Scifi Recommendations
April 26, 2005 1:53 PM   Subscribe

I like Hard Science Fiction novels. Does anyone have any authors that they recommend?

I have read Sheffield, Bear, Brin, Heinlien, Herbert, Asimov, Clarke, Benford, Cherryh, McCafferty, King, and many others. I tend find an someone I like and tear through their work. I also like authors who have phds. I would love to hear what everyone recommends.
posted by wahootim to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (46 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Robert L Forward. Dragon's Egg, etc.
posted by true at 1:55 PM on April 26, 2005

Iain M. Banks, John C. Wright, Greg Egan, Stephen Baxter, Alastair Reynolds, Ken MacLeod, Charles Stross... I'll post any more that I think of, but those are my top dogs (plus Greg Bear from your list).
posted by LukeyBoy at 1:57 PM on April 26, 2005

Greg Egan, Greg Egan, Greg Egan. And, oh yeah, don't forget Greg Egan.

James P. Hogan.
posted by kindall at 1:58 PM on April 26, 2005

There's also a long author list over at Wikipedia.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 1:58 PM on April 26, 2005

Dr. Robert L. Forward

Who has recently passed away, I see.


On preview: Nice one, True, glad to hear he was first in your mind as well. I think Robert Forward is pretty much the archetype of hard science fiction writers.
posted by breath at 1:59 PM on April 26, 2005

Thanks - excellent answers all! I have read a few of them - So I know I will enjoy your other recommendations!
posted by wahootim at 2:02 PM on April 26, 2005

Richard Morgan
posted by erebora at 2:03 PM on April 26, 2005

Oh yeah! He's on the wikipedia list, but I want also to strongly recommend Kim Stanley Robinson. One cannot overstate how great the Mars series books are.
posted by breath at 2:05 PM on April 26, 2005

Jack Mcdevitt, Peter F. Hamilton
posted by Lord_Pall at 2:06 PM on April 26, 2005

Stanislaw Lem.

Start with Cyberiad, and the Pirx the Pilot books. Stay for the rest.
posted by 31d1 at 2:12 PM on April 26, 2005

Is there some reason Joe Haldeman isn't on this list? I buy just about anything he writes. Lots of hard science, and he has a PhD. The prominence of The Forever War got him pigeon-holed as a military SF writer, but he's written many other - and better - novels. Read this short story and see if he's to your taste.
posted by mojohand at 2:16 PM on April 26, 2005

John Cramer's books Twistor and Einstein's Bridge are both good hard sf I think. And he's got a phd for ya too! His novels page has amazon links that'll let you get it from amazon used for under $1. Well worth it.
posted by phearlez at 2:16 PM on April 26, 2005

Larry Niven
posted by isotope at 2:23 PM on April 26, 2005

David Drake's "Hammers Slammers" series is excellent military SF.
posted by schoolgirl report at 2:25 PM on April 26, 2005

I will also recommend David Brin. He is on the wikipedia list, and I loved his book Kiln People.
posted by bove at 2:41 PM on April 26, 2005

Nancy Kress, Lois McMasters Bujold, Vonda K. McIntyre, Raymond Feist and Janny Wurtz, William Gibson, Elizabeth Moon, heck, even some of Orson Scott Card's series like the Ender's Game and the Ships of Earth series are a few who spring immediately to mind.
posted by Lynsey at 2:43 PM on April 26, 2005

I love Baxter but he depresses the hell out if me.
posted by sourwookie at 2:43 PM on April 26, 2005

Oh - Ben Bova, the Mars series, and Spider Robinson.
posted by Lynsey at 2:44 PM on April 26, 2005

Oops, big boo-boo there. The Mars series is Kim Stanley Robinson, sorry about that. Also, James Blish and L.E. Modesitt.
posted by Lynsey at 2:54 PM on April 26, 2005

James P. Hogan

*waves arms uselessly*

Warning Danger Will Robinson! Danger!

Sometimes Hogan is a decent enough hardish-SF writer, so long as you don't mind crazy anarchist ramblings.

But he has fallen victim to the Brain Eater in a big way.

