Feed my literary appetite.
August 27, 2008 8:29 AM   Subscribe

BookFilter: My reading list is getting very short and I'm looking to the hivemind to help me queue up a few more books to get me by.

My interests are usually historical fiction or techo/sci-fi kinds of stuff. I just finished Prey by Michael Crichton. Other books that are up my alley are Into The Wild by Krakauer, The Historian by Kostova, 1984 by Orwel, Contact by Sagan.

What other viewpoint altering, brain inspiring, society questioning or can't put down books can you suggest to me?
posted by wavering to Society & Culture (32 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Flow My Tears the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick.
posted by The Gooch at 8:33 AM on August 27, 2008

I've been reading "The Monkey Wrench Gang" by Edward Abbey. If you're looking for a anachistic tour of the desert southwest with humor, it's a good read.
posted by trbrts at 8:37 AM on August 27, 2008

OOH! Countdown to Neal Stephenson's "Anathem" - set to release Sep. 9!
posted by vito90 at 8:43 AM on August 27, 2008

Before you jump all the way to Anathem, you might want to ask if he's read Cryptonomicon. Historical (WWII), techie, nerdy, awesome.
posted by madmethods at 8:52 AM on August 27, 2008

Hey! You've got speculative fiction in my historical fiction! No, you've got historical fiction in my speculative fiction!

For the two great tastes that taste great together:

If you haven't read Connie Willis, you must read Connie Willis. Anything by Connie Willis.

And if you haven't read Jo Walton's alt-history if-England-appeased-Hitler series, do so. The first two books are Farthing and Ha'Penny, and the next book, Half a Crown, comes out at the end of September.

And, oh, Tim Powers. Just--Tim Powers. Especially The Anubis Gates.

And going way back, Kingsley Amis's The Alteration is one of the greatest and most underrated alt-histories ever.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:54 AM on August 27, 2008

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein.

Surprised myself when I read this as it's outside of my normal reading (I never read science ficiton), but I really enjoyed it and it fits all of your requirements.
posted by Outis at 9:00 AM on August 27, 2008

Along the lines of 1984:

For a dystopia set in the future, you can't beat Brave New World.

For modern-day dystopias, try White Noise or anything by George Saunders or Chuch Palahniuk.

For dystopias set in the past, I'd recommend Slaughterhouse-Five and Catch-22.
posted by diogenes at 9:05 AM on August 27, 2008

Also, http://www.whatshouldireadnext.com/search
posted by Outis at 9:09 AM on August 27, 2008

The Years of Rice and Salt, by Kim Stanley Robinson. Premise: 99% of the European population has died of plague; Islam and Confucianism are the dominant religions/philosophies. Great book.
posted by rtha at 9:19 AM on August 27, 2008

It's a little hard to find cheaply, but Ira Levin's This Perfect Day is, by far, the best dystopian novel I've read.

My husband is a big Greg Egan fan-- it's heavy on the sci, lighter on the fi.
posted by ebee at 9:29 AM on August 27, 2008

For straight-up historical fiction, you should try the Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwell. They follow a British soldier through his campaigns first in India and then all through the Napoleonic Wars. There are a ton of them, and they're all great reads.

Now, a book I found fascinating was A Talent for War, in which an antiquarian gets mixed up in a conspiracy to hide old truths that challenge the foundation myths of his far-future society. It's not exactly historical fiction, but I'll bet you'd enjoy it.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:29 AM on August 27, 2008

I'll second Tim Powers. I'm rather fond of "The Stress Of Her Regard" which involves literary figures Byron, Shelley, Keats etc along with a protagonist contesting with an evil creature. It's a strange book but worth it.

I also just finished "Never Let Me Go" by Kazuo Ishiguro. Another odd but worthwhile book. It starts off not seeming like a sci-fi or speculative-type novel but becomes one by the end. Kind of. Ishiguro's prose can take some getting used to - fyi.

