Top Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors

by SimeyC

Science fiction and fantasy once were considered niche genres; today, with many movie adaptations, the genre has moved into the mainstream with many brilliant authors.

Compiling a list of great science fiction and fantasy authors is a difficult thing to do. It would be possible to create a separate list for great science fiction authors and great fantasy authors, but as so many authors cross-over between the two genres I decided to produce one list.

Rather than producing a list of books featuring the best science fiction and the best fantasy, I felt it was far more beneficial to provide a comprehensive list of authors and highlight some of their best work.

The list I provide is not a comprehensive one and I will continue to add new authors as I find them, but for me the 60+ authors I list here represent the best in the business. I have included some writers who are not ‘brilliant’ but gain entry in my list simply because of either their influence or the way they inspire people to write.

Writers like Robert E Howard and Salvatore are not the greatest authors, but through their writing they have helped to solidify a sub-genre within fantasy that would probably not exist without them. Similarly, J K Rowling and Christopher Paolini are not great authors, but their books have helped to bring many teenagers back to reading and their popularity has led to an upsurge in the readership of top science fiction and fantasy.

I have therefore added under each author the reasons why they are on my list:

Classic - These are books that are brilliantly written, influential and contain all the elements that make a great sci-fi book.

Influential – perhaps not a great author, but has influenced a lot of great writers

Popular – good authors who have a huge following and have help grow the genres of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

I do point out that books like Harry Potter are great ‘story telling’ books, and many will argue that if a book doesn’t have a great story, then no matter how great the author is, the book fails.

Curufin and Celegorm (Lord of the Rings)
Curufin and Celegorm (Lord of the Rings)

Do you like Science Fiction and Fantasy?

A to Z list of Great Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers.

Douglas Adams

Reasons: Influential, Popular; Best book(s): The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy; Genre: Science Fiction

Douglas Adams is one of my personal favorite authors; his Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy is predominately a fun sprawling space adventure with a strong humorous tilt. Adams’s style is very free flowing, full of puns, but more importantly shows an amazing ability to create a believable story full of vivid characters and worlds. Part of the beauty of Adams is his ability to write absurd plots but make them logical and somehow real – sadly Adams passed away during the making of the movie and I for one will miss him.

Hitchhikers Guide to the galaxy is a huge commercial success – the interesting storyline featuring Arthur Dent a simple human who happens to see the end of the world and his buddy Ford Prefect, a journalist for the Guide. As they meander around the galaxy meeting (amongst others) the leader of the universe, a robot with a brain the size of a planet and many other colorful characters we are struck by the endearing nature of the characters and despite the trouble they often get into, you know they will always end up succeeding no matter how improbable (in joke here!).

It simply is one of the best ‘fun’ science fiction series I have read.

Piers Anthony

Reasons: Popular; Best Book(s): Xanth Series, Incarnations of Immortality; Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy

 Piers Anthony was one of the first authors I picked up as a teenager. His ability to write in many genres impressed me as did his ability to write serious novels or pun filled comedy novels. His books are penned in a friendly style, although his ability to bring in complex science and somehow explain them to us normal readers is incredible. He has a particular penchant in creating series that have a very serious underlying theme, and often these are based on popular myths or beliefs – some of his writing has great commentary on modern day society and beliefs.

I have read a lot of Piers Anthony books; the Incarnations of Immortality especially impressed me for their ability to bring in multiple religious theologies and also some quantum mechanics – the writing is always logical and fluent. Piers has the ability to describe situations very well and you always know what is happening in his books.

 

Suggested Reading - Perhaps the Best Example of Fantasy.

