Recommendations for hardboiled detective SF or fantasy?
September 20, 2010 11:48 AM   Subscribe

Can you recommend fiction that is a crossover between noir/hardboiled detective stories and sci-fi/fantasy?

A few examples that jump to mind: Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan (SF), the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher (urban fantasy), A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick (SF), Gun with Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem (SF), etc. I think there are probably good examples from science fiction & urban fantasy, but I've yet to find something that mashes up a hardboiled-style detective story with epic, sword & sorcery-style fantasy.
posted by gritter to Media & Arts (63 answers total) 109 users marked this as a favorite
Try (the Hugo-winning!) Marooned in Realtime by Vernor Vinge.
posted by Jairus at 11:50 AM on September 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm going to go ahead and assume you've read Douglas Adams' Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency or The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul.
posted by somacore at 11:51 AM on September 20, 2010

Chasm City? More space opera than noir, but has plenty of suspense and grittiness.
posted by sninctown at 11:51 AM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Not necessarily hard-boiled, but any of the Eljah Bailey/R. Daneel Olivaw books by Asimov would fit the bill.
posted by jquinby at 11:51 AM on September 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

George Alec Effinger's Marîd Audran/Budayeen books are (well, I've only read the first one) noirish detective stories set in a cyberpunk Islamic city modeled on New Orleans.
posted by enn at 11:52 AM on September 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

The Caves of Steel would be the grandaddy of all of them.

The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds - it's in the same universe as some previous novels of his but you shouldn't need to worry about them.

Against a Dark Background, Iain M. Banks would seem a good thematic fit, though it isn't very detectivey.
posted by Artw at 11:52 AM on September 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

As sninctown mentions Chasm City, also by Reynolds, is very Noirish.
posted by Artw at 11:53 AM on September 20, 2010

There's a great story, "Obsidian Harvest" by Rick Cook and Ernest Hogan, which was collected in The Year's Best Science Fiction #18.

But, on reading the rest of your question, it's not what you're looking for -- it's a noir piece set in an alternate universe where the Aztec culture predominates in early 20th century North America, and there are intelligent dinosaurs. It's still really good, though.
posted by endless_forms at 11:53 AM on September 20, 2010

Oh, and of course on the fantasy end there's this years Hugo Winner The City and the City by China Miéville.
posted by Artw at 11:54 AM on September 20, 2010 [5 favorites]

A slight tangent - The Name of the Rose is detective fiction set in a 14th centur monastery, with a solid homage to Sherlock Holmes in the main character.
posted by jquinby at 11:56 AM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami. Whoo boy.
posted by Skot at 11:56 AM on September 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

Finch by Jeff VanderMeer.
posted by cog_nate at 11:57 AM on September 20, 2010

Ian Rankin's The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse is definitely fantasy, definitely the noir detective stuff, but features a toy-land kind of fantasy world.
posted by lizbunny at 11:58 AM on September 20, 2010

The Vampire Files
posted by willnot at 11:58 AM on September 20, 2010

The Garrett P.I series of novels by Glen Cook are noir style novels set in a fantasy world. I've read a bunch of them and it sounds like exactly the sort of thing you're looking for.
posted by Jugwine at 12:00 PM on September 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

Oh, and Stanislaw Lem's The Investigation.
posted by cog_nate at 12:01 PM on September 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

I have no idea why any one of Ursula K Le Guin's books set in the Hainish universe leapt to mind when I read the question
posted by The Lady is a designer at 12:01 PM on September 20, 2010

Pretty much anything by Michael Marshall Smith (and maybe, to a lesser extent, some of Michael Marshall).
posted by Artw at 12:01 PM on September 20, 2010

Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos series. They have hardboiled detective plots and characters in a fantasy universe.

From Wikipedia:
The first three novels resemble private-eye detective stories, perhaps the closest being Robert B. Parker's Spenser series. The later novels are more varied than the first three. Though they read like fantasy, there are science-fictional explanations for some things.