You might also consider Mark Helprin; "A Soldier Of The Great War" for a story set against historical background. And although it might not exactly fit your criteria, his "Winter's Tale" is a breathlessly wonderful book set (mostly) in a kind of alternate fantastical version of New York City.
posted by elendil71 at 9:48 AM on August 27, 2008

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny. Hugo award winner. Nebula award nominee. It's like a sci-fi version of Siddhartha by Herman Hesse.
Lord of Light is set on a planet colonized by the remnants of a destroyed "Urath", Earth. The crew and colonists from the Star of India found themselves on a strange planet surrounded by hostile indigenous races and had to carve a place for themselves or perish. To increase their chances of survival the crew used chemical treatments, biofeedback and electronics to manipulate their minds to manifest superhuman powers. The available technologies also allowed near-immortality through reincarnation using the growth of new bodies and electronic mind transfer.
So the earthlings become akin to gods but one of them revolts and eventually becomes a buddha figure.

It's pretty damn awesome.
posted by prunes at 10:01 AM on August 27, 2008

Have you read Lucifer's Hammer by Niven and Pournelle? I just re-read that, hadn't read it in about 10 years, and it was just as good as I remembered. Fabulous. And with a pedigree like that . . .
posted by fiercecupcake at 10:14 AM on August 27, 2008

Not exactly a recommendation since I haven't read all of these books yet, but more of a way to make reading lists: My favorite thing to do this time of year is start reading the books for all the fall/holiday movies coming out soon.

Just finished Twilight. (Probably wouldn't recommend it based on your reading preferences.) I'm going to re-read Choke, and I've also got The Road, City of Ember and Blindness on my list. I ought to hunt down "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" as well.

I'd also recommend getting a head start on Watchmen (movie comes out next March), which I have read and DO recommend.
posted by faunafrailty at 10:23 AM on August 27, 2008

Also fantastic is Davy by Edgar Pangborn. It is a coming of age sci-fi novel that deals with a post-apocalyptic society in which people live in a world akin to the middle ages after a catastrophic nuclear war hundreds of years earlier. "Our" civilization as we know it exists in fragments with various principalities harking back to their heritage--names like Penn, Katskil (Catskill Mountains), Nuin (New England)--but mostly people are ignorant of old times.

The book is touching and poignant.

It was long out of print but apparently was revived recently in hardcover. I bought my copy used off amazon for pennies a few months ago though.
posted by prunes at 10:28 AM on August 27, 2008

Kage Baker's "In the Garden of Iden," wherein a young child becomes a time-travelling cyborg to rescue rare plants from medieval England. Protestantism! Immortality! Botany! And it's got a love story, too. (It's better than that sounds, honestly.) The publisher, Tor, gave away a PDF version for free this summer, but I think they took down the link.

There's a whole pile of follow-ons in the same world, but my enthusiasm for them has been waning as I work my way through them.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:43 AM on August 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Every time I see a question like this I always mention Skeletons on the Zahara. A great story adapted from a early 19th century narrative that was one of Abraham Lincoln's favorite books. An incredible historical story made even more remarkable because it is true.
posted by geekyguy at 11:22 AM on August 27, 2008

wavering: "My interests are usually historical fiction or techo/sci-fi kinds of stuff. I just finished Prey by Michael Crichton. Other books that are up my alley are Into The Wild by Krakauer, The Historian by Kostova, 1984 by Orwel, Contact by Sagan."

