Even today, anyone over the age of fifty or so is likely to think of Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke when the subject of science fiction comes up. Yet all three have been dead for a long time (Heinlein in 1988, Asimov in 1992, Clarke in 2008), and the field has moved light-years away from the genre they dominated for so long. At least two generations of younger writers have come along. In fact, some of them have already retired.
Estimated reading time: 11 minutes
This post was updated on May 22, 2023.
Today, the big names in the field include William Gibson, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Neal Stephenson, all of whom published their first novels in 1984. But a new generation has emerged in the 21st century—and that’s my subject here. A great many of the newly emerging masters, even possibly a majority, are women. Although I can’t possibly claim to have read them all, I’ve explored the work of many of the newer sci-fi authors. These are all writers whose work has predominantly, or exclusively, been published since 2000. And here I’ll list the very best of those I’ve come across.
For each of the ten authors in the list below I’ve noted the novels I’ve reviewed, with each title linked to its review.
Please note that the books listed here are all science fiction, not fantasy. I recognize that a great deal of the bestselling work in the field is fantasy, but it doesn’t interest me.
Peter Cawdron is an Australian author who specializes in hard science fiction. He lives in Brisbane with his wife and three children. Goodreads lists sixty-one books he’s written, making him by far the most prolific of this crop of new writers listed here.
Retrograde (Retrograde #1) ★★★★★ – What life on Mars would really be like
Reentry (Retrograde #2) ★★★★★ – A fast-paced science fiction thriller grounded in believable science
Anomaly (First Contact #1) ★★★★☆— Extraterrestrial contact changes everything in this SF novel
Xenophobia (First Contact #2) ★★★★☆— The human race comes off poorly in this insightful First Contact novel
Little Green Men (First Contact #3) ★★★★☆— Is communication between human and extraterrestrial intelligence likely?
Galactic Exploration (First Contact #4) ★★★★☆— Galactic exploration yields conflicting views of extraterrestrial life
Feedback (First Contact #5) ★★★½☆☆—Time travel dominates this tale of First Contact
My Sweet Satan (First Contact #6) ★★★★☆—A space travel story full of surprises
Alien Space Tentacle Porn (First Contact #9) ★★★★☆—A funny story about alien abductions
Starship Mine (First Contact #10) ★★★★★—A novel twist on First Contact with alien intelligence
Welcome to the Occupied States of America (First Contact #11) ★★★★☆— These alien invaders aren’t what you might expect
Maelstrom (First Contact #12) ★★★★☆ — Worlds collide with Earth in an entertaining First Contact story
Losing Mars (First Contact #14) ★★★★☆ — A fact-based novel about exploring Mars
3zekiel (First Contact #15) ★★★★★ – A thoughtful treatment of First Contact in this new sci-fi novel
But the Stars (First Contact #16) ★★★★☆ — An alien encounter that questions the nature of reality
Wherever Seeds May Fall (First Contact #17) ★★★★★ — One surprise after another in this brilliant First Contact novel
Jury Duty (First Contact #18) ★★★★★ — First Contact Down Under. Way down under.
Cold Eyes (First Contact #19) ★★★★☆—First Contact with the people of a Super-Earth
Generation of Vipers (First Contact #20) ★★★★★—A compelling new alien invasion novel
Clowns (First Contact #21) ★★★★★ — Where are all the aliens?
The Tempest (First Contact #22) ★★★☆☆—Shakespeare’s magic rendered into advanced alien technology
Becky Chambers self-published the first novel in her four-book Wayfarers series after raising the needed funds on Kickstarter. Following the publication of the series’s third book, she won the Hugo Award for Best Series in 2017. She lives with her wife in California. After a standalone novel, she inaugurated a new series featuring characters known as Monk and Robot.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers #1) ★★★★★ – A delightful modern space opera that’s all about character development
A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers #2) ★★★★☆– Lovable characters in this off-beat space opera
Record of a Spaceborn Few (Wayfarers #3) ★★★★★ – A brilliant invented universe in an unusually good new science fiction novel
The Galaxy, and the Ground Within (Wayfarers #4 of 4) ★★★★☆ – The last of the Wayfarers series from Becky Chambers
To Be Taught, If Fortunate ★★★★☆ An excellent hard science fiction novella from Becky Chambers
A Psalm for the Well-Built (Monk & Robot #1) ★★★★☆ – The intriguing start to a new Becky Chambers series
A Prayer for the Crown-Shy (Monk and Robot #2) ★★★★☆ – A monk and robot offer hope for the future
Colorado-based author Blake Crouch has written seventeen novels, many of which have been adapted or are in the process of adaptation for film and television.
Pines – Wayward Pines #1 (2012) 320 pages ★★★★☆ – A truly original work of speculative fiction
Wayward – Wayward Pines Trilogy #2 (2012) 400 pages ★★★★☆ – Paradise lost in a small Idaho town
The Last Town – Wayward Pines #3 (2014) 400 pages ★★★★★ – A science fiction trilogy reaches a surprising conclusion
Dark Matter (2016) 342 pages ★★★★★ – A journey into the multiverse
Recursion (2019) 324 pages ★★★☆☆ – A disappointing new novel from a terrific science fiction author
Mary Robinette Kowal
Mary Robinette Kowal has published more than a dozen science fiction novels and numerous short stories, winning her a slew of literary awards. The most recent of those awards were the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards for her novel The Calculating Stars. She is also a puppeteer and voice actor. Kowal is currently the president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFFWA).
