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Ten Greatest Authors


I can’t even remotely pretend the ten authors in this list are the “greatest” in any commonly-accepted sense. They’re not all favourites, but they’re certainly the authors whose writing I admire the most. Still, it’s a list. Everyone likes lists.

In no particular order…

  1. Lawrence Durrell – I love the way he uses the English language. At a sentence level, I think he writes the best prose of any writer I’ve ever read. The Alexandria Quartet is required reading.
  2. Anthony Burgess – because fiction should be clever – although, to be honest, Burgess was occasionally too clever for his own good. Once described as a great writer who never wrote a great novel… except Earthly Powers is a great novel.
  3. John Fowles – the sheer readability of his prose disguises the depth and insight of his fiction. The French Lieutenant’s Woman is one of the great works of post-war British literature.
  4. DH Lawrence – I came late to Lawrence, but I immediately fell in love with his prose – the level of detail, the insight, the poetry…
  5. John Crowley – the Ægypt Sequence remains one of the best works of American literature from the second half of the twentieth century. Often it seems the height of hubris to claim Crowley as a genre writer.
  6. M John Harrison – the finest British prose stylist who self-identifies as a genre fiction writer. Light is a touchstone work of science fiction.
  7. Paul Park – the finest American prose stylist who self-identifies as a genre fiction writer. His books are less challenging than M John Harrison’s, but they also make more original use of genre tropes.
  8. Gwyneth Jones – her prose is an order of magnitude better than is typical for science fiction; and her science fiction is an order of magnitude more sophisticated than is typical for the genre.
  9. WG Sebald – because he’s such a resolutely interesting writer in the way he frames and presents narratives.
  10. Kim Stanley Robinson – the most thoughtful science fiction writer of his generation, and extremely readable with it. The Mars trilogy is a touchstone work of science fiction.

Honourable mentions: Mary Gentle, Paul Scott, Joseph Conrad, Frank Herbert, Margaret Atwood, Kazuo Ishiguro.

Also: my Ten Greatest Film Directors post.


12 thoughts on “Ten Greatest Authors

  1. I concur: Earthly Powers is absolutely fantastic.

  2. I’ve written a comment to this, but it turned into a whole essay, too long for one of these boxes, so I’m putting it on LJ for you to disagree with a curt one-paragraph rejection there. ;¬)

  3. Not surprisingly there aren’t many of these authors that I have enough experience with to give a worthwhile opinion. I am interested in reading the Crowley books you mention and have picked one recently that I found in stunning condition at a steal of a price. I also think Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest sounds very interesting.

    If I were to make a list I imagine authors like Poe, Bester, and Haruki Murakami would make the list, to throw three very different writers out there. I would not make the argument that any of these are the “best” in an overall sense, but they are three authors off the top of my head whose work has moved me and whose use of language stands out from others that I have read.

    • I’ve always liked Bester’s The Stars My Destination – must reread it one of these days. But I hated his The Demolished Man. Not read any Poe or Murakami.

      • I think The Stars My Destination is one of the best works of genre fiction ever written. As for The Demolished Man, I really enjoyed it the one time I read it. Not anywhere close to Stars, but I had fun with it. I haven’t re-read it, however, like I have with Stars.

        Its hard to tell what you would feel about Poe. I was exposed to it at just the right age, old enough to understand what Poe was writing but young enough to be thrilled by the scary nature of the stories. I read his work today and still find it superb, but it isn’t quite as deliciously creepy as it was when I was in middle school.

  4. I know it’s trite, but I recently read Crime and Punishment and can’t escape the commonplace fact that it’s one the best novels ever written, and Fyodor Dostoevsky one history’s greatest writers.

  5. I would agree with most of your choices. I love Durrell as a stylist, but reading too much of him becomes wearing. There are certain scenes in his books which will stay with me forever, particularly the Arabs fishing the lake, and the horrible dilemna when Clea gets trapped while diving.

    I used to love Fowles but have slightly gone off him recently. I think that he is a young man’s writer, and “The Magus” is a young man’s book. The first time I read it I thought the protagonist was a wonderfully portrayed sympathetic character, when I re-read 15 years later I found him self-obsessed and unpleasant, which I think is what Fowles really intended. His masterpiece, in my opinion, is “A Maggot”, pure science fiction set in the 18th Century, and a strangely neglected book.

    Have you tried Anthony Powell or Evelyn Waugh, both surely two of the best stylists of our time? You either love or hate their concern for the upper classes in British society, but their wit and creation of memorable characters cannot be matched.

    • The Magus is definitely a young man’s book. Unlike Mantissa, which is a dirty old man’s book. A Maggot is excellent, but I think The French Lieutenant’s Woman is the better of the two.

      I’ve read the first book of A Dance to the Music of Time, and have been keeping my eye open for the remaining volumes. Never read any Waugh, but I’ve his Sword of Honour trilogy is very good.

  6. What do you recommend I read first by Gwyneth Jones?

    • Probably Life, although her last novel, Spirit, a space opera, may be the easiest one to find. Or you could try the first of the Aleutian trilogy, White Queen, or the first of the Bold as Love Cycle, the Clarke Award-winning Bold as Love.

  7. I thought this Graunian blog-post might interest you:

    I concur with its recommendation of JCG as a great writer to serve as an intro to modern SF, in particular.

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