British vs American Sci-Fi Authors


Aug 14, 2009
Texas, USA
I live is the USA so this is just one person's perspective from USA and I am curious of other peoples opinion.

It seems to me that some of the best science fiction these days is coming mostly from British authors and not from American ones. No insult meant from those not in either of those countries.

The works over the years from people like Reynolds, Hamilton, Banks (RIP), Asher and Baxter to name a few seem at least to me to represent what good science fiction is about. The books produced from these authors have a sense of awe and wonder, deep story lines, sci fi excitement and enough science sprinkled about to make them most interesting and satisfying. Also, their characters are usually deep and varied with multiple dimensions.
Authors that I find from the USA, at least the ones that are "big" are no where near as interesting and suffer from being too shallow and have characters that snarky and sarcastic plus they seem to be copied and given different names and moved from book to book. John Scalzi comes to mind here.

Anyway, I am curious what others think and if recommendations come from it all which is always welcome.
I basically agree but it's also true that all the big publishing houses are now British (or Anglo-German) and that might have something to do with it, too. ;) Ace, for instance, used to be one of the premiere publishing houses and as American as apple pie but is now part of Penguinzilla. So it's still one of the premiere houses and still publishes, e.g., Campbell and McDevitt but also Reynolds and Stross. Similarly with Tor, et al. I even expect DAW to eventually pass into Penguinzilla's hands (or flippers) as DAW lives in a Penguin building and is distributed by them, if still currently owned by a Wollheim.

I will say, too, that while the New Wave of British Space Opera (Asher, Banks, Baxter, Hamilton, and Reynolds would all qualify for this group) is extremely good, popular, and influential, it is just a tightly compressed "movement" of, basically, the 90s and Oughts. There are a great many British authors of a great variety but I don't think any really have anything approaching the effect of those few in the US[1] (or maybe even the UK). (Even Asher has little effect in the US though he finally seems to be breaking through.) And they manage the neat trick of, as you say, having a sensawunda combined with what I see as a characteristically British interest in the Gothic and amorphous, which are really contradictory - space opera is supposed to be bright shiny gleaming chrome Right Stuff. Instead, it's Mary Shelley... in spaaace! (Not quite as much vegetation as there used to be in UK SF, though. Still lots of "cozy catastrophes," though. Along with galaxy-ruining ones.)

As far as recommendations, a similar sub-topic came up in a thread on "real SF" where someone mentioned looking for it in the US and I replied. I'd add Brad R. Torgersen to the mix as a U.S. author who appeared recently (if the Hugo mess doesn't scuttle his career by people assuming he's Evil).

[1] Allowing for the occasional weirdo like Nicola Griffith - who probably doesn't sell much but is so popular with some folks that her historical novels get nominated for SF awards). I haven't read anything by her since her first two novels, but I recall liking them. Incidentally, she ran away to the US so I don't know how to count her now. I'd trade her back for Cadigan, though. I'll even throw in a sixth round draft pick. :)
I was born and live in the USA and have been reading SF for over 50 years now and I'd have to say that your revelation is nothing new to me.

Science Fiction is just as much a British import as anything else.

It might be possible that we consume more of it; and maybe that should be the question.

Which side of the pond consumes the most Science Fiction these days.

Verne was French
CS Lewis Irish
HG Wells British
Olaf Stapledon British
J.D Benesford British
Leslie Purnell Davies British
Tanith Lee (19 September 1947 – 24 May 2015) British
Colin Kapp British
Mary Shelley British

Here are some greats::
I'm British and I think it comes in cycles.

Yes at the moment the British authors you mentioned are probably better than most things the USA has to offer in terms of current sci fi.

But equally - although most of them are dead now except Le Guin - the USA has only very recently come out of a fertile period of great sci fi. e.g. Asimov, Heinlein, K.Dick, Le Guin, Butler, Vonnegut.

In 50 years time it'll have swung back to you yanks again.
*looks dubious* I think you're rather over-reliant on your personal assessment of things in your listing. I mean, it seems to me that you like a very particular form of SF, which is fine but it's only part of a whole. So I kind of think it boils down to "There's a bunch of British authors writing SF that I really like".

Once again, that's fine, but it's not a trend. There are lots of authors writing lots of sorts of SF on both sides of the Atlantic and elsewhere as well.
I think one of the problems at the moment is, especially over in the US, "Urban Fantasy" is the big thing for publishers hoping for a quick buck, for no effort, just hire any appalling old writer, in the wake of Twilight, just endless girls beaten beaten and abused by vampires, but its all ok, it means he loves you......

I loathe what I see as the hijacking of a noble sub genre. For me, Urban Fantasy is stuff like The Dresden Files, British Author Simon Green's "Secret Histories" series - kick ass guy with magical armour, enforces Law and Order amongst the magical beings of Britain, and the World at large, along with his large family. For that matter, Dr Who is often at its best when it does urban fantasy.
Then there's Steam Punk Which seems to be here to stay . Recently finished K W Jeter's novel Morlock Night . Good stuff (y)

Also recommend S M Sterling's The Peshawar Lancers .(y)
You seem to be mistaking Paranormal Romance for Urban Fantasy (easily done, esp in the US I amgiven to understand)

Yet one one is a subset of romance the other of fantasy

Usually the blurb will clue you in, if the cover does not
I think it is fair to say that British SF has punched above its weight, particularly with space opera. But what have been the two most highly acclaimed SF novels in recent years? Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie and Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer. So US SF not exactly dead yet.

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