The Lord of the Rings: 50th Anniversary, One Vol. Edition

This simply is the best fantasy book of all time, and is up there as a true classic. It contains fantastic prose and poetry and has a very complex and involved plot with amazing characters

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Isaac Asimov

Reasons: Classic, Influential, Popular; Best Book(s): Foundation Series; Genre: Science Fiction, Mysteries, Fantasy

Isaac Asimov is considered by many as the best science fiction writer of all time, and it’s hard to argue with that. His writing is masterful, filled with science and amazing stories; his ability to bring in hard science and futuristic science (sometimes prophetical) is incredible and somehow he manages to convey believability in every word.

His art speaks for itself and with the over 500 books he has written he is by far one of the most influential and important science fiction writers of all time, and should be considered a master of literature.

The Foundation Series, commonly known as the best science fiction of all time, covers 15 novels and shorts stories written byAsimov and six novels written by other authors. As the books unfold and we see Hari Seldon create two foundations to ensure his ‘predicted’ vision of a second great empire come to fruition, we become amazed by the attention to detail, the reality and the amazing writing that encompasses all of the novels.

Asimov is a master writer but more importantly a master story teller – his stories that encompass hundreds of years are all intertwined and linked in complex ways, but we never lose ourselves as we read. With an amazing foresight Asimov has predicted technologies that are now common place today, but in the 50s and 60s (when the original books were written) he managed to convey the fact that these technologies would exist – he was a visionary.

His influence on the world of Science Fiction (and science in general) is amazing, and as you read most modern science fiction you’ll see the ghost of Asimov lurking.

Ray Bradbury

Reasons: Influential, Popular, Classic; Best Book(s): The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451; Genre: fantasy, horror, mystery

Ray Bradbury is a prolific writer who was published in many genres. Most well know for science fiction he bought a reality to his writing that was incredible. His Martian Chronicles series tackles a possible future in which humans colonize mars and deals with humanity and its fear of the unknown, Xenophobia and terror very well – it is a very cleverly constructed chronicle.

Fahrenheit 451 still stands out today as one of the best utopian novels of all time – his ability to meld a real society full of dissent anger and fear but make it feel so real and so possible sets his writing aside, he truly is among the best.

Terry Brooks

Reasons: Popular; Best Book(s): Sword of Shannara series; Genre: Fantasy

Many will say that Terry Brooks simply copied Lord of the Rings, and there is no doubt that his Sword of Shannara does have similarities to Tolkien’s masterpiece. However, out of all the Lord of the Rings clones, Brooks’s Shannara series is the best.

It is very well written and conceived, and with the related series has more details than any other fantasy series aside from Lord of the Rings (and perhaps R E Feist’s work). Brooks has the ability to bring a world and its characters to life entwining stories that link together at the deepest level even though they span generations.

As the books develop you get a sense that there is far more than a simple clone of Lord of the Rings especially with the ‘pre’ series which tackles the devastation to humanity and the beginnings of magic and the magical races in the world of Shannara. Brooks has the rare talent of being able to create a logical detail that doesn’t contain many flaws and for that alone he should be considered a great fantasy writer.

Suggested Reading - a Brilliant Example of Science Fiction.

Ender's Game (The Ender Quintet)

While not everyone's favorite, this whole series contained so much - xenophobia, politics, intrigue and pure science fiction - Ender's game was simply a great book to read.

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Jim Butcher

Reasons: Popular; Best Book(s): Codex of Alera, Dresden Files; Genre: Fantasy

I picked up Butcher’s Codex of Alera series last year and didn’t put them down until I’d completed the series. Jim Butcher is an excellent writer, and as demonstrated with his Harry Dresden series has the ability to tackle totally different styles of writing with alacrity.

His Codex of Alera is a traditional sword and sorcery fantasy adventure with your usual gamut of heroes and villains, but somehow this sprawling epic as something seldom seen in these type of epic fantasy series – it has humanity and humility. Butcher has the ability to produce some amazing characters and show you their idiosyncrasies and fears with an intensity that is unusual in this genre.

His Dresden series is one of the better ‘wizard in the real world’ series, and combines real life with ‘supernatural’ life so well that you somehow end up believing that this series could be real! It’s that ability within his writing that makes Butcher stand out for me.