His more recent stuff has devolved into Velikovskian rants about how "Big Science" is hiding the fact that Earth used to be a satellite of Saturn, which was the only way that dinosaurs could have gotten that big. I am not making this up, and he means that shit. It's not the worst read in the world in an MST3K-movie sort of way, but good fiction it ain't.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:17 PM on April 26, 2005

Another great big vote for Alastair Reynolds.
posted by seanyboy at 3:54 PM on April 26, 2005

Olaf Stapledon, particularly Last and First Men and Star Maker (available as a single Dover volume). These are incredible voyages of imagination.
posted by yclipse at 4:02 PM on April 26, 2005

Yeah, I'll admit that I haven't read Hogan's newer stuff. But the "Giants" novels are cool, particularly Entoverse, which you can enjoy without having read the first three books in the series. I also liked Realtime Interrupt, which is kind of like "hard cyberpunk."

Stilted dialog, cardboard characters, all the hallmarks of hard SF are there in spades. But I found the ideas in most of these interesting enough to carry me along.
posted by kindall at 4:07 PM on April 26, 2005

Why is that the best answer, because it has so many? You know you like them? This seems like a weird question to have a best answer already...but I'm pedantic, so don't mind me.
posted by fionab at 4:07 PM on April 26, 2005

These questions always degrade into a complete listing...

Come to think of it, I'm not sure I even understand what Hard Science Fiction is. Wikipedia's entry on hard science fiction is... well... wordy... If hard science fiction is about concentrating on the minutia of the fictionalized technologies then I suggest Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy.

I am a big SF fan, but possibly not a big "hard" SF fan... I like stories that cast civilization in a different situation and explore what might be. Those stories are far more about people and society than technology. Of course the cross over is inevitable...

Is Larry Niven a Hard SF author? Mote in Gods Eye, for example? Or Lucifer's Hammer? Heh, those are both Pournelle co authors aren't they. So maybe Niven is hard SF when he writes on his own...
posted by Chuckles at 4:25 PM on April 26, 2005

Banks, Egan, Niven, Varley, Kim Stanley Robinson: I can't think of a single novel by any of these authors that I'd consider a waste of time (expect possibly a few of Niven's collaborations).
posted by orthogonality at 4:28 PM on April 26, 2005

If hard science fiction is about concentrating on the minutia of the fictionalized technologies

More or less. Basically, hard SF readers want to read about science, not people with gadgets. They want to see fictional science that is based on known science, reasonably extrapolated. Characterization is generally of secondary (or tertiary) importance and plot is driven by the technology. Starting with cutting-edge research is fun, because those are often so weird that nobody can really guess how the theories would manifest in the real world or what kind of technologies they would make possible, which gives the writer a kind of freedom to make stuff up while at the same time not actually going against the laws of physics. One archetype of hard SF appears regularly in Analog magazine -- an "Analog story" is typically a story about someone who invents a radical new technology and the consequences to him and/or society.

Even in hard SF, some leeway is given for things that science currently believes are not possible (e.g. faster-than-light travel, teleportation, telepathy) but even then it is expected to be fairly rigorous. For example, if spaceships could travel faster than light, what would it look like when they arrived or departed? Catherine Asaro's books lean heavily toward SF romance, but the early books in her "Skolian Empire" space opera series go into some detail about how FTL and empathy work in her universe (see Primary Inversion for example).

I would, however, stay far away from Kim Stanley Robinson. Or at the very least, try the first "Mars" book, and if you hate it as much as I did, don't say to yourself "well, everybody recommended him, maybe I'll try another." Just don't bother. The series doesn't get better as it goes on.
posted by kindall at 5:00 PM on April 26, 2005

Bruce Sterling's Shaper/Mech stories are disturbing, fantastically detailed, and at times darkly hilarious.
posted by ldenneau at 5:02 PM on April 26, 2005

Yeah, I'll admit that I haven't read Hogan's newer stuff.

Don't. Unless you want to laugh at dreck.

Also, do not under any circumstances whatsoever read anything with the name Gentry Lee on the cover. Whichever title it is, it will be a painful excrescence.

Banks is great, but not hard SF. He writes big, sweeping classic space opera jazzed up for modern sensibilities. Highly recommended, but not hard SF.

For a similar sensibility to Banks' Culture books in a slightly more hard-SF setting, try any of Varley's eight-worlds books (Steel Beach, The Golden Globe, The Ophiuchi Hotline, assorted stories).

Reynolds, MacLeod, and Stross aren't exactly hard SF in the mold of Forward or classic Clarke, either, leaning to space opera in Reynolds' case and strongly towards post-Singularity fiction with MacLeod and Stross.

