What shall I read next?
May 25, 2011 8:57 PM   Subscribe

I just finished my last Culture novel (*sniff*). What should I read next?

I need a new series of books to sink my teeth into, for a long time. I liked the Culture novels for the humor, science fiction, fantastic worlds, quirky AIs, and more, but mostly I love the optimistic future. (so please no pestilence ridden, post nuclear anihilation worlds ruled by gangs of roving canabalistic rapists. I read to escape grim reality...) Thanks all!
posted by hollyanderbody to Media & Arts (33 answers total) 85 users marked this as a favorite
Vernor Vinge has a new novel set in the Fire Upon The Deep universe coming out soon, that'd probbaly be worth a shot.

Other usual suspects: Aliester Reynolds, Charles Stross, Hanu Rajaniemi.
posted by Artw at 9:10 PM on May 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

(Reynolds may be a *tad* grim)
posted by Artw at 9:11 PM on May 25, 2011

Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space books have a similar feel and scope. Lots to sink your teeth into and enough relativity hijinks to bend your mind (eg people living in different timeframes).
posted by media_itoku at 9:12 PM on May 25, 2011

but mostly I love the optimistic future

I love Reynolds, but his Revelation Space series is certainly not optimistic about the future in the least.

For more optimism (and quirky AIs), you could try John Wright's Golden Age series.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 9:16 PM on May 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

I liked the Culture novels for the humor, science fiction, fantastic worlds, quirky AIs, and more, but mostly I love the optimistic future.

Have you read Larry Niven's Known Space novels? If not, I'd start with Three Books of Known Space—it has a number of great short stories in it, plus a couple of the first novels. Known Space is optimistic but plenty dangerous, has a couple of interesting alien species, and has lots of stories of people who think their way out of dire situations.
posted by interrobang at 9:22 PM on May 25, 2011

What about Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy? Those are pretty optimistic although, as in the Culture books, some pretty terrible things happen. (In fact, I do not personally experience the Culture books as optimistic - Consider Phlebas and Matter in particular. But I'm glad someone does.)
posted by Frowner at 9:26 PM on May 25, 2011 [5 favorites]

Dan Simmons "Hyperion" books. Space opera on a grand scale, smartly told, full of strife and deceit and Big Ideas and epic world-building and, oh yeah, an android John Keats.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:27 PM on May 25, 2011 [4 favorites]

Seconding that - should be right up your alley.
posted by Artw at 9:30 PM on May 25, 2011

Patrick O'Brian's Aubreyad (Master & Commander etc) might fit the bill. It's 20 books, the prose is awesome, the series takes place in a strange and totally immersive world, you'll learn about history, the Enlightenment, the history of science, the history of medicine, the history of psychology and the concept of the human mind, rigging, the history of common idioms, friendship, insects, botany, and fashion.

There's no writer like Patrick O'Brian, and reading his books should occupy you for at least a year.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:37 PM on May 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

Homing in a bit on your "optimism" idea, here are a couple of slightly more off-the-beaten path suggestions:

David Zindell's Neverness/Requiem for Homo Sapiens series.

Cordwainer Smith's short stories and his lone novel set in the same universe, Norstrilia.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 9:40 PM on May 25, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! I forgot to mention that I'm new to science fiction, so whatever you suggest, I probably haven't read it!
posted by hollyanderbody at 9:47 PM on May 25, 2011

hollyanderbody: "I forgot to mention that I'm new to science fiction, so whatever you suggest, I probably haven't read it!"

Have you read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and its sequels? They're pretty much the gold standard for funny, subversive science fiction. The first two, at least, are must-reads, IMHO.
posted by Rhaomi at 9:52 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Totally John C. Wright's Golden Age and his other two trilogies (although those are not space sf, but if you will like Golden Age, the other ones are well worth reading, too). Asimov's Foundation series is quite good too, and a lot of Arthur Clarke is also quite good, as well as Heinlein's juvenile novels.
posted by rainy at 9:57 PM on May 25, 2011

You could do worst than checking out some of the books that inspired Banks, here's his Top Ten:

1. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress - Robert Heinlen
2. Tiger! Tiger! - Alfred Bester
3. Hyperion - Dan Simmons
4. Fire Upon The Deep - Vernor Vinge
5. Neuromancer - William Gibson
6. The Dispossessed - Ursula K Le Guin
7. The Muller-Fokker Efect - John Sladek
8. The Pastel City - M John Harrison
9. Stand on Zanzibar - John Brummer
10. Babel-17 - Samuel R Delany
posted by Artw at 10:17 PM on May 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

As long as you're not too fazed by the levels of sadistic violence Banks seems to be into, you might want to give Peter F. Hamilton's The Reality Dysfunction and its sequels a look. They certainly go the full Space Opera.
posted by brennen at 10:59 PM on May 25, 2011

If you haven't read Asimov's Robot novels, I think you'd enjoy them. Caves of Steel is the first one. They do take place in a "post nuclear annihilation world", but being Asimov, they're not too dark, and are actually quite hopeful in a way. The writing might be a bit old-fashioned by today's standards, but these are classic (perhaps the classic) AI books...
posted by vorfeed at 10:59 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

(Although come to think of it, there may well be a gang of roving cannibalistic rapists somewhere in there.)
posted by brennen at 11:00 PM on May 25, 2011

If you're new to SF generally and like the big-scale stuff, Asimov's Foundation novels are probably also well worth your time.
posted by brennen at 11:03 PM on May 25, 2011

The early Ken MacLeod series: The Star Fraction, The Stone Canal, The Cassini Division, The Sky Road (in roughly that order) is an interesting almost commentary on a pre-surplus Culture.

The Virga books by Karl Schroeder are more swashbuckly to start with, but get more Culturey later on: Sun of Suns, Queen of Candesce, Pirate Sun, The Sunless Countries, with at least one more to come. His Permanence is well worth seeking out as well.

Wil McCarthy's Bloom has a similar feel (just in case Alistair Reynolds wasn't grim enough for you). His Queendom of Sol novels aren't exactly in the same vein, though still space opera. They are quite good though.

You might consider an approach to Gene Wolfe. Personally, I think Banks has used parts of the Book of the New Sun, particularly, in some of his more ornate "mideval" bits, like Transitions and parts of Matter. Opinions may differ, but Wolfe is an ambitious project. The whole sequence (Book of the New Sun, Book of the Long Sun, Book of the Short Sun) is 12 volumes long, none of them a dud.

Finally, just because, Vernor Vinge, particularly A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky. The long-awaited sequel is out this fall, Children Of The Sky (and I can hardly wait).
posted by bonehead at 11:06 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

One more: Elizabeth Bear's Jacob's Ladder Trilogy: Dust, Chill and Grail. Not very Culturey on the surface, but quite similar in affect.
posted by bonehead at 11:09 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh hey, what about Lem? Many of his books are probably not what you're looking for, but Tales of Pirx the Pilot probably is.

Also, you might enjoy Nicola Griffith's novel Ammonite. It's not, okay, very much like the Culture novels. But it is a really terrific Boy's Science Fiction Adventures-type novel but with women instead - icy vistas! creaky spaceships and corrupt corporate bosses! mysterious plague! secrets! technology! There's a romance plot too, if that doesn't put you off. I think this one gets over-looked by a lot of people who would enjoy it but who don't pick it up because it's by a woman and because it has queer women in it.
posted by Frowner at 11:10 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

(Did you read Banks's novel The Algebraist? Again, not a Culture novel...and I only wish it was a series. But it's one of my go-to cheer-up science fiction novels (even though some upsetting things happen in it) - the aliens are really, really good and somehow it is an optimistic book, I'm not sure why.)
posted by Frowner at 11:16 PM on May 25, 2011 [4 favorites]

My usual answer is that if you like the Culture novels, you should try Neal Asher's Polity novels. If Culture books are intelligent spy novels dwelling on what it is to be a spy, and the betrayals that life entails, and on being used as a tool and so on, the Polity novels are disco-era James Bond movies about swinging from a chandelier with a gun in your teeth.

Definitely MacLeod's Fall Revolution books. You might also try _Newton's Wake_ as a more or less optimistic future.

...and there's always more Banks. With the M, Feersum Endjinn meets most of your needs, I think. Without the M, The Crow Road or Espedair Street.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:24 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

One more for gritty optimism: John Barnes, A Million Open Doors. (For a really good paired-reading effect, do it right after Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness.) I gather it's the first in a series, which I haven't followed up on at all, but it's a damn fine novel.

