Isaac Asimov: A flat writer who doesn’t develop his characters too well. On the other hand, his science is dead on, his vision of the future was consistent but more realistic than most others. But perhaps more importantly, the underlying themes are so important to us. His robot laws are so obvious that one can forget how brilliant they are. His robot detective, prominent in several novels, is not a tool to be controlled but instead a partner to be respected. Whereas other writers speak of continuing clashes on matters of Earth religions and Earth geography, he understood that conflicts in the future would center around the planets we would inhabit.
Chris Carter: When we say “they”, what do we mean? I never really knew. People always make it sound like someone in the government but officially speaking the “they” we all refer to doesn’t exist. X-Files gave us a beautiful idea of “they”. A shadow government working within the world’s governments and filled with unscrupulous beings who manipulate news, events, people, and technology to their own ends. For that alone he is one of the most brilliant writers I know. And the creature feature shows? Generally a lot deeper than you normally expect.
Arthur C. Clarke: Brilliant! The guy wrote how many stories during his career and most were separate from one another. The technologies of space flight were often very different but always seemed plausible. Clarke also had trouble with creating deep characters but he so beautifully explored the topics life, evolution, extraterrestrial life, technology, our existence, and even religion that the reader hardly notices. Clarke often wrote that there were no new ideas in science fiction. If that’s true it is because he tapped them all.
Frank Herbert: His writing is dense (like a newspaper article?) but the extended metaphor he created with Dune is worth the headaches. He combines the technology of our distant future with modern religions and a medieval political system. There is commentary on ecology, women’s rights, sentient machines, and leadership. There is mysticism. Herbert wrote a great deal, and I have yet to find anything that isn’t worth reading, but Dune is the culmination of his thoughts (and if you like his themes, put up with his son’s overwriting and read the rest of the Dune books).
Herman Hesse: Deceptively simple, elegant. Hesse spent his life studying the religions of the world and had a beautiful, readable way of bringing a summation of them all into stories.
Stan Lee: Responsible for perhaps the most unique and developed universe of characters ever, Stan Lee helped to develop nearly every Marvel character we have ever heard of. Superman may be an iconic figure, Batman may be the ultimate badass, but the Fantastic Four feels like a family. The X-Men are broiling with tensions within the ranks as well as against their enemies.
C.S. Lewis: The writing is dated and designed for children but the settings are delightful. If you are not religious, focus on the mythical beings he so beautifully interweaves into a series of stories about kids growing up.
George Lucas: If the sense of samurai honor balanced with monkish virtues was a stroke of genius, giving the Jedi amplified martial arts powers was a step beyond. Putting them in the middle of a universe very similar (in combatting philosophies) with our own was a necessity to highlight the Jedi’s good. The stories are so basic and the endings easy to see, but only because Lucas doesn’t need to break the traditional plots, themes, and motifs to make his stories work. On the contrary, he brings them to a new height.
Ayn Rand: The writing is simple, the plots straightforward. Even the themes are not difficult to follow. Rand had a simple philosophy, be true to yourself. She called it Objectivism, a word meaning you should never allow anything to divert you from your goals. Reading her material is uplifting.
J.R.R. Tolkien: Better than any writer before or since, Tolkien meshed the figures and creatures of Celtic and Norse mythology into a single universe. What I enjoy, however, is that his stories don’t turn around the most powerful characters. They do their part, but always need help. The real heroes are nobodies who are thrust into a situation and find a way to pull themselves together to make it work. A neat twist, especially in the land of mythology.
Joss Whedon: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse. The first and last have a feminine hero, the first and third are filled with one-liners that are still funny. What is impressive about Whedon is none of that, or the iconic characters he creates. What I get out of watching his stuff is watching women having power and wielding it in a way that’s typically feminine. Buffy is the most powerful being in the Buffyverse until season 6 but that fact is never stated or intimated except when Buffy is fighting with her friends. The support group is not “The Buffy Club”, but the Scooby Gang. None of his women are perfect nor do they get it right, they do the best they can.
I’m afraid my awareness of universe designers is limited. I would welcome any suggestions.