The Best Sci-Fi Writers
10 of the most influential, most intellectual, and the best story-tellers to ever write science fiction.
My love affair with science fiction dates from the first time I saw Star Wars as an enthralled kid who wished he could become a Jedi. Since then, I have scoured the movie, and book racks for anything that could be considered a member of the genre. For those of you who are just beginning in the science fiction field, this list should be a pretty good starting point—and for those of you who already know all of the names listed here, I'd love to debate and discuss the rankings or the exclusions for as long as you are willing.
In order to determine the top ten, I've asked myself three questions about each writer I considered. First, how influential are their writings? If a writer's work has created its own sub-genre, or if they have numerous authors that that were influenced by them, then it certainly helped them make this list. The second category is how intellectual they are. A major feature of great science fiction is its ability to conjure up some incredibly inventive universes and then relate them back to real life in order to make a statement on the human condition. The sci-fi authors without much to say will get a low score here. Finally, the most subjective of these very subjective categories —writing ability. Just how well does the author tell his story? OK, with that out of the way, let's get started. Here are, in my opinion, the ten best science fiction writers of all-time.
#10 Robert Heinlein
A member of the "Big Three" of science fiction, Heinlein is often credited with bringing the genre into the mainstream during its peak years in the 1950s. While he is commonly associated with a conservative viewpoint, thanks to his novel Starship Troopers, his most famous work, Strangers in a Strange Land, is often connected to the counter-culture movement of the '60s. The book's themes of individuality and sexual freedom brought in a very broad group of readers and even was the basis for the founding of a religion. Heinlein's willingness to address complicated themes and controversial topics ensured him a place as one of the premier sci-fi authors of all-time.
#9 Jules Verne
A founding father of the genre and a terrific writer to boot, Verne's sci-fi masterworks, Journey to the Center of the Earth and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, created precedents that have influenced every other author on this list. Throughout the Frenchman's work, he consistently imagined technological advancements well before their time while writing inventive and engaging stories around them. The only reason Verne isn't higher on the list is the fact that his works remained consistently surface level in their subject matter. Science fiction's evolution into a genre that regularly tackles controversial issues or important philosophical questions happened after Verne, but it could not have happened without him.
#8 Philip K. Dick
Dick has probably authored the source material for more Hollywood blockbusters than any other science-fiction writer, with the possible exception of Michael Crichton. Unlike Crichton however, Dick has the intellectual street-cred to back up his mainstream appeal. His most famous novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, plays with the notion of what it means to be human. In 1982 it was turned into the dystopian detective thriller, Blade Runner, which sits on top of more than one greatest sci-fi movies ever list. Other notable works include Minority Report and the Hugo award-winning The Man in the High Castle. His dark visions of the future range from disturbing to scary, but always make for good reads. Dick's premature death at the age of 53 undoubtedly robbed sci-fi fans of numerous classics.
#7 Frank Herbert
More so than any other author on this list, Herbert's place as a science-fiction writer will always be tied to his seminal work, Dune. An epic that took six years to research, the story of the house of Atreides and the desert world Arrakis tackles a huge number of intertwining themes including politics, racism, religion and environmentalism. The book won the first-ever Nebula award in 1966 and is among the best selling sci-fi novels of all-time. However, one needs more than a masterpiece to claim a spot on this list. Herbert's body of work is also impressive, spanning roughly forty years. Many of the authors in the top ten were renowned short story writers as well, but Herbert has earned a special mention with his numerous anthologies.
#6 Douglas Adams
While all of these authors have their own unique flavor, there do tend to be certain similarities in the way the elite writers of science fiction approach and write about a theme. With Adams, they broke the mold. His blend of absurd wit brought an irreverence to science-fiction that hadn't existed before. Adams was also more than just a novel writer. He got his start writing skits for the Monty Python TV show and even appeared in a couple of skits. Adams' finest work, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and its sequels, evolved out of a comedy series he performed for BBC Radio.
Like many of the notable science-fiction writers, Adams was also an avowed atheist, but that didn't prevent him from becoming one of the most commercially successful sci-fi writers ever. Its also important to note that Adams had a keen eye for the intersection of society and technology. His 1999 speech on the future and impact of the internet was particularly prescient. Adams' most valuable gift though, was an ability to make people laugh, all while resonating on a deeper level.
#5 Kurt Vonnegut
A man many leave off of their top ten, Vonnegut is not typically defined as a science-fiction author. His works are so unique that they tend to be difficult to categorize. I've included him here because I believe he is a sci-fi writer, at least more so than anything else. When books include visions of the future, space travel, time travel, aliens and doomsday devices... well, I think that qualifies as science fiction. What is indisputable about Vonnegut, is that he is a world-class satirist. The novels Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse Five are brilliant eviscerations of American culture, religion and materialism. My favorite work of Vonnegut's, The Sirens of Titan, alters wildly from devastatingly sad, to eye-popping fury, to hysterically funny, often from sentence to sentence.
Vonnegut famously struggled with depression and even attempted suicide in 1984, but he found an outlet for at least some of those negative feelings in his work. Even if he had trouble believing it, he was always able to show the reader the funny side of tragedy.
