Yes it is "Underrated Week" and our next genre is science fiction.
But – sorry guys — I don’t think there is much underrated science fiction. You might think the genre as a whole is underrated, but within the genre there are so many sad desperate souls (I know, I am one of them) who will clutch at straws and elevate the mediocre into the worthwhile and the worthwhile into the superlative.
Science fiction has been treading water since the 1960s. Since that time its most glorious achievements have been on the screen, not on the printed page. There are some excellent individual books, such as Eon or Hyperion, but the genre is mostly retreads. Nor do I think much of attempts to cross science fiction with "serious fiction," whether it is coming from Philip K. Dick or Doris Lessing. Yes the idea is cool but the execution is usually quite flawed.
Still we all must have our picks, so here are mine:
1. Sphere, from Michael Crichton. Forget the last few books. He is the best science fiction writer in contemporary times, though his publisher works very hard to make sure that label does not stick.
2. Star Maker, by Olaf Stapledon. Read Stapleton if you fervently believe that British Hegelianism is the missing element in most science fiction. Yet this is probably my favorite science fiction novel of all time, who else can credibly skip over 20,000 years in a single breath? "Civilizations rose and fell, yet now we must move on," or something like that. Honorable mentions go to Stapledon’s Odd John and especially Sirius.
3. Jonathan Lethem, Gun with Occasional Music. This is marketed as contemporary literature, which keeps away the science fiction fans.
It is hard to call Joe Haldeman underrated but still there are fans who don’t know he is one of the best science fiction writers, period.
I guess there is some underrated science fiction after all.
Crying Uncle: OK people, I retract the claim "Science fiction has been treading water since the 1960s." Card and Butler are the most convincing counterexamples.