Orson Scott Card

Reasons: Classic, Influential, Popular; Best Book(s): Ender’s Game series; Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy

Orson Scott Card is one of the best writers I currently read; his ability to produce books that tackle moral issues on many levels, while adding a certain mysticism with a realism that is uncanny mark him as a talented individual.

His series Ender’s Game is one of the most complex and satisfying series I have read; the first book Ender’s Game is arguably one of the best action science fiction stories of all time. Based in a battle school as humanity faces extinction from the aggressive ‘buggers’, we follow the story of Ender and how he faces bullies and other diverse situations at the battle school as humanity prepares its best and brightest for an upcoming battle. Ender’s game is written with brilliant style making you understand the inner depths and depressions of Ender as he tries to deal with the arduous life on the battle school.

This book alone shows Card’s brilliant story telling abilities.

Other Great Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors

The following authors merit at least a mention - those with a * next to them will be added to the main list - just have to refresh my memory by re-reading some of their work:

  • Poul Anderson
  • Peter Beagle
  • Greg Bear
  • Anne Bishop
  • Steven Brust
  • Lois McMaster Bujold's
  • Edgar Rice Burroughs
  • Lewis Carol
  • Jack Chalker
  • Michale Chrichton
  • Glen Cook
  • Sean Delaney *
  • E.R. Eddison
  • Kate Elliott
  • Neil Gaiman
  • William Gibson *
  • Terry Goodkind
  • Guy Gavriel Kay
  • Harry Harrison
  • John Twelve Hawks
  • Robert Jordan
  • Alexander Key
  • Stephen King
  • Tanith Lee
  • C S Lewis
  • Anne McCaffrey
  • China Mievalle
  • Elizabeth Moon
  • Michael Moorcock
  • Alan Moore
  • Garth Nix
  • Frederick Pohl
  • Philip Pullman
  • Ayn Rand
  • Melanie Rawn
  • J D Robb (aka Nora Roberts)
  • R A Salvatore
  • Robert Silverberg
  • John Steakley
  • Bruce Sterling *
  • Mary Stewart
  • Harry Turtledove
  • Jack Vance
  • David Weber
  • Tad Williams
  • Roger Zelzany

Suggested Reading - Superb Humor in this Classic Science Fiction.

The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

One of the funniest science fiction series out there, and written in an endearing and fun style - more than that though, despite the strange situations the characters find them in, there's always a great and often very funny solution!

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Arthur C Clarke

Reasons:Influential, Classic, Popular; Best Book(s): 2001 A Space Odyssey, Childhood's End; Genre:Science Fiction

Clarke is perhaps one of the most influential science fiction writers of all times. His description of AI and alien encounters have influenced most modern science fiction novels; his ability to write accurate and convincing literature has made him one of the true masters of Science Fiction.

Eoin Colfer

Reasons: Popular; Best Book(s): Artemis Fowl; Genre: Fantasy

Eoin Colfer is an interesting writer who has a very similar style to Douglas Adams (he completed the final book in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series after Adams died). His ability to twist common fairy tales and create a whole believable world based on them is incredible – this combined with the real world links make his writing new and invigorating.

The Artemis Fowl series, perhaps aimed at a teenage audience, tells the story of Artemis Fowl – a teenage criminal, who has happened to discover the reality of a fairy world full of mystical creatures – aiming to benefit from this, he somehow is embroiled in some of the dastardly plans of the ‘evil’ from fairy land.


The books are written with a humorous style; some of the situations Artemis finds himself in are hilarious, but somehow the intelligence Colfer uses to create complex situations and complex solutions is incredible and you come away fully satisfied.


