Recommend me new (to me) sff to love
February 9, 2019 11:10 AM   Subscribe

I took a long hiatus form reading authors I was unfamiliar with, but I'm ready to get back to reading new-to-me authors after several positive experiences. Please recommend some I will enjoy.

For several years I basically just reread my terry pratchett, diana wynne jones, robin mckinley, patricia c wrede, lois mcmaster bujold books.

I kept coming across sff I hated (patrick rothfuss, robert jordan, a bunch of authors whose names I did not bother committing to memory)
or was bored by (marion zimmer bradley springs to mind)
or just didn't really like (GRRM, a bunch of scifi classics like niven)

and so I sort of gave up on the genre outside of my established favorites and moved on to non-fiction (lots of history books read like an excellent fantasy novel anyway)

but then, I discovered Ann Leckie and I loved her so much that I started tentatively branching out. And I discovered Ursula Vernon/T Kingfisher and I loved her so much! And I read Becky Chambers and I didn't even know you could do that in a published book and it was great. And now I've also read NK Jemisin and Megan Whalen Turner and Naomi Novik and I don't love them as much but still really enjoyed them.

And so now my eyes have been opened and I'm badly craving new genre books in a way I haven't for a long time. There must be books out there I will really, really like that I haven't read yet.

Some generalizations about my taste:

I like character-driven stuff.
With only rare exceptions, I really dislike generic vaguely english medieval settings.
I tend to be pretty immediately bored by standard "epic" dark lord type things.
I love intimate details and domestic stuff.
I love BAMFery that isn't "so good at magic" or "so extra super speshul at fighting" but instead is something tied into who the character is (Ann Leckie scratches this itch hard for me)
I'm a sucker for a good bit of dramatic irony.

Looking forward to reading your recommendations, awesome MeFites!
posted by Cozybee to Media & Arts (41 answers total) 79 users marked this as a favorite
I am envious that you might get to enjoy reading this for the first time:
The Left Hand of Darkness - Ursula K. Le Guin

Lagoon - Nnedi Okorafor
The Martian - Andy Weir
posted by nickggully at 11:17 AM on February 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

If you like character driven stories and domestic stuff, run don't walk and get A Long Way To A Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers.

Some of my recent favorites:
Rosewater - Tade Thompson
Trail of Lightning - Rebecca Roanhorse
Semiosis - Sue Burke
Planetfall - Emma Newman
posted by smartyboots at 11:28 AM on February 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

Hearabouts the two 'ss's stand for Scalzi and Stross.
posted by sammyo at 11:30 AM on February 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Enjoyable titles which may sync up with your tastes:

* Justice Calling by Annie Bellet
* River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey
* Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty
* Planetfall by Emma Newman
* The Rook by Daniel O'Malley
* Bellwether by Connie Willis
posted by dgeiser13 at 11:36 AM on February 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho (an English setting but not of the vaguely generic variety)
The Goblen Emperor by Katherine Addison
posted by maurice at 11:52 AM on February 9, 2019 [6 favorites]

I think you'd really like the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal. Very character driven and the BAMF of the protagonist comes from her math skills, among other things.
posted by the primroses were over at 11:53 AM on February 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Martha Wells - both her older things and Murderbot.

Max Gladstone's Craft Sequence - very character driven and magical BAMFs in various books include a lawyer, a due diligence specialist, a monk-mechanic, a community organiser, a cop and a private banking advisor who kick ass in a world of magic and gods and necromancers because they're very good at their jobs.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 12:06 PM on February 9, 2019 [7 favorites]

The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells (4 novellas)
Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn (a second book is out)
Jade City by Fonda Lee (book 2 is coming)
Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel (book 1 of The Themis Files trilogy, complete)
Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys (book 1 of The Innsmouth Legacy series)
Waypoint Kangaroo by Curtis Chen (book 2 is out)
Silver on the Road by Laura Anne Gilman (book 1 of The Devil's West trilogy)
All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
MJ 12: Inception by Michael J. Martinez (book 1 of the MJ 12 trilogy)
The Daedalus Gambit by Michael J. Martinez (book 1 of a trilogy)
Behind the Throne by K.B. Wagers (book 1 of the Indranan War trilogy)
posted by mogget at 12:09 PM on February 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire trilogy—nominally military SF like Leckie, but is about a culture that does magic by believing in calendars and travels FTL in giant moths by that same belief. Heretics threaten the stability of the magic and must be got rid of. Hijinks ensue. Pretty much everyone is queer, but it’s not a focal point.
posted by Maecenas at 12:10 PM on February 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding Scalzi & Stross although I haven't kept up with their recent output, 'Redshirts' & 'Halting State' are good places to start..
Probably a mefi name for the unit of time before someone mentions Ian M. Banks in a sci-fi author thread - 'Player of Games' may be a good place to start (although its not the first - while many are set in the same place, most of the books are standalone).
Not strictly sci-fi - more very near-future - William Gibsons 'Pattern Recognition', 'Spook Country' and 'Zero History' are great (often referred to as the Blue-Ant trilogy).
For weirdness & genre-mashing - China Mievilles 'Perdido Street Station' & 'The Scar' are great.
posted by phigmov at 12:24 PM on February 9, 2019

