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Thoughtful sci-fi recommendations
July 13, 2014 11:50 PM   Subscribe

Looking for recommendations of sci-fi authors who are adept at some technology topics without compromising storytelling. More inside!

Hey sci-fi lovers!

In my experience, the best sci-fi books are the most engrossing reading I can get, but beyond that they rapidly fall off a cliff and become very mediocre. I'm looking for recommendations of authors who deal fluently in concepts like the singularity, technological development of civilizations, known physics and biology, and exploring the unknown, while telling great stories and without being too dark (Gibson, Banks) or too condescending/rambling (Stross). Books that blew my mind in the past include:

- All of Neal Stephenson, most importantly Anathem. He is by far my favorite.
- Ursula LeGuin, including The Left Hand of Darkness.
- Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep (but not his other books).
- The Strugatsky brothers.

Bring 'em on! Huge thanks in advance.
posted by azazello to Society & Culture (24 answers total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
 
David Brin, especially his recent "Existence."
posted by Sunburnt at 11:51 PM on July 13 [1 favorite]


I asked a similar question some years ago and got good suggestions.
posted by Grinder at 12:33 AM on July 14


Have you tried Excession by Iain M Banks? Although it has its darkness and violence, it's not quite as violent as the other Culture books I've read by him (Use of Weapons or Consider Phlebas), and I enjoyed it the most out of all three. It focuses more on the high-level politics and technology of the Culture and features the point of view of several AI characters. It is about what happens when a civilization encounters something utterly beyond its knowledge, like the technology of a much more advanced society. He calls this an Outside Context Problem.
posted by wrabbit at 3:24 AM on July 14 [1 favorite]


Greg Egan. Anything by Greg Egan.
posted by Etrigan at 4:11 AM on July 14 [1 favorite]


"Inherit the Stars", by James P. Hogan. Explorers on the moon discover a dead man. His equipment is unrecognizable and all the labels on his equipment are unreadable. All the scientific tests they can apply tell them he had been there for 50,000 years.

Who was he, and how did he end up there?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:12 AM on July 14


Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Her first book, but blew my mind!!!
posted by astapasta24 at 4:44 AM on July 14 [1 favorite]


Alastair Reynolds - House of Suns
Margaret Atwood - Oryx and Crake
posted by bluecore at 5:34 AM on July 14


I came here to say Greg Egan.
posted by freshwater at 5:41 AM on July 14


I haven't read it yet, but this brief review pushed The Martian to the top of my summer list.

The Martian isn't just great because of its compelling storyline—it's great because it deals so closely (and entertainingly!) with the chemistry, mechanical engineering, and botany involved with Mars exploration.
posted by fairmettle at 5:45 AM on July 14 [2 favorites]


Ken MacLeod, though from what you say, you'll need to pick and choose some here. Try Newton's Wake. If you like that try the Engines of Light and then Fall Revolution series.
posted by mattu at 6:12 AM on July 14


A few years back, but check out Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series -- it looks like space opera, but it's really about what happens to a culture that has artificial wombs, casual cloning, and really advanced genetic engineering. Start with 'Shards of Honour', if you can.
posted by Mogur at 6:15 AM on July 14 [2 favorites]


Ted Chiang's short stories and novellas are brilliant and delicious. The Lifecycle of Software Objects ponders the impact of virtual love objects to our hearts, and it's free at that link.

Robert Charles Wilson's Spin explores the human consequences of changing the pace of time by accelerating the earth's rotation. Not exceptionally likely, but definitely logical, and as big as Ringworld.
posted by Jesse the K at 7:29 AM on July 14 [2 favorites]


Kim Stanley Robinsons Red/Blue/Green Mars trilogy might fit your bill.

Some of Larry Niven's classic stuff is low on handwavium while still dealing with technology and telling engaging stories.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:04 AM on July 14 [1 favorite]


Ann Leckie is going to be an author to watch. Ancillary Justice was a great start.

Hannu Rajaniemi does the whole post-human/AI/cyborg thing really well. The Jean Le Flambeur series is worth the time. Start with The Quantum Thief

Karl Schroeders' Virga books start out seemingly as a light space romp in a fantastic environment, but become something... else. I recommend you stick with this one, even if it doesn't seem up your alley for the first book or so. Sun of Suns is the first.
posted by bonehead at 8:12 AM on July 14


Seconding the Vorkosigan Series - really great stuff. Bujold is the sort of writer who uses her future-tech world as a jumping-off point for serious exploration of some pretty contemporary issues, sliding the thinking in sideways between space opera. I know people who love speculative fiction, and i know people who stick to the space opera, and all of them love Bujold.

Another series you might like is Octavia Butler's Lilith's Brood trilogy - the earth has been decimated by nuclear war, and an alien ship appears with an offer that earth cannot decline...
posted by tabubilgirl at 8:12 AM on July 14


I was coming in to recommend the Red/Blue/Green Mars trilogy and Larry Niven, but fffm beat me to them both(!) - so consider those two recommendations seconded.

Additionally, how about Frederick Pohl's Gateway? I've heard mixed things about the subsequent Heechee novels, but this first one stands on its own, is quite engrossing, and as I recall was good with the technology side of things. And I'm surprised nobody's mentioned Dan Simmons' Hyperion yet, but I guess that just means I get to.
posted by DingoMutt at 8:34 AM on July 14 [2 favorites]


One I forgot to mention: Elizabeth Bear's Jacob’s Ladder trilogy, Dust, Chill and Grail are well within your parameters. Bear is an accomplished writer. These are both smart technologically, but also well characterized and plotted, reminiscent of Cherryh and Wolfe, in turns.
posted by bonehead at 9:28 AM on July 14


Gregory Benford tends to write sci-fi with pretty strong physics behind it. He is a physicist but also a Nebula Award winner. Timescape was his early success novel and is considered a classic.
posted by BearClaw6 at 10:03 AM on July 14


Some good suggestions above. Add Robert J. Sawyer: solid science, great storytelling. Prize winner.
posted by PickeringPete at 10:55 AM on July 14


Rudy Rucker writes about real scientific concepts in an extremely fun, almost cartoonish way. I recommend Master of Space and Time, Postsingular, and Software.
posted by Chenko at 11:01 AM on July 14


Strongly seconding anything by Ted Chiang that you can get your hands on. He usually only writes novellas and short stories, but they're all well worth the read.
posted by the_wintry_mizzenmast at 11:31 AM on July 14 [1 favorite]


Anything by Stanislaw Lem.

As for Vinge, I do think A Deepness In The Sky is a great read, possibly even better than A Fire Upon The Deep.
posted by ringu0 at 12:11 PM on July 14


David Marusek's two novels, Counting Heads (2005) and Mind Over Ship (2009) meet most of your criteria. Excellent character- and world-building, with lots of interstellar travel, AI, cloning, augmentation, and whatnot. I will buy his third novel the day it's released.

He's a great short story writer as well. His The Wedding Album short story amazed me.
posted by the matching mole at 1:00 PM on July 14


Thanks everyone for your suggestions! Now I have a long reading list :) I'll try to mark best answers (IMO) as I go.
posted by azazello at 9:10 PM on July 14


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