So you'd like to...

read the best living American writers of Science Fiction

A guide by John Kwok (New York, NY USA)
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)   

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For too long science fiction and fantasy writing has been consigned to a "ghetto" by "high brow" mainstream fiction writers and critics. That's a substantial mistake especially when most mainstream fiction is mere "domestic realism fiction" - to borrow writer and radio talk show host Ellen Kushner's phrase (though credit is also due to her partner, writer Delia Sherman, who may have coined it) - that isn't as distinguished as a lot of very good science fiction and fantasy being written now. Here is my own biased list of some of the best contemporary writers of science fiction currently active, arranged roughly in chronological order of their first publication, with representative samples of their most noteworthy fiction:

Samuel Delany is one of our greatest living American writers whose reputation has filtered into mainstream literary circles due to his work in gay/lesbian fiction. But his is a most accomplished body of work that ranges from traditional science fiction to fantasy to more realistic fiction. Among his most notable works are the novels Nova, Dhalgren, Trouble on Triton: An Ambiguous Heterotopia, The Einstein Intersection, and Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand. His latest is Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders, a long overdue return to science fiction.

Bruce Sterling is one of the founding figures of the cyberpunk literary movement. His impressive body of work includes the novels Schismatrix Plus (Complete Shapers-Mechanists Universe), Islands in the Net, Heavy Weather, and Holy Fire (Bantam Spectra Book). His collaborative novel with fellow cyberpunk "father" William Gibson, The Difference Engine, almost singlehandedly gave birth to the alternate history cyberpunk offshoot known as steampunk.

Michael Swanwick is among the five best literary stylists currently working in science fiction. Though a founding figure of the cyberpunk literary movement, his work includes excellent fantasy and time travel fiction. His short stories include many recipients of Hugo and Nebula Awards (A notable recent collection is his The Dog Said Bow-Wow, which features the confidence "men" Darger and Surplus.). Notable examples include his novels Vacuum Flowers, Stations of the Tide, The Iron Dragon's Daughter, Jack Faust, Bones of the Earth, and, most recently, Dancing with Bears: A Darger & Surplus Novel.

William Gibson, one of the founding "fathers" of cyberpunk, is best known for having written, according to Time magazine literary critic Lev Grossman, the best novel published in English since 1980, Neuromancer,his Hugo and Nebula award-winning novel, which also earned the John W. Campbell Award for best new writer. His other important works include Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive (the second and third novels in his "Cyberspace" trilogy, so aptly named since he coined the term "cyberspace"), his early cyberpunk short story collection Burning Chrome, and the "Bridge" trilogy (Virtual Light, Idoru, All Tomorrow's Parties). Lately he has set his sights on the present, of which Zero History, his most recent, may be his best novel in years.

Pat Cadigan is the founding "mother" of cyberpunk fiction, whose work tends to be neglected, especially when compared with the likes of Sterling, Gibson and Swanwick. But she is a superb writer in her own right worthy of attention. Her work includes the classic cyberpunk novels Mindplayers (Gollancz SF Collectors' Edition) and Synners, and, more recently, a fine blend of classic detective fiction mixed with cyberpunk; Tea From An Empty Cup and Dervish Is Digital (Tea from an Empty Cup).

Dan Simmons is a prolific award-winning writer of both excellent mainstream and science fiction and fantasy fiction. His "Hyperion Cantos" (Hyperion Cantos: Hyperion, The Fall of Hyperion, Endymion (Hyperion), and The Rise of Endymion (Hyperion)) raised the stakes with regards to writing literary space opera science fiction, drawing from sources as diverse as the poetry of John Keats and cyberpunk. A more recent literary space opera is his superb take on the Homeric epics, The Iliad and The Odyssey, set on a distant future Earth and Mars; Ilium and Olympos. One of my favorite novels of his is a most engrossing fictional account of the writer Ernest Hemingway indulging in spying on Nazis in Cuba during the early years of World War II, The Crook Factory. Dan Simmons' latest novel is the near future dystopian thriller Flashback.

Neal Stephenson earned ample praise for his great post-cyberpunk novel Snow Crash, and followed it up with his Victorian Age-inspired steampunk fantasy novel set in a distant future Earth, The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer (Bantam Spectra Book), that may be his finest novel to date. Other important novels include Cryptonomicon, the prequel to his "Baroque Cycle" trilogy of steampunk-influenced historial fiction (Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle No. 1), The Confusion (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 2), The System of the World (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 3)) and Anathem. His latest, the near future dystopian thriller Reamde, has appeared on some "Best of 2011" fiction lists.

