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18 of the most influential Science Fiction & Fantasy authors ever

By Kobo • July 23, 2020Recommended Reading

These 18 authors have carved out huge swaths of space for readers’ imaginations to play

If you’ve ever wondered when you’ll finally have a personal jetpack or a robot butler, you have an idea of how our dreams about the future are constantly shifting. In science fiction and fantasy writing, conventions around settings, characters, and themes are always emerging and morphing, expressing authors' anxieties and hopes. These 18 writers are some of the boldest and most influential to have ever practiced the craft of speculative and fantastical fiction.

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Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany

We’ve talked about this book a couple of times, and for good reason: it’s a sprawling epic told like a waking nightmare, that somehow is always speaking to the moment it finds a reader, with its themes of class and sexuality.

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Mockingbird by Walter Tevis

This story of a post-apocalyptic love triangle between a man, a woman, and an impossibly perfect machine that runs what’s left of the world while praying for death is a testament to how human we insist on being, even when we’ve lost everything.

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Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

The fascination of the Frankenstein myth remains unbroken to this day. Mary Shelley’s exciting masterpiece explores the limits of our imagination and brings to life an eternal dream: the dream of creating a human-like being.

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Youth by Isaac Asimov

Tagging along while his astronomer father visits an industrialist at his vast estate, young Slim is lucky enough to make fast friends with the industrialist’s son, Red, who has recently caught some very strange animals on the property. The animals seem intelligent enough, and Red recruits Slim to help him train the odd creatures to do circus tricks. But the boys are about to discover their playthings aren’t exactly animals—and they’ve allowed themselves to be caught for a reason . . .


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The Patternist Series by Octavia E. Butler

In this landmark series, Butler lays out everything that she went on to explore through the rest of her career: Black characters positioned in history, and projecting into the future through fantastical means, changing cultures and civilizations around them -- to good effect and bad, and often something in-between. (Surprisingly, her middle initial does not stand for “epic.”)

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The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells

The Invisible Man is told in the third person and revolves around a scientist named Griffin who discovers a formula that is capable of making a person invisible indefinitely. In this tale of psychological terror, the young scientist must live in the personal hell created by his own experiments. Using himself as the subject, the scientist is unable to reverse the results. Wells had created a gripping masterpiece on the destructive effects the invisibility has on the scientist and the insane and murderous chaos left in his malicious wake.

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We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

Nobody’s throwing stones in the all-glass police state of We. At the same time that Zamyatin was writing a satire of the Soviet Union in 1924, he was laying the groundwork for dystopian novels that would come throughout the middle of the 20th Century.

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Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

Published just a few years after the short story that became Stanley Kubrick’s landmark film 2001: A Space Odyssey Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama is the story of an encounter with an alien vessel whizzing past the earth on its way to the sun. Who sent it? Why? How does it work? And how will humans stop it from destroying the solar system as we know it?

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Red Planet by Robert A. Heinlein

Robert A. Heinlein's iconic Red Planet tells the story of Jim Marlowe and Frank Sutton's journey to the Lowe Academy boarding school on Mars, and the discoveries they make there that impact the future of their entire colony.

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Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Science Fiction by Edgar Allan Poe

Poe is widely regarded as the inventor of the detective story, but he also wrote many stories of speculative fiction, such as “The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall”, “The Conversation Of Eiros And Charmion”, and “A Descent Into The Maelström.” These stories as well as his classic works of horror influenced a generation of writers including H. P. Lovecraft.

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H. P. Lovecraft: The Ultimate Collection by H. P. Lovecraft

Few authors in any genre were as prolific as Lovecraft (or as problematic). This collection includes, among many other writings, Lovecraft’s immeasurably influential short story “The Call of Cthulhu”, a story about an ancient unspeakable evil awoken after eons.

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Destroyer by Victor LaValle

LaValle is an author who loves to build on worlds established by other writers long ago. In Destroyer, he picks up the thread of descendants from Dr Frankenstein, telling the story of a mother, distraught at the death of her only son at the hands of the police, who digs into her past to uncover buried scientific secrets -- and hope.

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Wizard's First Rule by Terry Goodkind

Goodkind’s now-legendary Sword of Truth series starts here. It’s a classic hero’s journey, with a humble forest guide discovering his true identity as the world’s last best hope to overthrow the bloodthirsty tyrant that controls all.

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Five Weeks in a Balloon by Jules Verne

Five Weeks in a Balloon follows the adventures of three explorers as they attempt to be the first men to traverse Africa from the east to the west utilising a hydrogen filled balloon to make the journey in a far shorter time than normal. This trip wouldn’t actually take place until well into the next century. Fusing adventure, comedy, and science fiction, Five Weeks in a Balloon has all the key ingredients of classic Verne: sly humor and cheeky characters, an innovative scientific invention, a tangled plot that’s full of suspense and surprise, and visions of an unknown realm.

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Ghost Summer by Tananarive Due

While she made her reputation as an expert on Black horror cinema, as a writer of fiction Due is as adept in Afrofuturism as she is in horror. In this collection of stories plus a novella, she roams freely to explore it all in her best spine-tingling and thought-provoking form.

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The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuin

George Orr discovers that his dreams can alter reality -- which may be exactly what the earth needs as civilizations struggle to deal with too few resources for too many people and the climate turning inhospitable to the old ways of living. Unfortunately, he comes under the influence of someone who means neither George nor humanity any good.

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Swan Song by Robert McCammon

One of the great -- and very long -- post-apocalyptic sci-fi novels, Swan Song is the story of a young girl named Swan who miraculously survives a nuclear war. All that’s left afterwards, it seems, are those sick and hurt by the bombs, and those who seek to exterminate them. Swan fights for the survival of humanity using powers she finds within herself -- and a magical amulet.

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Skin Folk by Nalo Hopkinson

Hopkinson blends Caribbean folklore with science fiction in a way that’s completely fresh and provocative. The stories in Skin Folk see her exploring the full range of her talents, telling tales at once horrific, allegorical, and surreal.

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