The first three novels are also collected in one volume.
posted by Ortho at 12:02 PM on September 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

Seconding Vlad Taltos series and adding that the next 4 stories have also been collected into sets of 2 each - Book of Taltos and Book of Athyra (squints at bookshelf)

What about Deathworld series by Harry Harrison?
posted by The Lady is a designer at 12:06 PM on September 20, 2010

Seconding Effinger and Michael Marshall Smith, and throwing in Richard Morgan, particularly the Takeshi Kovacs trilogy, and Black Man (aka Thirteen)
posted by Jakey at 12:15 PM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's short, but there's an awesome five-part Penny Arcade story called "Blood and Oil" that fills the bill.
posted by jbickers at 12:17 PM on September 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

It falls more on the fantasy side of the fence, but several books in the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett have fun with the hard boiled detective conventions.

You will be looking for any of the books that focus on the city watch.
posted by quin at 12:21 PM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin is good fun.

Snake Agent by Liz Williams is quite readable, but fluff-esque.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:21 PM on September 20, 2010

I feel like I've answered this question before, but ditto the Eljah Bailey/R. Daneel Olivaw and the Marîd Audran/Budayeen stuff and adding:
1. The Carlucci Trilogy
2. The Arabesk Trilogy
3. Voice of the Whirlwind
posted by juv3nal at 12:25 PM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Headless Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse is by Robert Rankin, not Ian.

There is a series of YA SF books by Jack McDevitt that are fast-paced mysteries set in the future, all about xenarcheology. They're really fun. I can't remember what they're called. Lemme hit the googles and check back.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:33 PM on September 20, 2010

May not quite be what you're looking for, but Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series combines sc-fi/fantastical elements with detective stories, as does his Nursery Crimes series.
posted by cottoncandybeard at 12:35 PM on September 20, 2010

The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez is excellent.
posted by tdismukes at 12:36 PM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Alex Bledsoe's Eddie LaCrosse novels are exactly what you're looking for in the sword-n-sorcery vein.
posted by tdismukes at 12:39 PM on September 20, 2010

Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series! Read: The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots, Something Rotten, First Among Sequels

Also seconded The Caves of Steel and The City and the City.
posted by moiraine at 12:46 PM on September 20, 2010

The Harry D'Amour stories by Clive Barker are kind of like that. Sort of horror noir. The film Lord of Illusions was based on a short story featuring the character. The stories arent bad if you like Clive Barker's style. The film is kind of 'meh'.
posted by elendil71 at 12:48 PM on September 20, 2010

Sandman Slim, by Richard Kadrey
posted by kestrel251 at 12:52 PM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I liked Darkworld Detective enough to buy it not long ago.
posted by mearls at 1:04 PM on September 20, 2010

Jon Courtney Grimwood's trilogy starting with Pashazade (set in an alternate history Alexandria), as well as his 9 Tail Fox. Jonathan Lethem's Gun With Occasional Music (a surreal take on noir and fantasy). Michael Chabon's Yiddish Policemen's Union (alternate history noir detective story). Strongly seconding the Alastair Reynolds' books Century Rain and The Prefect.
posted by aught at 1:17 PM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Amnesiascope by Steve Erickson.

It has elements akin to a hard-boiled detective story, it's very noirish, and has a sci-fi edge. But strictly speaking it's not a hard-boiled detective story. It's the sort of thing you are likely to enjoy if you enjoy hard-boiled detective science fiction.
posted by jayder at 1:19 PM on September 20, 2010

I had a previous question looking for more Dresden Files-ish urban fantasy, so you might be able to take some recommendations from there.

Looking at some recent fantasy that's hardboiled, but a bit lighter on the detective aspect, you have Scott Lynch's Gentlemen Bastards series, which can be summed up (in a good way) as Fantasy Ocean's 11 (or Hu$tle) - capers, cons, a bit of magic, and some extreme hardboiled violence. Likewise, Joe Abercrombe's Best Served Cold is a fantasy tale of revenge right out of Kill Bill.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 1:23 PM on September 20, 2010

If you're willing to expand "sci-fi" to include alternate history, then Fatherland by Richard Harris.
posted by Johnny Assay at 1:34 PM on September 20, 2010

I also came here to recommend Pratchett's Discworld series. You can stick to the ones about The Watch, it's not necessary to read the others to understand and enjoy them.