The Calculating Stars (Lady Astronaut #1) ★★★★★ – This novel shows just how good hard science fiction can be
The Fated Sky (Lady Astronaut #2) ★★★★★ – An astonishingly good science fiction novel about the first manned mission to Mars
The Relentless Moon (Lady Astronaut #3) ★★★★☆– The third Lady Astronaut novel doesn’t live up to the promise of the first two
The Spare Man ★★★☆☆ — Murder in space on an interplanetary cruise ship
Berkeley, California-based author Annalee Newitz is a prolific writer whose works include several attention-getting nonfiction books as well as three science fiction novels to date. They—Newitz uses the pronouns they, their, theirs—also write extensively for mainstream media outlets such as the New York Times as well as their own blog.
Autonomous ★★★★★ – In 2144, Arctic resorts, autonomous robots, and killer drugs
The Future of Another Timeline ★★★★☆ – Alternate feminist history by a gifted science fiction author
The Terraformers ★★★★★ – A hopeful future in this brilliant new novel
H. C. H. Ritz
Mississippian-turned-Texan H. C. H. Ritz, who goes by Hilary, was a web designer before turning to writing. She lives in Houston with her spouse (“a wonderful human being”) and her son. She is the author of three science fiction novels.
Absence of Mind ★★★★★ – In an unusually original sci-fi techno-thriller, technology meets neuroscience
The Robin Hood Thief ★★★★☆– A grim look into the near future that’s all too plausible
The Light Bringers ★★★★☆– The power of positive thinking goes awry in this dystopian novel
Los Angeles-based Daniel Suarez is a former systems analyst with Fortune 1000 clients. He possesses a solid background in science and technology, training that infuses the technothrillers that are his trademark.
Kill Decision ★★★★☆ – Killer drones menace the USA in this military technothriller
Delta-V ★★★★★ – A brilliant hard science fiction novel about asteroid mining
Influx ★★★★★ – Down becomes up in this clever hard science thriller
Daemon (Daemon #1 of 2) ★★★★☆ – It’s not artificial intelligence. But it’s taking over, anyway.
Adrian Tchaikovsky is a British science fiction and fantasy author who has written twenty novels. He uses role-playing games, including live action role-playing, in constructing his stories. He won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Children of Time in 2016.
Children of Time (Children of Time #1) ★★★★★ – Accelerated evolution is the theme in a superior science fiction novel
Children of Ruin (Children of Time #2) ★★★★☆ – An award-winning series continues
The Expert System’s Brother ★★★★☆– An exceedingly clever science fiction story
Walking to Aldebaran ★★★☆☆– A science fiction novel that reads like a fever dream
Firewalkers ★★★★☆– A dismal, dystopian future where the climate has run amok
Ironclads ★★★★☆— In a clever novella, a future of endless war
David Walton has written eight science fiction novels as well as a long list of short stories. His debut as a novelist, Terminal Mind, won the Philip K. Dick Award for Best Original Paperback in 2009. And his 2017 novel, The Genius Plague, won the John W. Campbell Award for Best Novel. Walton lives in Philadelphia with his wife and seven children. He works as an engineer for Lockheed Martin.
The Genius Plague ★★★★☆ — The greatest threat to humanity is . . . a mushroom?
Living Memory ★★★★☆ — These dinosaurs left something behind
Terminal Mind ★★★★☆ — Breakthroughs in brain science propel this science fiction thriller
Deadly Memory (Living Memory #2) ★★★★☆ — Paleontologists unearth a deadly weapon—and a killer virus
Martha Well‘s first two novels were published in 1993 and 1995, but all those she’s written later have appeared since 2002. Although she’s been getting attention for her writing since the early days of her career, Wells’ profile rose substantially in 2017 with the publication of All Systems Red, the inaugural entry in the Murderbot Diaries, which garnered both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for the Novella in 2018.
All Systems Red (Murderbot Diaries #1) ★★★★☆— A reminder that technology doesn’t always work well in the future, either)
Artificial Condition (Murderbot Diaries #2) ★★★★☆— Far away and long in the future, an augmented human designed to kill)
Rogue Protocol (Murderbot Diaries #3) ★★★★☆— Sci-fi’s favorite antisocial A.I. surfaces again in the Muderbot Diaries
Exit Strategy (Murderbot Diaries #4) ★★★★☆—The award-winning Murderbot series approaches a climax
Network Effect (Murderbot Diaries #5) ★★★☆☆ —A huge disappointment in the Murderbot series
Two other authors worth watching
Marina J. Lostetter
It’s also worth watching Marina J. Lostetter, who lives in Arkansas with her husband. Her debut novel, Noumenon, was outstanding.
Noumenon (Noumenon #1) ★★★★★ – A visionary science fiction novel with hard science at its core
Activation Degradation ★★★★★ – Biomechanical robots battle invading aliens
China-born American author Marie Lu writes science fiction for young adults. In addition to her celebrated Legend series), she has published seven other novels. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son.
Legend (Legend Trilogy #1) ★★★★☆ – Far-future teens battling for survival in dystopia
Prodigy (Legend Trilogy #2) ★★★★☆– In this YA sci-fi trilogy, Marie Lu imagines a novel future for the United States
For related reading
For more good reading, check out:
- These novels won both Hugo and Nebula Awards
- The ultimate guide to the all-time best science fiction novels
- 10 top science fiction novels
- The top 10 dystopian novels
And you can always find my most popular reviews, and the most recent ones, on the Home Page.