Some suggestions for speculative fiction
April 19, 2013 4:39 PM   Subscribe

I just read China Mieville's The City and the City and really enjoyed it. I have a long train ride tomorrow and would like to download some more books for the road. Can you recommend some intelligent, literary speculative fiction, including perhaps others by Mieville?

Some specs: I'm not a literary snob but really love good writing and am allergic to schlock- which means that while I recognize that The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was thrilling, it was such piss-poor writing it made my eyes bleed. One thought: I've heard Paul Krugman is a fan of Iain Banks, but I have no idea where to start. Thanks for your help!
posted by foxy_hedgehog to Writing & Language (28 answers total) 67 users marked this as a favorite
So I guess none of these. Or maybe counterexamples?
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 4:39 PM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, definitely read Iain Banks. I think it makes sense to start at the beginning of his Culture sequence: Consider Phlebas. That said, some people think he got significantly stronger with Player of Games and even more so with Use of Weapons.

Mieville's own Embassytown is a trip, and definitely intelligent. I also enjoyed his Bas Lag sequence (Perdido St Station, The Scar, Iron Council), but found Un Lun Dun and Kraken disappointing. Looking for Jake is an excellent short story collection.

Gene Wolfe. His Book of the Long Sun is excellent and probably his best known, but he's just generally brilliant. I first encountered him through Fifth Head of Cerberus and I still think that's my favorite.

Ursula Le Guin's classic Left Hand of Darkness or The Dispossessed.

I recently picked up a 1970s Best of New Dimensions anthology, edited by Robert Silverberg. Full of excellent stuff by excellent writers.

On a more recent note, I've very much enjoyed NK Jemisin's work. It's more fantasy than science fiction, though.
posted by col_pogo at 4:49 PM on April 19, 2013 [5 favorites]

If you liked The City and The City, maybe you would like The Last Policeman.
posted by foxfirefey at 4:52 PM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding Wolfe and Le Guin. Dispossessed is more about the ramifications of a set of ideas and Left Hand more of a character piece -- if I had to start with either, I'd pick Left Hand, but they're both outstanding.

The prose is less memorable, but if you're coming right off City and the City, Christopher Priest's Inverted World might be a good choice (if that's available for download). It has a similar sense of digging into the social and physical complexities of a city (this one runs on train tracks, though, and has an extremely good reason to do so).

His style may be too ornate for some, but I think Ray Bradbury is one of the greatest prose stylists of all time, and all of his best-known SF (above all The Martian Chronicles) is worth reading.
posted by thesmallmachine at 4:56 PM on April 19, 2013

How about Ficciones by Borges, or Kafka's short stories. I found the parts of The C & The C that I read to be VERY informed by both.
posted by OmieWise at 5:31 PM on April 19, 2013

Perdido St Station and Embassytown are Mieville's best IMHO.
posted by gnutron at 5:54 PM on April 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also: Kurt Vonnegut.
posted by gnutron at 5:55 PM on April 19, 2013

I really like Joanna Russ and Samuel Delany, both SF writers famous for their prose.

Russ's canonical, difficult work (not that difficult!) is The Female Man, in which I warn you that she tries to make a subsidiary point about gender in a way that reads as transphobic today - it's a frustrating section late in the book for which she did later apologize. But the book itself is still worth reading. If you are leery of dealing with the politics there, you might enjoy her novella/short story collection Souls or the stories in The Dark Side of the Moon.

Delany's big difficult (actually kind of difficult) book is Dhalgren, which is beautifully written, brilliant and thoughtful. ("To wound the autumnal city!") I love virtually all his work. You might also enjoy his nominally porn novel The Mad Man. Delany is this very cultured writer strongly influenced by Foucault, Umberto Eco and Derrida.

Or you might find Thomas Disch interesting, although Camp Concentration is really depressing. 334 a little less so.

Or why not LEM? Or JG Ballard's Vermillion Sands, which is much less grim than a lot of his work?

I am very fond of L Timmel Duchamp's work, but she is an acquired taste. I love the short stories in her most recent, Never At Home.

Also, what about Michael Moorcock's Mother London? It's a simply wonderful and very written book.
posted by Frowner at 6:23 PM on April 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

There's always Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy
posted by IndigoJones at 6:43 PM on April 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm a big fan of William Gibson. Neuromancer is a sci-fi classic while his most recent books are in essence sci-fi where all the technology already exists in the real world.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 6:51 PM on April 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'd recommend the other book that won the Hugo the year that The City and the City won it: The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi.

