Like Octavia Butler, but even more awesome?
July 26, 2014 10:44 AM   Subscribe

I'm sure this has been asked before, but searching the archives didn't help much. I'm an avid reader, but can't find any compelling new books to read. Feminist, sci-fi-ish books with a literary bent would be ideal. Detailed likes and dislikes inside!

Here's what I like:

Sci-fi/dystopian fiction that falls on the literary end of the spectrum (Margaret Atwood, Octavia Butler, Vonnegut, Dick, Le Guin, Kafka).

Literary fiction that's not realistic (Borges, Bulgakov, Victor Lavalle, Victor Pelvin, George Saunders, Heidi Julavits, some Don DeLillo, David Mitchell, Ron Currie Jr, Mo Yan, some Will Self).

Fun sci-fi/fantasy/adventure that's fast-paced and decently written (Pratchett, Gaiman, Scalzi, Neal Stephenson, A Lee Martinez, Heinlein when he's not too sexist).

I have not enjoyed: China Mieville (pretentious writing), Richard Powers (ugh), Rivka Galchen (just wasn't quite my thing), Roberto Bolano (sexism), Paolo Bacigalupi (so close, but I found the writing grating), or Gary Shteyngart (unbearable sexism, otherwise pretty good), or Samuel Delany (I'm trying but struggling to commit to Dhalgren - let me know if there's a better starting point with him).
posted by snaw to Writing & Language (45 answers total) 103 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. Scalzi-approved! I just finished it and it was incredible; I can't wait for the sequels.
posted by special agent conrad uno at 10:47 AM on July 26, 2014 [9 favorites]

Sherri S. Tepper is always my go-to for these questions, especially Grass for the feminist bent.
posted by Specklet at 10:53 AM on July 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: N. K. Jemisin
Kage Baker (the Company novels)
posted by wintersweet at 10:56 AM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

For Delany, Stars in My Pocket Like Grains Of Sand is good and more readable than Dhalgren. Redwood and Wildfire by Andrea Hairston is great, historical fantasy set in turn of the century America. You may be interested in Nicola Griffith - her latest, Hild, is not very fantastical but it's very rich and has a lot of well-researched details on early medieval England while being very far indeed from a typical medieval-Europe fantasy. She's written some very well received science fiction as well.

For literary fiction with unrealistic or surrealistic elements, Haruki Murakami (sexism though!) and Yoko Ogawa are worth trying.

Have you read James Tiptree Jr? Get on her short stories right now if not.
posted by Jeanne at 11:02 AM on July 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Cat Valente's Silently and Very Fast ticks your boxes of science fiction, feminist, and literary. The full novella is available for free at Clarkesworld.
posted by xenization at 11:02 AM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Margo Lanagan also writes fantastic literary stories with a fairy tale/fantasy background.
posted by Jeanne at 11:04 AM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I like a lot of your favorites and I really think you'd like A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge. It's not exactly literary, but it is a very well-written and well-paced adventure with interesting ideas and compelling characters.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:05 AM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Never Let Me Go and Little, Big are two literary sci-fi/fantasy books that immediately spring to mind. I found Little, Big very difficult to get through, but I seem to be the only one.

I know you mentioned Le Guin, but I want to make sure you've read A Fisherman of the Inland Sea. It's such a great collection of stories.
posted by sevenless at 11:10 AM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

seconding Silently and Very Fast, and all things published on Clarkesworld. And all the stories have audio versions, read by Kate Baker, who has a lovely voice.
posted by special agent conrad uno at 11:26 AM on July 26, 2014

Jo Walton would fall into "literary fiction that is not realistic" (in science fictiony ways). My Real Children, which just came out, would be a perfectly good place to start.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:28 AM on July 26, 2014

Well, I can easily do the fun scifi/fantasy that is well-written. Rachel Aaron -- she wrote scifi as Rachel Bach, and it's feminist, but it's essentially a romance on a spaceship, for better or worse. Seanan McGuire's stuff -- though I don't like Incryptid, I do like the Toby Daye and Velveteen stuff. Max Gladstone or Daniel O'Malley write good, readable books. The new book The Queen of the Tearling is promising, but it's the first in a planned trilogy.

And yeah, Ancillary Justice for more thoughtful stuff, also Life After Life. The Girls at the Kingfisher Club is actually a fairy tale retelling, but close enough.
posted by jeather at 11:29 AM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I don't see any Connie Willis here. I say start with To Say Nothing of the Dog, which is the funniest and most literary, and then do the other Historian Time Travel books.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:29 AM on July 26, 2014 [7 favorites]

I have your taste in books, and the good news is you are already turned on to Margaret Atwood and Le Guin. The bad news is that you have read some of the best. Seconding Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, who ranks up with Atwood, written by a man, but as all of his books, has a keen understanding of women. This book is both haunting and heart rending.

