They thought they were just here to do something vaguely sciencey. UNTIL EVERYTHING WENT HORRIBLY WRONG. Also there's a hurricane or something.
August 31, 2012 8:30 AM   Subscribe

In need of some guilty pleasure sci-fi thriller books à la Michael Crichton.

My life has been stressful lately, and I'd really like to escape into some fun, easy reading.

I really like Crichton's style of writing (because it's like reading a movie!) and the When Science Goes Wrong Because of Man's Hubris subject matter (and dinosaurs!), but I've already read just about everything he's written. Twice. On the suggestion of a friend, I've also read Relic and Reliquary; those were pretty close to the mark.

I want another Jurassic Park. Or Congo. Or Sphere. Or heck, even Timeline. Something simple, formulaic, and entertaining as all get-out.

What are they and who are they written by? And bonus points if there's something available to pick up at the HWLC today after work.

What I don't want: anything heavy-handed or moralistic, anything about lawyers or legal whathaveyous, anything that's so poorly written that reading it is painful, anything involving magic or religion or fantasy. PLEASE no fantasy.
posted by phunniemee to Media & Arts (35 answers total) 75 users marked this as a favorite
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.

If you grew up in the eighties and are awesome.
posted by rudhraigh at 8:34 AM on August 31, 2012 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I like Paul J. McAuley for that kind of thing; he's mostly known for more "science fiction" stuff (spaceships and junk), but he's written a few thrillers that I think would be up your alley: Whole Wide World and White Devils.
posted by infinitywaltz at 8:37 AM on August 31, 2012

Best answer: The same authors who wrote Relic and Reliquary (Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child) have a whole series of semi-related stories with many of the same characters...specifically the FBI agent Pendergast. They are by no means great literature but for a fun easy read they are decent enough.
posted by Captain_Science at 8:38 AM on August 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I also looove Chrichton and have ready most of his books. I'm going to mention why I like hist stuff because if we like him for different reasons, then my rec may not hold. I really like Crichton because he often hits real underlying science (unlike the moves made off his books) and he plays with in new ways ... a la Jurassic Park and having prior disease underlie it.

Based on that, I would highly recommend Darwin's Radio and the sequel by Greg Gear. The idea behind is a retrovirus that induces...well, I will let you discover it in the book. He also wrote Blood Music, which is a shorter book that I would also recommend.Darwin's Radio was nominated as a best novel (Hugo) and it won the Nebula Best novel award, too.
posted by Wolfster at 8:41 AM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you're a fast reader you might enjoy Daniel Suarez's technothriller set: Freedom and Daemon. One of those "AI takes over the world" sorts of books but interesting to people who like computers/gaming that sort of thing and has a "push you along like in a movie" feel. They are hefty books though so if you're not a speedy reader you might like something a little more like Greg Bear's Darwin's Radio and the sequel Darwin's children. There is a little legal mumbo-jumbo in it, but really not that much. I also liked The Passage (which is not really about vampires, I swear it) which is a great "well meaning thing goes really super wrong" book which has a sequel that I haven't read yet.
posted by jessamyn at 8:42 AM on August 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I was coming in to recommend Darwin's Radio. So consider it seconded.
posted by COD at 8:42 AM on August 31, 2012

Best answer: Daniel Suarez's stuff is great. I found it much more interesting than Crichton.
posted by dfriedman at 8:44 AM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Anything by Robin Cook. I read most of his stuff first and then Michael Crichton was a natural progression.
posted by pink candy floss at 8:49 AM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Snow Crash! Maybe not quite as simple and formulaic as Crichton, but a fantastic, fast-paced techno-thriller that will also make you think (in a good way).
posted by googly at 8:58 AM on August 31, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: You might like Dan Simmons' Illium/Olympus books. They're a little more complex than Crichton's work, but still a fairy easy read. Shakespeare-quoting robots exploring the ice seas of Europa! What's not to love?

