Seeking "Hard" Sci-Fi Novel Recommendations
August 11, 2009 4:49 PM   Subscribe

Looking for sci-fi novel recommendations, preferably of the “harder” variety. My two favorite authors are Alastair Reynolds and Vernor Vinge. Some other books & authors that I’ve liked (and a few I’ve disliked) below the fold, to hopefully give a better sense of what I’m looking for. Thanks!

Books/authors I’ve really loved or liked a lot:
• Almost everything by Alastair Reynolds
• Fire Upon the Deep, A Deepness in the Sky, and Marooned in Realtime by Vernor Vinge
• Neverness & the Requiem for Homo Sapiens trilogy by David Zindell
• Asimov’s Foundation and Robot Novels
• Dune (but not any of the sequels and definitely not the prequels)
• Ender's Game (but not any of the sequels or parallel novels)
• Cordwainer Smith's Norstrilia & his short stories

Books/authors I’ve liked:
• David Brin’s Uplift series, as well as Kiln People and Glory Season
• Dan Simmons’ Hyperion series
• Neal Stephenson’s Snowcrash (but mostly not his other works, which I've read many of)
• A whole variety of stuff by Philip K. Dick (my favorite is probably Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)
• A whole variety of stuff by Stanislaw Lem
• 2001 by Arthur C. Clarke
• The Stars My Destination & Demolished Man by Alfred Bester
• Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars series (I'd only say that I "sort of" liked this series - more a fan of his ideas, not as much his style or characters)

Books/authors I have largely not liked:
• Vinge’s Rainbows End
• Clarke’s Rama series
• Robert Heinlein
• Larry Niven
• Singularity Sky
• Consider Phlebas

So basically, I’m looking for writers most similar to Reynolds and Vinge. As I say, I like the “harder” stuff, but I’m open to all suggestions. Thank you!
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell to Media & Arts (39 answers total) 69 users marked this as a favorite
Brin's Earth is perhaps my favorite by him.

Jack McDevitt's "Academy" and "Alex Benedict" novels both have a lot of surface similarities to Reynolds, with ancient mysteries and space archeology and the like. Don't be put off by the godawful cover art on A Talent for War.

Ken Macleod's stuff might be up your alley, though given your tastes I'd suggest steering clear of his series work in favor of Learning the World and Newton's Wake.

Neal Asher's stuff is fun, sort of like Iain M. Banks with a lot less politics and a lot more gore and explosions, but also some neat ideas, like cyborg zombies and hive intelligences.

You also might like Robert L. Forward's stuff; it's very science-oriented, and I imagine you'd enjoy the ideas, though not so much the characters.

Last but not least, Bruce Sterling's "Shaper and Mechanist" stories, all of which have been collected and reprinted recently as Schismatrix Plus.
posted by infinitywaltz at 5:04 PM on August 11, 2009

Perhaps Ben Bova's stuff.
hummm, let me go wander my shelves for a moment:

John Varley (I like his short stories better than novels)
Charles Stross
Iain Banks
George Effinger
posted by edgeways at 5:05 PM on August 11, 2009

Sounds like you like a lot of what people consider to be modern Space Opera. I would read the stories in this book and seek out the novels of any authors you like.
posted by EatenByAGrue at 5:05 PM on August 11, 2009

might like Poul Anderson, I don't, in general, but he may float your boat
posted by edgeways at 5:08 PM on August 11, 2009

My standard recommendation for anyone who likes hard sci-fi is Blindsight by Peter Watts.
posted by infinitewindow at 5:11 PM on August 11, 2009 [4 favorites]

Lists are nice, but it might be more useful f you took at least a little time to describe *what* you liked and/or didn't like about your various choices. That said, in reply to infinitywaltz, I'm about 2/3 through Ken MacLeod's Newton's Wake, and it feels a helluva lot to me like Singularity Sky.
posted by mediareport at 5:26 PM on August 11, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions so far!
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 5:26 PM on August 11, 2009

Noticeable absence of Peter F. Hamilton on your lists. Orbit just released his Night's Dawn Trilogy in attractive trade paperbacks in the US. I like Neal Asher, but he's less hard sci-fi / more hard-hitting sci-fi-action. Also Richard K. Morgan's stuff is good in that vein. So far, Karl Schroeder's Virga series has been a lot of fun. I've also like David Marusek's efforts (Counting Heads).
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 5:26 PM on August 11, 2009

Response by poster: Mediareport: I wasn't sure which way to go, to be honest. I started out along the path you suggest, but it was getting to be too "wall-of-textish," so I switched to list form. But I'll try to offer a few words about why I've liked what I've liked. I like the science-y feel to the works of Reynolds and Vinge, especially their descriptions of (and universes built around) star-faring at less than light speed. By contrast, I've generally disliked the Star Trek style of "you zoom at high speed and then you get there." Even authors who delve into faster-than-light travel like Brin and Zindell describe it as a challenging, difficult affair, which I find more compelling.

