Sci-Fi Noir?
March 18, 2013 5:16 PM   Subscribe

I recently read Berlin Noir, The City and The City and Chasm City, and was looking for recommendations for sci-fi detective fiction, or detective fiction that reads like sci-fi.

The sort of SF I'm thinking of has a strong world building aspect as well as vibrant, detailed urban environments and cultures (ie. not space opera, although I love space opera).

In etective/noir fiction I'm drawn to the strong first person voice, the 'classic' story set-ups, and the middle-aged tough but lovable protagonist. I am much wider read in sci-fi, so feel free to suggest obvious detective/noir novels as I probably haven't thought of them.

Of course I've read quite a bit of PKD and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep is great but not quite what I'm looking for, although Blade Runner is, FWIW.

I thought of Peter Hamilton's Gregory Mandel series but I kinda dislike his writing, esp. the ridiculous sex scenes. Should I read these?

I realize now that I was particular drawn to The City and The City because of the allusion to the Berlin Wall and a divided Germany, so bonus points for working that into suggestions!

(Great answers here, but I am looking for non-SF recommendations as well.)
posted by kittensofthenight to Media & Arts (37 answers total) 71 users marked this as a favorite
You might like some of the comic books / graphic novels by Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips. Criminal is straight-up crime noir, while Fatale mixes in some fantasy elements, and Incognito combines noir and superhero tropes.
posted by mbrubeck at 5:22 PM on March 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Kerr has written numerous sequels to the Berlin noir trilogy, fyi. They are pretty good, perhaps not quite as good as the first 3.
posted by thelonius at 5:23 PM on March 18, 2013

Is the Yiddish Policemen's Union out of bounds? It is alternative history, really, but very much on the side of world-building.
posted by oflinkey at 5:28 PM on March 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

The Automatic Detective.

Other comics to consider: Powers and Astro City: Tarnished Angel.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:31 PM on March 18, 2013

Jonathan Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn or Gun With Occasional Music might fit the bill.

Kate Atkinson's Jackson Brodie detective series aren't science fiction, but they have a bit of that vibe to me.
posted by Kriesa at 5:35 PM on March 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

Kat Richardson's Greywalker novels.
posted by BibiRose at 5:42 PM on March 18, 2013

For mixing up the sci-fi and the mystery, how about Kate Wilhelm? While her more recent stuff is heavier on the mystery, and her earlier stuff was harder sci-fi, there were books in the middle that were a fascinating blend of the two, enough so, that I wasn't always sure where she was drawing the line or if she was bothering to do so.

Start with something like The Dark Door. This is not a first person voice, but rather, an older husband and wife team that re-appears through several of her books in this time period.
posted by instead of three wishes at 5:43 PM on March 18, 2013

Best answer: Berlin: Shadow and Light by Jonathan Rabb.

Sci-Fi-ish (if you like books & silliness): anything by Jasper Fforde. The Thursday Next books are the longest series, but the two nursery mysteries (the Fourth Bear and the Big Over Easy) are the most noir and I've heard great things about Shades of Grey.
posted by dame at 5:45 PM on March 18, 2013

I was coming here to recommend the Lethem books too. His book of short stories ( The Wall of Sky, The Wall of Eye) I also found entertaining, but I can't say it's Sci-Fi Noir ish. But c'mon, he has a story called Vanilla Dunk, where the DNA of Michael Jordan is used to enhance current basketball stars.
posted by DigDoug at 5:54 PM on March 18, 2013

Best answer: I quite liked The Last Policeman, which is a police procedural set 6-8 months before Earth is scheduled to have an impact with a large asteroid.

Not what I would describe as "noir", but the Rivers of London series is also decent.
posted by Baron Humbert von Gikkingen at 5:54 PM on March 18, 2013

"The Caves of Steel", by Isaac Asimov. It's part of Asimov's "Robots" future history. It's a murder mystery, with a human detective and a robot detective.

There was a sequel called "The Naked Sun".
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:07 PM on March 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Gil 'The Arm' hardboiled as it gets.
posted by j_curiouser at 6:14 PM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ken MacLeod's The Night Sessions is a decent "police vs terrorists" procedural set in a carefully-extrapolated, near-future, post/anti-religious society. With robots. Only MacLeod novel that I've read so may not be the best offering available from him, but should tick most of your boxes.
posted by comealongpole at 6:18 PM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Richard K. Morgan's Takeshi Kovacs novels: "Altered Carbon," "Broken Angels," and "Woken Furies," as well as "Thirteen."
posted by Marky at 6:21 PM on March 18, 2013 [7 favorites]

It's been ages since I read it, so I don't know if I'd still think it's any good, but Douglas Adam's book, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency seems like a literal answer.
posted by Kriesa at 6:31 PM on March 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

There is no higher calling than Gun with Occasional Music. I reread it about once a year ... or more.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 6:38 PM on March 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Seconding Richard Morgan. So, so good. Also Queen of Angels by Greg Bear.
posted by biscotti at 7:05 PM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Gun with Occasional Music, Automatic Detective are great. Donald Westlake's Anarchaos is surprisingly good. Takeshi Kovacs are good, but I feel that only the first of the three really fits the bill, although the other two are great in their own right.

Richard Morgan's Market Forces also fits the bill.

I personally liked the Greg Mandel series, although, yeah. The Hardwired series might also be of interest to you but mostly the out of print Solip:System and Voice of the Whirlwind.

If you liked City and the City, you might like Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl.

