Franz Kafka, author of such enduring works as "The Metamorphosis" and "The Castle," tapped into the 20th century's psychological mainline perhaps more effectively than any other writer.
Neal Stephenson, postcyberpunk visionary whose writing is taking him on an epic trajectory.
Norman Spinrad helped redefine science fiction with "Bug Jack Barron," an experimental and frightening look at the future of the entertainment media. Spinrad's backlog is timeless and uniformly inspiring.
Arthur C. Clarke, Prophet of the Space Age.
Philip K. Dick was arguably the very best writer of the 20th century. His canon -- paranoid, playful and chilling -- reveals a restless, questing imagination and remarkable sensitivity. Dick's impact on our intellectual climate is every bit as pronounced as Kafka's.
China Mieville, author of the audacious, lavishly imagined "Perdido Street Station."
John Kessel, author of the wacky millennial satire "Good News From Outer Space."
Greg Bear: a singular fusion of classic "hard" science fiction and cyberpunk.
Cyberpunk William Gibson's 1984 novel "Neuromancer" galvanized the critical community and launched a subgenre. Gibson is one of the best prose stylists working; his futures are lean and utterly believable works of extrapolation.
Jack Womack writes (very) darkly humorous, brutally recognizable novels of corporate politics and anarchic street-life. Inimitably weird and linguistically insatiable, Womack is possibly the overlooked satiric genius of our time.
Richard K. Morgan's hard-boiled "Altered Carbon" is one of the best science fiction debuts I've read in recent memory. I predict he's here to stay.
Lewis Shiner is a gifted writer well worth seeking out; "Frontera," his first book, is a seminal cyberpunk novel that ranks with the early works of Gibson and Sterling.
J.G. Ballard dissects our collective fascination with the mechanical with a surgical dexterity that's at once discomfiting and poetic.
Jonathan Lethem ("Gun, With Occasional Music," "Amnesia Moon," "Girl in Landscape") gets better with each book.
K.W. Jeter is a largely unrecognized cyberpunk visionary whose books include the excellent "The Glass Hammer" and the edgy, claustrophobically intense "Noir." Jeter is a talent to be reckoned with, and his backlog is a playground of discovery. ("Infernal Devices" is the overlooked "steampunk" novel.)
Tom Robbins, author of "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues," "Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas" and "Skinny Legs and All," is a welcome fusion of psychedelic stream-of-consciousness and freestyle social commentary.
William S. Burroughs, godfather of the Beat movement, possessed an intellect that ranged from Egyptian myth to science fiction to the mechanics of drug and reality addiction. Burroughs was the most knowing, virulent and subversive writer of our era.
Visionary and prolific, John Brunner was as comfortable in the far reaches of space as he was in near-future America. His caustic, future-shocked novels "The Sheep Look Up" and "The Shockwave Rider" prefigure the Cyberpunk Movement of the early 1980s. (And if you can find a copy of his lesser-known "Quicksand" -- read it. You won't be disappointed.)
The novels of veteran SF author Robert Silverberg are amazing portals into the genre. Silverberg is possibly science fiction's most persistently engaging talent.
Theodore Sturgeon, author of the mind-warping "To Mary Medusa," "Venus Plus X," "More Than Human" and "The Dreaming Jewels," is a singular figure in American literature. His themes are both profoundly philosophical and endearingly human. I know of no other writer who pulled this off so well except for Philip K. Dick.
Rudy Rucker: For sheer extrapolative whimsy, Rucker's award-winning "Ware" series is an essential starting point for readers who like their futures weirder than usual.
Robert J. Sawyer, a science fiction author of consummate craftsmanship and intelligence.
Michael Marshall Smith's output is a clever, touching (and -- above all -- utterly hilarious) marriage of hard-boiled detective fiction and near-future suspense.
Kurt Vonnegut's body of work is consistently funny and memorable. Kilgore Trout, Vonnegut's science fiction-writing alter-ego, is one of the most quotable figures in contemporary fiction.
Bruce Sterling, has possibly done more to illuminate what our future will really be like than any other living science fiction writer. His novels are quirky and ultimately stunning in verisimilitude and depth.
Steve Erickson is one of the brightest lights in American writing. His books are obscure and gorgeously crafted. His surreal vantage is a welcome addition to the growing roster of "slipstream" writers, whose work defies classification.
Rob Chilson is a living encyclopedia of the science fiction genre. A classicist, Chilson's output is rooted in the "just tell it" mode of pulp giants such as Robert Heinlein. Rob's how-to advice for aspiring short-story writers is about as sensible as it comes.
John Shirley, more than any other science fiction writer, injects his fiction with an attitude of pure, unadulterated punk that comes as a breath fresh air -- and a simultaneous punch in the stomach.
Australian science fiction author and hacker Greg Egan writes beautifully introspective, brain-addling cosmological thrillers that combine the fast-forward intellectual playfulness of Greg Bear and the technological savvy and social insight of Bruce Sterling.
Thomas Pynchon, reclusive mastermind behind classics like "V." and "The Crying of Lot 49," provides a unique and challenging perspective on our miasmic, postmodern world.
Gregory Benford ("Timescape") is among the very best hard science fiction writers at work today. Shrewd and stunning.
It's time you discovered Ken MacLeod, an astutely political cyberpunk whose books virtually pulsate with originality and intelligence.
My guru, the great "Blaster" Al Ackerman. His dementia knows no bounds.
Neil Gaiman. "Neverwhere." "American Gods." Wow.
Wielding conceptual pyrotechnics and a firm grasp of character, Robert Charles Wilson is as good as they come. His novel "The Chronoliths" is one of the most engagingly eerie hard-SF books I've read.
Peter Watts, the 21st century's answer to John Brunner. Sleek, literate and fucking scary as hell.
I first encountered The incomparable Mervyn Peake, author of the splendidly gloomy Gormenghast trilogy.