Looking to discover your next favorite science-fiction author? Let’s take a look at 20 modern science fiction writers you should be reading.
[SPOILER NOTE: though we tried to be as un-spoiler-y as possible, there is a small chance that some minor spoilers slipped through.]
As dedicated sci-fi fans, we all know the excitement of finding a fantastic new author. You devour one of their novels, turn the last page … and find you’re holding the only book of theirs to see publication.
Recognize that frustrating feeling? Well, one way to avoid this is to delve into the works of an author with multiple books to their name. There are plenty of authors working in modern science fiction, creating consistently strong work, and whether you prefer standalone tales or long-running sagas, there’s something for everyone.
To help you find your new favorite modern science-fiction author, we’ve picked 20 of the best with multiple books to their name. While we’ve focused primarily on writers still working today, a couple of our picks are sadly no longer with us – but their fiction is so important to the genre, and their prolific output gives you so much to enjoy, we couldn’t leave them out in good conscience.
Classic and Modern Science Fiction – William Gibson
Gibson is widely referred to as ‘the father of Cyberpunk’, and while he may not exactly love that title, it’s well-deserved.
In his debut novel Neuromancer, Gibson created one of the most realistic, believable representations of virtual reality ever. Not only is he responsible for the term ‘cyberspace’, he also foresaw an interconnected global network long before the internet played such a major part in our lives.
Since Neuromancer was published in 1984, Gibson has produced three trilogies, as well as two standalone novels. His Sprawl trilogy (Neuromancer, Count Zero, Mona Lisa Overdrive) was followed by The Difference Engine (with Bruce Sterling), the Bridge trilogy (Virtual Light, Idoru, All Tomorrow’s Parties) and the Blue Ant trilogy (Pattern Recognition, Spook Country, Zero History).
His settings include a near-future America saturated with technology, a community formed on the remains of the San Francisco bridge, and London of the early 21st century. However, even his novels set in the recent past still have a distinctive sci-fi flavor, exploring the ways in which modern technologies affect society and the individual. He writes in a distinctive style, with dense, beautiful language light on exposition and rich on curt dialogue.
His most recent novel, The Peripheral, is a gripping time-travel tale with a difference: rather than physically passing from one period to another, the characters can jump into the future through the use of ‘peripherals’ (synthetic bodies) via a mysterious server. He’s also made the transition to comic books, writing IDW’s Archangel series.
You may want to start with Gibson’s early work, found in his short-story collection, Burning Chrome.
Classic and Modern Science Fiction – Margaret Atwood
Atwood is one of the most successful science-fiction authors working today, though she has fought against the term being applied to much of her work (preferring ‘speculative fiction’ instead).
Despite her resistance to being labeled, Atwood nevertheless creates outstanding work unlike anyone else’s. Her most well-known novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, is a gripping, powerful look at a near-future America in which women serve as men’s slaves. Subjugation, fascism, class-struggles, and racism all feature, and the prose itself is incredible.
Oryx and Crake is a post-apocalyptic tale focusing on Snowman, a lonely human in a strangely-ravaged world populated by Crakers. Over the course of the novel, we see the far-reaching implications of genetic engineering and scientific experimentation without ethics. The Year of the Flood and MadAddam take place in the same world, forming a trilogy based around the fallout of a biological catastrophe.
The Heart Goes Last also includes elements of science-fiction, though it’s less ‘out there’ than her Oryx and Crake trilogy. Much of her work features strong female characters, with Offred in The Handmaid’s Tale brilliantly conceived and impossible not to root for.
Classic Science Fiction – Philip K. Dick
Philip K. Dick (or PKD) is one of the most influential, important, and well-known science-fiction authors of all time. While he passed away in 1982 (shortly before the release of Blade Runner, the remarkable adaptation of his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), his work continues to find new readers and film adaptations.
