I've exhausted Iain M. Banks. I want more. What should I read next?
September 9, 2013 6:10 PM   Subscribe

So I'm a dedicated Culture fanatic and have loved almost everything I've read by Iain M. Banks. (His Iain Banks stuff is pretty good too, but his sci-fi is what I really dig.) I particularly love the holistic, humanist morality that pervades his work and the way that he digs right down into the philosophical implications of various ideas and worldviews while simultaneously serving up lots and lots of sex, action, and sensawunda. However, I've read everything he's written several times over. What should I read next?

If it helps, I also really dig on Kurt Vonnegut, Ursula Le Guin, Terry Pratchett, and William Gibson. Lots of other authors too of course, but those are a few who really hit that sweet spot for me. Solid writing chops are mandatory, sci-fi/fantasy is not although that genre (however you want to define or label it, not interested in getting into a discussion about that) tends to be my go-to for leisure reading. Hit me with your best recommendations! Bonus if they're available for Kindle.
posted by Scientist to Writing & Language (37 answers total) 139 users marked this as a favorite
David Brin's uplift books are an overarching culture, as well.
posted by xingcat at 6:12 PM on September 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

Not sure how much you're wiling to compromise on the humanist morality part, but it sounds like you might enjoy China Miéville. You also might despise him, but fortunately he's got a very distinct narrative voice and you'll make up your mind in a chapter or two. Try giving Perdido Street Station a shot.
posted by griphus at 6:16 PM on September 9, 2013

Vorkosigan saga? (Louise McMaster Bujold). I haven't read Banks extensively, but Bujold is good for the humanistic outlook. I started the series about 2 yrs ago, and have now reread (or audiobooked) some novels several times.
posted by maryrussell at 6:28 PM on September 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

I will be watching this space like a goddamned hawk.

In the same boat as you. Personally, Brin's books didn't do it for me. Neither did Miéville (City and the City is my favorite of his books). Alistair Reynolds gets a little closer but ain't no Banks. Another common suggestions that didn't do it for me is Dan Simmons

Frequently recommend on Metafilter is Ted Chiang - his short story collection (available on Kindle) is great. Blindsight by Peter Watts is one of my favoirte non-Banks SF books. Neither are really space opera though - that is the hole that I've yet to fill.

Finally, not SF at all, but I've been enjoy John le Carre's Smiley novels (Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy, etc). They have some of the subtlety of Banks, and are good at showing very powerful forces from the point of view of smaller players.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 6:40 PM on September 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

You might want to try James Alan Gardner's League of Peoples universe (starts with Expendable). The central concept is that the universe is "ruled" by an invisible and unknown higher sentience that enforces only one rule: murderers cannot travel in space. From there, Gardner spins a lot of interesting stories full of the usual aliens and supertech and suchlike.
posted by Etrigan at 6:46 PM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Charles Stross' Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise are good books. Imagine a future in which the IETF is more important than the UN....
posted by thewalrus at 6:46 PM on September 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

Also, if you start with the Vorkosigan books (which are great), I strongly recommend reading them in the order they were written and published.

Find the Wikipedia page for the Hugo awards for best novel in the past 10 years and start working your way through the books.
posted by thewalrus at 6:47 PM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

You might enjoy Neal Asher. AIs of near-limitless power ruling over humanity with a mostly-benevolent hand, and plenty of action and interesting ideas. It's definitely a more conservative take on an AI-dominated society than Banks, though.
posted by Sternmeyer at 7:10 PM on September 9, 2013

You might try the anthologies The New Space Opera and especially The New Space Opera 2. Also, if you haven't read Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion (I'm less fond of the other two sequels), I'd definitely recommend those. A Fire Upon the Deep may work too, especially if you liked the sort of Usenet-like communications among Minds in Excession, etc. I think most of those are on point philosophically too.

But going further afield, politically, I'll also suggest some of Neal Asher's Polity books, especially The Skinner, because I think they're obviously influenced by Banks and share some of his sense of wonder. Unfortunately, a number of them feel like sort of a "Michael Bay" take on the Culture, devolving into action shoot-em-ups with reactionary messaging.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 7:14 PM on September 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Jack Vance! All of it.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:19 PM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

A Fire Upon the Deep may work too

For humanist morality its prequel A Deepness in The Sky is a good choice as well, particularly the plot thread that follows the non-human species.
posted by audi alteram partem at 7:41 PM on September 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space books.
posted by sid at 7:46 PM on September 9, 2013 [6 favorites]

Yeah, coming to recommend Vernor Vinge and David Brin.
posted by purenitrous at 7:49 PM on September 9, 2013

Kim Stanley Robinson. The Years of Rice and Salt is still my favourite of his, but is not on Kindle. However his Mars trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars and Blue Mars) all are, and they are classics.

