• The VOIDRUNNER'S CODEX is LIVE! Explore new worlds, fight oppressive empires, fend off fearsome aliens, and wield deadly psionics with this comprehensive boxed set expansion for 5E and A5E!

What are the must-read fantasy and science fiction novels of the 21st century?


log in or register to remove this ad

Mercurius

Legend
Not necessarily your favorites, but the books that every fantasy and science fiction fan should read to be a well-read fan, the way that Dune, the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Stranger in a Strange Land and Lord of the Rings were among the books that "everyone" who liked fantasy and science fiction was expected to have read in the late 20th century.

We probably need a few more years to adequately answer this question. The books you mentioned have all stood the test of time and become classics in the field; we don't (yet) know what among books of the 21st century will be considered classics in another few decades.

That said, we do know which define the field as it currently stands. Any such list really needs to go back to the 20th century and at least scoop up Harry Potter and Game of Thrones, but as far as published in the 21st century, here are a few that come to mind (in order of year published; and yes, I'm cheating slightly and going back to 2000):

China Mieville: Perdido Street Station (2000)
Alastair Reynolds: Revelation Space (2000)
Neil Gaiman: American Gods (2001)
Susanna Clarke: Jonathan Strange & Mister Norrell (2004)
Peter Watts: Blindsight (2006)
John Abercrombie: The Blade Itself (2006)
Naomi Novik: Her Majesty's Dragon (2006)
Scott Lynch: Lies of Locke Lamora (2006)
Patrick Rothfuss: Name of the Wind (2007)
Suzanne Collins: Catching Fire - Hunger Games (2009)
Nnedi Okorafor: Who Fears Death (2010)
Brandon Sanderson: Way of Kings (2010)
Cixin Liu: Three Body Problem (2014)
Jeff Vandermeer: Southern Reach trilogy (2014)
NK Jemisin: The Broken Earth series (2015-17)
Marlon James: Black Leopard, Red Wolf (2019)

Note that this is not meant to be a list of the "best of" 21st century SFF, just ones that (I think) have had a large impact on the field, that is, "set the tone." Nor is it meant to be comprehensive - just a sampling of books that I think are important to at least be aware of, if not read.

I don't know the young adult field all that well, but you'd probably need to include some of those, especially "teen dystopias," as they've had a big impact. I did include Hunger Games as a placeholder.
 

Dioltach

Legend
I think Joe Abercrombie's First Law books (the original trilogy plus the next three stand-alone novels, and the short stories) deserve a place, if only for how they completely subvert the tropes of heroic fantasy that had become so prevalent in the 1980s and 1990s. Plus, they're just fantastically written. The audiobooks make the characters come to life.
 


Kobold Stew

Last Guy in the Airlock
Supporter
For teen dystopias, I'd put a bid in for Phillip Reeve's Mortal Engines (etc.). Ignore the film; the books create a completely new sf world in one paragraph, and then present plausible heroes that fill the world for eight books.

Also, I know the OP said "novels", but Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples' Saga is worth a mention (just as The Sandman would for 20th c.).
 


Lord Shark

Adventurer
The Malazan Books of the Fallen? Gardens of the Moon came out in 1999 but the rest are 21st-century.

Agreed on Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and the Southern Reach trilogy.

Also, I don't think anyone's mentioned The Martian yet.

Does Cloud Atlas count as SF? A couple of the stories in it are set in SFnal futures. And even if it isn't, The Bone Clocks definitely qualifies as SF.

Finally, House of Leaves deserves consideration too.
 

Levistus's_Leviathan

5e Freelancer
For teen dystopias, I'd put a bid in for Phillip Reeve's Mortal Engines (etc.). Ignore the film; the books create a completely new sf world in one paragraph, and then present plausible heroes that fill the world for eight books.
If we're including YA/Middle-Grade books, I'd like to add the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. They're obviously not as enjoyable for adults as they are for children, but they're among the best children/YA books produced in the past 20ish years.
 

Eyes of Nine

Everything's Fine
In light of the other current threads, it might be nice to resurrect this thread from last year. Lots of great stuff in here too, thanks @Whizbang Dustyboots for kicking these off...

