MANY GREATS HAVE LEFT THEIR MARK. BUT WHO ARE THE MOST INFLUENTIAL?
There maybe no definitive answer, but here is a list of the ten most influential Science Fiction authors ever.
I have recently been contemplating on which authors have had the most profound impact and influence on Science Fiction literature over the years, and many writers came to mind. As a challenge to myself, I decided to draw up a list of the ten most influential writers of the genre ever. I have tried to be as objective as possible, so I have disregarded whether or not I actually like the work of the authors who made it onto my list.
Now without further delay, counting down from ten, here are the ten most influential science fiction writers of all time.
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10. Lois McMaster Bujold
Although she also writes fantasy books I think it is fair to conclude that Lois McMaster Bujold is not just the most acclaimed female science fiction author ever, but one of the most acclaimed, period. She has won numerous awards for her work including four Hugo Awards for Best Novel, equalling Robert Heinlein’s record.
McMaster Bujold’s best known science fiction work is the long running space opera series, Vorkosigan Saga which comprises several novels and short stories. Although these works are set in the same fictional universe, they each generally have a distinctive vibe as they contain varying elements from other genres such as thrillers, mystery and romance.
As the most successful, and possibly even the best female author of the genre, there is no doubting the influence that McMaster Bujold has had on readers and writers in the last couple of decades, and will continue to have for many years to come.
9. Frank Herbert
The critically acclaimed American science fiction writer’s name is synonymous with the novel Dune, his Hugo and Nebula Award winning masterpiece, which I believe is the best selling science fiction novel of all time.
Herbert’s literary style was one of the notable features distinguishing his work from that of most of his contemporaries. His writing often explored philosophical ideas, as well as touching upon subject matters like religion, politics and even ecology. This approach to science fiction is perhaps one of the reasons that none of his other works achieved the same kind of acclaim as Dune; not even the other books of the Dune Saga could match its success.
Frank Herbert has built up a very devoted following, and with Dune he has written a novel that has served to inspire and influence many readers and writers. For this alone he deserves a spot in this top ten.
8. Anne McCaffrey
The American born science fiction author has the distinction of being the first female fiction writer to win a Hugo Award and a Nebula Award. In a genre that was once considered to be the domain of male readers and writers, there is no doubt the McCaffrey was one of the pioneers in broadening the appeal of science fiction to female readers and opening a door for other female writers.
Anne McCaffrey is best known for her long running Dragonriders Of Pern series which continues to garner new fans to this day.
I don’t think anyone can argue against Anne McCaffrey being the most influential female author of science fiction. She was a pioneer and one of the leading lights paving the way for other female writers to follow. In that respect she has more than earned a place in the top ten most influential list.
7. Isaac Asimov
The Russian born Asimov is one of the most prolific writers of any genre, as well as being one of the most acclaimed science fiction authors of all time. Although he eventually stopped writing science fiction to pursue more academic writing, he won multiple Hugo and Nebula Awards for his works in the genre.
Asimov’s best known and most enduring science fiction works are from his three main book series: The Foundation Series; The Galactic Empire Series; and The Robot Series.
Much like H.G. Wells, I don’t think that Asimov was a great writer, per se, but his strength lay in the thought provoking ideas he incorporated into his storytelling. This defining trait of his writing is at the heart of why he has been such an influential figure in science fiction literature.
I, Robot (Robot Series, Book 0.1)
The Caves Of Steel (Robot Series, Book 1)
Foundation (Foundation Series, Book 1)
Foundation And Empire (Foundation Series, Book 2)
Second Foundation (Foundation Series, Book 3)
The Gods Themselves
6. Arthur C. Clarke
I contemplated placing Arthur C. Clarke below Isaac Asimov on the list, but decided that he warranted the higher position on the grounds that he was the better writer of the two.
A central theme of much of Clarke’s work is his almost utopian view of humanity’s future progress, with the advancement of technology. Indeed, he seemed to have an almost prophetic ability to foresee technological advancements that have subsequently come to pass. This perhaps can be attributed to the fact that he was not just a writer, but also an inventor.
