It was a painful vote for many of you, especially to narrow it down from over one hundred nominations to the top ten sci-fi writers of all time. As so many of you pointed out, there are wonderful writers that should have been on the list! But, according to our tallies here on the Discover Sci-Fi blog, and over on the Facebook group these were the top 10 writers you all voted for, interestingly, in a slightly different order on Facebook than on the blog.
If you'd like to view the original nomination list here on the blog, you can find it here.
Of course, it's impossible to really list all the great works of these phenomenal writers, so we've just chosen one to highlight, but please, share with us your favorites in the comments below!
And now, without further ado, here are the top 10 writers in order from tenth to the very best sci-fi writer of all time (according to you!)!
10. Frederik Pohl
Frederik Pohl (1919 – 2013) had an illustrious career spanning nearly 75 years. He won four Hugo and three Nebula Awards among many other awards. He wrote under a number of pseudonyms including Charles Satterfield, Paul Flehr, Ernst Mason, Jordan Park (two collaborative novels with Kornbluth), and Edson McCann (one collaborative novel with Lester del Rey). One of his later works, The Last Theorem, he worked on with Arthur C. Clarke, another writer on this list!
It was The Space Merchants with which Pohl blasted onto the literary scene, writing it while he was fighting during World War II. As would become his future style, The Space Merchants demonstrates his uncanny trend-forecasting style for futurism and satire. An author within a genre that wasn't really a genre for another decade or so.
9. Larry Niven
Larry Niven (1938 – ) has won Hugo, Locus, Ditmar, Nebula awards, among others. (You're going to see a lot of award winners on this list!) He has written numerous novels and short stories, beginning with his 1964 story “The Coldest Place”. His other writing endeavours have included TV scripts and also writing for the DC Comics character Green Lantern!
One of his most famous books (which became a series) is Ringworld. The concept is based on his idea of a kind of Dyson sphere world, in this case, a Ringworld: a band of material, roughly a million miles wide, of approximately the same diameter as Earth's orbit, rotating around a star. This influenced Iain M. Banks in his Culture series, which features about 1/100th ringworld–size megastructures.
As a mega sci-fi influencer there are many other works we could have highlighted to demonstrate Niven's influence on the sci-fi genre. Want to recommend some others? Drop a line in the comments below. You can find book one of Niven's influential Ringworld series on Amazon here.
8. Anne McCaffrey
We are so proud to have Anne McCaffrey (1926 – 2011) on this list as she is the only woman to have made this top 10 list… something we hope to see changing over the coming years as more female authors get exposure. McCaffrey held a 46-year career as a writer, and she became the first woman to win a Hugo Award for fiction and the first to win a Nebula Award.
She is probably best known for her Dragonriders of Pern series. Marvellously, her 1978 novel The White Dragon (the third in the series) became one of the first science-fiction books to appear on the New York Times Best Seller list. Another favorite that we've shared when McCaffrey was on our top 10 list of favorite bio-tech enhancements was The “Brain & Brawn Ship series” (or Brainship or Ship series) which starts with The Ship Who Sang.
7. Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury (1920 – 2012) worked in a number of genres, including fantasy, horror and mystery fiction, but is perhaps best known for his science-fiction. He was the recipient for numerous awards, including a Pulitzer citation, and had an impact crater on the Earth's moon named Dandelion Crater by the Apollo 15 (1972) astronauts, in honor of his novel Dandelion Wine!
One of his most famous works is Fahrenheit 451, a dystopian science-fiction novel in which television rules and literature is on the brink of extinction, since rather than putting fires out, firemen start them, and have burned almost all the books known to have existed. This kind of dystopic, societal-critique is a common theme in Bradbury's work, including in his many short stories.
It's terribly hard to choose just one Bradbury work to feature, and his Martian Chronicles would be the next we would choose. Do you have another recommendation? Share it with us below!
6. H.G. Wells
H.G. Wells (1866 – 1946) is often referred to as the “father of science fiction” alongside Jules Verne. He wrote in many genres and, as many of these great authors, was a social critic and wrote about politics. The science fiction historian John Clute describes Wells as “the most important writer the genre has yet seen”, and notes his work has been central to both British and American science fiction.
A renowned futurist and “visionary”, Wells foresaw the advent of aircraft, tanks, space travel, nuclear weapons, satellite television and something resembling the World Wide Web. His first novel was The Time Machine, a science fiction tale about a gentleman inventor living in England, who traverses first thousands of years and then millions into the future, before bringing back the knowledge of the grave degeneration of the human race and the planet.
As a prolific author, it's hard to recommend just one of his titles. What do you think, have you read this one, or do you prefer one of his others? Share in the comments below. And as always, you can find The Time Machine on Amazon, here.
5. Frank Herbert
Frank Herbert (1920 – 1986) held a number of other titles (ecological consultant, photographer, journalist, etc.) as well as being a famous science-fiction author. As with many other of these great authors, Herbert's debut on the sci-fi scene was with a short story, “Looking for Something”, in 1952. Herbert was the first science fiction author to popularize ideas about ecology and systems thinking. He stressed the need for humans to think both systematically and long-term.
