Later, I may go back in time, but for now, I'll list some contemporary writers I enjoy.
Neil Gaiman wrote, with Terry Pratchett, "Good Omens" which is based around "The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch". While Pratchett is popular with many people whose opinions I value, I'm not a fan at all. I am, however, a fan of Gaiman. In comics, he wrote The Sandman series, which is fine and dandy, a great achievement etc. In literature though, he wrote Neverwhere, about another world parallel to the London Underground. Best of all though, he wrote the magnificent, "American Gods".
Sometimes Banks comes with an M (Iain M Banks being, sort of, the pseudonym he uses for Science Fiction). I rate him both with and without. With, my favourite is The Use of Weapons (one of many novels set in The Culture). Without the M, his first novel, The Wasp Factory remains a splendid achievement, but my favourite is Complicity (because I could not help but be complicit in the plans of the villain.
Orson Scott Card
Card is a Mormon from Utah. He is also one of the most humanistic science fiction writers I know of. He has written many varied peieces including the Alvin Maker stories, set in an alternative North America where the continent is divided between a Royalist and republican section. His greatest achievement though is the book, "Ender's Game" about children trained for an act of xenocide (albeit in self-defence). This was followed by Speaker for the Dead, in which Ender Wiggin, who killed an alien race called the Hive, then wrote the book that brought the human race to shame for what it had done.
Maguire rewrites fairy-tales and other stories from popular culture. Wicked is the Wizard of Oz, told from the point of view of the Wicked Witch of the West. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister is Cinderella. Mirror, Mirror is Sleeping Beauty with Lucretia Borgia as the wicked queen. Angela Carter is dead but Maguire writes well enough to be a worthy successor.
The Baroque cycle is over 3000 pages long and tells the story of how the renaissance became the industrial age. It sounds dull when you put it like that but it is a marvellously ornate fantasy that's every bit as compelling as, say Lord of the Rings. Stephenson also wrote The Cryptonomicon which is another fine fantasy set in and after the second world war.
I'm not that big a fan of hard science fiction and generally find Baxter's work too dry. I make an exception though for his Destiny's Children trilogy... "Coalescent", "Exultant" and "Transcendence". Well worth checking out.
He writes works that are heavy on ideas, On for example, where the world is a wall and gravity is sideways. My favourite works by Roberts are Salt (a novel about an attempt to colonise another planet failing not because of problems on the planet but because the colonists were too alien to each other before they ever left Earth) and Snow (which is an end of the world story).
Lionel Hutz/Takeshi Kovacs knows this work. It's absolutely splendid (Takeshi Kovacs is a central character in three of Morgan's four books (Altered Carbon, Broken Angels, and Woken Furies - the exception being Market Forces).
I originally bought this because a central character in Kushiel's Dart was called Alcuin. There are three books in her trilogy, Kushiel's Dart, Kushiel's Chosen, and Kushiel's Avatar (Alcuin dies in the first book I'm afraid but by then I was extremely interested in the life of the main character, Phaedra no Delaunay). The books are very sexy, epic fantasy with huge scope and a heroine who is a masochist and a prostitute. An extremely brave work and one that works very very well.