Arthur C. Clarke is almost certainly best known for writing 2001: A Space Odyssey because it was famously adapted for the big screen by director Stanley Kubrick. But I think most people will agree that it is by no means his best work, as he has written a number of novels that are considerably better.
5. Ray Bradbury
American author Ray Bradbury wrote in a number of genres, notably horror, science fiction and fantasy. He is perhaps best known for the classic dystopian science fiction novel Fahrenheit 451, but he was also a very prolific short story writer.
As a youth Bradbury was greatly influenced by the writing of both Edgar Allen Poe and Edgar Rice Burroughs. As he matured into his late teens he developed an appreciation for the works of Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein, as well as H.G. Wells and Jules Verne; the latter two authors having the most influence on his own science fiction writing.
On a personal note, reading Bradbury’s short story, A Sound Of Thunder, as a young kid was one the things that helped shape my early love for storytelling.
4. Robert Heinlein
American science fiction author Robert Heinlein is regarded as one third of the “Big Three” authors of the genre, alongside Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. What distinguished Heinlein’s work from those of his two contemporaries was that he often dealt with social themes, like race and sexuality, in his writing.
During his lifetime Heinlein was considered to be somewhat controversial, both in his political views and how they manifested in his writing. There is no question that the thought provoking themes addressed in his works were ahead of their time and have been topics of much debate for many years.
Heinlein has an impressive body of work containing more than thirty novels and over fifty short stories. This output garnered several Hugo, Nebula and Locus Award nominations, and earned him a record four Hugo Awards for Best Novel.
3. Philip K. Dick
The inclusion of Philip K. Dick above more illustrious authors of science fiction will probably cause eyebrows to rise. But let me make the case that Dick is the third most influential voice of science fiction. For one thing, even people who have never read a short story or novel by PKD in their lives, will have some familiarity with some of his unique tales. At least eight of his works have been adapted into films; Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report being the most well known of them.
How much of PKD’s writings were influenced by drug abuse is up for debate, but many of his famous works are characterised by themes of paranoia, the nature of reality, personal identity, mental illness and conspiracies. His writing often had very unique, though surreal ideas, making Dick one of the most original writers of science fiction.
Philip K. Dick’s works have racked up numerous Hugo, Nebula and Locus Award nominations, with his 1962 alternate history novel, The Man In The High Castle, winning the Hugo Award For Best Novel in 1963.
2. Jules Verne
It was a tough call deciding whether to place the nineteenth century French novelist above or below H.G. Wells. Certainly without Jules Verne’s own contribution to the genre, we may never have had an H.G. Wells. In the end I have decided to place Verne in second place, as Wells, to my mind, has a much more impressive body of work to his name.
Although his influence has been eclipsed by Wells, I consider Verne to be a true pioneer of science fiction literature. He was the first author to explore a number of ideas which would later become commonplace themes of science fiction, and have been copied and built upon by numerous others since.
Jules Verne is sometimes referred to as The Father Of Science Fiction, and as one of the pioneers of the genre, he has done more than enough to earn such an accolade.
1. H.G. Wells
Herbert George Wells’ life outside writing, is perhaps even more interesting than any of his written work, but it is as a writer that he is best known. Although H.G. Wells wrote in several different genres, both fiction and non-fiction, his most popular and influential works are in the science fiction genre.
While I personally don’t believe that Wells was a great writer, he most certainly was a great storyteller. He was gifted with an imagination which gave birth to ideas and stories that were simply far ahead of their time. Many of these works are still being published to this very day.
My main reason for placing H.G. Wells above Jules Verne is because I don’t think there is much doubt that Wells’ influence has surpassed that of Verne. There is no denying the profound influence his science fiction works have had, and continue to have on readers, authors and film-makers. Without Wells, we may never have had many of the most well known luminaries of science fiction literature..
Obviously I cannot claim that this is the definitive list that no one should disagree with. This is just one person’s opinion. Thank you for reading, if you want to comment on my choices or simply want to mention your own list, feel free to chime in.
Insights, reflections and opinions on various subject matters related to the literary world of fantasy and science fiction, for comment and discussion.