Highly recommended up and comers
Patrick Rothfuss*: Start with The Name of the Wind
Brandon Sanderson: Start with Mistborn: The Final Empire
Suzanne Collins: Start with The Hunger Games
Hannu Rajaniemi: Start with The Quantum Thief
Charles Stross: Start with Accelerando
Richard Morgan: Start with Altered Carbon
Hugh Howey: Start with Wool
Larry Correia: Start with Monster Hunter International
Liu Cixin: Start with The Three Body Problem
Acknowledged masters of science fiction
Frank Herbert**: Start with Dune
David Zindell: Start with Neverness
David Wingrove: Start with Chung Kuo: The Middle Kingdom (reworked as Son of Heaven
Iain M. Banks: Start with The Player of Games
Isaac Asimov: Start with Foundation
Orson Scott Card: Start with Ender’s Game
William Gibson: Start with Neuromancer
Robert Heinlein: Start with Starship Troopers
Dan Simmons: Start with Hyperion
Anne McCaffrey: Start with Dragonflight
Robert Silverberg: Start with Downward to the Earth
Arthur C. Clarke: Start with Rendezvous With Rama
Philip K. Dick: Start with Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Samuel R. Delany: Start with Babel-17
Acknowledged masters of fantasy
J. R. R. Tolkien**: Start with The Hobbit
Robert Jordan: Start with The Eye of the World
Ursula K. Le Guin: Start with A Wizard of Earthsea
George R. R. Martin: Start with A Game of Thrones
Robin Hobb: Start with Assassins Apprentice
Raymond E. Feist: Start with Magician
Janny Wurts: Start with Curse of the Mistwraith (or Daughter of the Empire if you’ve read Raymond E. Feist’s Magician)
Roger Zelazny: Start with Nine Princes In Amber
Roger Taylor: Start with The Call of the Sword
Guy Gavriel Kay: Start with The Summer Tree
Haruki Murakami: Start with Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
David Eddings: Start with Pawn of Prophecy
R. Scott Bakker: Start with The Darkness that Comes Before
*Most exciting up and comer
**Best in genre
Highly recommended up and comers
Patrick Rothfuss: Rothfuss set the scene on fire in 2007 with his incredible debut The Name of the Wind and stoked the hype fire further in 2011 with the sequel, The Wise Man’s Fear. These two books have singlehandedly earned Rothfuss the title of most exciting up and coming writer in the SFF genre. Millions of people are now begging him to finish the last book in the trilogy.
Brandon Sanderson: Start with his excellent Mistborn trilogy, which represents his best independent work to date, and then move on to the two mammoth tomes in his new epic series The Stormlight Archive, starting with The Way of Kings. Readers also have a soft spot for him due to his satisfactory work completing Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series after Jordan’s untimely death.
Suzanne Collins: Collins’ Hunger Games Trilogy represents dark, dystopian satire as good as it gets. It’s been marketed at times as youth fiction, but don’t be fooled — this is incredibly bleak and nuanced stuff, along the lines of George Orwell’s seminal work 1984. It’s biting commentary on our media- and violence-driven society.
Hannu Rajaniemi: Rajaniemi’s SF trilogy, starting with the excellent The Quantum Thief, represents some of the best post-human fiction around at the moment, and sits at the intersection of physics, mathematics, computational theory and light cyberpunk thinking. The first book is the best, but the second two are still very solid.
Charles Stross: Stross is a modern author who has quite a bibliography. I personally really like his novel Accelerando and his Eschaton series, both of which focus on post-human and post-Earth society, especially focused around the technological ‘singularity’ concept.
Richard Morgan: Morgan’s action-packed Takeshi Kovacs books (starting with Altered Carbon) veer between cyberpunk and post-human, post-Earth societies. Great, visionary reading that still contains human emotion.
Hugh Howey: Howey’s dystopian Wool series is an absolute page-turner, as well as being a completely chilling look at a possible post-apocalyptic future of the human race, still beset by all of its frailties and quirks.
Larry Correia: It’s got guts, guns, and a boatload of soul. Correia’s Monster Hunter series is for anyone who has ever liked a B-Grade monster movie that turned out to be an absolute classic when you watched it with your mates.
Cixin Liu: The Doyen of the Chinese science fiction scene, Liu is a sci-fi master of the old school who uses the hard reality of Earth’s vulnerable place in the wide universe as a lens to view social issues of our time — and of the time of Chairman Mao.