You might enjoy Julian May's books, particularly the Saga of the Exiles and the Galactic Milieu books (links to the series from the Wikipedia page; most appear to be available as Kindle editions). I haven't read them in about 20 years but I remember thinking they were pretty good at the time.

Finally, Steven Brust isn't really anything like the others mentioned, but does delve into the nature of morality, humanity and manages to pull off a lot of dark humour as well. He has two series set in the same world, the Vlad books started first and have more of the philosophy (particularly Teckla and onwards, though some are a bit iffy - Orca, I'm looking at you) and the Khaavren Romances are quite shamelessly based on The Three Musketeers and sequels and are utterly hilarious. You should also read The Three Musketeers because it is fabulous fun. Just make sure you get a good translation. Apparently the Pevear version is highly thought of (and the most recent), but I have a soft spot for Lord Sudley's.
posted by Athanassiel at 8:46 PM on September 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm a total Banks fangirl. I suggest Ken MacLeod - he's a contemporary and friend of Iain Banks. I really enjoy his science fiction (it gets a bit more political than Banks, but is still humanist). I'd suggest starting with the Fall Revolution series (Star Fraction, Stone Canal, Cassini Division, Sky Road).
posted by Joh at 8:53 PM on September 9, 2013 [10 favorites]

A bit of a long shot, but Frank Herbert's non-Dune books gave me a bit of the same feeling. IIRC I'm thinking of the WorShip and ConSentient books. On preview, almost agree with Athanasseil about Brust, another of my favorite set of books, but that list forgot To Reign in Hell which is just glorious.
posted by zengargoyle at 8:55 PM on September 9, 2013

Peter F. Hamilton. Maybe try Fallen Dragon, which is a standalone. (If you like that, there's the unrelated Night's Dawn trilogy that would keep you reading for a bit.)

Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon is also kind of a fun romp.
posted by zadcat at 9:30 PM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I share your reading faves and most of those mentioned in the thread. I really liked Hugh Howey's Wool Omnibus. Looking forward to reading his Shift Trilogy as well.
posted by angiep at 9:33 PM on September 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Another vote for Charles Stross, start with Saturn's Children if you are coming from Ian M. Banks.
posted by Dr Dracator at 9:58 PM on September 9, 2013 [7 favorites]

zengargoyle, I didn't mention To Reign in Hell because I loathed it. Probably the only Brust I have felt that way about. I did forget to do a shout-out to Freedom and Necessity which Brust co-authored with Emma Bull. That's pretty brilliant, managing to work in humanism, morality, pragmatics, magic, secret societies, spies and lots of derring-do. Good fun.
posted by Athanassiel at 10:09 PM on September 9, 2013

The New Space Opera and its follow-on, The New Space Opera 2 are widely regarded as two of the best collections in recent years. They're collectively a good introduction to new authors.

Alistair Reynolds is a common recommendation for following Banks, as are Richard Morgan's books, particularly the Takeshi Kovacs series.

Ken McLeod is another good match. His Fall Revolution books are my favorites (Stone Canal, The Star Fraction, The Cassini Division).

A couple more, up and comers:
Karl Schroeder, the Virga cycle (Sun of Suns, Queen of Candescence, Pirate Sun, The Sunless Countries, Ashes of Candesce).

James Corey (a pen name for Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck): The Leviathan Wakes, Caliban's War, Abaddon's Gate.

Finally, with China Mieville, I'd start with Embasytown, if you're coming from Banks. The City and The City is more like non-M Banks. The rest of his stuff, while mostly still good---I'd avoid Iron Council---is much more in the fantasy realm.
posted by bonehead at 10:55 PM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Greg Egan

Sometimes I actually have a hard time keeping Greg Egan and culture stories apart in my head.

But a warning. Greg Egan's stories aren't always as friendly as M. Banks.

'The Jewel'* and 'Cutie' are very good introductions

(* whoops it's not called the jewel, it's the story about 'the jewel', maybe it's "learning to be me")


posted by compound eye at 11:41 PM on September 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

David Marusek's Counting Heads and Mind over Ship are set in the same universe. I hope he does some more. Those books are almost painfully dense with mind-bending ideas, and demand very close and careful reading, but they're like champagne for your brain.
posted by Grunyon at 1:22 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

He's sort of the ultimate anti-humanist, but in being so, shows the limits of humanity in a similar way as Banks: Jack Womack. His books are out of print (although his most famous, Random Acts of Violence is going bak into print in the UK soon). Not for the faint of heart.