It is interesting though that the number of posts here is quite a bit less than say the best SF novel of all time (granted, 75% of those posts were arguing over Dune)
 

Eyes of Nine

Everything's Fine
Gentleman Bastards series by Scott Lynch

The Locked Tomb series by Tamsyn Muir (the first book is Gideon the Ninth)

Mistborn and The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson

Kingkiller Chronicle
Mistborn
Harry Potter

Nora K. Jemisin, particularly The Inheritance Trilogy.

Leviathan Rising

Red Rising should be a tv show already....

American Gods?
Name of the Wind
The Three Body Problem
Hunger Games

The Kefahuchi Tract trilogy by M. John Harrison: Light, Nova Swing, Empty Space: A Haunting.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.

Ministry For the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson.

The Expanse (all nine!) by James S. A. Corey, aka Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham

The Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer: Annihilation, Authority, Acceptance.

The Machinery of Empire trilogy by Yoon Ha Lee.

Stormfront
Lev Grossman s books? Probably not
Stormlight Archive

Not happening, but Throne of the Crescent Moon should be.

Kingdoms of Thorne and Bone by Greg Keyes

"Jonatham Strange & Mr. Nor" by Susana Clarke is probably one of the best books of the 21st century, let alone Fantasy.

Wayward Children,

China Mieville: Perdido Street Station (2000)
Alastair Reynolds: Revelation Space (2000)
Neil Gaiman: American Gods (2001)
Susanna Clarke: Jonathan Strange & Mister Norrell (2004)
Peter Watts: Blindsight (2006)
John Abercrombie: The Blade Itself (2006)
Naomi Novik: Her Majesty's Dragon (2006)
Scott Lynch: Lies of Locke Lamora (2006)
Patrick Rothfuss: Name of the Wind (2007)
Suzanne Collins: Catching Fire - Hunger Games (2009)
Nnedi Okorafor: Who Fears Death (2010)
Brandon Sanderson: Way of Kings (2010)
Cixin Liu: Three Body Problem (2014)
Jeff Vandermeer: Southern Reach trilogy (2014)
NK Jemisin: The Broken Earth series (2015-17)
Marlon James: Black Leopard, Red Wolf (2019)

Joe Abercrombie's First Law books

Phillip Reeve's Mortal Engines (etc.)

Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples' Saga i

Malazan Books of the Fallen?

The Martian

Cloud Atlas count as SF? A couple of the stories in it are set in SFnal futures. And even if it isn't, The Bone Clocks definitely qualifies as SF.

House of Leaves deserves consideration too

Percy Jackson and the Olympians series
Great recommendations across the board here. And some of which I was not aware of so 🙏 to folks who mentioned new-to-me books/series!

Adding here some more novels
  • Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, specifically Grave Peril (vol 3) or Summer Knight (vol 4) is where he really started to hit his stride. An adult urban fantasy series that continues to deliver high quality novels (imho)
  • Becky Chambers: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. While the Monk and Robot books are v nice, TLWtaSAP was initially funded by Kickstarter, and if that's not 21st century, I don't know what is...
  • Max Gladstone's The Craft Sequence, I just love. Of those, I really liked the third one, Full Fathom Five.
  • Ann Leckie's Imperial Radch novels - and I'd just start with the first one Ancillary Justice
  • Speaking of urban fantasy (except it takes place in small town bayou Louisiana), I'd actually say the Sookie Stackhouse novels are great fun; and a different take on the modern-day fantasy genre. Skip the TV show, and start with Dead until Dark
  • Scalzi, in my opinion, is a modern Heinlein, but without the baggage of an early Twen-Cen denizen. Old Man's War is up there with Starship Troopers and the Forever War.
  • Lots of people liked Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell, for good reason. But I think Piranesi is a stronger, tighter novel (novella?)
I could keep going, but we've got a nice list here.

I think I was able to quote everyone so now this post can serve as a list capturing what people put in here.

I might do the same in some of the other threads...
 

Voidrunner's Codex

Remove ads

Top