Engineering fiction?
October 2, 2015 1:37 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for more science fiction to read, along the lines of The Martian or Seveneves, where solving engineering challenges is a major part of the story. Lots of technical detail is good.
posted by pombe to Writing & Language (31 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
 
Kim Stanley Robinson's stuff, especially the Mars Trilogy will probably be right up your alley.

Also, if you liked Seveneves, you'll probably like Stephenson's Baroque Cycle.
posted by hobgadling at 1:52 PM on October 2, 2015 [7 favorites]


I feel like I recommend this book way too much, but The Door Into Summer by Heinlein is really interesting, from a "how would they have designed a roomba in the 50s" perspective.
posted by Huck500 at 1:53 PM on October 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Larry Niven's Neutron Star and Ringworld are classics in the area.
posted by Across the pale parabola of joy at 1:56 PM on October 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne is a great example.
posted by ejs at 2:00 PM on October 2, 2015


Seconding the Mars Trilogy. Exactly what you're looking for.
posted by cosmic owl at 2:01 PM on October 2, 2015


You're probably aware of this already, but Neal Stephenson does this other places. For example in Cryptonomicon, he stops and explains an encryption method using a deck of cards. I believe Anathem has a bit of this too (and the whole setup is basically "How would you design an institution to preserve knowledge throughout millennia of civil upheavals and wars?").

It's been a while, but you might want to look at Rocheworld by Robert L. Forward. Not sure if there was much improvising solutions but I seem to remember a lot of technical description of propulsion and orbital mechanics type stuff.
posted by tracer at 2:07 PM on October 2, 2015


I found Dragon's Egg (alien contact story set on a neutron star) to be very hard-core.
posted by elmay at 2:09 PM on October 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Alastair Reynolds' stuff including Revelation Space is great on the technical / worldbuilding side. The characters are kind of creepy and flat, but that's not why I read it.
posted by sninctown at 2:26 PM on October 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


More specific Kim Stanley Robinson and Neal Stephenson recommendations: Robinson’s latest novel Aurora is largely about the technical and social challenges of surviving a 160-year voyage to a nearby star system on a generation ship. It’s similar to The Martian in a lot of ways. Stephenson’s previous novel Anathem has a lot of detailed technical bits, including problems in astronomy and orbital mechanics that lead nicely into Seveneves.
posted by mbrubeck at 2:30 PM on October 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


This isn't engineering per se, but China Mieville's Embassytown is very technical while still being engaging and weird.
posted by latkes at 2:38 PM on October 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother is a young adult novel that goes into some technical details of computer and electronics hacking.
posted by mbrubeck at 2:44 PM on October 2, 2015


Some of Arthur C. Clarke's novels fit the bill, in particular The Fountains of Paradise.
posted by brianogilvie at 2:49 PM on October 2, 2015


I would recommend The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu
posted by deadwater at 2:55 PM on October 2, 2015


Response by poster: OK, I should say that I've read pretty much everything Stephenson has written (although I couldn't get into the Baroque cycle). I read part of KSR's Mars Trilogy a long time ago and remember not being that into it, but I'll try it again. Thanks for all the other recommendations - I've actually read several of them.
posted by pombe at 3:23 PM on October 2, 2015


These aren't actually science fiction, but the world of deep-sea salvage is so different from everyday life that it might as well be. Farley Mowats Grey Seas Under and The Serpent's Coil are fantastic examples of seat of the pants engineering problem solving
posted by rockindata at 3:29 PM on October 2, 2015


I second deadwater's suggestion for Liu Cixin's "The Three-Body Problem. Also, Stanislaw Lem's His Master's Voice, which is a classic of "scientists trying to figure something out" sub-genre of science fiction.
posted by dadaclonefly at 3:30 PM on October 2, 2015


Does it have to be science fiction? For example, Tracy Kidder's Pulitzer-winning The Soul of a New Machine is chock-full of engineering challenges described in technical ways.
posted by infinitewindow at 3:36 PM on October 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Falling Free by Lois Bujold.
posted by Bruce H. at 3:37 PM on October 2, 2015


I found them both a little depressing, but Stephen Baxters' book Flood and companion book Ark would both fit in my opinion.
posted by dstopps at 3:56 PM on October 2, 2015


The first thing that came to mind was The Spire by William Golding. It's not science fiction, but it does deal with some of the same issues of taking a technological risk.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:00 PM on October 2, 2015


Response by poster: Thanks for the non-SF recommendations, those are good too.
posted by pombe at 4:26 PM on October 2, 2015


Non-fiction, but The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed is great, like most of John McPhee's stuff.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 4:43 PM on October 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


K.J. Parker's (Tom Holt's) Engineer Trilogy is pretty good.
posted by Etrigan at 5:54 PM on October 2, 2015


Hugh Howey's Wool fits, in my opinion.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 8:25 PM on October 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea" by Gary Kinder is a non-fiction book telling two narratives:

The first about a sidewheel steamer, SS Central America, transporting California gold belonging to the US Army from (pre-canal) Panama to New York. She doesn't make it, and it's the story of her sinking, the rescue of many of her passengers and crew, etc.

The other is about a modern (1980s) attempt to locate her and recover the gold featuring a kind of maverick engineer named Tommy Thompson who has to engage the problems of locating such a wreck and recovering gold from the bottom of the sea, not to mention funding the lot, fending off other treasure-hunters, and making it all legal salvage.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:49 PM on October 2, 2015


Leo Frankowski's Cross-Time Engineer books might work for you. A polish engineer finds himself in 13th century Poland with only a few years to build up the infrastructure needed to protect the country from the Mongol Hordes who arrive ~1240 AD. The writing is of variable quality - I recall some people had issues with the way the writer treated male and female roles.

But the Grandaddy of them all is A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court. It's not exactly high-tech but on the other hand, Mark Twain was not too shabby of a writer.
posted by doctor tough love at 11:31 PM on October 2, 2015


The 1632 series is a group of novels in the alternate history genre that involves a town and its residents being irreversibly sent back in time, with a major theme being the effort by the townspeople, their allies, and rival European powers of the day attempting to rebuild modern technology.
posted by XMLicious at 11:33 PM on October 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Speaking of Panama, a fantastic non-fiction engineering book is David McCullough's The Path Between The Seas, about the construction of the Panama Canal. Medical, political and engineering challenges that seemed insurmountable were accomplished back then.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 11:16 AM on October 3, 2015


Ken MacLeod's "The Cassini Division" depicts a tremendous amount of effort to understand, repuse, and design around data compromise and SIGINT.
posted by jet_silver at 1:19 PM on October 3, 2015


My son tells me that "Hatchet" is like "The Martian" on Earth.


posted by Moxx of Balhoon at 4:58 PM on October 3, 2015


_Jack Glass_ by Adam Roberts starts with a most difficult (and gruesome) limited resource engineering problem. Roberts's _Gradisil_ also had some interesting DIY space engineering in it.

_Schild's_Ladder_ by Greg Egan starts with a potentially universe-ending mistake, and involves dealing with that.. and then tops that problem with an even more mind-bending series of challenges. It's probably one of Egan's more approachable books; all his stuff is super heavy on science and engineering. His "Orthogonal" trilogy involves developing science and a space program in a universe where time doesn't work like it does here.

Steven Gould's _Exo_, which is a continuation of his Jumper series, was an unexpected bit of YA fun, it's about a girl who develops her own space suit.

Greg Bear's _Blood Music_ is a classic about bioengineering.

Ellen Ullman's _The_Bug_ is a great story about software engineering and solving difficult problems.
posted by joeyh at 8:20 PM on October 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


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