Acknowledged masters of science fiction
Frank Herbert: Herbert’s Dune series is the best and most complex science fiction series ever written. It introduces dozens of startling new concepts and is extremely easy to pick up. I’ve read the series half a dozen times, and now find I enjoy the later books (especially God Emperor of Dune) the most. Whatever you do, however, DO NOT read the “authorised” books in the Dune universe penned by Herbert’s son and author Kevin J. Anderson. They butcher Frank Herbert’s legacy and are atrocious.
David Zindell: Very few people have heard of his books, but Zindell’s four book series Neverness/A Requiem for Homo Sapiens should be considered only a shade below Herbert’s Dune series in terms of its visionary ideas and sheer scope. A highly personal meditation on humanity’s possible future evolution — in all directions. I can’t recommend this series highly enough. I don’t really recommend Zindell’s Ea Cycle fantasy series, though — it’s not on the same level.
David Wingrove: Another chronically overlooked master, Wingrove’s incredible Chung Kuo epic series, which envisions a future Earth where a Chinese empire takes over the planet and completely develops it, is one of the best epic sci-fi series ever written. It’s been hard to find until recently and was not correctly finished. It’s being repackaged and is now available widely, although we’re not quite sure we approve of all the changes.
Iain M. Banks: Banks’ Culture series offers a smooth vision of a future galactic utopia where humans can have anything they want — and then spins stories of people and events on the less pleasant borderlines of that reality. Start with The Player of Games, then pick up the best in the series, Look to Windward. After that the rest will go pretty easily.
Isaac Asimov: Regarded as the undisputed grandfather of the genre, Asimov penned many hundreds of books, with many ranging across all aspects of science fiction. It’s probably best to start with his stellar Foundation epic space empire series, but Asimov’s ‘Robot’ series is also incredible, starting with I, Robot. And there’s a stack more.
Orson Scott Card: Card is best known for his brilliant novel Ender’s Game. Don’t be fooled by the recent mediocre film adaptation — this book is a must-read and offers the best vision I’ve ever seen for what it’s like to be a child who’s a little too intelligent for those around them. It’s also a startling meditation on war and the possible nature of alien intelligences. Card continues the series for three more novels after Ender’s Game, but I don’t recommend venturing beyond that, as things get a little formulaic.
That’s not all, though — I also recommend Card’s excellent Homecoming Saga, and if you’re still enjoying Card after that, get stuck into the Alvin Maker series.
William Gibson: The father of cyberpunk fiction, Gibson’s Neuromancer is a must-read and still relevent to current technological trends, thirty years after it was first published. Gibson’s other books (including the two follow-up novels) are not quite as good, or as edgy with their ideas, but they’re still worth reading if you enjoy Neuromancer.
Robert Heinlein: Probably the most successful outside the box thinker amongst the science fiction masters, Heinlein wrote a variety of books in a variety of styles, but all with angles that fundamentally question modern society’s most basic ideas. Heinlein loves to bend politics, sexuality, violence and even family values out of recognition. After you finish a Heinlein novel, it’s common to feel really weirded out. I recommend starting with the easily digested Starship Troopers and then moving onto Stranger in a Strange Land and then The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. If you survive those, there are plenty more.
Dan Simmons: Simmons’ four book Hyperion Cantos loses a little by the end, but the first couple of books are page turners that you’ll be staying up all night for. Set in a utopian future galactic human society which starts coming apart at the seams.
Anne McCaffrey: McCaffrey does light science fiction which is easy to get into. Her best books are probably the Dragonriders of Pern series, which is set on an alien planet where the human descendents are forced to bond with local ‘dragons’ to eliminate natural threats. Start with Dragonflight; the series goes on for quite a while. However, McCaffrey has a heap of other fun series, ranging from the Brain & Brawn Ship series to the sexed up Crystal series to things to do with psychokinetic and telepathic powers and even dinosaurs on alien planets. It’s all fun and accessible and recommended reading.
Robert Silverberg: One of the most prolific amongst the classic science fiction masters. Some of our favourite Silverberg works include Downward to the Earth, Up the Line, Tower of Glass, The World Inside, The Book of Skulls and the Majipoor series.
Arthur C. Clarke: Another one of the genre’s classic masters, Clarke is best known for his novels 2001: A Space Odyssey and Rendezvous with Rama. Both had a number of follow-up works.
