What are some works of SFF that use extraordinarily beautiful language?
May 24, 2015 9:08 PM   Subscribe

What are some works of SFF that showcase beautiful language on a par with All The King's Men, Gilead, and Raymond Chandler's detective novels? I've read plenty of SFF that has transported me, but little that's struck me as gorgeously written. Thanks!
posted by Going To Maine to Writing & Language (32 answers total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
"The Stars My Destination" by Alfred Bester is one of the best-written sci-fi books I've read.
posted by johngoren at 9:10 PM on May 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

Just a few that leap to mind:
Sofia Samatar, A Stranger in Olondria
Cordwainer Smith, The Rediscovery of Man
Samuel R. Delany, Babel-17
Lucius Shepard, The Best of Lucius Shepard
Sean Stewart, Mockingbird
Patricia McKillip, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld
Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler's Wife
posted by Monsieur Caution at 9:22 PM on May 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Have you read Shadow of the Torturer?
posted by deathpanels at 9:46 PM on May 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Avram Davidson
posted by generalist at 10:19 PM on May 24, 2015

Everything by Patricia Anthony.
posted by jbickers at 3:55 AM on May 25, 2015

I've just re-read Fahrenheit 451 and I forgot how stunningly poetic Bradbury's writing is.
posted by gnutron at 4:49 AM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Girl in Landscape or As She Climbed Across the Table by Jonathan Lethem.
posted by rikschell at 5:07 AM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Delaney and Ballard are the best intersection of sci fi and prose artistry I can think of. But I haven't followed recent sci fi lit.
posted by dis_integration at 5:30 AM on May 25, 2015

Oh yes this is my wheelhouse. You've lobbed me a floater and I'm going yard.

Besides Gene Wolfe (especially Book of the New Sun but most of his other books too) I'd recommend:
Elizabeth Knox - black oxen. I say this in every thread about anything but it makes me crazy that this book isn't more widely known.
John Crowley - Little, Big
Julian May - Saga of Pliocene Exile
Richard Powers - last call
Ursula K LeGuin - all of it
Nnedi Okorafor - Lagos
Sharp Teeth - terry Barlow
Kirsten Bakis- Lives of the Monster Dogs
Thomas Disch - everythinh
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:13 AM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Cat Valente's adult work is very poetic. I haven't read her younger audience stuff like The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, but it's likely just as well-written.
posted by puddledork at 6:25 AM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hal Duncan.
posted by bile and syntax at 6:48 AM on May 25, 2015

Nicola Griffith. I'd say Hild is a historical novel written as if it were SF, and the prose is excellent.
posted by suelac at 7:47 AM on May 25, 2015

Coming here to say Little Big by John Crowley also.
posted by jessamyn at 7:51 AM on May 25, 2015

The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon.

Also, Last Call is by Tim Powers, not Richard Powers.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 7:57 AM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Gene Wolfe for sure; also John Varley and Tom Reamy (who died way too young in 1977—"San Diego Lightfoot Sue" is an incredible story that deservedly won the Nebula as the Best Novelette of 1975).
posted by languagehat at 8:17 AM on May 25, 2015

I've just re-read Fahrenheit 451 and I forgot how stunningly poetic Bradbury's writing is.

Yes, almost anything by Ray Bradbury. Try Something Wicked This Way Comes and his early short stories.
posted by Rash at 8:25 AM on May 25, 2015

And best of all, his Dandelion Wine (although it isn't SFF).
posted by Rash at 8:38 AM on May 25, 2015

Guy Gavriel Kay: Song for Arbonne, Ysabel, Tigana, and many others.
posted by Otter_Handler at 9:53 AM on May 25, 2015 [4 favorites]

2nd-ing Guy Gavriel Kay. Wonderful prose.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:12 AM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Zelazny wouldn't usually strike me as fitting this, but Lord of Light is really something special in terms of it's prose and construction.
posted by j_curiouser at 12:10 PM on May 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

Also, the Helliconia books are strongly narrative oriented, but to me read very fluidly and have a certain weight.
posted by j_curiouser at 12:12 PM on May 25, 2015

Yoon Ha Lee
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:21 PM on May 25, 2015

M John Harrison. I highly recommend Light and the Viriconium stories. (Also Nthing Wolfe and Crowley.)
posted by gamera at 12:53 PM on May 25, 2015

Candas Jane Dorsey's A Paradigm of Earth I found very beautiful.

Agreeing with many recommendations above: M. John Harrison - so far I've only read Light, but it was beautiful, and had some of the most carefully crafted language I've ever seen. Samuel R. Delany, with Babel-17, The Einstein Intersection, or Nova, is very lyrical and creative. John Crowley is great. And Gene Wolfe too - I actually like his short stories best; The Best of Gene Wolfe is just such a treasure trove.

Oh and for fantasy stories veering into horror I love love Kathe Koja's Extremities.
posted by gold-in-green at 1:20 PM on May 25, 2015

Many of the authors I'd recommend checking out have been mentioned upthread. But not all of them.

Christopher Barzak's One for Sorrow and/or The Love We Share Without Knowing, Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn, anything by Amal El-Mohtar, Theodora Goss's In the Forest of Forgetting, Jeffrey Ford's fiction, any of Kelly Link's collections, M(ary) Ricket's Map of Dreams (I just picked up The Memory Garden and I can't wait to read it), Rachel Swirsky. And Jeanette Winterson if magical realism is fair game.

Happy reading!
posted by xenization at 4:08 PM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions, everyone! These are great. I've nabbed some from the library already, and will probably be making my start with Gene Wolfe.
posted by Going To Maine at 7:18 PM on May 25, 2015

Zelazny wrote some absolutely jewel-like short stories. Try The Last Defender of Camelot.
posted by monotreme at 7:42 PM on May 25, 2015

Late to the game, but I'll add a couple (and I'd nth most of the suggestions above).

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart
Way Station by Clifford Simak
The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russelll (warning: heartbreaking)
Planet of Adventure by Jack Vance
posted by JaredSeth at 1:49 PM on May 27, 2015

Came here to suggest Cat Valente, glad to see that puddledork was thinking the same way. I've described her writing as lyrical and poetic to friends. The Orphan's Tales are two books of interlinked and nested stories a la Thousand and One Tales. The Prester John books are also amazingly gorgeous.
posted by X-Himy at 2:31 PM on May 27, 2015

Nthing Guy Gavriel Kay, Yoon Ha Lee, and Catherynne M. Valente. The Orphan's Tales were actually TOO poetic for my taste (in my mind it crosses the boundary into long-form prose poem).
posted by serelliya at 12:57 PM on May 28, 2015

I really liked The Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber. The writing is sparse, but lovely. It's science-fiction-ness is almost incidental, like space travel and meeting with aliens were simply the best vehicles to explore the emotional issues with which the author wanted to deal, but those vehicles are not dealt with in great depth. (In that way it reminds me of Jonathan Lethem's science fiction).
posted by taltalim at 7:26 PM on May 28, 2015

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