Philip K Dick

Reasons:Classic, Influential, Popular; Best Book(s):Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, The Man in the High Castle; Genre:Science Fiction


If you look at some of the classic science fiction movies of recent years such as Blade Runner, Minority Report, Paycheck you should be familiar with Dick's work. Many top Science Fiction movies were based on novels or short stories written by Dick. His ability to create an amazing story infused with brilliant characters and amazing atmospheres make his writing not only very readable and intense, but also free flowing!


His ability to bring out unfamiliar themes, such as the alternate history within The Man in the High Castle makes him influential as authors know how to achieve new ideas and new methods.

Suggested Reading - Fantastic Saga, Set the Standard for Science Fiction.

Foundation (The Foundation Series)

Every Sci-Fi fan owns a copy of this series; it's visionary, brilliant and is full of hard science. Asimov has a way of creating real sprawling universes and making them real and alive.

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Frank Herbert

Reasons:Popular, Influential; Best Book(s):Dune; Genre: Science Fiction

Frank Herbert could be seen as the Tolkien of Science Fiction. His Dune series has the same scope of Lord of the Rings, and pays more attention on building characters, political structures, intriguing and a great story rather than a scientific novel.

While Herbert is often overlooked as an author, and didn't win many awards during his writing career, Dune still stands out as one of the top Science Fiction series of all time – it stands the test of time, with its complexities and sheer epicness and will remain on the top science fiction book list for eternity!

Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis

Reasons: Influential, Popular; Best Book(s): Dragonlance Series; Genre: Fantasy

Weis and Hickman are the masters of good old 'AD&D' fantasy. Perhaps not the greatest writers, they have the ability to create brilliant characters set in a fantastic world. For all AD&D players they simply took the essence of roleplaying and transferred it to book form.

Their dragonlance series inspired dozens of writers to produce similar books based on the AD&D game. Writers like Salvatore would not have created their amazing series without the work that Weis and Hickman did – while their writing is very straight forward fantasy, it is vivid and some of the characters are memorable.

Robert Howard

Reasons: Influential; Best Book(s):Conan; Genre: Fantasy

Robert Howard was one of the authors that really set the standard for Fantasy novels. With the creation of Conan he brought the 'true hero' to the realm and gave us a true Sword and Sorcery saga that is still classic today.

His writing was no nonsense, straight to the point writing; it was very descriptive and gave the reader the feeling that they were deeply involved with the plot; they were page turners that combined suspense, passion and action to provide great entertainment.

Aldous Huxley

Reasons: Classic, Influential, Popular; Best Book(s):Brave New World; Genre: Science Fiction

Aldous Huxley is a truly classic writer; his writing compares with any of the greats, and not just those in Science Fiction. He was a visionary and with his novel Brave New World showed how exceptional writing and story-telling could be combined with a vision of a totalitarian utopia to bring a thrilling and scary vision of the future to life.

Huxley is one of the writers who has influenced me most; while I do not consider myself a very good writer, studying his work has given me a great insight into grammar and the construction of a sentence – he knows how to write correctly, but more importanly knows how to frame a story perfectly.

Ursula K. LeGuin

Reasons:Classic; Best Book(s):Earthsea; Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy

Le Guin is by far the best female fantasy author and is up there with the best of the men. She has an amazing ability to create worlds with sweeping stories that span the ages. Her Earthsea series is one of the best mystical fantasies I have read; the attention to detail she pays to the settings and characters really bring the worlds to life.

Le Guin has the ability to create romance and intrigue in a way that is so real.

Suggested Reading - a Classic Example of Brilliant Writing.

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress

This has some of the most amazing imagery you could hope to read - it's real and it's possible! The book contains so much - technology, fantasy, politics, intrigue, suspense

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Fritz Lieber

Reasons:influential; Best Book(s): Ill Met in Lankhmar; Genre: fantasy

Lieber, alongside Howard, is the grandfather of the Sword and Sorcery novel. His work is among the most influential in the fantasy genre, mainly due to the fantastic and diverse characters he builds with his writing. He is a master at creating atmosphere and some of the situations his characters find themselves in are often tinged with humor but there is always an underlying terror as well.