I like some good world-building, but it's not the be-all, end-all. I like stories with tight plots, action/activity, and some kind of goal, as opposed to more meditative tales. (Put another way, Lem's Solaris was interesting, but not exactly my cup of tea.)
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 5:42 PM on August 11, 2009

Seconding Hamilton's "Night's Dawn" trilogy. That's a great series.

Would also recommend Greg Bear's "Eon", perhaps.
posted by Thistledown at 5:55 PM on August 11, 2009

Well, my standard recommendation for people who want hard sci-fi is Greg Egan. Mind-bending physics, computer science of artificial intelligence, and cutting-edge biology, plus actual plot and characterisation!

I would recommend Diaspora for a start. There's more space travel in that than some of his other works, which you seem to like. Schild's Ladder has some traces of space-opera, along with a hefty dose of mind-expanding mathematics. He has also put out two or three short-story collections, which could be a good tasting method - Egan is an immensely clever guy with quite wide-ranging interests in his fiction.
posted by daisyk at 6:07 PM on August 11, 2009

Varley's eight worlds books, but not Red Thunder etc, which are homages to Heinlein. Maybe the Gaea books (Titan/Wizard/Demon) if you can get past the 70s-osity of them.

Hamilton's night's-dawn and commonwealth book serieses (warning: both have the odd Very Silly Thing)
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:22 PM on August 11, 2009

RIchard K. Morgan - an absolutely wonderful author. Start with Altered Carbon.
posted by TorontoSandy at 7:26 PM on August 11, 2009

Greg Bear (Queen of Angels, maybe Eon) and CJ Cherryh (Pride of Chanur et seq - if you like them then she's got a pretty huge back catalogue set in the same universe).
posted by Sebmojo at 7:27 PM on August 11, 2009

Oh, Sebmojo is right! I forgot about C.J. Cherryh. Cyteen is a good place to start, as well as the "Chanur" series.

Other recommendations made that I totally agree with: Greg Egan, Greg Bear, and for more action-oriented stuff, Peter F. Hamilton and Richard K. Morgan.

ROU_Xenophobe also mentioned Varley, and I sort of agree, but it depends on what you dislike about Heinlein. If it's the writing style, no worries, but Varley does cover many of the same themes, like libertarianism and sex and suchlike (specifically the coming obsolescence of fixed gender roles), that Heinlein was interested in. Read The Ophiuchi Hotline, which is a novel but one of his shortest, to see if you like him. If you do, then go straight to the short stories before going to his longer novels.
posted by infinitywaltz at 7:40 PM on August 11, 2009

Response by poster: Infinitywaltz, I just generally found Heinlein to be a bit silly, both in his politics and (at least some of) his ideas. I mean [VAGUE SPOILER ALERT] going back in time thousands of years to have sex with your mother? That was just too much of a reach for me.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 7:49 PM on August 11, 2009

If Heinlein gets too weird for you you should just stick with his earlier work. Door Into Summer, The Star Beast, Space Cadet, Red Planet, Double Star, Have Space Suit--Will Travel etc. Wikipedia has a complete list. I own most of them, and while they're pretty light reading, they're all fantastically fun. The politics don't start to come out too strongly until Starship Troopers, not explicitly anyways, and the bizarre sex stuff doesn't get going until Stranger In a Strange Land.

You also need to read The Mote in God's Eye, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. I'm of the opinion that their collaborative works are far superior to anything either of them has written on their own, and Mote is hands down one of the best hard sci-fi novels ever written. I'm not a fan of Niven in general, but this is just great. Their sequel, The Gripping Hand, is pretty damn good too. Legacy of Heorot isn't bad either, but not as good as the Motie books.

