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Looking for some good adult sci-fi/fantasy novels to read...
July 1, 2004 11:04 AM   Subscribe

Looking for some good adult sci-fi/fantasy novels to read... [MI]

I love SF/Fantasy, but pretty much everything out there now seems to be either too dry or geared for young-adults. I've already enjoyed George Martin's Game of Thrones series (but it is too long) and all of Piers Anthony's early writings. Basically, I am looking for good adult (think Rated-R or even NC-17) novels that just have more adult themes than your regular fare.

Any suggestions? Thanks!!
posted by eas98 to Media & Arts (45 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Clive Barker, specifically "Imajica" is sexy fun.
posted by milovoo at 11:14 AM on July 1, 2004


Anything by Stanislaw Lem, Olaf Stapledon, or Samuel R. Deleney, Brian Stapleford esp. the Emortality series. Except perhaps for some of Deleney, these aren't so much "R" or "NC-17" as books that would not interest most children.
posted by Stoatfarm at 11:25 AM on July 1, 2004


it depends what you mean by "adult." there are plenty of books out there that have serious fare, and themes that are more mature, without necessarily focusing much on sex. on the other hand, there are plenty of books that feature sexual themes ("rated R or NC-17") that lack any sort of depth or maturity. the latter, i generally try to avoid. the former, on the other hand...

i'd suggest anything by octavia butler (particularly the two "parable" books). vernor vinge's "fire upon the deep" and "deepness in the sky" are (rightfully) classics. china mieville's "perdido street station" and "the scar" are dark and incredibly immersive steampunk-tinged fantasy. books by ursula leguin, sucn as "the dispossessed" or "the left hand of darkness", are also classic for a reason. maria doria russell's "the sparrow" and walter miller's "a canticle for leibowitz" are both interesting sci-fi excursions into religion and morality. etc. stoatfarm is right - lem and deleny are also worth looking into. again, these books aren't nc-17, particularly, they're simply books with deeper subject matter than the adventure/space opera/coming of age stuff of youth fiction.
posted by ubersturm at 11:44 AM on July 1, 2004 [1 favorite]


Gene Wolfe is an outstanding author. Start with his The Book of the New Sun series.
posted by Mick at 11:50 AM on July 1, 2004


Ooh, ooh, ooh! Nobody's recommended Gene Wolfe's "Book of the New Sun" books (four of 'em), so I get to.

On preview: curse you, Mick!
posted by Johnny Assay at 11:54 AM on July 1, 2004


Though I agree with most of what ubersturm says, and a double helping of Mieville, [rant] I found that "a canticle for leibowitz" is the most patronizing, for dummies piece of crap I've ever read, and I've read plenty of crap. And I am a 3rd generation atheist, so I wasn't insulted by his lack of belief in gods, but the sophomoric, infantile way he argues fabout it. [/rant]
posted by signal at 11:57 AM on July 1, 2004


I'm old. I grew up reading Heinlein. His charactes usually end up in bed with eachother. "Time Enough for Love" is a favorite.

Otherwise, if you want mature content, then the best science fiction writer in the business today is David Brin. I loved his Uplift Wars series, also his novel Earth is excellant.
posted by Goofyy at 12:01 PM on July 1, 2004


these books aren't nc-17, particularly
Actually, by most standards, parts of Deleney's "Dahlgren" really are pretty racy.
posted by Stoatfarm at 12:03 PM on July 1, 2004


Who's this Deleney character, and does he know about noted postmodern sci-fi author Samuel Delany?
posted by evinrude at 12:09 PM on July 1, 2004


Thanks for the responses so far.. While I am not looking for porno reading, I do enjoy edgy and racy. I don't like things to be glossed over -- for example, if I am reading about war, I expect to read about rape and plunder.

There are authors who write serious SF, but yet completely ignore the sexuality of the characters; Orson Scott Card and Asimov are good examples of this. I have always enjoyed Piers Anthony's writing becase he is quite frank in his discussion and descriptions of sexuality (at least in his mature novels).
posted by eas98 at 12:21 PM on July 1, 2004


Lots of good reccommendations here. I'd also suggest looking at books by Iain M. Banks, C. J. Cherryh, Tim Powers, Neal Stephenson, and Sean Stewart. Tastes vary, of course, and I'm not sure exactly what you're looking for.

I also heartily recommend checking out rec.arts.sf.written (perhaps via Google). It's an active and friendly community.
posted by hattifattener at 12:30 PM on July 1, 2004


The C.J. Cherryh recommendation above (hattifattener) is solid. I read The Foreigner for class once, and found the treatment of race and sexuality to be frank without being blunt.

