Book recomnedation: worldbuilding and self-aware, active characters
January 25, 2014 9:19 AM   Subscribe

I again have time to consume books like a cookie-monster. I've avoided lists of classics-by-genera because I tend to like only 5% of what's on them. It's not that I specifically like reading dystopias or sci-fi - I liked the Poisonwood Bible for instance, as much if not more than Lord of the Rings. In addition to book recommendations, it would also be useful if, given the books listed below, you have any ideas for other trends that could help me search out books myself. Your advice is much appreciated! :)

- In-depth, almost scientific (or even actually scientific) descriptions of details, especially details relevant to the 'mechanics' of the world
- In-depth, diagnostic self-awareness of the characters own mind and abilities
- A main character/characters/narrator who tries to stay aware of his/her role in the world and who wants to understand how to best/most effectively act
- A plot that's driven by active, intelligent antagonists or world-forces as much as by the character

Authors/Books I already love:
- The Dresden Files
- 1984
- The Poisonwood Bible
- Lord of the Rings
- Fight Club
- Almost anything by Ray Bradbury
- The Old Man and the Sea
- The first 3 books of several of Orson Scott Cards' series, although The Unaccompanied Sonata (a book of short stories) takes 1st place
- Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality
- Animorphs
- Howl's Moving Castle

Authors/Books that I should love, but don't quite...
(aka, I really liked most of what they were, but was put off by something)
- The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
- Snow Crash
- Game of Thrones
- Anthem by Ayn Rand
- Dune
- Queen of Angels

Terry Pratchett's strange - I either really like or really dislike parts of each of his books that I've read: Overall, I liked most of Thief of Time, Mort, and Going Postal; but I couldn't get into Unseen Academicals or Night Watch.
posted by ch3cooh to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey switches perspectives between two protagonists. Both of them have big blindspots that, over the course of the novel, they're forced to confront. They also struggle to find appropriate and effective ways to take action in the face of solar-system-scale events, making blunders along the way.
posted by BrashTech at 9:46 AM on January 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Both The Stand and The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King have decent amounts of world building and are both heavy on character development (Dark Tower series more so if only because it's 7 (well sort of 8) books long.)
posted by Captain_Science at 9:52 AM on January 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Alienist and The Angel of Darkness by Caleb Carr. Late Victorian-era detective novels with all kinds of crazy details about turn-of-the-century New York. Pretty grim, though.
posted by infinitywaltz at 9:53 AM on January 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Iain M Banks' Culture books, starting with Consider Phlebas.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 9:58 AM on January 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy.
posted by moonmilk at 10:02 AM on January 25, 2014

The City & The City, by China Mieville
posted by the twistinside at 10:03 AM on January 25, 2014

I just read The Bone Season...and am eagerly awaiting the next installments.
posted by pantarei70 at 10:18 AM on January 25, 2014

Margaret Atwood's Madaddam trilogy will do you just fine.
posted by grimley at 10:27 AM on January 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'd suggest Sheri S. Tepper (either The Companions or Grass would be good) and Lois McMaster Bujold (I'd start with Shards of Honor and then Barrayar rather than jumping ahead to The Warrior's Apprentice).
posted by Lexica at 11:18 AM on January 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Have you read the Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy? It would meet all of your criteria.
posted by valoius at 11:18 AM on January 25, 2014

Alastair Reynolds _Revelation Space_ series
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:19 AM on January 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Ringworld and Moties series by Larry Niven (and Jerry Pournelle) are pretty famously heavy on worldbuilding detail, as is Rendevous with Rama be Arthur C. Clarke
posted by Jakey at 11:19 AM on January 25, 2014

I feel like all I ever do on Ask is recommend Brandon Sanderson to people, but he builds great worlds with interesting magic and mechanics, and awesome introspective characters who still do interesting things. I'm also a big fan of the Dresden Files, so we may have similar taste. For a little taste try "The Emperor's Soul" which is a great little novella, (sorry, I'm on my phone and it's a pain to do links) and then if you love it just devour everything else he's written, and the new Stormlight book comes out in March!
posted by euphoria066 at 11:46 AM on January 25, 2014

Along the lines of Poisonwood Bible, I immediately thought of State of Wonder by Ann Patchett and Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. They're both about scientists and morality, and have world-buildng in the sense that the main characters travel to new places and they are good at situating you in each setting.
posted by katieanne at 11:49 AM on January 25, 2014

Came in to suggest Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy.

Also, Patrick deWitt's Sisters Brothers.
posted by mannequito at 12:54 PM on January 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Gentlemen Bastard series by Scott Lynch is a bit of a throwback to the Fritz Leiber style of low fantasy rather than modern grimdark a la GRRM or Joe Abercrombie. It has very detailed worldbuilding and people outsmarting each other non-stop. Let's just say that the first novel is about a heist in Fantasy Venice, the second one has pirates, and the third one is about rigging an election.

Saladin Ahmed's Throne of the Crescent Moon is an Arabian Nights-style adventure romp. Not particularly cerebral, but the worldbuilding based on Arabic and Egyptian myth is a nice break from Eurocentric milieus.
posted by sukeban at 1:28 PM on January 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

Perdido Street Station and the other Bas-Lag books by China Mieville have some incredible world-building, and a strange version of science is central to the story. Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey, the book I just finished, is also quite well done and very much driven by characterization. (And I know what it looks like, but don't judge a book by its' cover!)
posted by the big lizard at 1:43 PM on January 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, your mention of Fight Club reminded me of Irvine Welsh. He writes hilariously nasty stuff in phonetic Scottish accent, once you get used to it you can really hear the characters in your head.
posted by the big lizard at 1:56 PM on January 25, 2014

I have similar tastes in books as you do.

I'd second The Gentlemen Bastard Series by Scott Lynch. Very entertaining and the world is wonderful.

Patrick Rothfuss' The Kingkiller Chronicle trilogy is incredible - the books have near-perfect ratings on Goodreads. They're like LOTR meets Brandon Sanderson - the narrative style is very modern but the storytelling and worldbuilding that back it up is superb.

The Repairman Jack series by F Paul Wilson is a dark series about a "repairman" who fixes people's problems morally but illegally. The series is a dark mystery with a paranormal twist set in present-day New York. They're very good and the world is very developed.
posted by zug at 1:57 PM on January 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Megan Whalen Turner's Queen's Thief series maybe. The first is my least favorite, though I enjoy it more in retrospect as I have read subsequent books. It's really hard to describe without spoilers, but this review does a decent job.
posted by gudrun at 2:46 PM on January 25, 2014

In addition to KSR's Mars Trilogy (mentioned above), his Three Californias series should probably click with you.
posted by crush-onastick at 4:01 PM on January 25, 2014

You tried Snow Crash, but Stephenson's books all fail in different ways :). Try Anathem or Baroque Cycle.
posted by gregglind at 4:43 PM on January 25, 2014

Jasper Fforde, especially the Thursday Next books. Start with The Eyre Affair.

The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic, by Emily Croy Baker.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:43 PM on January 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Have you read anything by Ursula K. LeGuin? If not, I'd give her a try. And how about Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell?
posted by Redstart at 8:07 PM on January 25, 2014

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