His ability to add excitement and adventure to his writing makes his novels among the most invigorating to read.

George R.R. Martin

Reasons: Classic, Influential, Popular; Best Book(s): A song of ice and fire; Genre: Fantasy

George R R Martin has been called the USAs equivalent of J R R Toliken, and most fantasy readers would agree with this assessment. Martin’s writing is a no holds barred, brutal rendition of literature at its best – he simply refuses to leave any stone unturned, giving the reader 100% on every page. He writes with a flow and poetry that is akin to Tolkien, and while some would call him verbose, his command of the language is superb and the visions he conjures are simply incredible.

In A song of Ice and Fire we have a series that is both epic and stunning; with a medieval European feel, with a dash of zombie and dragon thrown in we have a realistic saga with real characters and events. Martin doesn’t have heroes, he has heroic characters who are neither good or evil, they are simply living their lives based on their own honor – no hero is safe, and many of the so-called ‘good guys’ find themselves out of the book very quickly. The plot is a very complex and detailed one, and it is often difficult to follow, but the resulting story is very well defined and rewarding. It’s simply one of the best fantasy series available and sits aside Lord of the Rings as a true literature classic.

Larry Niven

Reasons:classic, influential, popular; Best Book(s):Ringworld; Genre: Science Fiction

Larry Niven was one of the first writers that I read that managed to give aliens their own particular personalities and make this important for the book. Niven is another writer who concentrates on bringing in real science to his writing and this is very evident with Ringworld.

His explanations of the origin of this fantastic world are sound and logical and it's this convincing writing that makes the series so good. I love his ability to create flawed characters, that seem to be able to come together when it's most important and there really are not many books that have this (perhaps some of Ender's game series share this!).

Ringworld is one of the most satisfying series I have read.

George Orwell

Reasons: Classic, Influential, Popular; Best Book(s): Nineteen Eighty Four, Animal Farm; Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy

George Orwell is one of the best authors I have read. With novels that are shrewd and have so many underlying meanings and commentaries he is perhaps the most complex author in the science fiction realm. With subtle writing he manages to capture the political mood and make dark predictions about the sordid futures we face.

Animal Farm, which isn't a classic fantasy, is the sort of literature that has so many hidden meanings; I have read it several times, and the older I get the more I find within the pages. As a teenager I saw it as a political novel, but as I get older I see so many different meanings ranging from political, to social that really don't hit you the first time you read it – for me this is brilliance incarnate.

Christopher Paolini

Reasons: Popular; Best Book(s): Eragon series; Genre: Fantasy

Paolini is a very young writer who many say has simply taken the best fantasy and melded them into his own stories; and to a point this is accurate. However, for a young writer, Paolini has shown quite a lot of story-telling talent and over time as he branches out into less traditional fantasy we’ll probably see a master emerge. What Paolini has done is to reinvigorate the genre – Eragon is a great stepping stone for new fantasy readers who want a good book in the genre that is overly complex or dark.

The Eragon series is a vastly popular one that is predictable at times and follows (yet another) Orphan’s quest to discover his destiny in a land thwart with danger and political intrigue. The link between the young man and Eragon is intriguing, and while the story isn’t overly complex it is well written and you end up with a very good story over the course of the four books.

Suggested Reading - Totalitarian Science Fiction at its Best

Brave New World By Aldous Huxley (Perennial Classic)

Still relevant today, this look at a flawed utopian society discusses issues in a very moralistic way and really makes you think about power and the abuse of power.

