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Great Science-Fiction
& Fantasy Works

science-fiction & fantasy literature:
a critical list with discussions

Great Science-Fiction & Fantasy Authors

"'I have never seen such an astonishing mix of perspicacity of a truly brilliant order
mixed with double-damned foolishness!' he roared."


--Tales of Chicago,
R. A. Lafferty





A Rambling But Brief Preliminary

I have been reading in the fields of science fiction and fantasy steadily and hungrily since the days when one eagerly awaited the next book from the Gnome Press. I dearly wish now that I had at once developed the habit of retaining bought books, even those few I then had (adolescents in that long ago were not regularly equipped with monies equal to the purchase of hardcover books; paperbacks were hardly out of the novelty stage; and much of my reading was thus by courtesy of the New York City Public Library system)--but most I let go, I cannot recall how or where, and the few I did not were afterwards dropped somewhere along the trails leading to the adulthood in which one possesses bookshelves of one's own in a home of one's own.

(One of the few compensatory joys of age is being able to say things along the lines of "Hah! I remember when . . . ." Well, I remember when paperback books first came along. For some time, Pocket Books--remember Gertrude the kangaroo, their logo?--was both a trade name and the only going description of the things; a young male got the strangest looks in drug stores and such places when he asked if they carried pocket books--a term commonly used in that time and place for purses. And I can scarcely now convey the excitement I felt when the Ace "double-book" series--two science-fiction novellas in one book, one printed upside-down relative to the other, allowing two "front covers"--first appeared.

But at some point--I no longer remember when, possibly in college--I started retaining every book of any kind if I thought that book one of quality. Even if I could not readily imagine myself actually re-reading the book, putting it up on my shelves to retain the option was a sort of vote for or endorsement of the book; that no doubt seems silly, but there was a definite pleasure to be had out of the act, with its little ritual of finding just the right spot (every collector has a unique way of sorting books) and making the needed room just at that spot.

Conversely, the books that I did not like, and the many more books that I enjoyed but only as a passing pleasure--all told, many thousands, even just of those within our fields--went out to used-book shops or, latterly, as donations to libraries. (In halcyon youth, I doggedly finished even books that I found I was not enjoying, for I had acquired from somewhere the opinion that buying a book or a glass of beer morally mandated finishing the thing no matter what; I have since lost that attitude about books.)

Creating this site--that's now some years ago--brought me to consider our collection as a whole for the very first time. I had never, for example, until just this minute as I am writing (that's still several years ago as you read this), counted the physical volumes of science fiction and fantasy in that collection (I say "physical volumes" because a number of those volumes are book-club compilations of several novels). I found that after what was getting on to a half century of accumulating, we had only 743 science-fiction and fantasy volumes on our shelves, with another few--most gotten to help with the preparation of this site--scattered about the library table awaiting reading. Even including our shelf of non-fiction books of criticism and history of these fields, the total was not over eight hundred books. That works out to but one or two books a month saved, which--for what this household annually goes through in the way of science-fiction and fantasy books--isn't an awful lot. (My rough guess is that my books-read total is in the five-figure range, mostly speculative fiction.)

(Since writing that, we have--attendant on constructing this site--already acquired literally hundreds more science-fiction and fantasy books by looking out works by authors we already like and, in a few cases, authors much recommended by others; most of those acquisitions are "keepers," though we have had some disappointments in the "recommended" category.)

"But"--as a character in one of Kai Lung's justly famed tales observed--"however entrancing it is to wander unchecked through a garden of bright images, are we not enticing your mind from another subject of almost equal importance?"


The Science-Fiction & Fantasy Author List

"I am willing to taste any drink once."
--Jurgen,
James Branch Cabell

Not every work of every listed author is of high quality, but each writer here has produced something I think worthy of inclusion in a select science-fiction and fantasy library. Nor, by any means, is every author who has produced something worthy of inclusion in a such a select library presented here: I'm one mortal reader.

(The most numerous unjust omissions will be relatively recent authors--and "recent" goes back a good number of years. I read somewhere that for a particular year in the mid-1990s, the number of science-fiction and fantasy titles published was about 1,300; do the arithmetic--one would have to read three or four books a day, week in and week out, month in and month out, every single day of the year, just to keep up, much less try to read anything published before that year. And I venture two thoughts: it has been like that for some years, and it will only get worse--or maybe that's better, depending on one's view--as time goes by. Now considering the prices today of even paperback books, I will buy few works--only those of the correspondingly few authors one can trust utterly--without having first tasted them by a leafing-through; but I have for quite some years now lived so that I only occasionally go into a town big enough to have real, live bookstores in which one can pick up and leaf through books. And even one with that privilege still has to wrestle the old enemy: Time.