Matt Ruff achieved a cult following with his literary debut fantasy novel Fool on the Hill: A Novel (his Cornell University senior thesis supervised by novelist Alison Lurie) and superb post-cyberpunk Ayn Rand-inspired satire Sewer, Gas and Electric: The Public Works Trilogy (Public Works Trilogy), but didn't become widely known, at least amongst mainstream literary circles, until the publication of his multiple personality disorder novel Set This House in Order: A Romance of Souls. His most popular novel is his Philip K. Dick-inspired Bad Monkeys: A Novel (P.S.). His newest novel is another homage to Dick, The Mirage: A Novel, a 9-11 alternative history novel that is the 21st Century version of Dick's "The Man in The High Castle".

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1.  Nova  by Samuel R. Delany
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2.  Dhalgren  by Samuel R. Delany
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3.  Trouble on Triton: An Ambiguous Heterotopia  by Samuel R. Delany
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4.  The Einstein Intersection  by Samuel R. Delany
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5.  Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand [Deluxe Edition]  by Samuel R. Delany
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6.  Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders  by Samuel R. Delany
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7.  Schismatrix Plus (Complete Shapers-Mechanists Universe)  by Bruce Sterling
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8.  Islands in the Net  by Bruce Sterling
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9.  Heavy Weather  by Bruce Sterling
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10.  Holy Fire (Bantam Spectra Book)  by Bruce Sterling
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11.  The Difference Engine  by William Gibson
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12.  The Dog Said Bow-Wow  by Michael Swanwick
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13.  Vacuum Flowers [Import]  by Michael Swanwick
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14.  Stations of the Tide  by Michael Swanwick
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15.  The Iron Dragon's Daughter  by Michael Swanwick
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16.  Jack Faust  by Michael Swanwick
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17.  Bones of the Earth  by Michael Swanwick
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18.  Dancing with Bears: A Darger & Surplus Novel  by Michael Swanwick
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19.  Neuromancer  by William Gibson
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20.  Count Zero  by William Gibson
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21.  Mona Lisa Overdrive  by William Gibson
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22.  Burning Chrome  by William Gibson
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23.  Virtual Light  by William Gibson
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24.  Idoru  by William Gibson
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25.  All Tomorrow's Parties  by William Gibson
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26.  Zero History  by William Gibson
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27.  Mindplayers (Gollancz SF Collectors' Edition)  by Pat Cadigan
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28.  Synners  by Pat Cadigan
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29.  Tea From An Empty Cup  by Pat Cadigan
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30.  Dervish Is Digital (Tea from an Empty Cup) [Bargain Price]  by Pat Cadigan
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31.  Hyperion Cantos: Hyperion, The Fall of Hyperion  by Dan Simmons
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32.  Endymion (Hyperion)  by Dan Simmons
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33.  The Rise of Endymion (Hyperion)  by Dan Simmons
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34.  Ilium  by Dan Simmons
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35.  Olympos  by Dan Simmons
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36.  The Crook Factory [Bargain Price]  by Dan Simmons
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37.  Flashback  by Dan Simmons
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38.  Snow Crash  by Neal Stephenson
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4.1 out of 5 stars   (1,061) | 4 customer discussions
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39.  The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer (Bantam Spectra Book)  by Neal Stephenson
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40.  Cryptonomicon  by Neal Stephenson
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41.  Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle No. 1)  by Neal Stephenson
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42.  The Confusion (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 2)  by Neal Stephenson
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43.  The System of the World (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 3)  by Neal Stephenson
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44.  Anathem [Bargain Price]  by Neal Stephenson
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45.  Reamde [Deckle Edge]  by Neal Stephenson
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46.  Fool on the Hill: A Novel  by Matt Ruff
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47.  Sewer, Gas and Electric: The Public Works Trilogy (Public Works Trilogy)  by Matt Ruff
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48.  Set This House in Order: A Romance of Souls  by Matt Ruff
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49.  Bad Monkeys: A Novel (P.S.)  by Matt Ruff
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50.  The Mirage: A Novel  by Matt Ruff
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Author

John Kwok (New York, NY USA)
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)   
Qualifications: SF writer interested in literary science fiction
Last updated: 12/26/11
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