Without a doubt, PKD was an incredibly prolific writer, with more than 40 novels and multiple short-story collections in print. His fiction tends to focus on the confusing nature of reality, identity, and politics, with a healthy dose of paranoia. His characters were often average working men and women, struggling to understand the bizarre events unfolding around them, with parallel worlds, aliens, and technological shifts common tropes.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is viewed as one of his best, most important works, while other iconic novels of his include A Scanner Darkly, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, The Penultimate Truth, Ubik, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, and The Man in the High Castle. The latter novel has reached a wider audience recently, thanks to the successful Amazon series.
For anyone looking to discover one of the truest, most vital voices in American science-fiction, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? or The Man in the High Castle are perhaps the best places to start.
Check out Phillip K. Dick’s author page on Amazon.
Phillip K. Dick’s novel The Man In The High Castle depicts a dark alternative future in which the Axis powers beat the Allies in World War 2. In the history of The Man In The High Castle, the United States of America as we know it has been disbanded and split into three occupied territories: the Pacific States of America, occupied by Imperial Japan, the United States of America, occupied by Nazi Germany, and the Rocky Mountains buffer zone, with sparse shared occupation. [Click here to read more…]
Modern Science Fiction – Alastair Reynolds
With an educational background in physics and astronomy, Reynolds has a solid grounding in complex concepts which find their way into his hard science-fiction work.
Reynold’s Revelation Space series takes place across five books, two novellas, and multiple short stories. These showcase his immense imagination and vision, with the collected works as a whole spanning an incredible length of time (from around 2200 to 40,000), though the books themselves take place within just a few centuries.
The Revelation Space saga includes Revelation Space, Chasm City, Redemption Ark, Absolution Gap, and The Prefect. His non-Revelation Space novels include Century Rain, Pushing Ice, House of Suns, and Terminal World.
Reynolds’ work has earned multiple awards and many nominations, and he’s gone on record as saying his fiction focuses on science he believes may actually be possible someday (FTL travel does feature, though it’s generally regarded as too dangerous to use). For science-fiction fans looking to delve into a more realistic sci-fi universe, Reynolds is a top choice.
Modern Science Fiction – Peter F. Hamilton
Another Brit on the list, Peter F. Hamilton is a hugely prolific author, known for his works set in various far-future universes. However, before creating this expansive, richly textured setting, Hamilton made his name with a trilogy based around a psychic detective (Mindstar Rising, A Quantum Murder, and The Nano Flower).
New readers may prefer to dive into the Confederation novels, starting with The Night’s Dawn Trilogy: The Reality Dysfunction, The Neutronium Alchemist, and The Naked God. It should be known that Hamilton tends to write books on the larger side, and each novel in this trilogy totals more than a thousand pages – ideal for readers looking to immerse themselves in truly fleshed-out universes.
Hamilton followed this up with the Commonwealth Saga (Misspent Youth, Pandora’s Star, and Judas Unchained) and the Void Trilogy (The Dreaming Void, The Temporal Void, and The Evolutionary Void). These are all dense, well-written, and remarkably detailed, taking you deep into alien worlds, artificial intelligence, and humans able to cheat death through ‘rejuvenation’. Hamilton’s extensive bibliography ensures fans will be kept reading for some time yet, and he enjoys great popularity – his fiction has racked up more than two million sales across the globe.
Classic and Modern Science Fiction – Iain M. Banks
Iain M. Banks was the name adopted by acclaimed author Iain Banks for his science-fiction work, and it’s under this pseudonym that he created many well-loved books. Though he passed away in 2013, Banks’ novels will be widely-read, influential, and important for years to come.
Without a doubt, his Culture series is the crowning achievement of Banks’ work. Set in the Culture, a society made up of various lifeforms (including artificial intelligence) scattered across the galaxy, the series features nine novels and a collection of short-stories, starting with 1987’s Consider Phlebas and continuing through to 2012’s The Hydrogen Sonata.
Banks’ Culture series explores big themes, including finding meaning in a long life with no need for work and tension between disparate civilizations. However, he also wrote science-fiction outside the Culture: Against a Dark Background, Feersum Endjinn, and The Algebraist. Though unconnected with his well-known futuristic setting, they explore similar themes.