Also, IMHO, he's the Faulkner of SF. Some other SF authors feel the same.
posted by digitalprimate at 2:48 AM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

You could have a go at Philip Reeve's Traction City books, which are officially YA but sophisticated and unsentimental.

sorry, I meant Mortal Engines. Philip-Reeve.com
posted by glasseyes at 3:57 AM on September 10, 2013

If you liked Gibson and Banks you might like Neal Stephenson. Snowcrash is cyberpunk and well known (and only a bit dated), Cryptonomicon or the long but rolicking Baroque Cycle are also good. His writing style includes a tendency towards looong digressions of looping plots and then sudden abrupt endings.

Also strongly seconding Kim Stanley Robinson and Lois Bujold.
posted by Wretch729 at 7:45 AM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh also if just exploring interesting worldbuilding appeals to you Eric Flint's 1632 series might be interesting. Certainly has the humanist slant, and the fact that Flint has allowed so many other writers (and fans!) to collaborate on the worldbuilding makes for a very diverse cast and lots of independent but interrelated plotlines in an alternate history of 1630s Europe where a West Virginia town circa the year 2000 is dropped into the middle of the 30 Years War.
If you can accept the central plot conceit, don't mind Flint's total inability to have two groups of strangers meet without at least 2 of them randomly falling in love at first sight, and also don't mind knowing that everything will ALWAYS more or less turn out ok in the end thanks to our brilliant protagonists with only minimal suffering involved, it's a very fun romp. You can check the first book in the series out online for free on Baen's website.
posted by Wretch729 at 7:53 AM on September 10, 2013

Ooof. It's not like I have a deadline today or something.

You've really enjoyed Banks, as well as Kurt Vonnegut, Ursula Le Guin, Terry Pratchett, and William Gibson. Hmmm. In that vein, I've enjoyed these books and authors, and you might like them too.

* Charles Stross. A bit different from your list, but I bet you'll like his work. Start with Singularity Sky / Iron Sunrise, and then maybe try the Laundry series (Atrocity Archives / Jennifer Morgue / Fuller Memorandum / Apocalypse Codex), or if you can deal with the unique narrative voice, Halting State / Rule 34 is great. If you want a mind-stretching novella as a sample, try "Palimpsest".

* Neal Stephenson. Need to get this out of the way. His early stuff is fantastic - the Diamond Age and Snow Crash were great, and Cryptonomicon, while maybe not quite SF, is gorgeous - but he could not write endings. He's improved - Anathem actually worked reasonably - but the books have gotten more ponderous. I have an unopened copy of REAMDE.

* Ian McDonald. The best sense of place of anyone in the business, and lyrically evocative writing. River of Gods was a startling, electrifying take on my own heritage; Brasyl and The Dervish House made me really feel Brazil and Turkey in my guts. Hard near-future SF, frighteningly plausible, don't miss him.

* Robert Charles Wilson. Speaking of lyrical. Very unlike Banks, but beautiful character-driven SF novels. I loved Spin, and the Chronoliths and Julian Comstock were both very good. I have all his other stuff on my shelves too. If you enjoyed Le Guin, I think you'll love his work.

* Paulo Bacigalupi. Sharp doomsday post-apocalyptic writing. The Windup Girl is a great book, again with a sharp sense of place, although maybe a bit on the polemical side.

* Tony Daniel. More obscure stuff. If someone set out to explain where Banks' ship minds came from, they could do worse. The planet-linking cables stretched my patience, but after reading Metaplanetary, I sought out Superluminal even while knowing that I wouldn't get to read the (unpublished) third volume of the trilogy. Take that as a warning or as a recommendation.

* Hannu Rajaniemi. Here's Charles Stross reviewing his work: He's Finnish, lives in Scotland, has a PhD in string theory, and — well, if you dropped Greg Egan's hard physics chops into a rebooted Finnish version of Al Reynolds with the writing talent of a Ted Chiang you'd begin to get a rough approximation of the scale of his talent. If that's a somewhat recondite metaphor, then alas, recondite is what you're getting: this is deep SF, and if there's any criticism I can level it's that readers may find "The Quantum Thief" hard to interpret without a prior background in the field ... Hard to admit, but I think he's better at this stuff than I am. The Quantum Thief to start, then the Fractal Prince after your brain recovers.