In case anything's missing from this thread, I received a ton of great suggestions previously.
posted by porpoise at 7:07 PM on March 18, 2013

Technically not sci-fi, but rather contemporary fantasy - The Dresden Files, but it's damn good =c)
posted by pyro979 at 7:17 PM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: David Brin, Kiln People-classic hard boiled tale in future earth. I'm a huge Brin fan and love this book.

Kameron Hurley, God's War-great world building and a def hard-boiled vibe with a strong, very flawed female protagonist.
posted by purenitrous at 7:18 PM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Red Harvest by Hammett is another world, an industrialized mining town in the 1920's desert with labor, unrest, and some of the first hard Noir.
posted by nickggully at 7:45 PM on March 18, 2013

Michael Marshall Smith's Only Forward, Spares, and One Of Us are all future-dramedy-sf-noir. Very funny, but also horrific at times.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 7:51 PM on March 18, 2013

There's also Kristine Kathryn Rusch's Retrieval Agent books (link to the the wiki entry for the second one, which has decent overview.
posted by experiencing a significant gravitas shortfall at 8:23 PM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is pretty much exactly in my wheelhouse and I think I've provided a variant of this answer to previous questions, but:

There's Noir by Robert Coover

Richard Paul Russo's Carlucci Series
George Alec Effinger's Marid Audran/Budayeen series
Jon Courtenay Grimwood's Arabesk series.

Ditto Altered Carbon, the first of the Kovacs novels.

Kerr also did a sci-fi flavoured mystery thing called A Philosophical Investigation.
posted by juv3nal at 8:32 PM on March 18, 2013

Best answer: Brin's "Sundiver" is a detective story, and the first novel in his Uplift Universe.

The webcomic "Penny Arcade" has about a dozen strips under the heading "Automata," in which a 1940s police detective is partnered with a robot detective in a world where building thinking machines has just been outlawed, and the legal status of the existing ones is uncertain. Brief but very tantalizing.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:12 PM on March 18, 2013

The Bryant and May novels by Christopher Fowler are detective novels with a touch of supernatural (sometimes), but mostly they're steeped in ... cityness. I love them! The author is a sf/horror novel, so that probably has something to do with it. They would be aptly described as "vibrant, detailed urban environments and cultures, the 'classic' story set-ups, and the [old, cranky] but lovable protagonist[s]." One novel is even a locked-door mystery.

Two quarter-turns-off, Scott Lynch's Lies of Locke Lamora and sequel are (unconventional, gritty, violent, urban) fantasy caper novels. I've been off fantasy for years and I loved them.
posted by wintersweet at 10:32 PM on March 18, 2013

Galactic Effectuator by Jack Vance
posted by CrunchyFrog at 11:02 PM on March 18, 2013

Best answer: Noir by K.W. Jeter is a book that really stuck with me.
posted by bongo_x at 12:46 AM on March 19, 2013

Warren Hammond's KOP series: KOP, ex-KOP, and KOP Killer. A dirty cop on a colony world embroiled in interstellar political intrigue.
posted by kovacs at 3:47 AM on March 19, 2013

Jack Glass by Adam Roberts is golden-age SF crossed with classic detective novels - it's a set of linked locked room mysteries, in space.
posted by penguinliz at 5:39 AM on March 19, 2013

Chocolate Pickle: ""The Caves of Steel", by Isaac Asimov. It's part of Asimov's "Robots" future history. It's a murder mystery, with a human detective and a robot detective.

There was a sequel called "The Naked Sun".

And a later, lesser sequel, "The Robots of Dawn."
posted by Chrysostom at 8:10 AM on March 19, 2013

Lawrence Watt-Evans's Nightside City was an SF detective story. It wasn't bad, from what I remember two decades on.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:12 AM on March 19, 2013

This is one of my favourite sub-genres! I strongly second the recommendations for Richard K Morgan's books, he's a great author. Also strongly second Richard Paul Russo's Carlucci series.

Hamilton is a bit of a hack, his writing annoys me for the exact same reason as yours. His Mandel series make a decent read, because he does write a good story, but you have to put up with the appalling sex-doll female characters and stupid sex scenes. Think of it as the sci-fi version of trashy summer beach novels. Read the Carlucci and Morgan books first!
posted by Joh at 10:01 AM on March 19, 2013

Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds came to mind.
posted by nerhael at 2:16 PM on March 19, 2013

Greg Egan's Quarantine is pretty awesome and pretty hardboiled.
posted by sixswitch at 3:29 PM on March 19, 2013

I'll strongly second George Alec Effinger's Marid Audran series.

MeFi's Own cstross has written Halting State and Rule 34 (with supposedly at least one more to come eventually), police procedurals (more-or-less) set in a near-future Scotland. Highly recommended.

Stepping a bit outside SF (vampires in current NYC) I heartily recommend Charlie Huston's Joe Pitt series. In fact, I heartily recommend everything he's written. If you try & like Richard K. Morgan, you should like Charlie.

feel free to suggest obvious detective/noir novels

Taking you at your word here, the "classic" authors are:

Raymond Chandler
Dashiell Hammett
James M. Cain
Jim Thompson
John D. MacDonald
Ross Macdonald

In a more current vein, there's:

Charles Willeford
Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder series
Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch series
Robert Crais' Elvis Cole/Joe Pike novels
Loren D. Estleman's Amos Walker series
posted by soundguy99 at 12:36 PM on March 21, 2013

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