Specifically you'll want:

Guards! Guards!, Men At Arms, Feet of Clay, Jingo, The Fifth Elephant, Night Watch, and Thud!
posted by Solon and Thanks at 1:54 PM on September 20, 2010

Nthing Caves of Steel, and also try Emma Bull's 'Finder' it's a Fantasy Police Procedural in a kind of elves and magic meets urban punk.
posted by Caravantea at 2:40 PM on September 20, 2010

If you are looking for a bit of humor slant to it, I would suggest Incompetence.
Per Wikipedia, "It is a murder mystery and political thriller set in a near-future federal Europe where no-one can be 'prejudiced from employment for reason of age, race, creed or incompitence.'"

Also, I would suggest Simon R. Green's Nightside and Hawk and Fisher series. They have an urban fantasy slant (one horror fantasy and one more sword and sorcery) but do also have a pulp noir style to them.

For a totally different feel to other styles, I agree that George Alec Effinger's Marîd Audran series is great, being one of the few books I know of in mainstream science fiction centered around an Islamic society. It does have a significant hard boiled feel to it as well.

I am a huge fan of the Discworld series. I would suggest any of the books in the City Watch series.
I would add my voice to the recommendations for Asimov's Robot books, but there is also a book of just Asimov's mysteries. Oddly titled Asimov's Mysteries.

The Night Watch series by Sergei Lukyanenko. It is a Russian urban fantasy series. I would call it influenced by noir. If I had to describe it as "x meets y", I would call it Mike Hammer meets Harry Potter meets James Bond meets Dostoyevsky.

I have also enjoyed the books in the Gil Hamilton series by Larry Niven. I have not read them all but have enjoyed those I have read. It has been a long time since I read them, so I could be wrong about including them in the noir category.

I would give a look to this list science fiction and fantasy detectives to start with, but this is an orphaned list, so I would make note of the info in case it is deleted.
posted by slavlin at 3:07 PM on September 20, 2010

The Takeshi Kovacs novels by Richard Morgan - Altered Carbon, Broken Angels, Woken Furies

Excellent stuff with great twists and innovative ideas.
posted by Argyle at 3:20 PM on September 20, 2010

Short gritty-urban-scifi story, available online: "The Ambassador's Staff" by Sherry D. Ramsey (disclaimer: in an anthology my partner & I put out last year). Detective sleuths it up in a future ground-down Earth city.

Farthing by Jo Walton: half the story is a cop tracking down a murderer and it feels pretty noir. It's alt-history scifi in a more Nazi-friendly midcentury England.

Paul Pope's Batman graphic novel, Year 100, is scifi and of course, being a Batman tale, is noirish.
posted by brainwane at 3:28 PM on September 20, 2010

Martin Scott's Thraxas novels are specifically noir satires set in a fantasy world.

Seconding Brust, Asimov, Mieville's City and the City.
posted by smoke at 4:08 PM on September 20, 2010

No-one seems to have mentioned Neuromancer, which surprises me but I may have gotten the wrong end of the stick somewhat.

Pat Cadigan's sci-fi, like Tea from an Empty Cup or Dervish is Digital is worth a look (though personally I prefer her earlier stuff). Similar, but leaning more towards fantasy, try anything by Justina Robson.

I'm not sure if it's noir, but KJ Parker's Engineer Trilogy and The Company are pretty dark fantasy, if not of the dragons and sorcery kind.

From mashing up tags on librarything (science fiction + noir, fantasy + noir) I'm reminded of Gaiman's American Gods and cstross's Laundry series - maybe not quite what I would have considered noir fantasy but good reads all the same.
posted by robertc at 4:27 PM on September 20, 2010

Sorry to be posting piecemeal, but Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? also comes to mind.
posted by cog_nate at 4:36 PM on September 20, 2010

Thanks for asking this question.

I can add the Kop series by Warren Hammond. Very noir.

And 2nding Liz Williams' Inspector Chen series. Not so dark, but (IMHO) a very good read.
posted by natalie b at 4:47 PM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Anonymous Rex by Eric Garcia is a fun murder mystery with the conceit that dinos did not die out but have learned to disguise themselves as primates. There was a wretched SciFi flick made from one of the series but the novel I read is pretty clever with a multi-species twist.
posted by sammyo at 4:49 PM on September 20, 2010

My favorite recommendations are the ones for books which gritter mentioned in his question, such as Altered Carbon or Gun, with Occasional Music.

