Home > Book Reviews, Philip K. Dick > Philip K Dick – The Top Ten SF Novels

Philip K Dick – The Top Ten SF Novels

It’s taken me ten years. I’ve read each of Philip K Dick’s 34 science fiction novels at least once and as many as four or five times. Now I’ve finally ready to declare my top ten, in ranked order to boot! This is an entirely subjective list, of course. Feel free to add your own top ten PKD SF novels in the comments below.

A note on inclusions and exclusions. Given that I am limiting myself to PKD’s science fiction novels here, I am excluding novels that I would probably consider to be in the top ten overall, but aren’t science fiction (namely The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, but maybe Confessions of a Crap Artist too). I am excluding Nick and the Glimmung on the basis that it is a children’s science fiction novel, and not a particularly successful work overall.

Without further ado, here’s my top ten in ascending order of merit. All 10 of these novels are part of Gollancz’s SF Masterworks series:

10. Doctor Bloodmoney, Or How We Got Along After the Bomb

This novel features probably the strangest after-the-bomb narrative you’ll ever come across. A weird pastoral fantasy with a huge cast of characters, it is somewhat less than the sum of its parts.

Link to my review


9. Time Out of Joint

The first memorable novel of PKD’s career, and his only novel of the fifties to retain much of its relevance today. Aside from the last sixty or so pages, this is genius.

Link to my review


8. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

A fast-moving, spartan police thriller forever immortalised by Blade Runner. It’s got some weird stuff in it (Mercerism?), but it’s a sheer pleasure to read. An effective piece of intelligent entertainment.

Link to my review


7. VALIS

Most people would have VALIS higher in their top ten than this. It’s certainly among PKD’s most important novels, but here, I believe, the material got away from him.

Link to my review

6. Now Wait for Last Year

The quintessential PKD novel. Time travel, illicit drugs, an alien invasion and an ailing world leader (actually, several of them the same, and they’re all based on Benito Mussolini). What’s not to like?

Link to my review

5. A Scanner Darkly

PKD’s anti-drug novel is not only a vicious indictment of the sixties drug culture, but it’s also one of the most moving works he would produce in his lifetime. And there’s plenty of laughs along the way, even if it is gallows humour.

Link to my review


4. The Man in the High Castle

Sombre, slow moving, sedate…but about the Japanese and Nazis having won WWII. This is a classic that will be remembered long after the rest of us have been forgotten.

Link to my review


3. The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch

Widely regarded as PKD’s best novel, it’s hard to dispute that this is the pinnacle of the man’s career. Try making a film out of this.

Link to my review


2. Ubik

Aside from the first 70 pages, Ubik is the best thing PKD ever wrote. He just needed to edit it properly, which he never did. But the rest is so brilliant that all objections fade away.

Link to my review


1. Martian Time-Slip

A controversial choice for No. 1 perhaps, but for me this is the best thing PKD wrote. It doesn’t hurt that it was the book that turned me on to the great man in the first place. A number of scenes will haunt me forever.

Link to my review


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  1. Thomas
    April 12, 2012 at 8:45 am

    Regarding your comments about Martian Time-Slip, when does the protagonist recount his flight from Earth? What happens? I can’t remember that part of the book.

    I agree with you that it’s his best. I adore it.

  2. Graham
    May 8, 2012 at 7:30 am

    If Martian Time-Slip isn’t my favourite it’s only because A Scanner Darkly is.

  3. erik
    July 30, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    Really enjoyed reading your top 10 and appreciate the time you took to read all his work. Bringing back some memories. Re-reading Ubik right now. Haven’t read martian time-slip…guess its time to put that on the list.

    • guysalvidge
      July 30, 2012 at 7:14 pm

      That’s fine, Erik! Reading all of PKD’s work was a pleasure, not a chore. In fact I’m about to start reading Confessions of a Crap Artist again tonight. Yes, Martian Time-Slip is a must read. I envy you not having experienced it yet 😀

  4. Anthony
    May 22, 2013 at 7:01 am

    Thanks for this list.

    I was given a copy of Ubik, and I ended up absolutely loving it. You’re right to point out that the first 60 pages or so move pretty slowly, but it ends up being incredible by the ending.

    Based on your suggestions, I think I’m going to pick up Martian Time-Slip next.

    Cheers.

    • guysalvidge
      May 22, 2013 at 8:04 am

      Thanks 🙂 You won’t be sorry to have read Martian Time-Slip. Wonderful novel.

  5. Dan
    June 10, 2013 at 1:47 am

    amazing article thanks, been looking for others of his work to read and this helped a lot.

  6. Steve
    July 18, 2013 at 5:25 am

    The scene where the protagonist recounts his journey from earth??? I can’t recall that scene either, unfortunately.

    • guysalvidge
      July 18, 2013 at 9:56 am

      Sorry, I guess I worded that poorly in the initial review. I meant the chapters where it goes through him imagining the doctor’s skeleton (on Earth) and then deciding he had to leave for Mars.

  7. Brendan
    January 31, 2014 at 12:54 am

    Can you give you’re next 10 PKD books?

    • guysalvidge
      January 31, 2014 at 8:07 am

      I haven’t thought about this for years now, but here goes:

      Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said
      A Maze of Death
      The World Jones Made
      Galactic Pot Healer
      Eye in the Sky
      Lies Inc (The Unteleported Man)
      The Divine Invasion
      Radio Free Albemuth
      Clans of the Alphane Moon
      The Simulacra

      • Brendan
        February 1, 2014 at 2:01 am

        Thank you very much, I’m reading them all, just finished ubik, and I have TMiTHC and Martian time slip on the way. Extremely excited. I also just received Valis, and I started with Do Androids, and Flow my tears.