The Alpennia books by Heather Rose Jones (starting with Daughter of Mystery) sound right up your alley—lightly fantastical, set in a fictional European country in the early 19th Century, heavy on the details of domestic life in the setting, all-around delightful.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson also comes to mind, but be warned that it will rip your heart out.

I also enthusiastically echo the above recommendations of Ursula Le Guin and Yoon Ha Lee. China Mieville is also great but I might start with one of his shorter works like The City and The City.
posted by sinfony at 12:32 PM on February 9, 2019

Seconding Daniel O'Malley's The Rook. The protagonist wakes up surrounded by dead people whom she surmises were about to kill her...but she has no recollection of who she is or how she got there. She discovers a note from her "former self" explaining that she is a member of the supernatural shadow version of Her Majesty's Secret Service, that her life is in danger, and she needs to go to work, pretend everything is normal, and find out who is out to get her.

I like this book because it's character driven and fun, and it features strong supportive relationships between strong women. It's one of the most feminist fantasy novels I've read that wasn't by a woman.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:35 PM on February 9, 2019 [8 favorites]

My tastes are near identical to yours, so hopefully these might be useful..

Strongly seconding The Rook, Craft Sequence, Goblin Emperor.

CE Murphy's Walker Papers series
Sheri Tepper, maybe starting with The True Game series
Seanan McGuire's Wayward Children series or, writing as Mira Grant, Feed
Elizabeth Bear, starting with the Jenny Casey trilogy (SF) or Eternal Sky (fantasy)
A C Crispin Starbridge series
Catherynne Valente, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
Octavia Butler, Xenogenesis series
posted by Ilira at 1:04 PM on February 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Came here to recommend the Blue Ant books by William Gibson, so I will second them instead. Gibson pretty much established the cyberpunk subgenre in the 1980s, but these are not that. They are more like realizing we are living in a world close to what he imagined back then. Very character-driven, and full of real things you've never imagined.
posted by lhauser at 1:38 PM on February 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I like the books you named (and didn't like some of the ones you didn't), so maybe these will be to your taste:

The Divine Cities trilogy by Robert Jackson Bennett
Lara Elena Donnelly's Amberlough Dossier trilogy. So far only books one and two are available.
The First 15 Lives of Harry August and Touch by Claire North (both are standalone books).
Liz Williams' Detective Inspector Chen books
posted by AMyNameIs at 1:39 PM on February 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

There's a lot of books here I would sign on to (in particular MeFi's Own Scalzi and Connie Willis's Bellwether). I am also going to add City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty. Epic fantasy informed by Middle Eastern myth with a very interesting magical system and unique badassery.
posted by rednikki at 2:12 PM on February 9, 2019

Seconding Octavia Butler (so jealous you get to read all her books for the first time!), Martha Wells, Rebecca Roanhorse, Nnedi Okorafor, and Yoon Ha Lee (the first book in Machineries of Empire took a long time to warm up for me, but I loved the second half and all the subsequent books).

Meg Howrey's The Wanderers has really great characters and intimate detail (4 people in a tiny spacecraft for years!) - I read about it on here and it was one of the best books I read last year.

I'm less sure you'll like David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks, but we like a lot of the same authors and types of books and I really enjoyed it. So, maybe?
posted by snaw at 2:21 PM on February 9, 2019

Best answer: Jo Walton's books have a lot of variety in setting and style, but they are pretty much all great.

The Just City imagines a bunch of gods and philosophers trying to create the city of Plato's Replublic just for kicks.
Tooth and Claw is a Victorian novel only all the characters are dragons.
Farthing is an alternate history novel in which England never entered WWII, but mostly it's an English country house mystery.
Lifelode is about a world where time works differently, and it's about duty and family and change. It's the closest to "faux-medieval," but not in the way that I think you mean (where people eat stew at inns and go on quests). It's domestic fantasy, which is pretty much my favorite.
posted by gideonfrog at 2:27 PM on February 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

After Banks died, it was Leckie that made me think SF could still be okay. For me she mostly scratches the same itch, which you would think would work both ways. TPoG is the right place to start; order doesn't really matter except to read Use of Weapons before Surface Detail.

One thing Chambers and Scalzi have in common are charming, decent people being charmingly decent at each other. Even the asshole villains are still *witty* asshole villains like Hans Gruber. For me, both sort of ask the question "What if Heinlein weren't a creepy weirdo?"

