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.
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 last decade—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 in the twenty-first century. And here I’ll list the very best of those I’ve come across.
For each of the seven 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.
This post was updated on April 12, 2021.
Peter Cawdron is an Australian author who specializes in hard science fiction. He lives in Brisbane with his wife and three children. Goodreads lists fifty-six 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
Welcome to the Occupied States of America (First Contact #10)—These alien invaders aren’t what you might expect
3zekiel (First Contact #14) – A thoughtful treatment of First Contact in this new sci-fi novel
But the Stars (First Contact #15) by Peter Cawdron—An alien encounter that questions the nature of reality
Wherever Seeds May Fall (First Contact #15)—One surprise after another in this brilliant First Contact novel
Becky Chambers self-published the first novel in her 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.
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
To Be Taught, If Fortunate – An excellent hard science fiction novella from Becky Chambers
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
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
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.
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
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
The Expert System’s Brother – An exceedingly clever science fiction story
Walking to Aldebaran – A science fiction novel that reads like a fever dream
And 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
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) by Martha Wells—Sci-fi’s favorite antisocial A.I. surfaces again in the Muderbot Diaries
For further reading
For more good reading, check out:
- The ultimate guide to the all-time best science fiction novels;
- Great sci-fi novels reviewed: my top 10 (plus dozens of runners-up); and
- The top 10 dystopian novels reviewed here (plus dozens of others).
And you can always find my most popular reviews, and the most recent ones, plus a guide to this whole site, on the Home Page.