Star Traders Worlds: Schmitz
James Schmitz (1911 – 1981; first SF publication, 1943) didn’t write as much as some of the authors on this list, and his work isn’t deeply philosophical, but among my favorite authors, he is one of my most favorite. Most of his writing is set in the Hub Universe, and his female protagonists are among the eariest in science fiction to have some role other than “scantily clad damsel in distress.” Telzey Amberdon (xenotelepath extraordinaire) and Trigger Argee (expert sharpshooter) are two of the most admirable female characters in all of science fiction, and the Agent of Vega series takes space opera down a couple of unlikely paths.
But the crown jewel of Schmitz’ work (in my humble opinion) is The Witches of Karres. This isn’t deep, insightful literature, just an absolutely delightful adventure with trader captain Pausert, who is piloting a merchant ship throughout the known galaxy (does that ring any bells?), with the three young witches he involuntarily rescues from servitude. They’ve got something everyone else wants, making Pausert’s ship a prime target for … well, for everyone else.
Pausert has taken on a more important cargo than he realizes, including a Sheem Spider, an animatronic, horse-sized creation that is designed to stalk and assassinate. It is a masterwork of a long-dead species, and one of the primary elements in Witches.