Bulold's Vorkosigan books? More charming people being charming and Miles' BAMFery is "sneaky li'l fucker" + [SPEECH 100]
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 2:45 PM on February 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm sensing a theme of female authors from those you listed, have you checked out Katherine Arden's Winternight trilogy? They're not quite as much of a romp as Naomi Novik's Spinning Silver, but still delightful, with lots of interesting historical detail.

2nding Jade City. The prose is a little different, but the action is excellent and the magic system unique.

Aliette DeBodard's "In the Vanisher's Palace" is a lovely short story retelling of Beauty and the Beast in post-apocalyptic Vietnam.

In YA:
Kristin Cashore's Fire (might ring your "generic European" bells but the protagonist is excellent + compelling)
Katherine Arden's Winternight Trilogy
Jonathan Stroud's Bartimaeus Trilogy (AU Britain, modern-ish era? also demons. Goes from good to great to no I'm not crying about it, you're crying about it in three books.)

Kushiel's Dart (it's specifically alternate-universe Europe -- mostly France (Terre d'Ange) in b1, but all over in successive books).
The Lady Trent Memoirs (the first one is a bit slow).
posted by snerson at 2:53 PM on February 9, 2019

Saladin Ahmed, Throne of the Crescent Moon
Robert Jackson Bennett, City of Stairs
posted by MrBadExample at 3:11 PM on February 9, 2019

I'll go a little further than Ilira and recommend anything that Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant has written. She's prolific and writes short stories and novellas and novels, so there's always something for any attention span, and she's the most character driven author I read. She's also really good at remembering that her characters have lives outside of whatever horrible adventure for them she's writing next, so there's movie night and cookouts and such, and lots of domestic details tucked into the corners of her works. Super super recommended.
posted by joycehealy at 3:22 PM on February 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

Seconding David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks. It's one of my favorite books. The NY Times review is right on when it says: "No one, clearly, has ever told Mitchell that the novel is dead. He writes with a furious intensity and slapped-awake vitality, with a delight in language and all the rabbit holes of experience, that no new media could begin to rival."
posted by merejane at 3:59 PM on February 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Many people here are far more well read than I am, including you, I suspect. However, I was in a quandry much like you recently. I had an appetite for new SF/F books but couldn't find what I was looking for.

But then I came upon Victoria Schwab's Shades of Magic series, and I really enjoyed it. Maybe you will, too. Now I'm looking for more good books. Your Ask may be a good resource for both of us.
posted by cleverevans at 4:13 PM on February 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

I second Nnedi Okorafor. Recently I picked up a book by Beth Cato and quiet enjoyed it.
posted by azalea_chant at 4:52 PM on February 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

James Alan Gardner does an amazing series starring Festina Ramos, beginning with Expendable .. Fantastic.
Seconding Sherri Tepper and John Scalzi.
Tanya Huff and James Campbell are 2 favourites of my husband.
HINT: plug your favourite author into Fantastic you will find many, many other favourites recommended.
posted by Enid Lareg at 8:12 PM on February 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Catherynne Valente's Space Opera is Hitchhiker's Guide meets Eurovision and is marvelous.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 8:16 PM on February 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

NK Jemisin! Start with the Broken Earth trilogy.
posted by woodvine at 6:33 AM on February 10, 2019

Sormlight Archvie has some awesome characters (scholar princess badass!), and some really good non-generic worldbuilding.
posted by SaltySalticid at 12:10 PM on February 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

the Paradox trilogy by Rachel Bach for page-turning fun
posted by crone islander at 1:00 PM on February 10, 2019

Please start with A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (already recommended). I’d left true sci fi for a very long time as I hated the overuse of Telling, not Showing. This is such a fun romp and hugely character-driven. I fell in love with everyone on that ship and for the first time in about twenty years, I’m feeling the tingling of wanting to read a sequel.
posted by chronic sublime at 4:39 AM on February 11, 2019

Also Witchmark by CL Polk has magic and bicycles!
posted by azalea_chant at 8:33 AM on February 11, 2019

Best answer: Sorry, I keep thinking of things.