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Terry Pratchett

Reasons: Classic, Popular, Influential; Best Book(s): The Disc World series; Genre: Fantasy

Ask anyone what Fantasy writing is all about and they’ll tell you it’s a bunch of orcs, dragons and magical mumbo jumbo. As them who Terry Pratchett and they’ll say he’s the guy who writes hilarious novels based on a flat world on the back of a turtle – it’s amazing how one man’s humor has transcended literature and catapulted his work into the mainstream. Pratchett is a true master as he’s managed to hobble together a decent set of fantasy novels and infused them with delightful humor and characters – more than that, if you actually take a look at the plots, they are often very ingenious and subtle. This ability to bring a lightness to the genre, make it easy to read and understand and still retain the complexity is nothing short of brilliant.

The Disc World series is simply hard to describe – as I rack my brain thinking about all the Disc World books I’ve read, it’s amazing how many themes are tackled and trying to write about them in a paragraph is simply impossible – suffice to say the Disc World novels are all self contained novels in a world full of magic, danger, scary creatures and….. well go out and read them yourself!

J K Rowling

Reasons: Popular; Best Book(s): Harry Potter Series; Genre: Fantasy

I know, the fantasy community has just heaved a collective sigh as I listed J K Rowling here. So why would a hardened fantasy fan list J K Rowling among the greats of science fiction and fantasy? Simply because of the popularity of her books and the fact that she’s managed to spark interest in reading and the fantasy genre in general. Just ask Stephen King, he’s a huge fan of her writing and he for one feels she is very under-rated as a writer. She is a great story teller, and in fantasy that is important – her writing may be infused with too many adjectives, but her flow and her ability to wind a complex plot but still keep it together are amazing.

Brandon Sanderson

Reasons: Classic; Best Book(s): Way of Kings series; Genre: Fantasy

Brandon Sanderson is destined for greatness in my opinion. First of all he is a prolific writer – he is writing a ten book series, each book is almost a thousand pages. He is an amazing writer who has the ability to slowly tell a story, bringing in key elements subtle and letting the reader discover the characters and plots as he goes along.

Like Tolkien his worlds are epic; there is heroism, sadness, fear, danger all inherent in his lands – but like Tolkien he writes so well and so convincingly that the lands, characters and plots jump out of the pages and become real.

He is a relative newcomer to the fantasy genre, but his name will be in lights for years to come.

J.R.R. Tolkien

Reasons: Classic, Influential, Popular; Best Book(s): Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit; Genre: Fantasy

What can I say about Tolkien that hasn't already been said? He is simply the master of fantasy. Without Tolkien fantasy would probably not be around today and certainly wouldn't be as popular. His writing is world class and he is considered a master by all his peers, and most literature experts.

His ability to meld prose and poetry is incredible and his attention to detail is second to none. His worlds, creatures, fauna and characters are vivid, complex and real and there is no better story teller out there.

Jules Verne

Reasons: Classic, Influential, Popular; Best Book(s): Around the World in 80 days; Journey to the Center of the Earth; Genre: Science Fiction

Verne is a true pioneer of science fiction. The variety of his ideas and the way in which he wrote mark him as one of the founders of the science fiction genre. His stories are classic and unique, and more importantly were very vivid and detailed – he helped create a genre that told of an unknown future – one that is coming to fruition today – he was truly a visionary.

Verne's work was always fantastic – both in the way it was written and the subject – whether he was exploring space or the depths of the Earth he managed to convey the excitement of discovery (and fear) in a very profound way.

Is Lord of the Rings the Best Fantasy / Science Fiction Book Ever Written?

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Updated: 05/15/2014, SimeyC
 
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WordChazer on 05/15/2014

I'm an Arthur C Clarke fan. The master.

I also read PKD, Card, Stephen Baxter and Greg Bear.

Good to see Robert Jordan on the list alongside George R R Martin. Lord of the Rings is another one of my favorites even given the hard scifi I already listed.

And no matter how hard you shake me, I maintain that Ursula Le Guin was there with the boy wizard LONG before J K Rowling even thought about.

Sheri_Oz on 05/14/2014

You have done an excellent job of listing and describing good and influential writers. Probably Asimov's science in his books is so accurate because he actually was a scientist, a biochemist to be exact.

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