I really recommend Stross to people who like hard SF though. There's the old bit that says that you can pick any two of relativity, FTL, and causality. Usually people chuck relativity... Charlie has balls enough to throw out the causality, which makes for good storytelling.

See also, Vinge. A lot of hard-ish SF nowadays is post-Singularity fiction, and you gotta go back to the source to read about the Singularity.

Also not SF but recommended to people who like it: Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons. The following books are not nearly as good, but not shitfests.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:15 PM on April 26, 2005

Alastair Reynolds has a very cool annotated list of "writers whose work is predominantly hard SF" at his site, along with an introductory essay, "What is hard SF, exactly?" He seems to get a bit hung up on authors rather than specific works, which would seem more fruitful for recommending, but the essay is well worth reading if you like hard SF:

Firstly, the term itself is ugly and misleading, but it seems we're stuck with it...Actually, far too much of what passes for hard SF is pretty limp and unimaginative stuff; tired re-hashings of ideas which might have been new and shiny in Heinlein's day, but which now read as being deeply rooted in established conventions of the genre, and politically conservative to boot. Still, we need a definition of some sort...

sourwookie: I love Baxter but he depresses the hell out if me.

I've only read the semi-linked stories in "Vacuum Diagrams" but have to agree. While the imagery can be gorgeous (the biology of the ice creatures in the opener, e.g.), I found a coldness to the writing and characters that was something of a turnoff. Do his full novels get beyond that?
posted by mediareport at 6:19 PM on April 26, 2005

"what he said" above: Iain M. Banks, Greg Egan, Stephen Baxter, Ken MacLeod, Greg Bear, Charlie Stross (on MeFi as "cstross" AFAIK).

It's not really "hard" scifi, but John Ringo's stuff got me back into the genre a couple of years ago. I hear John Scalzi (also on MeFi, but I cant remember his username) is good, but I haven't picked up "Old Man's War" yet. Waiting on the paperback, or I'd buy a PDF if it was available.

One thing I like about Mr. Stross, Mr. Ringo, and Mr. Scalzi is that they're easily approachable - getting email responses from Charlie and John really made my day, and seeing Scalzi on MeFi was an "oh wow!" moment for me.
posted by mrbill at 7:28 PM on April 26, 2005

Oh, and (after reading the above) how could I forget John Varley. "Steel Beach" was my favorite book during my first semester of college - having that and The Illumniati Trilogy as my only recreational reading really messed with my head.
posted by mrbill at 7:32 PM on April 26, 2005

hear John Scalzi (also on MeFi, but I cant remember his username) is good, but I haven't picked up "Old Man's War" yet.

His username is jscalzi. "Old Man's War" has been on my to-read list for a while and I recently ordered it. I'm not really sure how "hard" it is, though.
posted by kindall at 7:42 PM on April 26, 2005

I just read the first few pages of Old Man's War via Amazon, and am reading the sample chapter from I'm definitely going to go buy it tomorrow.
posted by mrbill at 7:45 PM on April 26, 2005

Reynolds' list is good. It reminds me to recommend:

John Barnes. Has some good memetic-warfare stuff, and some good alternate-worlds stuff.

Wil McCarthy. I liked Bloom more than the various weirdo-substance books.

Jack McDevitt. Good set of novels about space exploration and finding Weird Stuff.

Some of Robert Sawyer's stuff is good -- I liked Flashforward. I did not much like the two neanderthal books I read... the liberal pieties made them feel sort of like a book by Alan Alda. I'd much rather the harder-edged full-on socialist or commie sentiments of Robinson or Banks than squishy stuff.

though Lord only knows it was still a billion times better than L. Neil Smith's The Probability Broach, in which characters make teary-eyed speeches to each other about all the good things it means when you pack heat in their house.

Also not hard SF but maybe good if you like hard SF:

Sarah Zettel's Fool's War.
SM Stirling's various Draka and Nantucket books. Alt-history.
Walter Jon Williams' first two The Praxis books were good; we'll see about the last one.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:59 PM on April 26, 2005

Old School: Hal Clement

I can particularly recommend Mission of Gravity
posted by ursus_comiter at 8:21 PM on April 26, 2005

Is Larry Niven a Hard SF author? Mote in Gods Eye, for example? Or Lucifer's Hammer? Heh, those are both Pournelle co authors aren't they. So maybe Niven is hard SF when he writes on his own...