It might also be worth picking up a couple of those "Classic Sci Fi" anthologies, especially if you can find ones from the 70's/80's. I have a few lying around for when I just want a short sharp hit of pure imagination.
posted by fight or flight at 8:59 AM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Not sure if the writing style is the same, but Ender's Game is fast, fun, and easy.
posted by 3FLryan at 9:04 AM on August 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I just finished Under the Dome by Stephen King. Definitely sci-fi, kind of a thriller. Doesn't have anything to do with lawyers, though small town politicians do figure pretty highly.

But seriously, if you're into that, why not early Stephenson? Snow Crash, The Diamond Age, etc. Cryptonomicon is worth a read, but that's where I started to suspect that Stephenson was more in love with his ideas than with writing a decent novel, and from there on out he's just gotten more and more verbose. Also, starting around there the man can't finish a novel to save his neck.

And what about Gibson? Burning Chrome, Johnny Mnenomic, Neuromancer, etc. The good old cyberpunk stuff. Unlike Stephenson, he continues to write well.
posted by valkyryn at 9:04 AM on August 31, 2012

Best answer: I found Nano by John Robert Barlow to fit this bill perfectly. It's Sci-Fi Triller \ Adventure movie material. William Gibson is also great for this stuff - especially his older cyberpunk stuff as noted above.
posted by machinecraig at 9:14 AM on August 31, 2012

No dinosaurs (yet), but I'm enjoying Redshirts. I also second Ready Player One and Snowcrash. Robopocalypse was ok too. Happy reading!
posted by PaulaSchultz at 9:18 AM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Connie Willis' Domesday does this really well: scientific advance which goes horribly wrong. Her Blackout and All Clear are sequels.

Mary Gentle's Ash: A Secret History is similar, but longer (and weirder). If Neil Stephenson is to your taste, particularly Cryptonomicon and System of the World , her A Sundial in a Grave: 1610 will similarly be right up your alley.
posted by bonehead at 9:31 AM on August 31, 2012

Best answer: I liked Legacy of Heorot, which is along a similar theme: the first interstellar colonists from Earth miss an important aspect of the ecology of the world they're trying to settle.
posted by chengjih at 9:55 AM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Fear Index by Robert Harris was a good, quick read and struck me as very Crichton-esque.
posted by Daily Alice at 10:00 AM on August 31, 2012

Best answer: Looks like two people beat me to Daniel Suarez's books Daemon and Freedom, more or less two volumes of the same story, though your loyalties to certain factions may change from one book to the next. I second them wholeheartedly.

He has a new one out that I haven't read, but from what I've heard, it fits the bill.

River of Gods by Ian McDonald features a futuriffic war over the fate of India, the Ganges River, the gender balance of Indians, and all sorts of stuff.

I've only read one book by Christopher Moore, but my friends swear by his books. "Practical Demonkeeping" was more fantasy than SF, but escapist is exactly what it was.

Series that fit the bill: "Laundry" (3 books and many shorts-- contains SF and Lovecraftian horror elements) "Eschaton" (2 books - contains exotic physics) and "Halting State" (2 books with a third to come-- fun!), all by MeFi's own Charlie Stross.

"Fall Revolution" and "Engines of Light" books by another Great Scot, Ken MacLeod. (Both books feature politics as part of every setting, some very radical, but it's not weighed down by it and felt balanced to me-- it's a feature, not a bug. I say this is a person with very little political common ground with the author.)

small correction, for bonehead, above: Connie Willis's book is "Doomsday Book," the title being a reference to the Domesday Book, which was a census of England... I forget when. Anyway, great read. Before you read Blackout/All Clear, I recommend the titular story in her short stories collection "Fire Watch," set in the same universe as the above. Follow that with reading all the other stories in that collection. Also same universe, and much lighter fare; "To Say Nothing of the Dog."
posted by Sunburnt at 10:01 AM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh, and Bruce Sterling wrote some solid cyberpunk-- cyberpunk could be defined as a world altered by a radical technology that became cheap and thus a bit of a runaway, as your headline suggests. I'd definitely add Stephenson's "The Diamond Age" to that category.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:04 AM on August 31, 2012

Response by poster: Yay, so many suggestions! It looks like Darwin's Radio will be a good one to start with (and there are supposed to be a few available copies on the shelf at the library today, which is great), so thanks!