Banks was also a great stylist and created worlds rich with diverse characters. His work was often nominated for major prizes (such as the British Science Fiction Association Award and the Hugo Award), and actually won on numerous occasions.
Iain Banks’ The Culture series is a technological space opera that is well-known for its smart investigation into the interplay between various alien societies. Each of the alien societies that have an associated political presence in space have a different form of government. The various systems of government each society has frequently dictate their interaction with the protagonists. Most of the books in the series are told from the perspective of people within The Culture.
Classic and Modern Science Fiction – Joe Haldeman
Joe Haldeman penned the iconic The Forever War. This 1974 novel is incredibly exciting, with a great concept and a strong, fairly streamlined style.
Largely inspired by Haldeman’s time in the Vietnam War, The Forever War is a militaristic space opera chronicling humanity’s war against the Taurans. However, the impact of the battle takes its toll on the soldiers themselves as they cross countless light-years and become alienated from the people they’re fighting for back on Earth. As this treatment was inspired by the Vietnam War, and Haldeman’s own military service, the events of the novel are particularly poignant.
Forever Free and Forever Peace are set in the same universe, again dealing with soldiers and the future of humanity, which are available in a single volume with The Forever War. Throughout his long career, Haldeman has also written The Hemingway Hoax, The Coming, Camouflage, and The Accidental Time Machine.
Haldeman’s Forever trilogy is generally regarded as a must-read, and the first novel is hugely influential in the ‘military sci-fi’ genre. Being based on his own experience of war, they also carry a lot of authenticity.
Classic and Modern Science Fiction – Orson Scott Card
Orson Scott Card has had a long and successful career writing science-fiction, and his most famous novel, Ender’s Game, finally reached the big screen in 2013 (nearly 30 years since its publication).
Ender’s Game is the story of mankind’s war with a powerful alien species, and their use of children in the crucial last-stand. The eponymous hero, Ender, reveals himself to be a master tactician and proves vital in the struggle. For anyone looking to start reading Orson Scott Card’s sci-fi works, Ender’s Game is an essential starting point.
He continued Ender’s story with Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, Children of the Mind, Ender in Exile, A War of Gifts, Ender’s Shadow, Shadow of the Hegemon, Shadow Puppets, and more. Upon its release, Ender’s Game won the Nebula Award and the Hugo Award for best novel (a nice two-hander for any sci-fi writer).
Like many other science-fiction writers, Orson Scott Card has written in other genres with great success, but it’s with his Ender’s Game series that he has cemented his place in the modern sci-fi milieu.
Classic and Modern Science Fiction – Harlan Ellison
Harlan Ellison is, without any risk of hyperbole, one of the most prolific, outspoken, fascinating science-fiction writers of all time. Like Atwood, Ellison would take exception to having this label applied to him, and I certainly wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of his wrath – but regardless, the man is an absolute powerhouse.
His most famous work, a short-story entitled I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream, is a haunting tale based around the endless hell faced by the only survivors of a super computer’s conquest of the Earth. The title itself appears in the story’s final lines, and they’re positively chilling in context.
While I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream is a fantastic place to start reading Ellison, newcomers have an immense selection to choose from. He’s written short stories, novellas, comics, screenplays, and more.
Ellison has won eight Hugo Awards, four Nebula Awards, five Bram Stoker Awards, and many others. His novels and novellas include Spider Kiss, and A Boy and His Dog (known for its cult film adaptation), while his short-story collections range from the late 1940s through to 2016.
Classic and Modern Science Fiction – Greg Bear
Greg Bear has published a huge body of work, with many of his novels forming multiple series. Darwin’s Radio and Darwin’s Children were nominated for various prestigious awards, and the former received the Nebula Award itself. These focus on a bizarre retrovirus, named SHEVA, which begins to have an unprecedented impact on human evolution.
His other series include The Forge of God, Songs of Earth and Power, and Quantum Logic, while the War Dogs collection is his most recent. His work covers a broad range of subjects, including AI and galactic warfare, and he’s also known for writing novels set in the Halo universe (with the Forerunner Trilogy).