Finally, check out David Weber's Honor Harrington series. Granted, this thing goes on longer than it should have--we're at eleven novels and counting--but it's about as exciting a presentation of space warfare, complete with plausible tactics based on their version of interstellar propulsion.
posted by valkyryn at 8:04 PM on August 11, 2009

The set of books you've enjoyed and the set I've enjoyed have a large intersecting set. I also loved Dragon's Egg by Robert Forward. Also the Cities in Flight series by James Blish. Seconding The Mote in God's Eye and The Gripping Hand, too.
posted by angiep at 8:13 PM on August 11, 2009

Check out Anathem by Neal Stephenson and Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan. I think both will deliver what you want. They have tight plots and very interesting concepts with good action. This is especially true of the Morgan book.
posted by skewedoracle at 8:18 PM on August 11, 2009

OK, then yeah, I'm confident in recommending Varley's The Ophiuchi Hotline. It's less overtly satirical than some of his later "Eight Worlds" material, and has some really interesting stuff on the implications of cloning. After that, read the short stories in the same setting. There's a list of them here. "Equinoctial" is just awesome, incidentally, but they're all good to varying degrees.
posted by infinitywaltz at 8:18 PM on August 11, 2009

Lucifer's Hammer by Niven and Pournelle... Greg Bear's Blood Music and Darwin's Radioand Slant... Nthing Cherryh's Chanur Saga and throwing in The Faded Sun Trilogy if you like her characters... My wife has tried more than one Nancy Kress... Beggars in Spain, I think... Stephen Baxter's Manifold series...
posted by EnsignLunchmeat at 8:57 PM on August 11, 2009

Ken Macleod's stuff might be up your alley, though given your tastes I'd suggest steering clear of his series work in favor of Learning the World and Newton's Wake.

Learning the World felt pretty poor to me in comparison to the simialrly themed A Deepness in the Sky. However I'd actually thoroughly recommend the Fall Revolution books, especially The Stone Canal and The Cassini Division. I din;t get on with the cosmonaut books at all and from the looks of things I don't think you would.

I see you didn't really get on with Consider Phlebas - can I suggest trying adifferent Banks book? Consider Phlebas is his first SF book and it kind of shows - it's a mess of ideas. His other SF stuff is tighter and much better - particularly Use of Weapons and The Player of Games - and then if you dig that read Excession and Inversions which take that setting and do some really neat things with it.

Glasshouse by Charles Stross - MUCH better than Singularity Sky.

I see you like Stanislaw Lem - give Solaris a read if you haven't already - it's pretty short and punch, and though people moan about the translation I think it's a great story.

Talking of classics - try some John Brunner and Usula K. LeGuinn - The Dispossessed and Left Hand of Darkness particularly.

hmm... what else.

Natural History by Justina Robson. George Alec Effingers Marid Audran books.

Anything on the SF Matserworks list.
posted by Artw at 9:34 PM on August 11, 2009

Oh, and Nthing to the max Schismatrix Plus.
posted by Artw at 9:52 PM on August 11, 2009

Check out E. E. Doc Smith's Lensmen series.

Sounds like you like reading about action and technology more than about how technology necessarily affects people and their relationships, so David Weber's Honor Harrington series may be too politics-and-people focused for you. Otherwise, I'd also recommend L. E. Modesitt, Jr's books, especially Parafaith War.

Peter Hamilton is also a fantastic read.

I'd also recommend David Feintuch's Seafort Saga for hard-crawl spacefaring civilization, although it may also focus too much on how isolation affects people.
posted by bookdragoness at 10:25 PM on August 11, 2009

Tobias Buckell's Ragamuffin Trilogy (Crystal Rain, Ragamuffin, Space Mongoose) is very smart old-school space opera with things that blow up and scary aliens AND cool meditations on culture change.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:45 PM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm going to unrecommend Peter Hamilton, because I think its too space-opera-ey and not enough hard scifi for your tastes. I also find his writing to be lightly misogynistic, which irritates me, but may not irritate you.

I do second the recommendations for Richard K Morgan, Nancy Kress and Greg Bear.
posted by Joh at 10:56 PM on August 11, 2009

Gene Wolfe, "Book of the New Sun" and on from there. Fantastic prose, fascinating worlds, layers upon layers of meaning, great storytelling.

