Better living through alchemy.
July 22, 2012 4:20 PM   Subscribe

Looking for alternate science and/or space fiction.

I recently re-read Celestial Matters and enjoyed it immensely. I'm looking for other stories that use fictional/ancient science as a base. I'd also like to read some stories that treat space as, well, something Verne-y; breathable air and so on. These don't have to be in the same story, and short stories, online fiction, et cetera are all fine too.
posted by curious nu to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
To suggest two extremely unlike things: what about CS Lewis's novels Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra or M John Harrison's A Storm of Wings? In the CS Lewis (note Christian elements that are less annoying than in the third book of the trilogy) space isn't breathable but it's very, very different. In A Storm of Wings (which you might need to buy as part of Viriconium) space is experienced differently by different species - for humans it's, you know, space, but for the aliens it is quite different. You'll have to read well into the story to get to the aliens, but it's an exceedingly bizarre book and a real classic.
posted by Frowner at 4:38 PM on July 22, 2012

Have you run into the Harold Shea stories, by Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague DeCamp? Harold Shea is a professor of philosophy who begins to suspect that there are multiple universes, and comes up with an incantation (based on logic and set theory) which moves him out of his own universe, into another. Each of the books (there were five originally) is based on a different alternative world, each of which is the basis of a mythos or is based on a particular work of fiction.

The first one was a world in which Ragnarok was about to take place, and Shea falls in with a group of Norse gods who are preparing for the final battle. Another of the books was based on The Faerie Queen.

In each of those worlds there was magic, but it was always different, and part of the challenge for Shea (and his friends who accompany him later) is to figure out the local rules which govern magic.

One interesting rule is that Shea cannot leave a particular world until he makes some significant change in the course of events there.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:40 PM on July 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Melissa Scott's Five-Twelfths of Heaven and its two sequels should scratch that itch.

There are some YA steampunk stories that come to mind as well— Larklight by Philip Reeve, Mainspring by Jay Lake.
posted by hattifattener at 4:42 PM on July 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

John C. Wright's "Chaos" series (first book) definitely is suffused with this sort of thing. I can't really recommend these works due to some rather distasteful aspects, though. (The author's over-sexualization of ostensibly teenage characters, going so far as to include some non-consensual actions, is more than off-putting.)
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 5:05 PM on July 22, 2012

M. John Harrison's The Course of the Heart and Light might be of interest to you. Christopher Priest's The Prestige and A Dream of Wessex might also be of interest.

Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregellis is exactly in this wheelhouse. It's a World War II story with magic (including alchemy and Enochian magic) as wartime technology.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:40 PM on July 22, 2012

Jack Vance!
posted by clever sheep at 7:24 PM on July 22, 2012

There's a whole demimonde of "space romances" and "science fantasies" that were written by gentleman authors before and during the early days of what we now call the Golden Age of science fiction, before authors who were engineers and scientists overran the genre. Typically, these novels foreground descriptions of alien societies and customs in settings that combine science with mysticism, rather than stories about effects of technology. I'm thinking of stuff like David Lindsay's A Voyage to Arcturus, Merritt's The Moon Pool, and even Edgar Rice Burroughs's various less well-known novels, like The Moon Maid, his series set on Venus (Pirates of Venus and so on), or his hollow world novels. There is a well-known Soviet analogue (Aelita) written by one of the Tolstoys. You can learn a great deal more about this sort of book from a genre history book like A Trillion Year Spree.

For something more modern, try Weis & Hickman's "Death Gate" novels, which are swords and sorcery with a substantial and unusual world-building element (a floating continent, a hollow world, etc.).
posted by Nomyte at 7:41 PM on July 22, 2012

Ted Chiang has you covered here:

Exhalation: A mechanical scholar dissects his own brain, and realises the ultimate fate of his race.

72 letters: A short story about a world in which short written spells can animate clay forms (golems) - a scientist makes a shocking discovery with massive societal consequences.

The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate: An ancient alchemist introduces a traveling merchant to a mysterious time-traveling gateway.

More in this excellent post on the Blue, although not all of it will fit your requirements.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:59 PM on July 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

Moonifest Destiny has people reaching the moon* by balloon and a steam-powered mechanical man.

*AKA the Lunar Peninsula of Texas
posted by RobotHero at 11:07 PM on July 22, 2012

RobotHero's post puts me in mind of the Bob Shaw trilogy which begins with 'The Wooden Spaceships'. Set in a universe where pi = 3 and specifically on two planets with a common atmosphere. I enjoyed the first 2 and hadn't realised there was a third until right now.
posted by biffa at 12:09 AM on July 23, 2012

Have you read any E. E. "Doc" Smith? The Lensman series has much of what you're looking for.
posted by zinon at 5:06 AM on July 23, 2012

I think some of Adam Roberts' novels might fit your criteria.

Swiftly (note there are two books with that title, a book of short stories and a novel; I'm referring to the novel) treats Swift's Gulliver's Travels as if it were a real world; On is set on a world where the laws of physics have been dramatically altered; The Snow is set on a world where it starts snowing and doesn't stop; Yellow Blue Tibia has a background where Soviet UFO's may have been true; and Splinter has a very Verne-like premise involving people who survive on a fragment of the shattered planet Earth. All recommended by this very picky s-f reader.
posted by aught at 7:41 AM on July 23, 2012

« Older Math is Hard (I need help)   |   Who first chewed the scenery? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.