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


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Clint_L

Hero
The Expanse books, for sure. Second the Imperial Radch series, and Becky Chambers Wayfarers series; each book is better than the last. Big fan of Adrian Tchaikovsky's Children of Time series, as well as his Architects series; those will hold up.

Neal Stephenson continues to do interesting stuff; I really liked Seveneves, in particular. The Martian is a great read. Cormac McCarthy's The Road is going to be an all-time classic but man, that book gutted me. I think Station Eleven was mentioned. Huge fan of Martha Wells' Murderbot series. David Wong's (aka Jason Pargin's) John Dies at the End series is a good time; so are his Zoey Ashe books.

Charles Stross has interesting stuff and I quite liked the earlier books in The Laundry Files series, though it has really gone off the rails. Scalzi has some good books, though his most recent novel about Kaiju was terrible; he's sort of a one note writer and needs to stretch himself more. Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl is great, with a really interesting take on a dystopian future. Cory Doctorow sometimes annoys me, yet I always find his books memorable.

And if we are including comics, then Saga and Y: The Last Man should be on there. Bitch Planet.

I don't know fantasy as well; I've tried a lot of the books mentioned and they ranged from enjoyable page turners (i.e. Locke Lamorra books) to some that I couldn't finish. I enjoyed the Warded Man books, for what they were. Pierce Brown's Red Rising series is basically fantasy in sci-fi drag and good fun, if formulaic.

A Monster Calls is a stone classic of modern YA fantasy, but keep a box of tissues handy. Pratchett's books right up to the end; I know some folks didn't love his last few Discworld novels, but they worked for me.

Kurt Busiek's Conan graphic novels for Dark Horse are outstanding!

I think the Potter books and Song of Ice and Fire books will stand the test of time, but the genre needs fresh ideas.
 
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Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Supporter
Some good suggestions thus far! Adding:

Harry Turtledove’s Darkness series. It started in 1999, but continued several years into the 2000s. Essentially, Turtledove (a history professor) tells the story of WW2 in a fantasy world. The more you know Ww2 history, the more impressed you’re likely to be.

Ben Nova’s Grand Tour series covers man’s early foray into space, exploring the solar system. The first novel was published in the 1980s, the last in 2021. It’s epic hard sci-fi.

Kristin Katheryn Rausch’s Retrieval Artist series stands at 15 novels so far. Humanity has newly joined the interplanetary community, and humans can’t quite stop running afoul of legal troubles with aliens. Think ST:NG S1:E8 “Justice”. Sometimes, people do a runner instead of facing their (potential quite harsh) penalties. Retrieval Artists find those who’ve made themselves scarce, sometimes to bring them back for trial, sometimes because things have blown over.

Kurt R.A Giambastiani’s Fallen Cloud saga is set in an early American western frontier where Dino-riding Native Americans didn’t get wiped out by advancing colonists. Extra fun for those who play RPGs like Northern Crown.
 
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Virtually every book in this thread that I've read is a good book and worth reading, but I'd personally separate that from "must read". For me, must read means two things:

1) Books that will be remembered for decades, or that will be or already have been significantly influential on SF/fantasy writing.

2) Books that have just been absolutely huge and regardless of quality are influential on audiences and general perceptions of SF/fantasy.

That means very few of the books mentioned so far would qualify, and not necessarily the ones I like best!

For genuine must-read, which again, not necessarily my top faves, I'd say, in no order:
  • The Broken Earth trilogy by NK Jemisin - basically an "instant classic". It was literally like reading a classic SF series, it's so self-assured, so confident, so well-executed. I don't think her two books since have been as amazing, but that's always the way with SF authors.
  • The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss - Not a huge fan personally, and I doubt there will ever be a third book, but this definitely spoke a lot of people, including outside of main core of fantasy readers. Largely because, I'd suggest, it's basically fantasy + Charles Dickens. But certainly the first book is important to read I think to understand why people are obsessed with it.
  • Mistborn OR the Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson - I think Sanderson is a sort of a mediocre writer, but that's kind of never been a big problem for SF/fantasy audiences. Certainly his work is going to be quite influential over the next couple of decades, I'd suggest. Either work showcases his highly developed magic systems, good fight writing, and both also show his various flaws as a writer (which the audience largely ignore).
  • The Expanse series - Again, not super-keen on these, don't rate either writer as writers, and it's barely SF a lot of the time, because it's so focused on "political thriller" elements - but again this probably helps it with the broader audience, because it's comprehensible to people who don't really "get" the SF elements. Likely to be highly influential. Certainly don't need to read all of them.
  • The Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer - The first and last are both brilliantly written and likely to both influence future SF writers, and open the minds of people who read them.
  • The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins - Good pick mentioned by @Zaukrie which I'd otherwise have missed. Essentially the definitive YA series, which countless others since follow the template of. Unspeakable levels of influence, and not bad books in their own right.
  • The Imperial Radch novels by Ann Leckie - Some fantastic writing and also truly 21st century in their approach.

I'll try to add some more later.

There are a lot which I'd like to add but feel are "unproven" as yet as to whether they will in the longer-term be "must reads" for the 21st century (particularly the Locked Tomb series). There are also quite a lot of books form the around '00 and the early '00s which feel profoundly "last century" - American Gods is the only one I'd call out right now - it's such a 20th-century book. It fits far better into the SF/fantasy of the mid-1990s than the '00s, and that's not a good thing. I read it not long after it came out and it felt like I was reading something distinctly dated. Part of that is of course because of TT RPGs, which explored virtually all the same concepts, and better, in many cases, than American Gods.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss - Not a huge fan personally, and I doubt there will ever be a third book, but this definitely spoke a lot of people, including outside of main core of fantasy readers. Largely because, I'd suggest, it's basically fantasy + Charles Dickens. But certainly the first book is important to read I think to understand why people are obsessed with it.

I absolutely loved the first book. The second made me not particularly care if there is a third. But then Slow Regard came out and my head just has the first book and that on the surface now, so I would probably pick up 3.
 

Pedantic

Legend
I think The Traitor Baru Cormorant from Seth Dickinson deserves a spot, and will both age gracefully while being very of its time. The particular conflict between people and systems and the cruelty of empire and colonialism it emphasizes have significant power.
 

Eyes of Nine

Everything's Fine
I absolutely loved the first book. The second made me not particularly care if there is a third. But then Slow Regard came out and my head just has the first book and that on the surface now, so I would probably pick up 3.
I hope you are young. I seriously think I will not live to see vol 3 (at least written by Rothfuss). And I'm only 57yo!
 



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