Gritter, you either mentioned the novels I was going to recommend in your question or others have suggested them to you. But I'll reiterate one suggestion for emphasis:

Jon Courtenay Grimwood's Arabesk trilogy is heavily George Alec Effinger influenced SF Noir. If you like Morgan there is a good chance you'll like Grimwood. Grimwood is like an even angrier Morgan but with somewhat better writing skills strictly in terms of prose style.

In terms of fantasy, well, there isn't a lot of noir out there. Simply because noir doesn't lend itself to fantasy as much as it does science fiction. The early Vlad Taltos novels by Steven Brust are definitely a kind of hardboiled noirish fiction but that influence dissipates rapidly. Oh, the first-person-asshole narration never changes but, hell, the Amber books have a first-person-asshole narrator and they aren't hardboiled detective fiction in the least.

Apart from the Brust you'll get a lot of noirish vibes from Richard Morgan's The Steel Remains. Which probably isn't surprising given that he wrote Altered Carbon which you appear to have enjoyed. So I'd give that a try. It's not exactly noirish hardboiled detective fiction but like I said, noirish fantasy which takes itself seriously (as opposed to half tongue in cheek stuff) is quite thin on the ground for stylistic reasons.
posted by Justinian at 5:07 PM on September 20, 2010

John Connolly's Charlie Parker series: Although Connolly's novels fall under the crime genre, his stories have become increasingly tinged with supernatural overtones.
posted by Kerasia at 5:13 PM on September 20, 2010

Warren Ellis's comic series with combat magician/SAS badass William Gravel might fit - see "Strange Kiss", "Stranger Kiss" (warning, both pretty messed up) and the ongoing series "Gravel".
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:32 PM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

In addition to a whole mess of the foregoing, if you like Morgan's Altered Carbon et al, then I think Neal Asher's Ian Cormac series fits the bill. Start with Gridlinked. (Actually, I see that Amazon is doing a pretty good job of making recommendations from that Gridlinked page, in the "Customers who bought this also bought..." )

Thanks for asking this question!
posted by mumkin at 6:57 PM on September 20, 2010

Nthing Richard Kadrey. His stuff is fantastic.

Also, I'm surprised no one mentioned Warren Ellis' novel Crooked Little Vein.
posted by bibliogrrl at 7:18 PM on September 20, 2010


And here is my previous answer.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 7:52 PM on September 20, 2010

Kiln People is exactly what you're looking for. From the Amazon Review: "David Brin's sci-fi-meets-noir novel." The plot does it convoluted, but hey, it's noir. The book also does a good job of focusing on the effects of the sci on society, rather than the sci itself.
posted by easyasy3k at 8:10 PM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Metal Fatigue by Sean Williams sounds like it'd do the trick.

Also, it's been many many years since I read it, but Winter by John Marsden (who was fresh off writing his YA Tomorrow When The War Began series) might also be the sort of thing you're looking for.
posted by MarchHare at 9:53 PM on September 20, 2010

Furthermore, Greg Egan's Quarantine.
posted by MarchHare at 9:56 PM on September 20, 2010

I like Mike Carey's Felix Castor novels, starting with The Devil You Know.
posted by Pronoiac at 9:56 PM on September 20, 2010

NOIR by K.W. Jeter is exactly what you're after. It's about a detective in a Blade Runner-esque urbal sprawl who has retinal implants which cause him to percieve the world as if it were a 1940's detective flick. I've not read it for years and years, but I do remember it being rather good.
posted by Ted Maul at 2:21 AM on September 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Final Empire (first book of the Mystborn trilogy) is essentially a Heist and a Mystery in an Epic Fantasy and one of my top 5 all time favorite books.
posted by kryptonik at 4:34 AM on September 21, 2010

Michael Chabon's Yiddish Policeman's Union is just brilliant. It's alternate history, rather than space opera, but very very noir.
posted by Ahab at 6:29 AM on September 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding Kiln People, I truly enjoyed it, can't believe I didn't even think of it.
posted by The Lady is a designer at 9:54 AM on September 21, 2010

Emmisaries From The Dead and The Third Claw Of God by Adam-Troy Castro fit this perfectly. Emmisaries also qualifies as one of my 10 favourite sci-fi novels of all time.
posted by shimmerbug at 3:34 PM on October 6, 2010

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