I read those two back-to-back and they are both great books, albeit in different ways.
posted by Betelgeuse at 7:41 PM on April 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway. Also, Railsea by China Mieville . It's YA, but still a great read for an adult.
posted by AMyNameIs at 7:44 PM on April 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'd like to recommend Guy Gavriel Kay. His recent River of Stars was really something.
posted by Comrade_robot at 8:15 PM on April 19, 2013

Ted Chiang's book Stories of Your Life and Others may be up your alley.
posted by ldthomps at 8:34 PM on April 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

I thought "Embassytown" was great. A little hard to get into, but it really pays off.
posted by elizeh at 8:47 PM on April 19, 2013

Embassytown is fantastic - Mieville's best IMHO.
posted by Artw at 9:31 PM on April 19, 2013

to play more with the city-central spec-fic, you could do worse than Jay Lake's "Trial of Flowers", or Angelica Gorodischer's "Kalpa Imperial".

Some of the works of M. John Harrison, Jeff Vandermeer, and, hell, even Michael Moorcock might be relevant also. They are definitely in that "decadent ennui" spectrum that some of Mieville's work evoked for me.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 9:44 PM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

How about SF magazines like Analog, Asimovs, and Fantasy & Science Fiction?
posted by Sophont at 11:45 PM on April 19, 2013

Geoff Ryman has a wonderful style and use of imagery. I would recommend The warrior who carried life, The child garden and Was.
posted by jb at 12:16 AM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Some summaries of Ryman's novels.
posted by jb at 12:21 AM on April 20, 2013

Gene Wolfe, Ursula K. Leguin, Samuel Delaney--all of their works are very well done. I've read only one by Roger Zelazny, Lord of Light, and found it quite impressive. Johnathan Lethem, if you consider it SF. Ian M. Banks.
posted by zardoz at 5:49 AM on April 20, 2013

For sci-fi, I enjoy Alastair Reynolds, especially Revalation Space. It's more Gothic/horror than literary, but it's technically very believable and ambitious. If reading about emotionless astronauts trying to out-engineer each other while resisting mental corruption by hostile alien AIs sounds like a good time, you'll like it.

Personally, I was not a fan of Player of Games -- most of it is about a race of status-obsessed sociopaths, and was crude/titillating rather than intelligent.

If you want "literary", The Quantum Thief has some occasionally flowery writing and can be challenging to follow.
posted by sninctown at 11:19 AM on April 20, 2013

Anathem by Neal Stephenson is good in a lot of the same ways as The City & the City, and it'll keep you busy for a good long while.

For other Mieville, I'd definitely endorse Embassytown. PSS is good, but can be crushingly depressing at times. Kraken is a lot less substantial, but is also a lot of fun.
posted by Ragged Richard at 8:08 AM on April 21, 2013

Oh, and also, while Nick Harkaway's Angelmaker is good, his The Gone-Away World is one of my all time favorite books.
posted by Ragged Richard at 8:10 AM on April 21, 2013

I'll nth Mieville's Embassytown, Guy Gavriel Kay (The Lions of Al-Rassan is a good introduction to his style IMO), N.K. Jemisin (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms). I like what I've read so far of Paulo Bacigalupi's The WindUp Girl, but I did find it a bit difficult to follow the different plot threads (hence it remains unfinished on my shelf).

Ones that haven't been previously mentioned that I can see: Ellen Kushner does some wonderful fantasy of manners, with elegant prose (start with her classic Swordspoint, or The Privilege of the Sword for a female protagonist). Also Alison Sinclair's Darkborn trilogy, which is like Victorian sorcery without the swords.
posted by serelliya at 2:50 PM on April 21, 2013

While not speculative fiction, exactly, the recent anthology The Weird is explicitly in the same vein of strange fiction that China Mieville's work usually inhabits. I think you'd find something in it to enjoy, especially if you like gimmicked cities like the ones in The City & The City.

The Man Who Melted, by Jack Dann, is one of the best pieces of decadent near-future sci-fi I've ever read, and it's wrackingly emotional. I found it really thoughtful and frightening.
posted by Transmissions From Vrillon at 7:31 PM on April 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon is right up your alley.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 3:44 AM on April 22, 2013

« Older What to tell coworkers about my personal time...   |   Any recommendations for converting experience into... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.