Lumpy sci-fi
January 3, 2017 12:57 AM   Subscribe

Are there any science fiction novels you would recommend that have a mix of both hard and soft sci fi?

I just read Red Mars and adored the scope and grandeur of the story and the characters' undertaking. Asimov's Foundation in particular also similarly hit that spot for me. Throw in maybe Solaris or Starship Troopers as well. The characters are thin archetypes and not at all human beings, but perhaps that's some of these novel's rough charm.

I also love more literary, character-driven writing. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Hemingway, Marilynne Robinson, Cormac McCarthy. In terms of science fiction, books with this quality that I love include Oryx and Crake, 1984, Slaughter House Five, The Road. Let's call it soft sci fi if only in its character contrast to hard sci fi.

What do you recommend that has both - the scope of the story and the intimacy of the characters?

Bonus points if it's in space.
posted by lewedswiver to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge. I found the hard SF ideas some of the most thrilling I'd met in years, and the soft aspects had me in tears at one point. It isn't all in space, but it makes amazing use of space as a medium.
posted by kelper at 1:10 AM on January 3, 2017 [6 favorites]

Almost anything by Alistair Reynolds?
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:14 AM on January 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

I love all these books too (especially, the Foundation series, The Road and anything by Gabriel Garcia Marquez)!

My recommendation for 'soft' sci-fi would be: the novel that I'm currently writing :) Partially in space, partially in a small fishing village, on a boat, in the desert.

I also really enjoyed all of David Mitchell's books. Cloud Atlas has elements of sci-fi. Recently, I also read Michael Faber's Under the Skin, which is beautifully written, and also has sci-fi elements.
posted by moiraine at 1:36 AM on January 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

I don't know literature, and am only hazy re. 'hard' & 'soft' scifi, but I know what I like, and both the 'Mars' and 'Foundation' series are that. So anything by Peter F. Hamilton is my recommendation. He comes under the Space Opera umbrella - galaxy-spanning, civilisation-ending stuff with characters you want to come back to. Maybe a bit less 'hardness' than you want, but I do like the way he extrapolates technology to a few hundred years from now.
Start with either the Nightsdawn trilogy, or Commonwealth Saga (2 books, followed by Void Trilogy set in same universe 1000 or so years later. Some shared characters because scifi.).
posted by quinndexter at 1:37 AM on January 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

Some might argue but I think David Brin's original 'Uplift Trilogy' (Sundiver, Startide Rising and The Uplift War) is fairly strong on characterisations whilst being set quite definitely in a hard sf situation.
posted by h00py at 1:50 AM on January 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

You liked Red Mars--that same author has a newer book out, Aurora, which is hard scifi but intimate with its characters.
posted by foxfirefey at 1:52 AM on January 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Seconding David Mitchell & Michel Faber recs - I'd go "The Bone Clocks" over Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas" but the beauty of his writing is that you can dip in & out of his books as they are strangely, oddly interconnected but do not depend upon one another to make sense.

I really enjoyed China Mieville's "Embassytown" which is beautifully, beautifully written and combines hard sci-fi with introspection. Easily one of the best novels I've read this decade.

You might also be interested in exploring slipstream.
posted by kariebookish at 2:02 AM on January 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga, which combines strong characterisation with space opera and hard biological-themed sf.
posted by Major Clanger at 2:11 AM on January 3, 2017 [6 favorites]

Not in space but I think Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro fits your tastes pretty well.
posted by emd3737 at 2:29 AM on January 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

Softer on the spectrum than Verner Vinge (who I love), but some of the best characters and alien culture intersections that I've read is in Kate Elliott's Jaran series. In my top ten series list along with VV's Deepness books.
posted by mirabelle at 3:30 AM on January 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Spin by Robert Charles Wilson. A premise that is worked out with the rigorous logic of hard-sf, coupled with a set of extraordinarily moving narratives, all of it cast in lovely, economical prose. I still go back to this one with pleasure.
posted by informavore at 3:52 AM on January 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

The book(s) that "The Expanse" TV series is based on ("Leviathan Wakes") is focused on characters but the science is pretty decent; while the "sci" might not be foreground, it doesn't get fudged either. The TV series did a good job too, so there's always that to watch as well.

For tween readers, "The Bug Wars" is written from the perspective of alien reptile characters in a way that is interesting.

(Both are in space)
posted by anonymisc at 4:10 AM on January 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

Seconding Alastair Reynolds. Maybe start with Revelation Space.
Also, Iain M Banks.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:23 AM on January 3, 2017

Check out The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin. Great characters, huge fascinating scope. Be warned, only 2/3 books have been published.
posted by gnutron at 4:47 AM on January 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

You could make a pretty strong case for "The Expanse" series - start with Leviathan Wakes.

Peter F. Hamilton's - "The Night's Dawn" trilogy also sort of gets into this realm, although it's more Space Opera.

On preview - Anonymisc beat me to it re: The Expanse.
posted by Thistledown at 5:47 AM on January 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Seconding Spin by Robert Charles Wilson. I'm halfway through it now and I think it fits the brief perfectly.
posted by quaking fajita at 5:57 AM on January 3, 2017

Helliconia series, Aldiss
posted by j_curiouser at 7:19 AM on January 3, 2017

Walter J. Williams: Metropolitan and City on Fire. Sort of a "hard fantasy", sf with fantastic elements, the setting isn't the focus, it's used to high-light the characters and their story. It's a perennial favourite of mine, and like the reviewer, one I return to often.
posted by bonehead at 8:45 AM on January 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

Life, by Gwyneth Jones, is one of my favorite near-future SF novels. It's set on Earth and not as sprawling as, say, Red Mars, but it seems in line with Oryx and Crake, etc. (Except SO MUCH LESS DEPRESSING. Like, bad things happen, but "everyone dies" is not one of them.)
posted by Frowner at 9:26 AM on January 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

I raced through Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis trilogy this summer. Sad that I had not discovered it sooner.
posted by Constant Reader at 12:57 PM on January 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

I was coming in to recommend Xenogenesis too. Any Octavia Butler is a good choice though.
posted by snaw at 1:27 PM on January 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Engine Summer by John Crowley is the best “literary sci-fi” novel that i’ve stumbled across in recent years. I was amazed that i’d never heard of it before.

It’s largely out-of-print as a stand-alone book (i think there is a current U.K. edition, but not in the U.S.) but i’ve seen used copies in bookstores and online for non-extortionary (less than $10) prices. It is also available as part of Otherwise: Three Novels which gathers his three early novels together, but the other two are not as well-regarded (i have not read them).
posted by D.C. at 6:39 PM on January 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

Nthing Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan books.

While not in space, Kage Baker's The Company books, starting with In the Garden of Iden, deal with cyborgs, future technology, time travel, and interpersonal relationships.
posted by azalea_chant at 3:48 PM on January 5, 2017

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