Help me feed my scifi habit
October 2, 2016 2:54 PM   Subscribe

I've been a fan of classic science fiction since I was a little kid - think stuff from the 30s-70s. I haven't had as much luck with 21st century stuff, but I just read Embassytown by China Miéville, and loved it. What other more recent novels might I enjoy? More about my preferences inside.

Ursula K. Le Guin is my favorite author. I especially love The Dispossessed and The Word for World Is Forest, but I like all her stuff.

Other favorites: Stanisław Lem (especially Solaris - Lem's incredibly sexist, but I love it anyway), Alfred Bester (especially The Demolished Man), A Canticle for Leibowitz, Foundation... I've read a large portion of the books on any of the "100 Best Science Fiction Novels" lists you might see, and I've gotten something out of almost all of them. Honestly, I think the only novel I've read in the last 5 years that I *didn't* enjoy was Logan's Run.

In terms of modern novels I've enjoyed, there's Embassytown, some of Neal Stephenson's stuff (Snow Crash and The Diamond Age were my favorites) and The Yiddish Policeman's Union even though that was only sort of science fiction. That sort of thing.

Basically, I love true "speculative fiction" - it could look like hard SF (for example, I love Asimov's short stories), Le Guin's more anthropological style, whatever, as long as the ideas are interesting and meaningful and important. Books with great characters are even better. I'm not really all that into fantasy, though - most of the time I get bored.

I'm sure I'm missing tons of modern books I could be reading. What do you recommend?
posted by Cygnet to Media & Arts (39 answers total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
Ancillary Justice
Christopher Priest's The Prestige

I found Jo Walton's What Makes This Book So Great? very inspirational for finding modern SF to read.
posted by crazy with stars at 3:09 PM on October 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

Miéville's The City and the City is a good read as well.
posted by wotsac at 3:12 PM on October 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

If you liked Embassytown, I bet you'll like Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang, and Dark Orbit by Carolyn Ives Gilman. Both of them do interesting things with seemingly superficial cultural differences (a group of people who live underground and have no concept of visual information carrying meaning, an alien culture whose language doesn't emphasize causality) actually revealing vastly different experiences of the universe.
posted by zeptoweasel at 3:13 PM on October 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think you'll find quite a few people here who are fans of Iain M. Banks, whose charm is a blend of old school space opera with modern ironic touches. note: some scenes of intense violence.
posted by ovvl at 3:15 PM on October 2, 2016 [10 favorites]

William Gibson's The Peripheral is very good and might be up your alley.
posted by bluecore at 3:16 PM on October 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

Ooo,, you and I have very similar tastes! The Dispossessed is one of my favourite books of all time.

I would enthusiastically Nth Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. They were the most enjoyable sci fi I've read for a long time.
posted by smoke at 3:16 PM on October 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Embassytown is amazing and right at the limit of which Mieville stuff I like (some of the bas-lag stuff is way too dense for me). Try Kraken (steampunkish urban fantasy) by him, and also Ted Chiang's work, and then anything by Paolo Bacigalupi and then Hugh Howey's fiction.
posted by ftm at 3:17 PM on October 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seconding Iain M. Banks 'Culture' novels. They're amazing speculative SF. They're all about the same, erm... culture, known as well... 'The Culture'. There is no order or sequence to the books and very few characters appear in more than one. 'The Player of Games' is probably my favorite.
posted by so fucking future at 3:28 PM on October 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

I always suggest John Clute's 2001 novel Appleseed. It's just so damned dense and trippy. I really enjoyed reading it, and it tends to be wayyyyyyy off most folks' radar.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:27 PM on October 2, 2016

I really loved Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin (I read the Ken Liu translation).

Also, not a book, but if you're an Ursula K. Le Guin fan, and have any interest in Daveed Diggs, clipping, Hamilton, noise-rap, music, or good things, then you should check out this recent post.
posted by nat at 4:39 PM on October 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

Not super modern, I think she wrote these in the early eighties, but how about Janet Moris' Kerrion series? Or what about books by Sheri S. Tepper? I liked, Beauty, and Grass best.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 4:46 PM on October 2, 2016

Sounds like we have similar tastes!

Huge +1 on Ted Chiang's short stories (you can read his Exhalation online for a taste!) and the Ancillary books, but -1 Kraken - if you want more Mieville, try The Scar next instead.

And here are some more thinky interesting speculative fiction books written in (or almost in) the 21st century that I've loved:

A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge (published in 1999 so it just barely counts, but so spectacular!)

Blindsight by Peter Watts

Set This House in Order by Matt Ruff

I love a lot of Charles Stross's stuff, but in particular your question made me think of Neptune's Brood, which is kinda about economics in space with robot space mermaids.