To see what I'm currently looking forward to, visit the pages here listing further possiblities by authors already listed here and works recommended by credible others by authors not yet listed here.)

If I am spared sufficient time for the task, I will eventually develop critical articles on each of these authors--even on each of their major works--a process still in train but proceeding. Meanwhile, I have provided an External Links page, on which I provide key web-page links for those writers for whom I could find dedicated sites (and, for those too many who do not, what I could find that seemed useful).


About the Rating Scheme

Selecting a method for summarily classifying these authors was a great challenge; I have not met it well, and wonder if that challenge can be met well. In a few cases, the author--great or simply adequately pleasing--can be pigeon-holed with no great difficulty. For most, though, there exist complications--such as great variations in quality from work to work or diverse possible appreciations of particularly idiosyncratic works--that preclude ready selection of a pigeon hole.

I have, for this simple summary listing, adopted the banal convention of using a count of "stars" (asterisks here). You should not accord those star counts immense significance (I doubt you would even absent this note). The "overall quality" of an author--if we can even speak meaningfully of such a thing--is multidimensional and stubbornly resistant to one-dimensional summarizing. Perhaps I should instead say that the stars roughly indicate "noteworthiness," a safer assertion. In a few instances below, I have appended a short note where the stars alone seemed to me likely to misrepresent the author more heinously than usual.

The stars--which as used here run from five down to one--signify, crudely and approximately, what is said below. It may help your understanding to know that the "stars" I use here are only the visible part of a personal rating scheme that in full runs from -5 to +5. A "zero" book is still a pretty good read, just not one quite important enough to retain for the future. A -1 book can be read for some modest pleasure despite one or more clear flaws. A -2 book one could pick up to pass time in a dentist's waiting room, but put down when called and never feel a need to go back to for completion. Anything below, from -3 to -5, is impossible even for a few pages (the difference between -3 and -5 lies in the degree and nature of the butchery). So, because I am trying to include only authors of quality, authors accorded even "one-star" rank are well above the norms of the field.

By and large, there is a lot of noise mixed with the signal. Most of these authors (though not all, especially at the high end) could, with little demur from me, be argued to be a star above or below where I have placed them. Especially down at the one-star level, inclusion of this one and omission of that one was and is a dicey business.

(Please note well that because this site is premised on quality, many science-fiction and fantasy authors and books important to the history of the field are absent from the lists because I felt their value to be only historical.)
  • ***** - a grand master of science fiction or fantasy (or both).
  •  **** - a great writer whose works have scope and stature.
  •   *** - a fine writer whose works have substantial value.
  •    ** - a very good writer whose works are noteworthy.
  •     * - a good writer whose works reward reading.

A sampling of well-known authors whose works have no literary merit but are readable for an innocent pleasure of the sort not long ago called "campy" was included with a ! shown for each instead of stars.

A # after the writer's name signifies a quite limited output, at least in the fields of science fiction and fantasy (but not necessarily overall); often that output will comprise but a single book.

The authors' names are each a link to an individual-author page on this site containing a brief discussion of that author and of each of the books by that author listed here. The discussions are not, and are not intended to be, deep analyses of the writer or the books: they are intended to give you enough of an idea of each to help you rank the books on your personal "to read" list.

(For now, as I noted above, many of those pages only repeat the material on the "books by author" pages; I will complete them as time allows, working sequentially down from the five-star authors--now complete, with the four-star authors in progress--to the one-star authors.)

Besides this main complete listing, there are several pages on this site that deal with these authors in more detail or in specialized ways:

  • If you would like to visit a relevant external web site or page about a given author, look on the External Links page of this site.

  • If you would like to see these authors sorted into various possibly interesting sub-lists--5 stars, camp classics, that sort of thing--go to the Author Sub-Lists Page.

  • If you would like to see a subjective list of great "lost" authors and their books (writers and works less known and read today than their quality deserves), go to the Overlooked Gems page.

  • If you would like to see authors who have written light-hearted science fiction or fantasy (including but by no means limited to humorous work), go to the Light-Hearted Books page.