Mara and Dann by Doris Lessing hits all your criteria, not the best written novel, but, hey, it is Doris Lessing. And then The Golden Compass trilogy by Philip Pullman. Written for teens, but like Le Guin, adult themes. And bonus, really upset some Christians.
posted by nanook at 11:39 AM on July 26, 2014

Best answer: To hit your "unrealistic literary fiction" nerve, try some Kelly Link. Her writing definitely borders on weird fiction, but to me it's far more accessible than Lovecraft or any of the "New Weird" authors like China Mieville (bless his heart, I just can't get into him). Since Kelly Link writes short stories, it's not a huge time sink if you end up not digging it. I'd recommend Magic for Beginners, which was easily one of the better books I read last year.

In that same vein, try Karen Russell -- Vampires in the Lemon Grove was another great short story collection. I haven't made it through a novel-length work of hers yet, but her short story work is fantastic.

Both of these books were among my favorites of all the 160-odd books I churned through last year... I'd be surprised if you couldn't find something to like in either of these.
posted by palomar at 11:51 AM on July 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

Sci-fi fun - C J Cherryh
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 11:53 AM on July 26, 2014

Ann Leckie and James Tiptree Jr.
posted by languagehat at 11:53 AM on July 26, 2014

Best answer: Kate Atkinson, Life after Life
posted by katieanne at 12:30 PM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Joanna Russ and her short stories from the 70s esp.
posted by PinkMoose at 12:30 PM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Rupetta, by N. A. Sulway.
posted by misteraitch at 12:36 PM on July 26, 2014

Best answer: Hal Duncan's Vellum and Ink
Charles Stross - fun sci-fi generally, I really liked Rule 34
Charles Yu's How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time
posted by bile and syntax at 12:37 PM on July 26, 2014

Clarice Lispector.
posted by mymbleth at 12:50 PM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Among SF-identified people who are "literary", yes to Jo Walton (or at least Among Others, the only one I've read) and John Crowley (Engine Summer is an easier place to start than Little, Big, and is just as good.)

Cloud Atlas, obviously (but given what you've read you've surely already read and either liked or disliked this)

Non-realist lit fic: You might like Ben Marcus (aka Mr. Heidi Julavits) or you might find his prose pretentious. To me it's thrilling. If you do like Ben Marcus, then also Matt Derby's Super Flat Times.
posted by escabeche at 1:26 PM on July 26, 2014

The Child Garden by Geoff Ryman. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
posted by kyrademon at 1:31 PM on July 26, 2014

I really enjoyed The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon. I think it fits your literary and sci fi criteria.
posted by shrabster at 1:44 PM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

More fantasy than sci-fi, but otherwise would fit your criteria - Mockingbird by Sean Stewart.
posted by tabubilgirl at 1:51 PM on July 26, 2014

Someone recommended Nicola Griffith in another feminist sci-fi AskMe. I just read Slow River and I'm so glad I did.

Seconding James Tiptree, Jr./Alice Sheldon - if you find a short story anthology, The Screwfly Solution is a great place to start.

Nisi Shaw, Filter House - literary, feminist SF and fantasy short stories.

Just a heads-up on Sherri S Tepper - I found her stuff to be pretty racist.
posted by prewar lemonade at 1:52 PM on July 26, 2014

Best answer: I'll second or third a lot of works that have already been mentioned (Life After Life, Ancillary Justice, Slow River, Tiptree, Valente ...) For Jo Walton, I'd actually recommend starting with Farthing rather than the other books of hers that have been mentioned so far.

It's quite likely that you'd like Jeanette Winterson, given your other tastes, and she sometimes does science fiction. The Stone Gods is one of her forays into that.

What else ... Machine, by Jennifer Pelland, isn't for everyone, but I liked it. You might try The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee.
posted by kyrademon at 2:02 PM on July 26, 2014

Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan saga.
posted by Soliloquy at 2:11 PM on July 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

Well, it's not new (1999), but I recently read Colson Whitehead's The Intuitionist and it ticks many of your boxes.
posted by jabes at 3:12 PM on July 26, 2014

Response by poster: Wow - these are incredible answers!

Some feedback - already know and like: Lessing, Ishiguro, Jo Walton, Atkinson, Karen Russell, and just bought some Connie Willis at my boss' recommendation - so those are all right on the money!

Everything else is new to me, so I have a lot to look forward to reading!
posted by snaw at 3:49 PM on July 26, 2014

you'll probably like Angela Carter a lot. her work is surreal more than scifi, she reads like a very smart and deeply weird fairy tale for grown-ups. "The Infernal Desiring Machines of Dr. Hoffman" is likely not the best place to start but it's the most scifi thing of hers that I've read. (which is, admittedly. not much.) a better overall place to start might be "Nights at the Circus."

and Helen Oyeyemi. she is also very smart and very weird, but even further afield from scifi. I've not read her newest book yet so with that caveat my favourite of her books is "White is for Witching."
posted by spindle at 4:03 PM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

My friend Monica Byrne's debut novel The Girl in the Road. Literary, dystopian-esque sci-fi (and weird as hell).
posted by hydropsyche at 4:28 PM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Suzette Haden Elgin's Ozark Trilogy, starting with Twelve Fair Kingdoms.
posted by PussKillian at 5:14 PM on July 26, 2014

Black Wine and A Paradigm of Earth by Candas Jane Dorsey.
posted by moonmilk at 8:24 PM on July 26, 2014

In the literary fiction that's not realistic category, try Ben Okri's The Famished Road.