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin (be warned, this one rips your heart open, and it's leaning more fantasy, but it's full of ideas and anthropology and a lot of human hurt in an interesting world)

Wild Seed by Octavia Butler

Michael Swanwick's short stories
posted by 168 at 4:49 PM on October 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the recommendations so far! Ancillary Justice looks PERFECT for me. An Amazon review compares it to C. J. Cherryh's work, and I loved Cyteen, so I'm totally sold. I've already read everything by Ted Chiang and loved it, so I think we're on the right path. I've also read a lot of Octavia Butler's stuff, loved that too.... And I'm in love with Hamilton and Daveed Diggs is my favorite, so how on EARTH did I miss that post, nat?!?
posted by Cygnet at 4:56 PM on October 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

Check out James Tiptree Jr. (a pseudonym for Alice Sheldon). The story collection Her Smoke Rose Up Forever is amazing. Her life was also fascinating.
posted by librarina at 5:21 PM on October 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

And yeah, try whatever Miéville and Butler you haven't read, too.
posted by librarina at 5:22 PM on October 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I came to recommend sheri tepper's grass (and other work)... glad to see i'm not the first!
posted by noloveforned at 6:46 PM on October 2, 2016

I'd recommend some of the anthologies that Jeff and sometimes Ann VanderMeer have edited - I've been working my way through some of them, and a lot of the authors mentioned here are included. I've read "The New Weird", "Steampunk", "The Time Traveler's Almanac", and "The Weird".

Across all of the collections, they have a pretty broad take on the given theme, and a general taste for people like Miéville and Mervyn Peake (who I'd also recommend). "The New Weird", especially, has led me to a lot of my favorite authors.

Some of them are pretty massive, so they're good to dip in and out of in order to find new books to read.
posted by sagc at 7:08 PM on October 2, 2016

Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor is really fantastic. The well drawn characters of people, aliens, and some even stranger things are all vivid and amazing.
posted by nickggully at 8:05 PM on October 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

Dave Hutchinson's Europe books (Europe in Autumn, Europe at Midnight) are some of the most interesting sci-fi I've read recently, and I'm looking forward to the third book next month. It takes a while for the first book to show its cards--exactly what kind of speculative concepts it's playing with--but if you like some spy fiction (and political science fiction) mixed in your science fiction, they have a lot of deep ideas to mull over.

I second a lot of the recs above: the Ancillary trilogy, Dark Orbit, and Nnedi Okorafor in particular. And I'm in the middle of Yoon Ha Lee's Ninefox Gambit right now, and I think it's pretty fabulous and engaging, especially the main characters.
posted by mixedmetaphors at 9:18 PM on October 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

Going back and forward from Banks and Mieville I would expect an interest in and appreciation of Delany and Moorcock, as well as perhaps the Book of the New Sun by Wolfe, although maybe not much more of his material due his distinct cultural perspective which I see as at odds with that of Le Guin. Pacigalupi for sure.

When you mention classic SF and 100 best lists and so forth, I am curious, have you ever explored the 1960s writers around Moorcock vaguely termed New Wave? Some of that material opened doors that led to opportunities for seventies writers such as Cherryh, Tiptree and LeGuin, and there's a fair amount of effort in that era to explore new ways of writing speculative fiction that isn't about heroic engineers fixing technology problems and the like. Some of it is pretty hairy and deliberately hard to read, but that's fun too if you have your head on right.
posted by mwhybark at 10:30 PM on October 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Imagine you've read at least some of these, but in case you haven't:
Among Others
The Sparrow
Great North Road
posted by willnot at 10:31 PM on October 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer, has a very similar feel to Embassytown! First in a trilogy, though the tone of the books changes after the first (though I still enjoyed them greatly)!
posted by foxfirefey at 10:33 PM on October 2, 2016

Margaret Atwood's "Maddaddam" trilogy is excellent. I read them out of order and they still worked.
posted by h00py at 10:52 PM on October 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Ancillary series gets very meh very fast, a real shame given what a brauvura chunk of worldbuilding and plotting Leckie does up front. I couldn't tell you one thing about the last quarter of the first book or either sequel but I could probably write up 5 pages of coolness on the fist half of the first book.
posted by MattD at 11:51 PM on October 2, 2016

For some intersection with feminism: Joanna Russ's The Female Man and Nicola Griffith's Ammonite.
posted by meijusa at 12:38 AM on October 3, 2016

seconding Atwood, and especially the Maddaddam series
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:16 AM on October 3, 2016

To counter MattD a little, the Ancillary series goes in a more emotional, social justicey direction than perhaps the first half of the original book would lead one to expect. They’re still good though.

I warn you in advance that Paolo Bacigalupi is rather too fond of his “lets rape the sex bot again” plotline.

A Deepness in the Sky (and it’s sequel A Fire Upon the Deep) are great, but avoid the rest of Vinge’s output. It ’s mostly not good & the most recent work consisted of all the bad parts of his writing with none of the good stuff to compensate.

If you want the hardest of hard SF, then you could check out Greg Egan’s books.

Or possibly Hannu Rajaniemi’s Jean de Flambeur series, starting with The Quantum Thief.
posted by pharm at 1:42 AM on October 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I really loved Accelerando (2004) by MeFi's own cstross, freely available for download from his web site (links at the bottom of the Wikipedia article). Also his subsequent novel Glasshouse, from a library or book store.