I'm not "traditionally" geeky (don't really do the video games or comics or fictiony science fiction with robots or spaceships so much), and a few recommendations so far have been for books/authors that friends of mine who are into those things really enjoy, so I don't know how much I'd be into those. I don't know if that helps at all to narrow things down...maybe someone who has read a larger swath of these things can help pinpoint which ones are the most Crichtony?
posted by phunniemee at 10:11 AM on August 31, 2012

Best answer: I think Stephenson's collaborations Interface and Cobweb are the most obvious Stephenson choices here, with Zodiac and Snow Crash up next.

Bruce Sterling's Heavy Weather, and, if you like it, Distraction.

Michael Swanwick's Stations of the Tide and Bones of the Earth.
posted by Zed at 10:11 AM on August 31, 2012

Best answer: The Laundry Files from MeFi's own cstross are more horror than sci-fi, but they're delightfully fun.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:16 AM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I came here to second Captain Science's rec for the Pendergast books by Lincoln and Childs. Like candy, they are. Read them in order, because there are reoccurring characters.
posted by jvilter at 11:00 AM on August 31, 2012

Best answer: Walter Jon Williams's Dagmar Shaw series (This Is Not a Game, Deep State, and The Fourth Wall) are thrillers with a near-future setting in which online multiplayer gaming and political upheavals are tied together.

Drew Magary's The Postmortal spins longevity technology to its logical conclusion.

Nancy Kress's Beggars in Spain is an extrapolation of genetic engineering (there are two sequels); her book Dogs is techno-horror at the intersection of Crichton and Stephen King.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:00 AM on August 31, 2012

Best answer: I'm going to stop, and think, and carefully recommend Gibson's Bigend trilogy - Pattern Recognition, Spook Country and Zero History. It's a technology-drenched thriller with literary aspirations, an alternate present, where things are stranger, cooler, and more terrifying. It's flush with sympathetic, broken protagonists, an intriguing supporting cast and ominous and dangerous antagonists, and a few characters who are "all of the above."

Even though Pattern Recognition is 10 years old at this point, it still feels like a glimpse into the future, one we were too busy living in the present to notice or appreciate at the time.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:06 PM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I've only read one book by Christopher Moore, but my friends swear by his books. "Practical Demonkeeping" was more fantasy than SF, but escapist is exactly what it was.

I missed this suggestion the first time I read your answer, but Christopher Moore is great. I went through a pile of his books (Lamb? hiiiiilarious) last winter. Not what I'm in the mood for right now, but man...if anyone's looking for something funny, can't go wrong with Christopher Moore.
posted by phunniemee at 1:07 PM on August 31, 2012

You might try Richard Preston. The Hot Zone (about the near outbreak of bleeding from the eyes virus Marburg in the US) is non-fiction, but is more scary because of it, and while The Cobra Event treads a well worn path of the fictional outbreak story, it does so in a fast, fun and seemingly realistic way. I've heard good things about The Demon in the Freezer, but hae not yet read it. Preston also finished a book Crichton was working on called Micro, which wasn't well-reviewed.
posted by cnc at 2:00 PM on August 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

I want to downvote "Snow Crash." I bought it on my Kindle based on similar suggestions and hated it. I slogged through it, but it was like a mind-dump of crap I didn't really care about. And it was nonsensical (a bunch of boats tied together that form a floating island of sorts with a an entire society living on it?!).

I love Crichton's writing and didn't find "Snow Crash" similar in any way.

