Top 10 Most Influential Science Fiction Writers

There can be a major difference between the best authors of a genre, my favorite authors of a genre, and the most influential authors of a genre. While any top ten list like this will be somewhat controversial, here is a list of authors who have had a great and lasting influence on the science fiction genre.

Douglas Adams

Douglas Adams may be one of the most popular authors on this list, and when his works first came out, they were very unique. Adams is best known for his “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” series, which was ground breaking. These works introduced a comedic and strange (maybe almost surreal) element to science fiction writing that is still adored by fans even today.

Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card is the author of one of the most popular science fiction series in history. The Ender’s Game sagas rate right up there with Dune as one of the most popular series of books of all time, and certainly the most popular of modern times. If William Gibson is the father of Cyber-punk science fiction, then Orson Scott Card is the modern voice that set the direction of modern science fiction.

Robert Heinlein

Robert Heinlein was an extremely influential science fiction writer who may have been overshadowed in the long run by Isaac Asimov, but Heinlein is well known and loved among science fiction fans. He was both popular and controversial and he concentrated on “hard” science fiction — science fiction that took its science very seriously. He won four Hugo Awards for his novels, and along with Asimov and Clarke was known as one of “The Big Three of Science Fiction.” Talk about influence!

William Gibson

William Gibson is an extremely popular and controversial science fiction writer who is known as the father of the modern “Cyber Punk” novel. While people and fans still argue over what kind of an influence Gibson has had on the science fiction genre, there’s no doubt his mark has been made. As one anonymous critic put it: “Whether he’s saved the genre or destroyed it, only time will tell.” A little bit overboard, but it gives an idea of the influence this author of “Johnny Mnemonic” and “Neuromancers” has had.

Ray Bradbury

While most famous for writing his smash hit novel “Fahrenheit 451,” one of (if not the) greatest dystopian science fiction novel of all time, Bradbury wrote a lot of science fiction and fantasy and was a major influence to literally thousands of future science fiction writers. Not only was “Fahrenheit 451” one of the best science fiction novels of all time, but “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” “Dandelion Wine,” and “The Martian Chronicles” are all works that each were amazing enough to make an author’s career, and Bradbury was the author of all of them. It’s amazing he’s only #6, but this is a genre that has amazing number of giants.

Frank Herbert

Even before the “Dune” series was made into a mini-series for the Sci-Fi channel, this series of books had a huge and devout following that rivaled that of “The Lord of the Rings.” This great series took place over 1,000s of years, and originally consisted of the novel “Dune” and five sequels, although other related novels have been published by his son since then. This series is amazingly wide ranging, often dealing with themes like human survival, evolution, ecology, and the intersection of religion, politics, and power. “Dune” is thought to be the single best-selling sci-fi novel of all time.

Arthur C. Clarke

Considered one of “The Big Three of Science Fiction,” Arthur C. Clarke is known for his Space Odyssey series, particularly the novel “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which has become one of the most influential science fiction novels ever written, and was also a wildly popular movie, helping to bring the genre into the mainstream. There were several other books in the series, and Clarke is also known for his short stories and his work in encouraging emerging science fiction writers. He is also a long time member of the H.G. Wells society.

Isaac Asimov

Asimov is perhaps the most famous of “The Big Three of Science Fiction” and is one of the most prolific writers in sci-fi history. He published or edited over 500 books, and an estimated 90,000+ letters and postcards. He has published non-fiction as well as fiction, with books under every section of the Dewey decimal system except for philosophy. He is best known as a science and science fiction writer, whose Robot series and Foundation series laid the groundwork for most modern science fiction and are still widely read today.

Jules Verne

Verne’s writings made him the pioneer of science fiction, and one of its finest writers. He, in fact, published his first science fiction novels around the time H.G. Wells was born. “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” and “Around the World in 80 Days,” are classics that changed fictional literature and gave birth to what would become the science fiction genre. Verne wrote incredibly detailed stories about space travel and submarines before any such travel on a large scale was practical, and he laid the foundation for arguably the greatest science fiction writer ever.

H.G. Wells

He might be both the best and the most influential science fiction writer ever. H.G. Wells’ classic books are still read and loved today. “The Time Machine,” is considered by many to be the best science fiction novel ever written, and “The War of the Worlds,” and “The Invisible Man” are hardly slouches, either. Over a century after they are written, these books are still fresh and strong enough to be made into Hollywood films. Wells set the bar for everyone else, and laid the foundation to ensure that science fiction would be very alive and well into the 20th century and beyond.

