Any science fiction and fantasy reader can rattle off a list of the Golden Age masters: Bradbury, Asimov, Heinlein, Herbert, Tolkien, LeGuin. But what are the new classics? The recent works we’ll still be talking about in 50 years? Below, you’ll find our picks: 15 unmissable sci-fi and fantasy milestones from the past 15 years.
A Storm of Swords, by George R.R. Martin
This one is a given. Even before the HBO series turned the books into a mainstream hit, Martin’s A Song of Ice & Fire was being spoken of in hushed, reverent tones by fantasy readers. This third installment, featuring fire-breathing dragons unleashed, two very memorable weddings, and enough shocking deaths to fill a morgue, is the series’ high point thus far.
Leviathan Wakes, by James S.A. Corey
George R.R. Martin’s cover blurb proclaims that this book has everything he wants in a space opera; it’s hard to imagine the most demanding SF/F reader wanting more. The science is well thought out, the scope is epic, the plot offers rapid-fire thrills, and the characters are unusually well-developed. It’s easy to see why it has been picked up for adaptation into a TV series. Think of it as A Song of Ice & Fire in space.
American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman specializes in revealing a hidden supernatural world operating just behind the one we move through every day. In this sprawling tale, once-worshipped, now-forgotten gods wander the lonely modern American landscape.
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susannah Clarke
This intricate tale of magic, romance, sinister fate, and a bitter feud between wizards is a perfectly-pitched Victorian pastiche, loaded with memorable characters, unforgettable imagery, and gorgeous prose.
The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi
This lauded novel (winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards) offers a stark vision of a possible future in which a post-oil world is ravaged by climate change, Western powers have collapsed, and the surviving states must resort to brutal isolationism to survive. It confronts the potential economic, social, and political realities we all may face one day if the world continues down its current path.
Perdido Street Station, by China Miéville
The breakthrough work from one of the most versatile living writers is so wonderfully bizarre, it came to define a whole new subgenre, known as the “New Weird.” That phrase perfectly encapsulates this thrilling book, from its baroque prose, to its fervent anti-capitalist political message, to its cast of grotesque characters, including a half-bird man, a lady with a bug for a head (not a bug’s head, but an entire bug), and an insane spider god with sinister scissors that can snip away at the web of reality.
Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi
Scalzi writes accessible, action-heavy military sci-fi novels that any Heinlein fan will love. This series starter, about senior citizens who are transferred into young, cloned bodies in order to fight in an interstellar conflict, is fast, bloody, and bloody hilarious.
Ancillary Justice, by Anne Leckie
This recent Hugo and Nebula winner is a space opera in the best tradition of Ursula K. LeGuin. With themes of gender identity, PTSD, colonialism, and the will to power, and a truly unique protagonist (an artificial intelligence that used to inhabit hundreds of bodies and an entire starship, now trapped in the mind of a single formerly human host), it earns all of the praise it has received, and then some.
Feed, by Mira Grant
This fast, funny, surprisingly affecting thriller is set in the aftermath of a terrible plague that turned every living thing over 40 pounds into a mindless, carnivorous beast. Grant mixes violence, smartaleck-y humor, and heartache that hits you like an emotional sledgehammer with a skill that recalls the heyday of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson
Incorporating faux-Wikipedia articles, book excerpts, and a plot that takes us on a Grand Tour of the galaxy, this Nebula Award-winner is equal parts sci-fi whodunnit and travelogue of the 23rd century.
Blackout/All Clear, by Connie Willis
This two-part tale of time-traveling historians trapped in London during the Blitz is less interested in the temporal mechanics of its plot than in the daily lives of the everyday heroes who struggled through, and survived, one of the darkest periods in modern history.
Anathem, by Neal Stephenson
In Stephenson’s expansive story, post-collapse math monks emerge from their cloistered order on a quest to save the world from alien invasion.
The Curse of Chalion, by Lois McMaster Bujold
Where most fantasy novels feature gallant knights and bloody battles for the throne, Bujold focuses on a crippled old warrior, wracked by regret, struggling to uncover the perpetrators of a palace coup and heal the wounds, both literal and metaphorical, that have plagued his kingdom for generations.
Among Others, by Jo Walton
Written in the form of a young girl’s diary, this intimate, quasi-autobiographical novel blurs the lines between magic and madness, unimaginable grief and the unexplainable. Still mourning the loss of her twin sister, trapped in a blood feud with her mother (who may or be not be a cruel witch), a introverted teen finds solace and friendship in sci-fi and fantasy novels.
Spin, by Robert Charles Wilson
One seemingly normal day, the stars go out. Earth is enveloped in a dark, impenetrable bubble, cut off from the rest of the galaxy. Why this has happened, and what it means for the fate of the planet, is only part of this engrossing hard sci-fi masterpiece; it’s also an affecting story about regret, missed opportunities, and living each day like it may be your last.