Stephenson, though the author of some really great books, always seems uncomfortable with the characters' sexuality. Though it is discussed, and there are sexual scenes, it seems more like he whips it out once in a while, wags it around, and then puts it away for some more good old history, cryptography, or economics . The way in which his characters use sex is very interesting, though (in particular, I'm thinking of Confusion and Cryptonomicon), and ties together his use of sex and the main themes of economics and power.
posted by whatzit at 12:41 PM on July 1, 2004


Who's this Deleney character, and does he know about noted postmodern sci-fi author Samuel Delany?
I never said I knew how to spell his name, just that I've enjoyed his writing. At least as much as I enjoy sarcasm. Perhaps more.
posted by Stoatfarm at 12:43 PM on July 1, 2004


Guy Gavriel Kay, esp. The Lions of al-Rassan, Tigana, and the two books of the "Sarantine Mosaic," Sailing to Sarantium and Lord of Emperors.
posted by dnash at 12:45 PM on July 1, 2004


eas98, try the work of John Varley. He explores complex adult themes — including sexuality — with impressive imagination. His short fiction is good, but you might be more interested in his Gaea trilogy comprising Titan, Wizard, and Demon.

There's also Ursula LeGuin's classic, The Left Hand of Darkness, which focuses on themes of sexual identity (rather than sexuality). LeGuin can seem dry at first, but if you give it a chance, her writing is really quite compelling.

Stephen R. Donaldson, in his Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever also deals with sexual themes. There's a rape early in the series that has repercussions throughout the later books.
posted by jdroth at 12:49 PM on July 1, 2004


Another vote for Tim Powers - The Anubis Gates and The Drawing of the Dark are two of my favorite books. His latest Declare is also a great read.
posted by ssmith at 12:53 PM on July 1, 2004


Iain M. Banks, yeah. Especially Use of Weapons and Against A Dark Background, and maybe The Player of Games and Excession.

Varley is also faboo. I'd recommend the various Eight Worlds works -- The Ophiuchi Hotline, Steel Beach, and The Golden Globe, and at least one collection -- over the Gaea books. Steel Beach has the best opening line ever -- something like " `In five years, the penis will be obsolete,' the said."

Some of the stories in Greg Egan's collections Axiomatic and Luminous might fit the bill. Some of the rest of the stories might not.

You might also try the various Night's Dawn books by Peter F. Hamilton. They're definitely silly in lots of ways, but are generally a good R-rated romp with shit gettin' blowed up real good, people gettin' it on right and left, people being plundered, and so on.

posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:58 PM on July 1, 2004


I really enjoy Guy Gavriel Kay. His early trilogy (The Fionnavar Tapestry, which I can't look up the correct spelling for) was just rereleased.

It's not quite as good in my opinion as pretty much everything he's written since. The Sarantine Mosaic, The Lions of Al-Rassan, and A Song For Arbonne are definitely among my favourite fantasy works.

Instead of the tired middle earth setting, Kay takes a fresh historic locale and breathes life into it.

on preview: damn you dnash. You're just lucky I'm working and composed this reply over the last hour and a half.
posted by ODiV at 1:05 PM on July 1, 2004


Robert J. Sawyer's writing may also interest you, particularly the Hominids books which include the topics of an interesting model of culture based on bisexuality, as well as the issue of dealing with rape.

try the work of John Varley
I'd second that and add that his book "Millenium" is also worth reading, although perhaps not as in-flight fare.
posted by Stoatfarm at 1:09 PM on July 1, 2004


I have no taste or patience for most sci-fi/fantasy, but every once in a while someone forces a book on me and I'll like it.

That said, Iain Banks is pretty damned good (I dug The Wasp Factory, as a frinstance), and I'll enthusiastically second Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash especially is an unbelievably well-written work.)
posted by chicobangs at 1:17 PM on July 1, 2004


Have you read any Anne Rice? I don't know if you count vampires and mummies in Sci-fi/fantasy, but if you do, she'll probably give you more adult themes than you can handle.

I'll also second (or fourth) the recommendation for C.J. Cherryh. I loved Cyteen which skews to the Sci-fi more than the fantasy. Foreigner was OK though if you're set on fantasy.

Some of the Dune stuff gets kind of racy as well -- particularly in some of the later books.
posted by willnot at 1:52 PM on July 1, 2004


stoat: Sawyer is about the polar opposite of racy and edgy, though. While I enjoy his books, they're chock full of why-can't-we-all-get-along and smoking-is-bad-m'kay and other gooey, warm-hearted, liberal pieties. Especially Hominids and Humans. I'd swear sometimes he must be the unholy love child of Alan Alda and L. Neil Smith.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:10 PM on July 1, 2004


Thanks everybody for all the responses! You guys are great!

