: by Lori S. (new)

Lori S. Ian wrote: "I recently discovered the works of classic sci-fi and fantasy novelist Poul Anderson - he should definitely be more known!"

Depends on the generation I think. Poul Anderson is very well known in science fiction circles.


message 13: by Howard (new)

Howard Freeman The Dervish House by Ian McDonald, one of the best sci-fi books of the last 5 years.


message 14: by Dana Rich (new)

Dana Rich I realize that this comment is a bit off the subject, but I would like to ask why goodreads insists on lumping fantasy and science fiction under one genre? The two are vastly disparate genres. True they sometimes overlap but very rarely. Fantasy is fantasy and Sci Fi is Sci Fi. I wish the literary world would recognize that.


message 15: by Lori S. (last edited Aug 20, 2018 11:11AM) (new)

Lori S. Dana wrote: "I realize that this comment is a bit off the subject, but I would like to ask why goodreads insists on lumping fantasy and science fiction under one genre? The two are vastly disparate genres. True..."

Because they are related genres and spring from the same place that little "r" romance, westerns, and mysteries came from - which is why they mix and match fairly easily and one can get really fuzzy about the line between, especially when it comes to subgenres like space opera (which can include Psi abilities which in fantasy would be magic).


message 16: by Carla (new)

Carla Corbin John Brunner, Stand on Zanzibar
Walter Miller, Canticle for Leibowitz
Don DeLillo, Ratner's Star
Alexei Panshin, Rite of Passage
Cecelia Holland, Floating Worlds

Not necessarily hidden, but should be on any list of bests.


message 17: by Odin (new)

Odin Omdal Checked the list to see if Children of Time was included, but alas.

Strong recommendation: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2...


message 18: by Matt (new)

Matt Dana wrote: "I realize that this comment is a bit off the subject, but I would like to ask why goodreads insists on lumping fantasy and science fiction under one genre? The two are vastly disparate genres. True..."

absolutely not off-topic.

i have ALWAYS wondered at this "pairing" of Sci-Fi and Fantasy. i've probably asked GoodReads about it as well.

i never get an answer that satisfies.


message 19: by Diane (new)

Diane Space Prison by Tom Godwin.


message 20: by Juliet (new)

Juliet Smith Adger wrote: "Juliet wrote: "Probably, either Garth Nix's Abhorsen series or the Dreamhunter duology."

The Abhorsen books (Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen, Clariel, Goldenhand, Beyond the Wall) certainly ought to be ..."

I agree, since it features some original concepts as well as badass women.


message 21: by Dana Rich (new)

Dana Rich Lori S. wrote: "Dana wrote: "I realize that this comment is a bit off the subject, but I would like to ask why goodreads insists on lumping fantasy and science fiction under one genre? The two are vastly disparate..."

I'm not buying the reply by Lori S. If all these genres come from romance then why are there any genres? Also Psi abilities are not magic. That is a physically scientific matter that has not been proved or disproved to exist. It probably more correctly falls under evolution... a scientific study. Is faster than light travel considered magic?


message 22: by Rindis (new)

Rindis "Romance" is a 19th Century term for adventure-style stories, and most modern genres actually flow out it.

https://literaryterms.net/romance/

Fantasy didn't really separate out from SF as a separate label until... oh probably the 50s or 60s.

As for confusion of genres, I consider the three branches of speculative fiction to be:
Alternate History: 'what if history were different'
Fantasy: 'what if physics were different'
Science Fiction: 'what if engineering were different'

It can be hard for a lot of people to see the difference between the last two.


message 23: by Nikki (new)

Nikki Steven Erikson's epic/high fantasy series Tales of the Malazan Book of the Fallen (first book Gardens of the Moon). Recommended for those who enjoy a challenging read and don't mind being thrown in at the deep end - your patience will pay massive dividends, he is my all time favourite fantasy author.


message 24: by Dana Rich (new)

Dana Rich Rindis wrote: ""Romance" is a 19th Century term for adventure-style stories, and most modern genres actually flow out it.

https://literaryterms.net/romance/

Fantasy didn't really separate out from SF as a separ..."


So, Rindis, are you saying that SF is separate from Fantasy as of the 50's and 60's?

I find your divisions between speculative fiction sort of simplistic. What do dragons have to do with physics? And I'm not saying that all Fantasy deals with dragons. I'm just saying that some fantasy doesn't really deal so much with physics. Some fantasy has no magic.


message 25: by Matthew (new)

Matthew "or gritty sagas full of betrayal, political intrigue, magic, and mayhem"

Malazan Book of the Fallen (Steven Erikson)!


message 26: by Siobhan (new)

Siobhan Really? Raymond Feist, Joe Abercrombie and Peter Brett? Hidden gems? Hiding in plain sight maybe...
Maybe look at books with considerably lower than 300,000 adds!


message 27: by Rindis (new)

Rindis Dana, it's meant to be boiled down to its essence as much as possible. The point is to be simple. And if there's no magic at all... I'm not sure if I'd call it fantasy any more than I would Pern.


message 28: by Rokas (new)

Rokas Bernotas I like writings of China Miéville a lot. A very rich imagination.


message 29: by Dirk (new)

Dirk Van A fire Upon the Deep is a five star book for me.
Overlooked... maybe:
Excession by Iain M. Banks
The Stars My Destination - Alfred Bester
Lord of Light - Roger Zelazny

And The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin is pretty amazing.
All three 5 stars!


message 30: by loboMuerto (new)

loboMuerto Fafrhd and the Grey Mouser as "good-versus-evil adventures"? Have you guys read the books?


message 31: by Mark (new)

Mark Tallen I'm most definitely looking forward to reading Ilium by Dan Simmons. I've heard so many good things about it. His Hyperion Cantos novels are masterworks so I have high hopes for Ilium.


message 32: by Sandra (new)

Sandra Illusion and Identity (2-book set) by Christa Yelich-Koth - psychological thrillers in a sci-fi setting. Hidden gems, indeed.


message 33: by Andy (new)

Andy Zach Underappreciated fantasy:
The Forgotten Beasts of Eld - Patricia McKillip
A Man Rides Through - Stephen Donaldson


message 34: by David (new)

David Mead Favorite Heinlein book that no one I talk with has read is "The Door into Summer", I even named one of my cats Pete in this books honor. I also love the story of where Di Vinci came from.


message 35: by David (new)

David Mead loboMuerto wrote: "Fafrhd and the Grey Mouser as "good-versus-evil adventures"? Have you guys read the books?"

