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Great Science-Fiction & Fantasy Works

Science-fiction & fantasy literature: a critical list with discussions.

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Author Sub-Lists


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“They liked to have books filled with things they already knew
set out fair and square with no contradictions.”

– The Lord of the Rings,
J. R. R. Tolkien

About Lists

It is sometimes helpful and usually amusing to extract from ratings or rankings lists, such as those on the Author List page, various subsets. I have here collected a few such possibly helpful or amusing sub-lists derived from that page. But note that there are also separate pages of this site with lists of science-fiction and fantasy books that fall into categories:

The sub-lists on this page are all of authors of science-fiction and fantasy; those sub-lists, as listed and jump-linked in the grey box above, now follow.

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The Sub-Lists

The Five-Star Masters

I perceive a dozen such writers, listed below. After each name I have noted what that writer is best remembered for, but where I name particular works that should not be taken to mean that that author did not write others equally fine: the named works are usually only the author's “signature” works.

One notable point about this list is that no two on it, arbitrarily paired, will be much alike in their works, and most such random pairings will show wild dissimilarities. Each of this dozen carved out a universe“or universes”of his own.

Another notable point: “heroic” fantasy is only lightly represented: Eddison and Tolkien, and—on one occasion only, with The King of Elfland’s Daughter—Dunsany.

And yet another point: two of these authors’ works are entirely “children’s books”; make of that what you will.

An oddment: seven of the twelve are remembered for specific works or collections of related works (as with Cabell’s eighteen-book—or more—“Biography of Manuel” cycle); the other five are remembered for no one work or cycle but simply the entire body of their work.

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The Four-Star Greats

Of the five-star “masters” there are few or none whose ranking anyone would quibble about. More controversial will be this list, in two ways: some on it will be seen as five-star writers not being duly honored, others as not truly deserving even four stars.

That may be. The purpose of the stars is not to save God the trouble of deciding which wing of Heaven who will occupy; it is to give you some idea of who I think are the better writers in the field and some gross, not fine, idea of how good each is. I believe you would be rewarded by reading every writer I list on this site; at most, the stars might suggest an order in which to proceed to those with whom you are not familiar.

Note that in a few cases, not marked off here but discussed on that author’s individual page, the rating may derive from just a small subset of the author’s total oeuvre; I used to try to signify that with slashed star ratings (like ****/**), but have decided that that’s just a mess. As noted above, this is not, after all, that fine a slicing. These authors are four-star authors, and—as Dr. Sam’l Johnson famously used to say—there’s an end on’t.


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Speculative-Fiction Writers: Some Surprises

The next time some Philistine acquaintance berates you for reading—even liking—“that dreadful genre sludge”, drop a few of these names on them. Ask them which of these authors, in their opinion, wrote the worst “sludge”.


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Notable Writers of Limited Science-Fiction or Fantasy Output

Some of these writers are dead, so we know we will never have more from them than the little we do. Others, though still writing today, are doing so in other fields and show no inclination to return to ours—though we may yet hope. A few are still active in our fields and I await their next books (publication of which which will usually take them off this list).

For those listed here whom I know definitely to be deceased I have added that notation in [brackets] after the name; for the others, I have [bracketed] whatever I do know. Considering the quality of these writers, it is maddening to find how obscure most seem today: for many, it is hard to find information; for some, it is almost impossible—even merely whether they are still living.

Not a few of these authors have written some other books that might make these lists as I get time to look at them; be sure to cross-check the “Possibles” list page.


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Writers of Science-Fiction or Fantasy Only Available in Translation>

The appreciation, by an English speaker, of the work of an author who wrote in another language necessarily depends heavily on the skills of the translator, as to both fidelity to the sense of the original and to the “flavor”, or prose quality, of the original. Some authors (notably Stanislaw Lem) have been very poorly served by most of their translators; others (notably Italo Calvino) have been very well served. The notes below may be helpful.

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The Top 100 (Or Thereabouts)

(That “100” is just because “Top 100” makes a catchy phrase; it is only coincidence that the list below is close to 100 in length.)

These are, in my opinion, the 109 best science-fiction and fantasy authors of those I have read; for unread authors well recommended by others, see the page here of List Candidates. (The 110 here comes because that is right at the cut between my 3-star and 2-star writers.) Alphabetically, they are:

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The Campy Stuff

I have tried to limit this sub-list—which could easily have gotten out of hand—to just those works that can bear adult re-reading. I do not claim to have included all writers in our fields who are “so bad they’re good”, but I think I have included enough to point any curious readers toward the better samples of the type.

The “so bad” part may deceive: given the right spirit—or spirits—in one’s approach, this lot can be quite entertaining. They are, one might say, beers to the wines I have attempted to list on this site. But I, at least, like beer, too.

(Note that there is a whole separate page on this site listing what I term “Guilty Pleasures”; it overlaps this list, but is by no means identical to it.)

(None of these authors have pages on this site: the link each name represents will take you to an ABEbooks list of used books by that author.)

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This page was last modified on Monday, 12 October 2020, at 1:27 pm Pacific Time.