Greg Bear’s standalone novels include Blood Music, Dinosaur Summer, City at the End of Time, and Vitals. His work is generally regarded as Hard SF, given the degree of science and complex concepts in his work.
Interesting fact: Greg Bear is part of the group responsible for co-founding the San Diego Comic-Con, which has become a major fixture in pop-culture. A fantastic claim to be able to make.
Classic and Modern Science Fiction – Ursula K. Le Guin
Ursula K. Le Guin is extremely well-known for her Earthsea stories, a world involving common Fantasy tropes (wizards, dragons etc.). However, she has also written much science-fiction in her time, many of which are regarded as classics of the genre.
The Left Hand of Darkness is something of a groundbreaking novel focusing on big questions surrounding gender and sexuality, set on a world in which its mostly-androgynous populace are able to effectively choose their gender for two days per month. Le Guin herself referred to the book as her first ‘contribution’ to feminism, and critics have debated over the novel’s themes for years.
The Dispossessed is perhaps her other best-known novel and takes place in the ‘Hainish’ universe Le Guin created. The Dispossessed takes place on a world ruled by two major political forces, which are essentially analogs for the USA and the Soviet Union, and their differing ideologies.
Le Guin has won numerous awards during her career, including five Locus awards, four Nebula awards, and more.
Modern Science Fiction – Neal Stephenson
Neal Stephenson made his name with 1992’s Snow Crash, a complicated, witty, bold cyberpunk novel involving simulated realities. In this world, Los Angeles has grown to exist outside the US, and is instead run by various groups and corporate leaders. The hero, one aptly-named Hiro Protagonist, works as both a hacker and a delivery boy for the mafia’s pizza business. When he meets Y.T (or Yours Truly), a sassy skateboard-courier, they become involved in an increasingly complex but fascinating plot.
Snow Crash might be a little daunting for first-timers, but it still feels unique and cutting-edge so many years after its publication. After this, Stephenson went on to write long novels set in a variety of ages and worlds, including The Diamond Age. This explores the life of a young girl living in a future dominated by nanotechnology, while Cryptonomicon takes place in both World War II and the closing years of the 20th century, involving the construction of a data haven.
Anathem and Reamde and the recent Seveneves are equally challenging but rich with Stephenson’s trademark intelligence, complexity, and intrigue. Outside of writing, Stephenson has worked with innovative organizations looking to develop advanced technology.
Modern Science Fiction – Cory Doctorow
Cory Doctorow is a science-fiction writer who innovates in not just his stories, but also in the way these are distributed. His first book, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, was released in both a traditional book format as well as a Creative Commons noncommercial license – allowing readers to share and enjoy the text for free, without needing permission, provided they made no monetary gain.
This groundbreaking approach has continued in his other work. After Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, Doctorow wrote Little Brother, which revolves around a young hacker coming under suspicion of a terrorist attack. This novel helped to make Doctorow a recognizable name in the science-fiction genre, and his subsequent works have achieved success, with Makers, Rapture of the Nerds and Homeland (the sequel to Little Brother).
He has also won many awards, including the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award, and the Prometheus Award. Little Brother and Homeland are particularly relevant to today’s world, in which terrorism, paranoia, and surveillance are a global concern.
Modern Science Fiction – Charles Stross
Charles Stross is a British writer with many novels to his name, including those making up the Merchant Princes series. The first novel in the saga, The Family Trade, is the ideal jumping-on point for new readers. Based around parallel worlds, the series also includes The Hidden Family, The Clan Corporate, The Merchants’ War, The Trade of Queens, Empire Games, with Dark State and Invisible Sun due for publication in 2018 and 2019 respectively.
Stross’s other work includes the standalone novel Accelerando, which was released as a free e-book under a Creative Commons license (not unlike Cory Doctorow’s work, with whom he wrote Rapture of the Nerds) and won 2006’s Locus Award. The book is made up of nine connected short stories, spanning three generations of a single family across the entirety of a technological singularity – a bold and fascinating way to explore such a complex concept.