Contributor: Shane Dayton


View Comments (306)

  • Awesome list, "Shane Dayton." (That sounds way too formal for this site, but whatever. Can I call you Shad?) I love A.C. Clarke and Orson Scott Card, but I was sad to find that you left Madeline L'Engle off this list! She's the one that got me interested in quantum physics.

    • Who? He said most influential, and that means a certain level of celebrity, no matter how that person influenced you personally.

  • Come on you cant leave out Philip K Dick...literay sci fi mind, definitely one of the greatest of the 20th century. Blasphemy!!!!!

      • Thank-you all who have brought up the omission of Philip K. Dick. My brother James and I, both born in the 50's, grew up loving all Sci-Fi. (Not Fantasy, let's be clear.) "The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldrich" and "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" were among our most favorite reads. I also find comfort in feeling certain that the former, my personal favorite, will most likely never be adapted to screen in the way the latter was made into "Bladerunner". I always advise - Read the book.

  • It pains me to say this, but if you're talking 'Most influential' - you've got to put L Ron Hubbard at #1. He's 'influenced' far more people, for better or worse, than all of the others put together.

  • I gotta agree with "theruggedman" (though not in the slightest with his nom de plume, yick) leaving Philip K. Dick off this list is a bad oversight. I'd replace Frank Herbert (a mediocrity) with Dick (a minor genius). Otherwise the list is pretty good.

    At first I was thinking, well where's A.E. Van Vogt and Poul Anderson? Where's L. Sprague DeCamp and Piers Anthony? And so on and so on? But then I got into the spirit of this... it's the Most INFLUENTIAL Sci-fi authors. And while there are many greats left off the list... you can't argue with most of the list as presented that these guys were the big influences. And so the only thing I'd REALLY change is losing Herbert or maybe Douglas Adams, and replace one of them with Philip K. Dick.

    oh.. and I'm waiting for the Harlan Ellison fans to come on and raise a stink about his absence from the list. I am ever and always ready to knock that overrated egotist down a few pegs.

    • If you nitpick the term influential, then Philip K. Dick should be there, and I'd seriously question the presence of Card. Sure Card is prolific, well liked, and successful, but influential means the author has influenced others with ideas and style. It's problematic to put Card in the top ten. (Contrast to Fred Saberhagen, respected but not as successful perhaps, and perhaps no-one would put him on the list, but the Berserker concept is influential (just think Star Trek Doomsday machine, Battlestar Galatica, more).

      • Agreed. Dick is way more influential than Card, who is basically the Roland Emmerich of literature. He's definitely one of the big guns in terms of popularity, but when it comes to originality and influence, he pales in comparison to someone with the stature of Philip K. Dick.

  • About L. Ron Hubbard:

    A) The less attention paid that slimy fake and his fake religion, the better... and

    B) Hubbard's influence was *outside* the realm of sci-fi literature. As a sci-fi author he was and is viewed as an untalented hack. So I say no... he doesn't belong on this list.

    Philip K. Dick, however, *does* belong here.

  • *looks*

    No Philip K. Dick
    No Ursula K. LeGuin
    No Kurt Vonnegut

    Submitter has an anti-K thing going on.

  • Can people PLEASE stop suggesting L. Ron Hubbard? It's like he's the only sci-fi author some people know.

    If you'd read any of his work, you wouldn't suggest him for this list, regardless of Scientology. And if you don't know anything about sci-fi, then don't make suggestions.

    And also note all the previous posters (including myself) who have spoken AGAINST including Hubbard, before you go suggesting he be included.


      • I totally agree with the comments posted on this list in regards to L. Ron Howard and his Scientology methods. Look at what Scientology has done to a believer in that crusade, namely the actor TOM CRUISE. It made him jump up and down on Oprah Winfrey's talk show like a small child using a bed as a trampoline. And his ever so wonderful interview with Matt Lauer on the TODAY show a few years ago saying that pharmaceutical medication is not necessary for any medical problems. That was the one that really ticked me off about him !! I suffer greatly from Anxiety attacks and when I feel one coming on, I best be sure that I have either some Lorazepam, Clonapam, Atavin, Diazepam, Alprazolam, or Valium in my medicine cabinet. I mean lets think about Tom Cruise. He gets divorced from Nicole Kidman and then does an about face and marries a bubble-gum chewing teeny-bopper like Katie Holmes ?? His head is definitely screwed on wrong. Thanks Mr. Hubbard, your a real contribution to the human race !!!!

  • Good list! H.G Wells and Jules Verne were the most influential writers in sci-fiction.Wells thoroughly deserves the first place.