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18 of the most influential Science Fiction & Fantasy authors ever

By Kobo • July 23, 2020The Bookish Life

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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The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick’s contribution to science fiction is hard to overstate, and this is the book that put him on the map. No matter what’s going on in the world, there’s a story or novel of his that seems to have sprung out of current events. In this alternate history, on which the TV series is based, the Allied forces lost the second world war and the world has descended into a racist fascism.

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Blindness by José Saramago

Saramago didn’t invent the genre of “sci-fi novel set a day or two into the future” but in this global bestseller he certainly popularized it like never before. An illness strikes people down suddenly: they instantly lose their sight, and nobody knows why or how it spreads. When the afflicted are confined to a mental hospital, the worst in people is revealed.

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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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I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison

The title of this book comes from Ellison’s most well-known story, which is included here with 6 others. I Have No Mouth tells a familiar story, about an AI that decided the most intelligent thing it could do is wipe out humanity.

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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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The Healer's War by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough

In this story about an American nurse serving in the Vietnam war, fantasy is mixed with history and politics in a way that at the time was unsettling and utterly unprecedented. Its influence was so persistent and subtle that today we receive contemporary “realist” fiction with a fantastical twist without thinking twice about it.

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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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Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor

Okorafor burst onto the scene relatively recently and made her mark by drawing on a variety of African myths and folklore to create characters and worlds in a style she calls Africanfuturism, which is distinct from the better-known and American-originating term Afrofuturism, for being rooted in specific African traditions.

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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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