Yes, one of my favorites.


message 36: by Lori S. (last edited Aug 20, 2018 02:01PM) (new)

Lori S. Dana wrote: "I'm not buying the reply by Lori S. If all these genres come from romance then why are there any genres?"

Because each developed into a separate genre over time and through different means driven by the audiences that read them.

"Also Psi abilities are not magic. That is a physically scientific matter that has not been proved or disproved to exist. It probably more correctly falls under evolution... a scientific study."

I did not claim that Psi abilities are magic. To clarify, what in science fiction would be called Psi or esper abilities would become magic in fantasy. The difference is in setting, time, and the intent of the story. Therefore, what in Kurtz's The Chronicles of the Deryni: Deryni Rising / Deryni Checkmate / High Deryni series, which are in a pseudo-medieval setting, is magic, including portaling, mind powers, moving objects using an incantation/spell, would become teleportaion, telepathy, telekinesis in Pegasus in Flight by McCaffrey (set in the future) - but they are basically the same things at their heart. That's why I say the line is fuzzy when it comes to subgenres like space opera (Star Wars anyone - ya'know "the force"?) and even steampunk.

"Is faster than light travel considered magic?"
If you're going to be a strict scientist about it, then yes, because FTL breaks the laws of physics as we currently know them. If, however, you're willing to suspend your disbelief, then no, it's not magic per se.


message 37: by Jo-ann (new)

Jo-ann Pieber Erikson is hardly under-appreciated. Except perhaps by me - 'o the horror, the horror'. Read it and Appreciate it, twice, but I'm still a bit befuddled by it all when I'm not sighing at all the sturm und drangst. Just so Heavy. Fabulous Writer though and well worth, er, tackling at some point when you can bear it. Or you're a tougher nut than I.
Anyhoo, my recc is not 'light' by any means, but All Michelle Sagara-West (she goes under each surname singly, as well as Together for different book-series), are, Underappreciated. If you're a 'life-long fantasy' devotee, and you read widely in the genre, you'll at the very least Like her books, if not LoveloveLove them as I do. Complicated. Unique. Multi-layered. Lots of magic, world-building, inter-relationships politically and inter-personally. Adventure and conflict, high points and low. Intrigue and Humour. She's at the very top of my list - and it includes Most of the 'top 100' and way beyond. Word to the wise - if the name thing isn't twisty enough, the series order gets complicated too - check on her webpage or bookseriesinorder to get it right. You'll be glad you did.


message 38: by Andy (new)

Andy Zach Two more little read fantasy books that are quite good:
Maurice and his Amazing Rodents
The Carpet People - both by Sir Terry Pratchett


message 39: by Zachery (new)

Zachery Shaw As far as underrated/hidden gem science fiction goes, I think "The Water Sign" by C. S. Samulski tops my list. Dystopian coming of age story that includes several modern themes and issues; ranging from child soldiers, to corporate political influence, to environmental destruction. A must read story in my opinion.

The Water Sign


message 40: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Koz Holy moly, where is Ursula K Le Guin?


message 41: by Lori S. (new)

Lori S. Sarah wrote: "Holy moly, where is Ursula K Le Guin?"

Is she underrater or underread?


message 42: by Randal (new)

Randal Dirk wrote: "A fire Upon the Deep is a five star book for me.
Overlooked... maybe:
Excession by Iain M. Banks
The Stars My Destination - Alfred Bester
Lord of Light - Roger Zelazny

And The Broken Earth Trilogy..."


Bester was a revelation for me ... lots of SF writers cite it as influential but it's fading from a lot of the "top SF" lists. Worth hunting a copy down.


message 43: by Karen M (new)

Karen M Ian wrote: "I recently discovered the works of classic sci-fi and fantasy novelist Poul Anderson - he should definitely be more known!"

I read him for the first time last year when I came across a 1985 edition of The Corridors of Time. Classic scifi.


message 44: by Ellen (new)

Ellen some of the ones l liked the best:
The Water Knife- wonderful
Culture Series, particular the early ones
The Quantum Thief
A Deepness in the Sky
Left hand of Darkness
Parable of the Sower


message 45: by Baldurian (new)

Baldurian Three suggestions:
This Perfect Day by Ira Levin,
Brain Wave by Poul Anderson and
Liege-Killer by Christopher Hinz


message 46: by flash (new)

flash I'm going to recommend a fairly recent book: The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne. Set in the near future, in India and across Africa. Very involving and not like anything I've read before.


message 47: by Dawn (new)

Dawn Carter I really enjoyed The Watcher Key by Troy Hooker


message 48: by Elisabeth (new)

Elisabeth A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge blew my mind, one of the best all-time SF books, IMHO.


message 49: by nitya (new)

nitya Garth Nix, Juliet Marillier and Roshani Chokshi are my personal favorites :)


message 50: by chani (last edited Aug 20, 2018 05:01PM) (new)

chani And what should I read if I love Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind?


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