2nding Peter Watts's Blindsight (also freely downloadable from his site, here's a 2014 FPP about the sequel, Echopraxia, with many links to and about his other works) and his short story "The Island".
posted by XMLicious at 3:12 AM on October 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I know you said modern books, but I noticed you hadn't mentioned Phillip K Dick. As a starting point I would recommend Ubik,mostly because once I had read Ubik I went on a PKD binge and read everything else he had written. He can be a bit pulpy, but if you want a book to explore an odd idea nearly all of his are about some unique quirk that gets splayed across the pages.
posted by koolkat at 3:48 AM on October 3, 2016

Oh man, if books from the 80s and 90s are legit I can give you a whole other list. What time period are you really looking for here?
posted by 168 at 5:12 AM on October 3, 2016

I'm in a similar boat regarding my SF reading, so I'll be following this thread for recommendations. As one strategy to keep up with current writing, I used to make a habit of buying the annual Nebula Awards collection; those collections tended to mirror my interests more than say, the Hugos.

A good recent read was Altered Carbon, by Richard Morgan. Much more on the Bester side than LeGuin; a SF/detective story mashup, with a lot of the cyber thrown in -- not great writing, necessarily, but a lot of ideas swirling around, and pretty exciting.
posted by Bron at 8:00 AM on October 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

N K Jemisin. Thoughtful, elaborate, somewhat anthropological, seeking out various points of view to explore, strongly feminist. She has a nice blog as well.
posted by glasseyes at 4:35 PM on October 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Olaf Stapledon's Starmaker & Last and First Men from 1930s. Great.
posted by madstop1 at 5:13 PM on October 3, 2016

Response by poster: Thank you so much, everyone! I tried to take out Blindsight and Ancillary Justice from my local library today and found they were both checked out (all copies), so they must really be good. Thanks also for the reminders to look at The Female Man, which has been on my list for ages, and more Margaret Atwood. I loved The Handmaid's Tale, which is extra creepy because I literally live in that neighborhood, and I somehow had never heard of MaddAddam. Thank you one and all - these suggestions will keep me in great stories for a long time.

By the way, I heartily second the recommendation for Nebula Award collections. I've just finished the Nebula Awards Showcase from 2013 and there were some good ones and some really weird ones, too :)
posted by Cygnet at 5:30 PM on October 3, 2016

The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi and Desolation Road by Ian McDonald are great recent sci-fi books, as is Nova Swing by M John Harrison. All strange and beautiful, with a bit of that 70s New Wave vibe.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 7:02 PM on October 3, 2016

I loved reading a specific trilogy of military science fiction to compare and contrast the styles and ideas based on the (implied) viewpoints of the authors.

More specifically, and chronologically in publication order:

Robert Heinlein wrote Starship Troopers. Heinlein was in the Navy, and was an officer, but in his mid-20's (between World Wars), he got tuberculosis. No more Navy for him. His books are unabashedly pro-military, and Starship Troopers is set when super patriotic teenagers join the military after Earth gets bombed by a bug-like race.

Joe Haldeman wrote The Forever War. He got a physics degree, then was drafted to Vietnam in the Army. He later wound up a writing professor at MIT. The soldiers in this one are hand-picked geniuses, because if you're paying to mail them across the galaxy, you pick the best. The latter half of the book centers around "future shock"; if you travel at relativistic speeds to go to and from battles, you're coming back to a world you won't recognize, which is presumably an analogy for his previous experience.

John Scalzi wrote Old Man's War. Scalzi writes fun things, kind of like Heinlein without the institutionalized sexism of early sci-fi. In this case? The military only takes really, really old people; 70 year olds. They then presumably prep them for battle with alien things. This deals with what happens if soldiers had lives, loves, and tons of ethical experiences *before* they ever picked up the soldiering job, and does a good job of it.

All three books are set in the same type of places, with similar sets of characters, and written by really skilled authors on unusually good days. They're just remarkably different books, presumably skewed by the author's previous experiences, among other bits.

And I love all three.
posted by talldean at 8:09 PM on October 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

(talldean doesn't spell it out, but Haldeman is writing in dialog with Heinlein, although to a somewhat covert degree, and [mefi's own] jscalzi is writing, non-covertly, in dialog with Haldeman. reading through the material in chronological order of creation is a rewarding experience.)
posted by mwhybark at 12:05 AM on October 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have similar taste in science fiction. I also loved Embassytown, and sort of really like parts of Neal Stephenson.

You may want to check out John Crowley's Engine Summer. It's a bit abstract (?), in a similar way to Embassytown, and pretty hallucinatory. It's not quite sci-fi, though it is sort of speculatively dystopian. It's not quite plot-driven, more setting driven. I absolutely loved it.
posted by taltalim at 7:25 PM on October 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

I bang on about these a bit, but:

Blood Music by Greg Bear
One by Conrad Williams
Anything by JG Ballard
Anything by Ted Chiang

SF Masterworks is a good series, overall.
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:20 PM on October 9, 2016

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