Sofia Samatar's A Stranger in Olondria might tick some Le Guin boxes for you.

I also recently read Hild and it was great.
posted by snorkmaiden at 8:34 PM on July 26, 2014

nthing Kelly Link, Angela Carter, and Catherynne M. Valente

You might enjoy:
A.S. Byatt's less realistic work, like The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye and the Little Black Book of Stories.
Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson.
Advent by James Treadwell.

smart sci-fi: Starfish by Peter Watts, Spin Control by Chris Moriarty, Moxyland by Lauren Beukes

I think it is worth giving Delany another shot - the Babel-17 / Empire Star double book is very short and accessible and maybe will help you get a better sense of how to approach his longer works.

Also, here is a list of fabulist books, many of which I have not read, but which might be up your alley.
posted by unsub at 9:21 PM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Doubling down on Max Gladstone (but he's more fantasy).

Kristine Smith's Kilian series
Fun scifi

Nights Dawn Trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton
Fun, fast-paced sci-fi, space opera

Faded Sun and Alliance Union series by CJ Cherryh

She doesn't do a lot of female characters that I recall and definitely not in Foreigner, her current series.

Julie Czerneda's Species Imperative series

Elizabeth Bear's Jenny Casey series

Warchild series by Karin Lowachee.
You just have to read the first book and see with this. The book descriptions aren't very informative or helpful.
posted by Ik ben afgesneden at 9:27 PM on July 26, 2014

unsub already mentioned Peter Watts but I wanted to mention that he offers a lot of stuff available for free online, so you can see if his writing is to your tastes before buying anything. I recommend Blindsight, but Ambassador (pdf) is shorter and will give you a good sense of his vibe: existentially depressing but thought-provoking. Gives me the same feeling I get reading Nick Bostrom's (non-fiction) work.
posted by dubitable at 3:46 AM on July 27, 2014

And hell yeah Clarkesworld is so great! They really get a broad range of authors, including lots of women, LGBT and non-European-ancestry authors too. Love it.
posted by dubitable at 3:51 AM on July 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ammonite (and others) by Nicola Griffith
posted by librosegretti at 9:24 AM on July 27, 2014

Yes yes, Kelly Link! Literary and amusing. As is Michael Chabon. (Gentlemen of the Road FTW!)

Margo Lanagan is mentioned upthread, I actually prefer her short stories so far. Another Aussie in a similar vein is Sonya Hartnett. Well written but disturbing, perhaps insufficiently escapist- your mileage may vary.

Keri Hulme: The Bone People - this book will haunt you.

James Tiptree

Perhaps on the lighter reading side:

Rachel Bach's space opera trilogy is mentioned upthread - I was lukewarm on the first book but the others totally made up for this, talk about a heel-face-turn. It's a page-turning romp. Imagine Star Wars if Leia was the POV character.

Ann Leckie- Ancillary Justice

Lois McMaster Bujold-all
C.J. Cherryh
Charles Stross- World-walking Merchant Princes; Laundry series; etc
Ilona Andrews- entertaining urban fantasies
John Scalzi -quite Heinleinesque at times
Megan Whalen Turner is awesome if you aren't ashamed to read YA
Kage Baker
Sean Williams

Also I highly recommend the TOR blog as a resource.
posted by Coaticass at 1:36 AM on July 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

read this article found on book riot addressing the very subject
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:32 AM on July 28, 2014

James Tiptree Jr./Alice Bradley Sheldon was best writing short stories, and you can read a handful online: * Pieces I would consider particularly feminist, though it may because I only caught the overt tones and topics, and missed more from the other stories, which are all fantastic in their own ways. Here's the ISFDb page for Tiptree/Sheldon, if you want to track down more stories.

"Uncle Tip" also inspired the James Tiptree, Jr. Award (Wikipedia, with list of winners; is the site for the award, with a ton more links and good reading to be found). The award is presented annually to a short story or novel that explores or expands our understanding of gender.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:26 AM on August 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

The Women Destroy Science Fiction issue of Lightspeed Magazine might be worth checking out. From the description:
The issue features original fiction by Seanan McGuire, Charlie Jane Anders, N.K. Jemisin, Carrie Vaughn, Maria Dahvana Headley, Amal El-Mohtar, and many more. All together there's more than 180,000 words of material, including: 11 original short stories, 15 original flash fiction stories, 4 short story reprints and a novella reprint, 7 nonfiction articles, and 28 personal essays by women about their experiences reading and writing science fiction. Also included is an excerpt of the novel Artemis Awakening by Jane Lindskold.
Table of contents here. I'm only partway through (partly because after each story I find myself gazing off into space for several minutes, pondering things) and it's excellent so far.
posted by Lexica at 11:42 AM on August 10, 2014

Emmisaries From The Dead is in the top 5 sci-fi books I've read this millennium and has a strong feminist protagonist. I couldn't recommend it more highly.
posted by shimmerbug at 12:39 AM on August 11, 2014

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