Philip K. Dick: If one science fiction master could be considered to be on a far out drug trip, it would be Philip K. Dick. His books Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Ubik, The Man in the High Castle and others are considered essential reading, and very much show a dark and disturbing science fiction vision which still influences many writers today.
Acknowledged masters of fantasy
J. R. R. Tolkien: The acknowledged king of the fantasy genre. You have probably heard of this guy ;) If you want to do things in the right order, read the short novel The Hobbit first and then the Lord of the Rings trilogy. However, it’s OK to do it the other way around as well. Tolkien’s work underpins that of almost every other fantasy author of any stature.
Robert Jordan: Tolkien’s heir, Jordan penned most of the epic series The Wheel of Time series over several decades starting in the 1990’s. It’s a must-read series that contains every possible idea that a fantasy series could contain. Just don’t get bogged down from about book six or seven, and remember that the last three books are a bit off in some places as they were penned by up and comer Brandon Sanderson after Jordan passed away in late 2007, and you’ll be set for one of the greatest fantasy reads of all time.
Ursula K. Le Guin: Best known for her awesome Earthsea fantasy series, which is required reading for any fantasy fan. However, Le Guin’s true masterwork is the dystopian science fiction novel The Dispossessed, which is a meditation on the nature of the diametrically opposed anarchist and capitalist social democracy political theories. The gender-bending novel The Left Hand of Darkness is also superb.
George R. R. Martin: GRRM’s best known for his epic series A Song of Ice and Fire, which has recently exploded in popularity due to the US TV adaptation Game of Thrones. It’s gritty and violent and sexy and we love it. It’s also not yet finished — so be warned that you’ll likely be waiting a few years for the conclusion.
Robin Hobb: Hobb’s masterwork is the long, long series The Realm of the Elderlings, which contains no less than five trilogies and is still being completed. This series is compulsory epic fantasy reading and goes through so many twists and turns and revelations that your brain will be a little bent by the end of it. The first nine books are the best, although Hobb has recently rejuvenated the series in an admirable manner, and we’re hooked again. If you like Hobb’s style, the Soldier Son trilogy is also not bad.
Janny Wurts: Wurts is best known for her easy reading Empire Trilogy, co-authored with Raymond E. Feist and set in Feist’s Midkemia/Kelewan universe. However, her masterwork is The Wars of Light and Shadow epic series, which is almost finished. It can be wordy at times, and the first book, The Curse of the Mistwraith, is a bit of a slog, but it’s worth persevering for one of the best long reads in the genre.
Roger Zelazny: A science fiction master with a heap of great stand-alone sci-fi novels to his name, we nonetheless consider Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber fantasy series to be his best and most consistent work. It’s easy to get into but very satisfying. Lots of roguish humour.
Roger Taylor: A little-known British author, Taylor’s Chronicles of Hawklan is an often overlooked gem series in the fantasy genre. If you can find it, pick up a copy of the first four books. Decide if you want to keep reading after that.
Guy Gavriel Kay: Kay’s short trilogy The Fionavar Tapestry is very solid reading in the Tolkien tradition. If you like it, there’s plenty of more books available. In his successive books, Kay has been focusing on alternative history. And he’s very good at it.
Haruki Murakami: Not viewed as a traditional fantasy master, this Japanese author nonetheless includes fantasy elements in all his books. They’re all complex interweavings of inner and outer worlds that demonstrate the sheer aloneness and surreality of human existence. The incredible long novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is Murakami’s masterwork, but I usually recommend fantasy fans to start with the more approachable Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.
David Eddings: Eddings’ Belgariad series and its follow-ups is widely considered a bit lighter than some of the more serious series in the fantasy genre, but it’s still a great read in the epic fantasy style. A great intro to the genre, especially for teenage readers.
Raymond E. Feist: Feist’s Magician is considered a must-read of the fantasy genre. There are countless follow-up novels; how deep you get into Feist’s universe is up to you. I recommend reading Magician, Silverthorn and A Darkness at Sethanon, followed by the three ‘Empire’ books Feist co-authored with Janny Wurts. Then keep going as long as you want — there are about a dozen more books. I gave up after Shards of a Broken Crown, but I’m hoping to return to Feist’s world of Midkemia one day.
R. Scott Bakker: Bakker is best known for his epic and highly philosophical series The Second Apocalypse. It turns into a slog after the first trilogy, but the first three books are superb. They’re very much a meditation on the messiah complex which is found in Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions, and how men and civilisations can be manipulated. However, as always with fantasy, there’s also an ultimate evil lurking in the background …