I am familiar with Cherryh and Kay. I've read Rice under her psedonyms -- and yes, she is racy! Varley is one that I'm always considering. I'll have to take a good look at the others. I only wish I had a printer-friendly version of this page. :)
posted by eas98 at 2:11 PM on July 1, 2004


Bruce Sterling's Distraction was a good read. Sci-fi and poli-sci all in one.
posted by Hackworth at 2:12 PM on July 1, 2004


I'd also recommend Dan Simmons, especially the Hyperion cycle, and Peter Hamilton's various series.

Of the books that have already been mentioned, I'd second Russell's two "Sparrow" books, as well as Vernor Vinge's books, Iain Banks, Varley, Brin and Sawyer. (Delaney I've always found too vague and cryptic, but that's just my taste.)

Finally, while Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game is a young adult book par excellence, that initial series really comes into striking maturity in Speaker for the Dead and Xenocide. The final book (Children of the Mind) didn't quite measure up, for me, but those middle two are remarkable, and well-worth the read. (The parallel/follow-up "Shadow" series he's just put out is entertaining, but also not up to the same level of sophistication.) Card isn't everyone's favorite author for a couple of valid reasons--his personal views are quite conservative, and he churns out a lot of "decent, not great" stuff--but he does have a tremendous knack for creating complex, compelling characters, and when he really hits it, I think he writes a great book.

Also, just about anything by Greg Bear, Gregory Benford, and Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars series.
posted by LairBob at 2:13 PM on July 1, 2004


Oh, damn--I almost forgot...Norman Spinrad, especially Bug Jack Barron. It reads a bit dated now, but he really kicked off a real movement for "adult" sci-fi with that book, and it's still impressively ambitious and prescient. (Spinrad's actually all over the place--some of his stuff is very straightforward SF, like Russian Spring, some of it's very adult, and his most recent book is historical fiction.)

If you want to really push the boundaries of what's acceptable, within the realm of established, credible authors, you can also read some of Philip Jose Farmer's more "experimental" titles like Image of the Beast, or Spinrad's own The Men In the Jungle. Both those books are really not for the faint-of-heart/stomach, so don't say I didn't warn you, and they're not really their best books, but if you're feeling adventurous, they're definitely different.
posted by LairBob at 2:29 PM on July 1, 2004


I'll second the recommendation of Varley; I like the 8 Worlds stuff much better than Titan/Demon/Wizard, and especially his collections The Persistence of Vision and Blue Champagne.

John Barnes' Kaleidoscope Century is a very good book that meets your NC-17 standard.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 3:11 PM on July 1, 2004


I'll second John Varley. Very well written, full of creative ideas, thought provoking, adult themes, etc.
posted by skallas at 3:14 PM on July 1, 2004


Michael Moorcock's Jerry Cornelius books.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 3:22 PM on July 1, 2004


As expected, all my favorite authors (Banks, Mieville, LeGuin, Simmons and so on) are already mentioned. I'll suggest an exotic one then: Troll, a Love Story by a fellow Finn Johanna Sinisalo - "a sharp, resonant, prickly book that exists on the slipstream of SF, fantasy, horror and gay fiction, set in a world exactly like our own, except for the trolls" as Neil Gaiman nicely mentioned in his journal.
posted by inkeri at 4:20 PM on July 1, 2004


Kim Stanley Robinson's mars trilogy (red/green blue mars) is some of the best fiction of any variety I've read for some time. It can be dry at times, and must sometimes be read as nature writing rather than straight 'sci-fi', but it is incredibly powerful in many many ways.

As myth, as history, as enviornmental philosophy, as social theory - most importantly, just as a damn good story.
posted by freebird at 4:33 PM on July 1, 2004


I can second (or third) many of the recommendations given here, and have one to add. It may or may not be your cup of tea, but Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Trilogy might have something to offer. Fantasy rather than SF, adult themes, and above par.
posted by vers at 4:50 PM on July 1, 2004


Asimov's The Gods Themselves features a tri-gendered parallel-universe species that's an interesting read...
posted by WolfDaddy at 5:21 PM on July 1, 2004


I have to tell you to read Neuromancer, Virtual Light and especially Pattern Recognition by William Gibson.
posted by armoured-ant at 5:31 PM on July 1, 2004


I've read 2/3 of Dan Simmons' Hyperion, and agree that it is good. It just might meet your criteria. (It's damn poignant at times, actually. The story of the woman who lives her life in reverse, like Mork's son, is heartbreaking.)