Oh yeah! And I'm kind of surprised nobody has mentioned David Brin's Uplift novels. He's gone kind of preachy and stale about the optimism in recent years, but I remember the books as a lot of fun. The sort of thing one actually describes as "exuberant".
posted by brennen at 11:28 PM on May 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Gene Wolfe. The Book of the New Sun is a four-novel series, kind of a blend of fantasy and science fiction. I wouldn't call it optimistic, but it's not a downer, either. It is, however, fascinating and very strange and beautifully written. Gene Wolfe is a fantastic writer.

He wrote another, follow-up (I think) series called The Book of the Long Sun, but I haven't gotten around to it yet.

Nthing Dan Simmons' Hyperion novels--four total. They are fantastic, if a bit heavy on the violence.

John Varley! The Ophiuchi Hotline starts out his loosely connected novels--set in the same "universe", with different characters. Steel Beach is great, as is The Golden Globe. And his best work, a psychotic and astounding trilogy: Titan, Wizard, and Demon. The middle one is the weak link, IIRC, but the last one redeems the series. Very 70s and far out. I highly recommend them.
posted by zardoz at 12:05 AM on May 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I hope I'm not overdoing it, but one more name I thought I really ought to toss out there: A friend just turned me on to Ian McDonald - The Dervish House and about 3/4 of River of Gods so far. It's not far-future stuff, but it's literary-ish in tone, lots of interweaving plot threads, Big Ideas, and what I read as a certain hopefulness. I've been away from SF (and fiction generally, to be honest) for a while, and The Dervish House made me feel really interested in what's happening in the genre for the first time in ages.
posted by brennen at 12:21 AM on May 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I just finished Philip José Farmers first Riverworld book, To Your Scattered Bodies Go and it feels like a combination of some Culture concepts and Pohls Heechee series. Interesting read.
posted by monocultured at 3:47 AM on May 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Another vote for Kim Stanley Robinson - the Mars trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars) is fantastic - one of those series you read to the end, and then re-start from the beginning to mul it over a bit more.

Other KSR goodness includes the Three Californias (three novels which set the same characters in three versions of a future Orange County), the Buddist-inspired alternate history of the world The Years of Rice and Salt, and the recent (and excellent) Galileo's Dream
posted by Wylla at 4:17 AM on May 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd recommend The Rediscovery of Man, which is a complete collection of Cordwainer Smith's short fiction.

It's far from a utopia, and the future is actually pretty unpleasant in a lot of ways, but his entire writings are grounded in an unconquerable optimism.
posted by valkyryn at 4:55 AM on May 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

In terms of seeing where the space opera genre that Banks so ably re-invented (IMHO) originally comes from you could do worse than have a romp through E.E. 'Doc' Smith's classic Lensman Series.
posted by Chairboy at 12:44 PM on May 26, 2011

Scott Westerfeld -- The Risen Empire amd The Killing of Worlds. Awesome two-part space opera about an immortal society, similar to The Golden Age trilogy.

The emperor, surrounded by his elite of those chosen to become undead, has ruled for 1,600 years, and the empire has become decadent, with the gap between the living and the Risen growing apace. Then the Rix--computer-augmented humans who revere planetary AI--kidnap the child empress on her own planet, Legis XV. Not only does this threaten the emperor's great secret, it is the furthest incursion into imperial space that the Rix have yet made. Captain Laurent Zai is charged to effect the empress' rescue--a dangerous, almost impossible task. Meanwhile, the woman he loves, a senator of the Secularist Party of the living and against the Risen, is enmeshed in the political consequences of the Rix invasion and the preparation for war. It doesn't take long for the Legis XV computers to become a compound mind a la the Rix and fight for survival, too. Westerfeld manages the action impeccably, and he leaves threads of plot hanging for a grand space-opera finale in a promised sequel. Regina Schroeder
© American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
posted by amileighs at 1:49 PM on May 26, 2011

Just wanted to mention that "Tiger Tiger" = "The Stars My Destination" in America.
posted by wittgenstein at 6:13 PM on May 26, 2011

Eric Brown has quite a nice body of work. The first of his that i read, Kethani, was particularly enjoyable and uplifting.
posted by SueDenim at 6:25 PM on May 26, 2011

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