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:
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.
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.