I'm a huge Kim Stanley Robinson fan, and agree that the Mars trilogy (and actually his California trilogy) is worth reading. It's just not to everyone's tasted. It is very dry at times. But, boy, when he's on, he's on. He's got some great ideas that had our book group arguing for hours last month...
posted by jdroth at 5:40 PM on July 1, 2004


I've always enjoyed Tanith Lee - ooh, yes, dark, edgy fantasy with interesting themes. Here's a link to a bibliography of her work. I'm currently reading her Mortal Suns.
posted by Lynsey at 6:08 PM on July 1, 2004


Those old dogs Philip Jose Farmer and Harlan Ellison were never a'feared of a little of the old in-out. If you're looking to be titillated though, I think you're looking in the wrong genre, for as much as I love sci-fi, the sex scenes in many of the books I've read are more alien and freaky than anything else encountered within. Often it seems a case of authors trying too hard.

I'll say that Steel Beach by Varley made Future Sex seem more interesting and fun than most. Michael Swanwick's Stations of the Tide wasn't bad for this either.

And speaking of Varley, where the hell did he go? Has he put out anything new lately?
posted by picea at 7:35 PM on July 1, 2004


"Doc" Smith's Lensman series has a lot of good elements, although when I looked it up, all the web reviews describe the series as immature, dated and shallow (exactly the opposite of your request). I disagree, but I may be in a very small minority with fond memories of it.
posted by milovoo at 8:46 PM on July 1, 2004


eh, to each their own, signal. i suppose i have a bit of a soft spot for books with a post-apocalyptic setting, and the whole "booklegging" thing amused me. i found miller's attitude towards religion to be more ambivalent than most, which was actually what intrigued me. a cynical sense of humor applied towards the futility of human endeavors, but a respect for religion and the impulse towards the betterment of one's self and people that i've found less than frequent in sci fi.

i feel obligated to mention gaiman's "american gods" and [though it's a comic] " sandman". and while i'm at it, warren ellis' comic "transmetropolitan" - think hunter s. thompson in the 23rd century, staging a solo gonzo attack on the political machine. i've found some of maureen mchugh's books to be interesting, particularly "mission child". nancy kress' "beggars in spain" is a good read as well, although kress sometimes focuses on the societal results of genetically-engineered sleeplessness to the detriment of her characters. my favorite books by cherryh are the two "rider" books - "rider at the gate" and "cloud's rider". "the forever war" by haldeman is designed to make one point, but it does so very well. and i second (or third or fourth) kim stanley robinson's mars trilogy.
posted by ubersturm at 9:28 PM on July 1, 2004


Another vote for Kim Stanley Robinson. But don't stop at the Mars Trilogy. The Years of Rice and Salt is also a great read.
posted by PenDevil at 1:17 AM on July 2, 2004


Two books by James L. Halperin:
Truth Machine. Someone invents a machine that is 100% reliable to tell if someone is lying.

The First Immortal. Deals with all kinds of questions and issues about cryogenics. Loosely in the same future as Truth Machine.

I only just read First Immortal a few weeks ago. Its quite fascinating and full of a lot of facts, deliberatly.
posted by Goofyy at 2:25 AM on July 2, 2004


Iain M. Banks. All his sf Culture novels are fantastic. It's possibly best to start with Consider Phlebus.

Alasdair Reynolds writes some of the best space-based fiction, and he knows his physics, too.

Kim Stanley Robinson. (As some have said, his Mars trilogy is brilliant, but dry.)
posted by salmacis at 3:24 AM on July 2, 2004


Varley had something out not too long ago, i think it was a young adult novel maybe? I remember seeing it on Amazon.

But I second (third?) Varley, especially the Titan trilogy, Golden Globe and Persistence of Vision.

Clive Barker is also wonderful, esp. Imajica, and I still teach the Mary Doria Rusell books in my classes because they provide endless fodder for exploration and discussion. Very thought-provoking.
posted by archimago at 6:59 AM on July 2, 2004


Walter Jon Williams rocks. He has some interesting stories, and books like Hardwired and Angel Station are definitely NC-17...hell, Angel Station was where I first learned the word "areola".

My favorite thing about Williams is that the technology is just OUT THERE, and he doesn't apologize. There's a lot of hard science, but extrapolated like crazy into science fantasy. His Aristoi is one of my favorite books, and its pacing is simply amazing.
posted by taumeson at 7:54 AM on July 2, 2004


I can't believe I had to read so far down this thread to see a mention of Alastair Reynolds. He's really not getting the coverage he deserves, decent science with dark fiction. Most of the others here I'd agree with though Ken Macleod also deserves a mention.
posted by devon at 9:13 AM on July 2, 2004


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