* Ted Chiang. Just read him. At least the short stories: start with Story of Your Life.

* Miscellaneous one-offs: Stamping Butterflies by Jon Courtenay Grimwood was great. I haven't read his other stuff yet, but I will. Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon trilogy (or at least the first book) was great for some hard mil-fic, as was T. C. McCarthy's Germline.

* You'll notice that I've left out some of the usual suspects. Ken MacLeod is a bit too overt with the politics (someone here once had a pithy comment along the lines of "then they all do a close reading of the founding documents, man the barricades, and the revolution succeeds" - yeah.) Alastair Reynolds is really good, I always read all his stuff, but it's never really "caught fire" for me. I can't quite explain why. Kim Stanley Robinson is a bit too ponderous for my taste. John Scalzi is fantastic fun reading, but not quite mind-stretching like Banks.

Hope this helps - I'd love to know what you (and other readers) thought if you try any of these suggestions.

(You seriously owe me for blowing a deadline.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 8:59 AM on September 10, 2013 [12 favorites]

I just ripped through Chris Moriarty's Spin Series, which was excellent post-human sci fi. Reminded me very much of the Culture series. This is the first one.
posted by lillygog at 9:57 AM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nthing Kim Stanley Robinson - His lesser known books like 'Antarctica' and 'A Short, Sharp, Shock' remind me of Banks too. You will find KSR's humanist/realist morality familiar.
posted by signsofrain at 12:18 PM on September 10, 2013

I'm a Culture fan, too, and I'm glad you posted the question.

I came in to recommnd Michael Flynn's 4-part Spiral Arm Space Opera that starts with The January Dancer. If you are looking for lyrical writing, solid characters, and an adventure that spans the galaxy, you should take a look at this series.

I'm hoping it becomes a 5-parter one of these days.

Also, Joel Shepherd just came out with the 4th Cassandra Kresnov novel. Start with Crossover. Genre: post-humans who are more human than the usual sort. In common with The Culture, it takes place on a future world that I wouldn't mind living on.
posted by AMyNameIs at 2:12 PM on September 10, 2013

posted by turbid dahlia at 4:10 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

David Brin:
I'd recommend "Kil'n People" as a good one to cross into.

If I'd started at a different point in the Uplift novels (a friend handed me a book midway through), I might not have realised how complex and awesome the galaxy would be.
posted by Elysum at 4:20 PM on September 12, 2013

I've just finished reading Ancillary Justice, and it uses Culture tropes so heavily that I thought to come back and recommend it here. It could almost be a Culture novel, just set in a civilization tucked off in a distant place like Azad was in the Small Magellanic Cloud. The politics, morality, SFnal issues, ship AIs, and (more problematically) coincidences to how people run into each other are all very, very Banks-ish, and it's a pretty decent story too.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 10:32 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Halfway through Ancillary Justice and can't agree more, I feel like Leckie has completely picked up the Banks mantle. To me this is very remenescent of Against a Dark Background - probably because the object of pursuit is a Special Gun. This is the first scifi I've felt good about since hearing of Banks' diagnosis, I think I'm processing my grief over his death through this story.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 1:34 PM on November 5, 2013


Foundation is a bit strange for me, having had at Banks first. It follows some of the style, two to five characters interacting with each other primarily or background prior to engaging with each other, but I don't feel like it does it quite as well. My other complaint is the same complaint I have with the Doctor Who episodes starring Smith: everything always threatens the fabric of anything-you-hold-dear, there aren't any small emergencies or minor catastrophes to avert. There's no saving this city, that race, or those ships. Its everything or nothing and it gets a bit tedious.
posted by Slackermagee at 10:44 AM on November 29, 2013

This is a great thread! I find it difficult to find really good SF recommendations. I love Banks and Le Guin. I can't stand Neal Stephenson.

Atomised by Michel Houllebecq is a great 'post-human' novel.

China Mieville (esp the later, non-Steampunk things - Perdido is a romp but unsatisfying, agree with above post that Embassytown is a good place to begin) does good high-concept stuff.

I sort of enjoyed 'Light' by M John Harrison (replete with Banks endorsement on the cover) but it was basically a bit nasty.

Ancillary Justice is definitely worth reading.

If you want to live in an insane parallel universe with excellent jokes, there's always Gormenghast.
posted by djbdjb at 5:07 PM on September 9, 2014

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