  • If you would like to see authors who have written religiously themed science fiction or fantasy, go to the Religion-Related Books page.

  • If you would like to see what the preferred editions are for those books for which there are clearly preferable editions, go to the Preferred Editions page. (Which is, I regret, very far from complete, but I reckon something is better than nothing.)


The Alphabetical Books-By-Author Pages

Before I present the full author list, let me here give you access to the books-by-author pages, which are divided alphabetically by author last name:

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z 

There is also a single master-list page containing all the information on those 26 separate pages, which in fact derive from it; if you have fast-download capability (the page is almost a quarter of a megabyte), you can just look at it instead of the 26 individual pages listed above.


The Full Author List

The names below are each a link to a page here wholly about that particular author. Each such page contains the same books list as appears on the books-by-author pages linked just above; eventually, each will also carry an essay about that author and those books (though that task has a way to go to be completed).


Some Extracts From the Author List

Before we go on to the lists of books, let me again remind you of the other pages of this site that deal with these authors in more detail or in specialized ways.

  • If you would like to visit a relevant external web site or page about a given author, look on the External Links page of this site.

  • If you would like to see these authors sorted into various possibly interesting sub-lists--5 stars, camp classics, that sort of thing--go to the Author Sub-Lists Page.

  • If you would like to see a subjective list of great "lost" authors and their books (writers and works less known and read today than their quality deserves), go to the Overlooked Gems page.

  • If you would like to see authors who have written light-hearted science fiction or fantasy (including but by no means limited to humorous work), go to the Light-Hearted Books page.

  • If you would like to see authors who have written religiously themed science fiction or fantasy, go to the Religion-Related Books page.

  • If you would like to see what the preferred editions are for those books for which there are clearly preferable editions, go to the Preferred Editions page.




If you like, you could now go to complete lists of the recommended books, organized by title, by clicking on the words below. Beware, though: that is a very long file to download. You may be better off to just encounter the books in the various author listings. But if you want it, here it is:

The Books





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(essential one-time reading)
Introductory Material:
    Welcome:
 a quick site overview and some mechanical details
    Apologia:
 the criteria used to make these lists
      (A long page, so also available in two parts for those with slow internet connections.)
            · Apologia: Part 1
            · Apologia: Part 2
    Site Organization:
 what's where, and why

 

(the heart of the site)
The Authors:
    Author List
 (just a lightly annotated list of the authors here--not the best place to start)
    Master Authors/Books List
 (the centrum of this site, but a big page--there are alpha subpages available)
   A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
    Specialty Lists:
 several author "sub-lists" (such as the 5-star greats)
    Author Links:
 links to useful external pages or sites for each listed author
    More Books:
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    Other Candidates:
 authors, and books, that--pending actual reading--seem likely candidates for these lists

 

(typically gotten to
by author)
The Books:
    All Listed Science Fiction & Fantasy Books
 (a long file to download)
    Preferred Editions:
 for those books having such (a work in progress)
    The Other Books:
 all cited books not in the master fiction list, collected in one place
    Overlooked Gems of Science Fiction & Fantasy:
 wonderful works sadly under-known
    Light-Hearted Science-Fiction & Fantasy:
 there's more than you might think
    Religiously Themed Science Fiction & Fantasy:
 something the field handles wonderful well
    Science Fiction & Fantasy For Younger Readers:
 a selection from these lists of appropriate works
    100 Great Works of Science Fiction & Fantasy:
 using an expansive definition of "works"
    "Guilty Pleasures" of Science Fiction & Fantasy:
 sometimes even gourmets just want a big bag of potato chips

 

(new, used--find any book, anywhere in the world)
About Buying Books From Here:
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 · international book-buying considerations
    Buying Books Used:
 searching for used books anywhere in the world
    Our Speculative-Fiction "General Store":
    About the Science-Fiction Book Club:
 info & online signup



(often the most interesting part of any site)
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 an ever-growing collection of, yes, musings
    Obiter Dicta:
 collected miscellaneous
    "That Other Genre":
 crime/mystery fiction
    Science-Fiction & Fantasy Art and Illustration:
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    Other Sites:
 sites that have noticed this one
    The English Language:
 a few thoughts on its modern rape
    Scumware!
 read this if nothing else whatever
    Change Log
 what was done when
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    Comments:
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