Niven is generally held up as an exemplar of Hard SF with or without Pournelle. Stories like Neutron Star are almost meaningless without the scientific element. The Mote In God's Eye is a perfect example of Hard SF with a couple of gimmes (FTL travel and the Langston Shield). In one of the compilations of Niven's work there is an essay about the world building process he and Pournelle went through for TMIGE, which included details of specificity such as how far out various planets orbited from the sun and how that would affect their climate. If you like older SF, Niven's Known Space books and stories are great. Ringworld is probably his best known book. His later books diminish greatly in quality and tend to become didactically right wing (enviromentalists are cast as villains in more than one).

Someone mentioned James Blish above. Specifically I would recommend his Cities in Flight series, which is available as an omnibus from amazon.

Also, I'll throw another vote in for Iain M. Banks just because I enjoy him.
posted by finn at 9:33 PM on April 26, 2005

Walter Jon Williams

His Days of Atonement involves a high-energy particle physics lab; that's probably worth a read for hard SF fans. Also, much of Connie Willis's work involves actual scientists, although much of it is comic in nature and not really very "hard." Still, she gets the settings of science right, as does Nancy Kress (see her Oaths and Miracles for a good example).
posted by kindall at 9:49 PM on April 26, 2005

Also: nobody has mentioned Ted Chiang. He has one book of short stories entitled Stories of Your Life and Others. I guess it is not Hard SF in the traditional sense. However, it has the feel of Hard SF in the way that all of the stories work from a set of basic principles and rigorously work out the implications of those principles within the narrative. Some of stories seem like Hard SF in that they are a bit more interested in the ideas he's playing with than the characters, but overall I'd recommend it.
posted by finn at 9:50 PM on April 26, 2005

One of the topics that really draws me to science fiction is the speculation on the structure of civilizations (anthropology with aliens, word?). I think there is a book in the analysis of various ways authors organize galactic civilization. Classic galactic empire as in Foundation, winner takes all as in Ender's Game, interspecies diplomacy and realpolitik in Uplift, civilization in a crucible in Mote, civilization in decay followed by exponential growth through diversity in Dune, the sparse civilization from Cities in Flight. The list is endless and very interesting. It doesn't seem to relate at all to the label "hard sf" though.

I think the label seems to be used to distinguish fluff from material that is a little more literate. I don't think that is very useful. On the other hand I think this thread is doing pretty well, so I don't want to complain too much.
posted by Chuckles at 10:23 PM on April 26, 2005

While Ted Chiang is indeed a superb writer, his books are far from being hard SF. He's much more closer to the whole 'New Weird' thing popularised by the likes of China Mieville. That said, Ted is not averse to talking about serious science on occasion.
posted by adrianhon at 2:20 AM on April 27, 2005

I recognise - and agree with - almost all of the authors mentioned so far....

...except that I can't believe that no-one has mentioned Peter F. Hamilton. If you want to lose yourself for a few days (or weeks/months, depending on how fast you can read!!) then go and get the "Nights Dawn" trilogy. Fantastic stuff.
posted by Chunder at 3:37 AM on April 27, 2005

I can't believe that no-one has mentioned Peter F. Hamilton

Lord Pall isn't nobody! He's good enough, smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like him. Or they would if he'd shower.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:29 AM on April 27, 2005

CJ Cherryh writes everything from hard SF to fantasy, but the Merchanter series is pretty hard and rigorously consistent, except for some Faster than Light travel, but other than that it's very very realistic about working and living and travelling and communicating in space. The economics, politics and characterization are highly realistic.

I'd consider Stephenson's Baroque Cycle hard science fiction as well, and it's also full of real science and many in-jokes and easter eggs.

Ken MacLeod and Iain Banks both fucking rock. Scottish science fiction is The Best, really.
posted by By The Grace of God at 6:29 AM on April 27, 2005

Oh! I just remembered something a little more obscure - Orphan of Creation by Richard MacBride Allen. It's hard SF in the vein of paleoanthropology.
posted by ursus_comiter at 10:29 PM on April 27, 2005

Don't forget the most excellent Rudy Rucker!

His homepage:
posted by 31d1 at 10:53 AM on April 28, 2005

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