#4 Ray Bradbury
A common feature among the elite science-fiction authors is tremendous versatility. Bradbury, in addition to being one of the most accomplished sci-fi writers of all time, also received critical praise for TV and film scripts (he wrote the screenplay for the 1956 version of Moby Dick), stage plays and even poetry. His works delve deeply into a huge breadth of themes. Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles tackles just about every major literary theme one can think of. On top of that, Bradbury penned one of the finest and most subversive science fiction books ever in Fahrenheit 451, which provides a horrifying glimpse of a future filled with censorship and burning books.
Another great read is his collection of short stories, The Illustrated Man, where each story corresponds to a tattoo on the title character. Bradbury's ingenuity is topped only by his intelligence, which shines through in each sentence he writes. Since he is one of the few on the list that is still alive, we can only hope that the 90-year old Bradbury will write another classic soon.
#3 Herbert George Wells
The golden age of science fiction literature was the middle of the 20th century with weekly magazines like Amazing Stories and Astounding Science Fiction. However, it would be a mistake to assume that no great works were produced or published before then. Along with contemporary Jules Verne, H.G. Wells began writing in the late 1800s and is one of the earliest masters of the genre.
He was the first to introduce several themes into his writing that have continued to crop up in the genre. His most widely-read works, The Time Machine, a defense of Darwin's theory of evolution, and The War of the Worlds, which influenced almost every ensuing tale of alien invasion, are major literary landmarks. Wells was an outspoken socialist and wrote numerous political works as well, but his greatest influence will always be felt in science fiction with classics like The Island of Dr. Moreau and Mr. Britling Sees It Through.
#2 Arthur C. Clarke
Clarke is the second member of the "Big Three" to make this list and has a resume to match. He wrote science fiction professionally for a staggering 71 years, authoring an incredible number of stories, but his most famous work was his collaboration with Stanley Kubrick on 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film is loosely based off a 1951 short story by Clarke titled The Sentinel. While Kubrick wrote the screenplay for the movie, Clarke simultaneously penned the accompanying novel of the same name.
However, artistic disagreements caused some friction. Where Kubrick's film rarely provides a clear explanation for the strange occurrences that take place, Clarke, a hard science-fiction author to the last, wrote detailed outlines of all the phenomenon in his novel. Clarke is rumored to have left the theater with tears in his eyes during a screening of the film. Clarke went on to write three critically acclaimed sequels, which are now jointly known as the Odyssey series, but his most influential work is the tale of human explorers attempting to comprehend an alien spacecraft, entitled Rendezvous With Rama.
Clarke's work has had enormous ripple effects across the literature landscape (he was even rumored to have been part of the inspiration for Star Trek), but perhaps most impressively, has led to actual advancements in science as well. Clarke's idea that geostationary satellites could be used as communication relays proved especially insightful. Widely rumored to be bisexual, Clarke moved to Sri Lanka in 1956 both for the greater leniency of Sri Lankan law towards homosexuality, and because of his avid love for scuba diving. With his death in 2008 science-fiction lost a grandmaster, but his works remain for all to enjoy.
#1 Isaac Asimov
The most prolific author in American history and one of the most versatile, Asimov authored at least one book for nine of the ten major categories of the Dewey Decimal system. Born in Russia, Asimov is the third and final member of the "Big Three" of science fiction. As a disciple of hard science fiction, Asimov was especially well versed in science and claimed to enjoy authoring non-fiction even more than fictional literature. He contributed to numerous scientific journals and possessed several degrees including a doctorate in biochemistry. He even worked as a professor for a while at Boston University. Asimov's true gift though, was in science fiction. His ability to state complicated scientific phenomena plainly to the laymen reading his novels endeared him to many, but his talent for human observation and his matter-of-fact writing style was what propelled him to the top of his genre.
The Robot Series introduced the iconic three laws of robotics, but it was the novel Foundation and its sequels that introduced the concept of psychohistory and became maybe the most influential sci-fi series ever. Asimov was equally famous for his multitude of short stories. Nightfall is the story of a world in constant light, thanks to its location in a solar system with several suns, and the effects on its society when it is plunged into dark. Its slow, terrifying crescendo captured readers to such an extent that it was eventually expanded into a full length novel. His short story The Last Question dealt with Asimov's struggle to answer the more philosophical questions about the universe in mind-blowing fashion. Asimov died in 1992 due to complications from an HIV infection, but his impact on the genre of science fiction will never be forgotten.
Ursula K. LeGuin
The most decorated woman sci-fi author ever leaned a bit too far into the world of fantasy to be included here.
She wrote what is commonly recognized as the first sci-fi book ever in Frankenstein, but did little else in the field.
The author of Jurassic Park and other modern classics is close, but needs a bit more time to determine the extent of his influence.
Orson Scott Card
Ender's Game is in the upper echelon of sci-fi novels, but in a field full of greats, Card doesn't quite measure up.
The father of the cyberpunk sub-genre, Gibson's work is mostly confined to a relatively small group of fans and hasn't reached the appeal or influence of the top ten.
Author: Betty Glauder is a student. She grew up in Aurora, Colorado. She studies at University of Colorado and works at term paper writer service as writer. She is a Greenpeace volunteer. Also she is an amateur hip-hop dancer.