You might like World War Z by Max Brooks. It's about a worldwide outbreak of zombie plague, but written about in an utterly serious and realistic manner. It's got a hint of historical fiction to it, because it covers such a wide swath of cultures around the world and how they deal with the crisis in their social context. It's also fairly heavy on the techno/scifi, with lots of arcane yet engrossing details about military operations and bitter geopolitical wrangling and failed technological solutions and warfare underground, in space, and under the sea.
posted by Rhaomi at 11:45 AM on August 27, 2008

Oh, and seconding The Road (by Cormac McCarthy). It's an extraordinarily well-written story about a father and son wandering through a wasted post-apocalyptic America, with no sunlight, no food, and very little hope. The plot by itself is straight-up dystopian science fiction, with the protagonists fighting off cannibals and scavenging for food in the ruins of towns and suburbs. But McCarthy's writing is so refined and elegant that it reads like scripture, a latter-day Book of Revelation.
posted by Rhaomi at 11:50 AM on August 27, 2008

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
Cloud Atlas: A Novel by David Wallace
Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card
Blindness by Jose Saramago (feels very similar to McCarthy's The Road)
posted by cocoagirl at 12:04 PM on August 27, 2008

Eifelheim is about aliens crash-landing in a 14th century German villiage. Very well-written, moving, lots of really interesting ideas about technology, religion, xenophobia.

Set This House In Order (several chapters online for free) is a very cool first-person narrative from the point of view of one of the personalities of someone with multiple-personality disorder. My wife and I went nuts buying copies of this one for all our friends.
posted by Gorgik at 12:49 PM on August 27, 2008

I've been working my way down Phobos' "100 Sci-Fi Books you just have to read"

Foundation, Dune and Space Merchants were all very good, and I'm reading day of the triffids today. There's plenty for any taste though.

I found this list while looking for the first, for the populist approach.
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 12:55 PM on August 27, 2008

Night Soldiers and the related follow-up novels by Alan Furst.
posted by OilPull at 1:28 PM on August 27, 2008

Yes, World War Z was pretty amazing. I have yet to read it, but the audiobook was excellent, produced half like a radio drama as it was. The structure of the book really lends itself to being read by multiple people, and Mark Hamill, Henry Rollins, Jurgen Prochnow and John Turturro all put in performances, as well as the book's author. Great stuff.
posted by adamdschneider at 1:46 PM on August 27, 2008

Dystopic sci-fi? I'm currently reading "Dhalgren" by Samuel R. Delaney. It's already approaching top-five-books-I've-ever-read status and I'm only a third of the way through it. This morning I was shocked so profoundly by an event in the story that I forgot to get off the bus at my stop and was late for work. I can't recommend this book enough. Try not to read anything about it before you start, you don't want to ruin any of the surprises.
posted by arcanecrowbar at 2:06 PM on August 27, 2008

Victor Hugo's Ninety Three, set during the Vendée uprisings.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 4:33 PM on August 27, 2008

I just finished a great book, Daughter of Fortune by Isabelle Allende. It's about (among other things) San Francisco during the Gold Rush. AWESOME... must read.
posted by vermontlife at 4:41 PM on August 27, 2008

"Carter Beats the Devil" by Glen David Gould. It's about a magician in early 1900s San Francisco. Very well written.
posted by Soda-Da at 6:52 PM on August 27, 2008

Listen, I'm going to recommend Murakami over and over again for every one of these book questions. So here's this week's choice: Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World.
posted by Wayman Tisdale at 7:32 PM on August 27, 2008

Neal Stephenson is a good recommendation since he covers all your bases. He started off writing technothrillers (Zodiac) then fully fledged cyberpunk (Snowcrash) then post-cyberpunk (The Diamond Age) then fused science fiction and historical fiction to re-write the 20th Century (Cryptonomicom) then did something similar but even more ambitious (the Baroque cycle). His latest novel, Anathem, takes it even further. It is a standalone science fiction that re-writes Western civilisation from Ancient Greece onwards.

PS cocoagirl, Cload Atlas is by David Mitchell.
posted by ninebelow at 3:06 AM on August 28, 2008

I'm coming back to say you might like The World Without Us, an "imaginative hybrid of solid science reporting and morbid speculation." (© Reed Business Information)

PS cocoagirl, Cload Atlas is by David Mitchell.
Ack. Ack. Yes, Mitchell, not Wallace.

posted by cocoagirl at 4:50 PM on August 29, 2008

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