  8. guysalvidge
    February 1, 2014 at 8:09 am

    You’ll probably like VALIS but don’t expect it to be like his other books, because it isn’t. High Castle and Martian Time Slip are just fabulous though.

  9. Zeno
    June 4, 2014 at 11:21 am

    It is nice to know Martian Time Slip is also someone else’s favorite. It does not get mentioned as much as Ubik,Man in the High Castle but it is in some ways superior to both of those classics. That is pretty high praise. John Clute may be the only person who agrees with the two of us about the book.

  10. guysalvidge
    June 4, 2014 at 6:13 pm

    It may be in part because it was the book that made me fall in love with the work of PKD, but Martian Time-Slip is the perfect PKD novel for me. I think PKD himself had a high opinion of it, and Sutin certainly rates it highly in his biography. But it doesn’t get the acclaim of 3-4 other PKD novels, I agree. It would be somewhat easier to film than Ubik, too…

  11. Stuart Nichols
    September 3, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    Pleasantly surprised on the top ten Philip K Dick books. Martian Time Slip for me has been the stand out pretty much since I read it. Possibly more than any other it hooked up the ideas, classic paranoia, and alienation. A boom I know many struggle to finish. I love it.

    • guysalvidge
      September 3, 2014 at 12:30 pm

      Absolutely. In fact I am due for a re-read, given that it has been at least four years since I last read it.

  12. January 6, 2015 at 6:16 am

    Just bought Martian Time-slip on the strength of your recommendation. My first ever PKD read was The Game-Players of Titan.

  13. July 9, 2015 at 4:14 pm

    Hello Guy,

    I had my Philip K. Dick binge in the 90s but am revisiting some classics and a few not read atm. The new tv series adapting ‘The Man in the High Castle’ (my fav PKD) was likely the catalyst. I am a bit of a completist too and have never read ‘Martian Time-Slip’ but will start shortly due to your ranking.

    A question, what do you know of Gregg Rickman’s:
    Philip K. Dick: The Last Testament (Foreword By Robert Silverberg)
    Philip K. Dick: In His Own Words (Foreword By Roger Zelazny)
    To the High Castle, Philip K. Dick: A Life, 1928-1962
    books? They seem hard to find.

    Cheers
    @Darcy1968

    • guysalvidge
      July 9, 2015 at 4:51 pm

      Darcy, I am familiar with Rickman’s works but the only one I’ve read is PKD In His Own Words. They are expensive secondhand and although I would like to read them, they’ve never been top priority. I’ve been waiting for a reprint that apparently isn’t coming. I’ve seen the pilot of the new series and was quite impressed.

      • July 9, 2015 at 5:07 pm

        Yes, I thought the pilot remarkably good too!

        Our local librarians are very helpful so I emailed a request for them to sort out an inter-library loan, if possible for the three books listed. I have used booko.com.au to order a copy of the biography by Sutin, which looks like a must read for any PKD fan.

      • guysalvidge
        July 9, 2015 at 6:27 pm

        Sutin is certainly the place to start! I just wish we had a 700 page PKD bio, but none yet exists.

  14. July 16, 2015 at 7:08 pm

    “Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said” has really surprised me…absolutely fantastic read and should be everyone’s top ten 😉

    • Brice
      July 19, 2015 at 11:23 am

      Which would you say is his most humorous novel?

      • guysalvidge
        July 19, 2015 at 6:17 pm

        Hmm, good question. PKD is rarely laugh out loud funny, and some of his best work is pretty serious (Martian Time-Slip, The Man in the High Castle). Most of the sixties novels are fairly amusing. I’d say there are a few jokes in the likes of Ubik, 3 Stigmata. A Scanner Darkly might be the funniest the lot, but it’s the blackest type of humour imaginable.

      • July 20, 2015 at 7:35 pm

        PKD himself said that ‘The Man Who Japed’ is his most humorous novel.

  15. Brice
    July 19, 2015 at 9:52 pm

    Thanks much! Finally getting time to read a good book, and always wanted to read Dick’s works so looking for something that involves dark/sarcastic humor, but with a message that makes you think at the end (Vonnegut(ish)).

    Of the three you recommended (or other), is Scanner Darkly the one that best fits the bill then?

    Appreciate it.

  16. guysalvidge
    July 19, 2015 at 10:59 pm

    Yes, I’d say Scanner is closest to something like Slaughterhouse Five for sure.

  17. Johan
    April 18, 2017 at 5:25 am

    I will read “The Penultimate Truth”, only because it is NEVER mentioned on any of these kinds of “best lists”, not even on the Dick second tier lists. : /

    (Well, not “only” because of that. I like its story premise too.)

    • guysalvidge
      April 18, 2017 at 12:04 pm

      Let me know what you think of it, Johan 🙂

  18. May 1, 2017 at 1:50 pm

    Awesome list.

  19. Lisa
    May 7, 2017 at 1:11 pm

    Hi Guy,
    Long time no see. Love your list. Scanner darkly definitely tops my but also TMiTHC.
    Going to read some more of your suggestions so thank you!

    • guysalvidge
      May 7, 2017 at 1:17 pm

      Thanks Lisa. I love both of those books so you will probably like most if not all of my top ten 🙂

      Cheers

      Guy

  20. Jon
    May 14, 2017 at 12:25 am

    Great stuff, thanks. Ploughing through this list.

  1. August 1, 2015 at 8:35 am

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