Glasshouse is another novel set in the far future, and actually ties into Accelerando with the presence of an advanced culture referred to in the latter.
Stross’s fiction has been praised by fans for its depiction of life after the Singularity, an idea which is incredibly hard to imagine becoming reality.
The Internet Review of Science Fiction attempted, via an algorithm, to pin down the differences between male and female science fiction writers. They discovered, with nearly 90% accuracy, that, “Gender division in writing and reading thus comes down to tendencies, not absolutes. Men more often concern themselves with actions, ideas, and analysis. Women more often concern themselves with processes, perceptions, and implications.” That being said, it only makes sense that female science fiction writers devastate our perceptions [Click here to read more…]
Modern Science Fiction – Tad Williams
Though Tad Williams has written a lot of novels in the Fantasy genre, he’s also known for his science-fiction work, most prominently the Otherland series.
This outstanding saga is set at the end of the 21st century and focuses on the lives of several characters who become involved with a deep, far-reaching conspiracy based around a secret simulated reality far more immersive than any other before it.
The Otherland series comprises four novels: City of Golden Shadow; River of Blue Fire; Mountain of Black Glass; and Sea of Silver Light, as well as the short stories “The Happiest Dead Boy in the World” and “The Boy Detective”. Otherland is a compelling, exciting, and brilliantly-realised series which showcases Williams’ immense talents to great effect. While they feature complex themes and big ideas, the science and technology never interferes with the story, ensuring this is accessible to readers of all SF-experience.
Otherland is also powerfully prescient in its depiction of an online world and people’s fondness of escaping into synthetic realities. While the four novels are on the large side, the diverse characters, smooth writing style, and building intrigue makes them must-reads for anyone interested in virtual reality.
Classic and Modern Science Fiction – Kim Stanley Robinson
Kim Stanley Robinson is a prolific science-fiction writer with many awards to his name and a bibliography offering readers plenty of choices.
Perhaps his most well-known books are the Mars Trilogy, comprising Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars, and followed up with a collection of short stories titled The Martians. These deal with the challenges of settling on Mars (something which becomes more and more real to us today), set across a timeline of almost two-hundred years.
Before the Mars Trilogy, Robinson penned the Three Californias Trilogy, which focuses on three different possible futures for the state’s Orange County. The Wild Shore, The Gold Coast, and Pacific Edge deal with nuclear fallout, a dystopian chronicle of excessive lifestyles, and a somewhat ‘grounded’ vision of a utopia respectively.
Kim Stanley Robinson has also penned the Science in the Capital series (Forty Signs of Rain, Fifty Degrees Below, Sixty Days and Counting) as well as standalone novels like Galileo’s Dream and the recent Aurora. His work can be classed as Hard SF, and he is generally regarded as one of the best in the genre working today.
Classic and Modern Science Fiction – James Kenneth Morrow
While James Kenneth Morrow’s portfolio of work involves more than science-fiction, some of his best-known novels belong to the genre, including This is the Way the World Ends. This is a witty, powerful, often stunning look at the effects of a post-apocalyptic world. Unlike others, though, the book centers on the fate of one ordinary man who finds himself sharing the blame for the end of the world, eventually put on trial under the Nuremberg precedent (referring to the series of trials which prosecuted certain individuals involved with the Nazi’s atrocities).
While it’s satirical in its approach, This is the Way the World Ends is still moving, especially in its post-nuclear-strike scenes. Morrow also frames the story by having the iconic Nostradamus relate the protagonist’s tale, hundreds of years before it’s due to take place. It’s a fantastic read, and while it’s a little confusing in places, it becomes an unforgettable experience.
His other work includes The Godhead Trilogy (Towing Jehova, Blameless in Abaddon, and The Eternal Footman), set in a world after the death of what’s believed to be God, and the survivors’ efforts to take him to his resting place without letting the rest of the world know. This is brave material to be sure, and very unconventional.
Classic and Modern Science Fiction – Bruce Sterling
Along with William Gibson and others, Bruce Sterling is regarded as a founder of the cyberpunk movement – a hugely important literary genre, influencing everything from movies to video games.