I love Orson Scott Card, Jim Butcher, and Kurt Vonnegut, though.
posted by tacodave at 2:41 PM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mentioning this because it fits your post title really nicely: On a whim I purchased "Doctor's Orders", a Star Trek novel by Diane Duane. I'm not a huge Star Trek fan. I was wowed by the reviews and ended up loving the book (I bought the Kindle edition). I immediately went to the bookstore and picked up some more of her books. Very good characterization and plot development.
posted by circular at 2:45 PM on August 31, 2012

I'd recommend The Silk Code by Paul Levinson. To quote Amazon's book description:

"Phil D'Amato, New York City forensic detective, is caught in an ongoing struggle that dates all the way back to the dawn of humanity on earth, and one of his best friends is a recent casualty. Unless Phil can unravel the genetic puzzle of the Silk Code, he'll soon be just as dead."

Science-y, archeological-ish, some murders for good measure.
posted by JuliaJellicoe at 5:02 PM on August 31, 2012

I wanted to ditto Robin Cook—if you want fast, trashy, When Science Goes Wrong reads, look no further. Pro tip: You can find tons of his books at used book sales. And Richard Preston is also good in this category.
posted by limeonaire at 6:26 PM on August 31, 2012

Vernor Vinge's Qeng Ho/Zones of Thought.

The first book, A Fire Upon the Deep is about a group of future humans investigating an ages old extraterrestrial data archive, accidentally wakening it in an attempt to become "gods" themselves, desperately try to escape its malevolence, and the survivors get stuck in "primitive space" and encounter a very alien society. The protagonists (iirc) are stuck with these people by semi-accident and has the advice of a historical figure - who may or may not be who he seems as they try to survive and mold the society that they find themselves stuck with.

The second, A Deepness in the Sky is set 20k years before the first and describes competing trading groups desire to exploit a newfound extraterrestrial species - it's a first rate thriller with intrigue on how the founder of a powerful trading group living incognito (the historical figure in the first book) tries to fix his group being subjugated by a brutal other human group. The extraterrestrial species also has a plot woven throughout the story - and it is about overcoming species limitations, subterfuge, war, and romance.

The third, The Children of the Sky is a direct sequel to the first book; the survivors have somewhat integrated with the very alien society; there is a massive power struggle between the various factions as human technology and ideas have transformed the natives. The younger generation doubts the facts of their parent's history as witnessed by the protagonist from the first novel and are in denial of what is really going on (a la knowledge degeneration). Lots of intrigue and double crossing and hubris - all with the threat of the first ancient alien civilization antagonist in the first novel being a slow-burning threat.

I highly recommend this series.'As pure scifi, as space opera, as triller/mystery.
posted by porpoise at 9:08 PM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, Alastair Reynolds - another pop best seller author - is quite similar to Crichton but more science-y (in the traditional space opera/silver-/golden-age science fiction sense but retains a lot of modern "punk/grit").

His Revelation Space series is a bit more on the detective-y noir-ish side but definitely science-y and thriller-y. "When science goes wrong" definitely figures into this story world.

Century Rain is pretty brilliant and definitely fits into what you're looking for. Premise begins with humans (us in the rather near future) finally screwing up the Earth enough that we can't not acknowledge it, trying to fix these problems with technolgical solutions... and having it completely ruin everything. What our archeologist protagonist discovers however... is almost unrelated. Or is it?

Dan Simmon's Hyperion series should also scratch your itch. Bonus - it's finished and completed and all squared away. Mistakes and decisions are made during the series leading to its conclusion. That is why the story started.


The Qeng Ho/Zones of Thought novels - protagonist(s) are female(sometimes-ish) and well done, especially for this genre. The Children of the Sky was far less good at this.

Hyperion features strong believable female protagonists, for the most part.
posted by porpoise at 9:41 PM on August 31, 2012

Strongly seconding A Deepness in the Sky, by Vernor Vinge. God, how I'd like to see that attempted on the big screen.
posted by General Tonic at 8:32 AM on September 1, 2012

A Deepness In the Sky was betrayed by the author's own overactive alt-sex libido, yet, if you can get around that, its a very sweet and stirring tale of intelligent beings finding their own damn way in the universe, and could the cute-and-cuddly humans stand some help?

A Fire Upon the Deep is a life-changer in the way few science fiction novels are.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:53 PM on September 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

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