Herbert's novel Dune is the best-selling science fiction novel of all time, and the whole series is widely considered to be among the classics of the genre. The novel originated when he was supposed to do a magazine article on sand dunes in the Oregon Dunes near Florence, Oregon. He became too involved and ended up with far more raw material than needed for an article. The article was never written, but instead planted the seed that led to Dune.
4. Philip K. Dick
Philip K. Dick (1928 – 1982), sometimes known as PKD, also wrote under a couple pen names, including Richard Phillipps and Jack Dowland. He started publishing science fiction in 1951 but it wasn't until 1962 when he published the alternative history novel The Man in the High Castle that Dick earned acclaim, including a Hugo Award for Best Novel.
A variety of popular Hollywood films based on Dick's works have been produced, including Blade Runner (1982), Total Recall (adapted twice: in 1990 and in 2012), Minority Report (2002), A Scanner Darkly (2006), and The Adjustment Bureau (2011). Meanwhile, the novel The Man in the High Castle (1962) was made into a multi-season television series by Amazon, starting in 2015.
The movie Blade Runner (1982) is now a classic, and the novel that inspired it Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a thrilling one, published in 1968 in the middle of Dick's heyday. It's a prescient novel to read (or re-read) now, since it is set in 2021, when the World War has killed millions, driving entire species into extinction and sending mankind off-planet. Driven into hiding, unauthorized androids live among human beings, undetected. Rick Deckard, an officially sanctioned bounty hunter, is commissioned to find rogue androids and “retire” them. But when cornered, androids fight back—with lethal force.
3. Arthur C. Clarke
Sir Arthur C. Clarke (1917 – 2008) was a British science fiction writer, science writer and futurist, inventor, undersea explorer, and television series host. He was made a Knight Bachelor “for services to literature” at a ceremony in Colombo.
Clarke was a lifelong proponent of space travel and he is famous for being co-writer of the screenplay for the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Clarke was a science writer, who was both an avid populariser of space travel and a futurist of uncanny ability. 2001: A Space Odyssey, was extended well beyond the 1968 movie as the Space Odyssey series. This allegory about humanity’s exploration of the universe—and the universe’s reaction to humanity—is a hallmark achievement in storytelling that follows the crew of the spacecraft Discovery as they embark on a mission to Saturn. Their vessel is controlled by HAL 9000, an artificially intelligent supercomputer capable of the highest level of cognitive functioning that rivals—and perhaps threatens—the human mind.
What are your other favorites of Clarke's? Share them below and check out 2001: A Space Odyssey, the first in the Space Odyssey series, on Amazon, here.
2. Robert Heinlein
Robert A. Heinlein is another author who has made our top 10 lists multiple times, including top military sci-fi books and top sci-fi books of all time. The favorite around here is often Starship Troopers.
Heinlein was an American science-fiction author, aeronautical engineer, and retired Naval officer. Sometimes called the “dean of science fiction writers,” he was among the first to emphasize scientific accuracy in his fiction, and was thus a pioneer of the subgenre of hard science fiction. His published works, both fiction and non-fiction, express admiration for competence and emphasize the value of critical thinking. His work continues to have an influence on the science-fiction genre, and on modern culture more generally. And rightfully so! His work has appeared in almost every one of the top 10 lists we host here on this blog.
Heinlein used his science fiction as a way to explore provocative social and political ideas, and to speculate how progress in science and engineering might shape the future of politics, race, religion, and sex. Within the framework of his science-fiction stories, Heinlein repeatedly addressed certain social themes: the importance of individual liberty and self-reliance, the nature of sexual relationships, the obligation individuals owe to their societies, the influence of organized religion on culture and government, and the tendency of society to repress nonconformist thought. He also speculated on the influence of space travel on human cultural practices.
1. Isaac Asimov
We heard you! With over 500 total votes, Isaac Asimov (1920 – 1992) was the resounding top science fiction favorite of all of us Discover Sci-Fi readers.
Asimov was one the world's most celebrated and prolific science fiction writers, having written or edited more than 500 books over his four-decade career. His Foundation Trilogy is recognized by sci-fi fans everywhere as one of the greatest books in the genre. In 1966, the Foundation Trilogy received the Hugo Award for Best All-Time Series, beating out the Lord of the Rings.
Some well-deserved praise for Isaac Asimov and his Foundation series:
“A true polymath, a superb rationalist, an exciting and accessible writer in both fiction and nonfiction, Isaac Asimov was simply a master of all he surveyed.”— Greg Bear
“Asimov served wondrous meals-of-the-mind to a civilization that was starved for clear thinking about the future. To this day, his visions spice our ongoing dinner-table conversation about human destiny.”— David Brin
So… What do you think of that list? Did you agree with all of the books chosen on this list? Join us here in our Facebook group to chime in on the debate, and then check out our most recent poll while you're there. Don't have Facebook? You can share your views in the comments below.
*Some book-related copy in this post was pulled from Amazon & Wikipedia.