Sterling’s bibliography is rich with fascinating novels, and a must-see for anyone looking to delve deep into the cyberpunk trend’s early days. His first published novel, Involution Ocean is a science-fiction take on the classic, Moby Dick: the story takes place in a crater, with the ocean replaced with dust, and is centered around a complex romantic relationship forming between the lead and an alien female. His next work, The Artificial Kid, is based around a young biologically-modified boy’s rise to fame – through his own blood-soaked street-fighting videos. This is a fascinating class-focused piece, set in a world which a clear divide between the rich and poor, and could be seen as an influence on The Hunger Games.
Other Sterling novels to receive great acclaim and fan praise over the years include: Schismatrix; Islands in the Net; The Difference Engine (written with William Gibson, an irresistible combination!); Holy Fire; Zeitgeist; and more.
However, one of his most crucial works is the Mirrorshades anthology. Though this is a collection of short-stories from a wide range of authors (including himself), when Sterling edited this back in 1986, it went on to become a milestone in the cyberpunk milieu.
Modern Science Fiction – Stephen Baxter
Baxter is one of the UK’s most well-respected science-fiction authors and has picked up many prestigious awards in his time, including the BSFA Award, Sidewise Award, Philip K. Dick Award, John W. Campbell Award, and more. His work encompasses many different novels and short stories, with the Xeelee Sequence and Destiny’s Children series both being popular.
The Xeelee Sequence started in 1991 with Raft (expanded from his earlier short story of the same name), which saw its heroes enter another universe with a stronger gravitational force – so great there are no planets, as they would crumble as soon as they would form. This continued with Timelike Infinity, Flux, Ring, and several others (including a short-story collection in 2015, titled Xeelee: Endurance).
His Destiny’s Children series began in 2003, with Coalescent: a book split between the story of George in then-modern Britain and that of Regina, a girl living in Britain towards the end of the Roman era. Two more novels arrived over the following two years, while Resplendent came in 2005, adding numerous short stories and novellas to the Destiny’s Children universe.
Baxter’s NASA Trilogy started in 1996, with Voyage, centering on a mission to Mars in a world in which JFK lived on after the infamous assassination of 1963. This was a great success within the science-fiction world, achieving a Sidewise Award. Some of his most recent work includes The Long Earth series, co-written with the late, great Terry Pratchett. This included The Long Earth, The Long War, and The Long Mars amongst others.
As many thrifty readers may know, Amazon is a treasure trove of free or very cheap e-books available to read on your phone, Kindle, or online. However, due to the ease of self-publication, the treasure trove doubles as a garbage barge, piled high with bad alien porn and Twilight fan-fiction disguised as real books. It’s taken me years of being a poor college student to set my dignity aside and search desperately for free e-books that don’t suck, because sometimes as a book-addict, you gotta choose between another value-pack of Top Ramen or a full-priced Kindle book [Click here to read more…]
Classic and Modern Science Fiction – Connie Willis
Connie Willis has written Fantasy and science-fiction, and her work in the latter genre has won great acclaim and awards. One of her most well-known works is 1995’s Remake, in which the film industry has been revolutionized through advances in computer-created animations; the book went on to receive a nomination for the prestigious Hugo Award.
Another of Willis’s best-known, best-received science-fiction novels is To Say Nothing of the Dog, a comic story set in the world of historians traveling through time (as Willis started in her short story “Fire Watch” and her novels Domesday Book and Blackout / All Clear). In this universe, time-travel is mainly used for research purposes after it was discovered to have little to no potential for generating revenue.
Willis is incredibly prolific, producing dozens of short stories and many essays, and has been a regular nominee/winner for the major science-fiction awards.
This brings our selection of 20 authors working in modern science fiction to a close. We hope we’ve inspired you, and helped you find plenty of fantastic new books to enjoy! If there are authors that you feel should be on the list, let us know in the comments below, including some of you favorite books from them. The more you share, tho more the list grows, and the more great modern science fiction we can all enjoy!