Fire Logic and sequels by Laurie J Marks

The Raven Boys books by Maggie Stiefvater
posted by azalea_chant at 9:31 AM on February 11, 2019

Molly Gloss's The Dazzle of Day is what I think of when I think of quiet, character-driven sci-fi with intimate details about domestic life. It's about life on a Quaker generation ship, with the focus being on family life, work, and decision-making, and not a lot of emphasis on big plot happenings. (Warning: In case you're looking to avoid it in your reading choices, there is a rape scene in the middle of the book.)
posted by bassooner at 10:19 AM on February 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

To add to the already fantastic suggestions in this thread, here are books Ive read recently that made me immediately seek out everything written by these authors:

A Woman of the Iron People, Eleanor Arnason
Linesman, SK Dunstall
Beholder's Eye, Julie Czerneda
The Steerswoman, Rosemary Kirstein
The Lie Tree, Francis Hardinge
Mirabile, Janet Kagan
Dark Orbit, Carolyn Ives Gilman
Archivist Wasp, Nicole Kornher-Stace
Forgotten Suns, Judith Tarr
posted by Illusory contour at 1:12 PM on February 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I love all of your favourite authors, and I think you would really enjoy Martha Wells. A few people mentioned the Murderbot novellas, and yes absolutely to those, but also The Books of the Raksura, which are set in a rich secondary fantasy world that's nothing at all like the standard medievalish dark-lord-quest fantasy. They have a lovely cosy, domestic, slice-of-life quality to them, like Robin McKinley and Diana Wynne Jones, and a sort of no-nonsense wryness to the narrative voice, like Ursula Vernon and Patricia C. Wrede, and they're very much about characters and their relationships with one another.
posted by fire, water, earth, air at 5:53 PM on February 11, 2019 [4 favorites]

Best answer: John Scalzi has a wide variety of styles, but I think his recent Collapsing Empire series would be directly up your alley.

I'm currently reading Charlie Jane Anders's new book, The City in the Middle of the Night, and even though I haven't finished it yet, it might be your kinda thing. Her previous book, All the Birds in the Sky, could go either might like it or you might find it a bit on the "speshul people" side.

The Folding Knife by KJ Parker is a little grimmer than some of these, but if you delight, as I do, in someone succeeding (...until he doesn't) through clever means, it's fun.

And OMG yes to The Goblin Emperor, and to Jo Walton. Especially Among Others.
posted by exceptinsects at 7:53 PM on February 14, 2019

Response by poster: Thank you everyone who answered! I don't want to mark best answers when I still haven't had the time to read every book suggested, but I can report from what I've read thus far, for anyone following along with tastes like mine:

currently simultaneously reading The Rook and the Craft Sequence both of which I am definitely enjoying thus far.

I found Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton delightful, will have to try some of her other stuff.

Nnedi Okorafor is beautiful writing, but very dark. I ended up having to quit midway.

The Martian was fun.

Zen Cho: Sorceror to the Crown was fine, but I actually loved her short stories more.

Martha Wells: Murderbot Diaries didn't work for me, the first book from Books of the Raksura didn't work for me yet although I'm debating skipping further ahead to see if later books fit better (if someone can weigh in on that being a good plan, feel free), but I really, really enjoyed Death of a Necromancer.

The Goblin Emperor has received so many warm recs in other places, and now also in this thread, that maybe I need to try it again-- I've started it two separate times and lost interest =(

Yoon Ha Lee didn't quite work for me.

snerson's description of the Bartimaeus trilogy is exactly how I remember experiencing them (*shakes tearful fist at last book*)

Have Earthsea omnibus and Trail of Lightning waiting to be read on the shelf, no report on those yet.
On reserve: Jade City, City of Brass
Hoping to get my hands on soon: banks, scalzi, and then systematically hunting down the rest of the things recommended in this thread.

I of course recommend all the authors I already listed in my question, some of whom got re-rec'd in the comments. also by now the raven tower by ann leckie came out, so i can add that to my recommendation of her. it was so good and then i went and binge read all the short stories set in that universe she has available online.
posted by Cozybee at 12:15 PM on March 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

I loved Death of a Necromancer! If you liked that one, you'll probably get on well with the rest of Martha Wells' Ile-Rien books, which are set in the same world. If I recall correctly, The Wizard Hunters, The Ships of Air, and The Gate of Gods comprise a trilogy that's set after Death of a Necromancer and bring back the character Nicholas Valiarde.

(I'd try Ile-Rien first, rather than skipping ahead in the Raksura books -- the Raksura books work better if read in chronological order, because of character-/world-building.)
posted by fire, water, earth, air at 4:47 AM on March 14, 2019

Response by poster: Marking best answers for books I've read thanks to this thread and liked, still not done working my way through all the recs, though, and some comments are great books I'd just already read...
posted by Cozybee at 11:07 PM on October 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

I also like many of the books you listed, so let me belatedly also recommend Rachel Hartman. Her second book (Shadow Scale) is a direct sequel to the first (Seraphina), and the third (Tess of the Road) is in the same world/has some linked characters but could be read as a stand-alone.
They're fantasy novels set in a world where dragons are real; Seraphina is a half-dragon which is fairly taboo (but turns out to be not as rare as she thought). Main characters are women.
posted by maryrussell at 9:29 AM on October 14, 2019

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