"Arguably the best piece of literature American science fiction has yet produced." --Chicago Sun-Times
posted by funkbrain at 12:42 AM on August 12, 2009

The Risen Empire by Scott Westerfeld.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 12:42 AM on August 12, 2009

"Marrow" and "Sister Alice" by Robert Reed.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:55 AM on August 12, 2009

Wow, just read the Prologue and first chapter of Peter Watts' Blindsight, courtesy of infinitewindow's link above. Looks fantastic, and I'm going to see if the local indie store has it today, and order it if they don't. And love this:

Watts has made his novels and some short fiction available on his website under Creative Commons license. He believes that doing so has "actually saved [his] career outright, by rescuing Blindsight from the oblivion to which it would have otherwise been doomed."
posted by mediareport at 4:33 AM on August 12, 2009

Try Iain M Banks' The Algebraist or maybe Excession.
It has a different feel to it than Consider Phlebas.
posted by sebastienbailard at 4:51 AM on August 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

One trilogy you might like is John C. Wright's Golden Age trilogy. This is high, high space opera (500000 years in the future), but very well done and not as fantastic as one might thinks. If you like Clarke, Iain Banks, or Jack Vance, give it a try. The first book in the series is, appropriately enough, The Golden Age.

I'm also a fan of Peter F. Hamilton's Commonwealth Saga starting with Pandora's Star.
posted by Fortran at 6:33 AM on August 12, 2009

I've liked everything of Brinn's I've read thus far and your preferences seem to match mine pretty well, so you might want to check out anything of his you haven't already. Some of Greg Bear's stuff might also appeal to you. Some of Neal Stephenson's stuff might appeal to you, but a lot of it is less science fictiony than you might be looking for.

Which Niven did you read? Some of Vinge's stuff seems a lot like some of Niven's to me - others, not so much. I think Niven has had a couple stylistic phases and he's been getting a bit too Heinlieny in his old age for my tastes.

If you like detectivey stuff (Realtime is my favorite piece of SF with Brinn's Kiln People running a close second) you might want to try Niven's Gil Hamilton stuff. Best advice I can give on this is compare the publication dates of the Niven you didn't like with anything you are considering - if they're within five or so years of one another, approach with caution.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:12 AM on August 12, 2009

For what it's worth, we have similar tastes and I really disliked A Mote in God's Eye. The ideas were interesting, but the writing really got in the way of them, imo.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:50 AM on August 12, 2009

I'm a little nervous making recommendations here. I'm a terrible judge of hardness in SF, and I also think of some of the items in your Dislike list as being a lot like some of the ones in your Like lists. That said, I'll throw out a few things and try to say enough to be useful.

You might try (MetaFilter's Own) John Scalzi, particularly Old Man's War and its sequels. He gets compared to Heinlein a lot, but (this is important) without the goofy politics. Tightly plotted, entertaining, and with interesting ideas, but possibly without the level of scientific detail you're looking for.

Alfred Bester was a big influence on the cyberpunks, so if you liked him, you might like some of them. William Gibson has a very similar feel, particularly in his earlier stuff.

I'd second Artw's recommendations of John Brunner and of Ursula Le Guin. Le Guin's especially good at thinking out the social and cultural details of other worlds. Also, she has interstellar travel without cheating and letting it go faster than light, which always makes me happy.

You liked 2001 but disliked the Rama books. What was the difference? If your main problem was with the (sprawling, rather silly) later books in the Rama series, I'll go ahead and recommend Childhood's End. Clarke also writes great short stories, though that gets away from your question a bit.

Haven't read it myself, but my girlfriend suggests (after seeing your question) that Undertow by Elizabeth Bear has a decent chance.

I'd also Nth various recommendations of Greg Bear (no relation to Elizabeth, as far as I know). I've only read Blood Music, but it was fascinating.
posted by moss at 6:46 PM on August 12, 2009

she has interstellar travel without cheating

*cough* ansible *cough*
posted by Artw at 6:50 PM on August 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

Okay, maybe with a little bit of cheating.
posted by moss at 7:01 PM on August 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

I like a lot of these authors, and while I also like a lot of these suggestions, I have to say that I have rarely been as totally turned on by recent SF books as I have been by Peter Watts's stuff. I think it took me less than a week to read everything he had written, despite having to drive all over creation to get the books in my hands.
posted by OmieWise at 4:41 PM on August 13, 2009

Response by poster: Books I've tried based on the recommendations in this thread:

Virga series - LOVE it. Also read a couple of other Karl Schroeder books as a result (Ventus and Permanence), both of which I liked a lot as well
Ophiuchi Hotline - liked this a lot
Gaea - mid-way through; not enjoying it nearly as much as Ophiuchi
Anathem - really awesome

Altered Carbon - could not get into it
A Talent for War - think I'm avoiding it because of the poor quality of the audiobook version I downloaded (audible and frequent gasps for air by reader)
Blindsight - didn't understand the points Watts was trying to make & could not grasp any of his visual descriptions
Night's Dawn Trilogy - really put off by the plodding start & embarrassing frequency of run-on sentences
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 8:53 PM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

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