Besides Scalzi, who's writing modern "golden age" scifi?
May 23, 2020 5:02 AM   Subscribe

I like the whole awe of exploration, optimistic, problem solving, clever protagonist vibes of golden age science fiction (Heinlein, Asimov, etc.) but I'm running out (and also some of it doesn't hold up well). Who's writing that type of stuff, but new and maybe better? Basically the Brandon Sanderson of science fiction, except I've already read everything by Scalzi so I need moooore.

Better would be more modern ideas of technology, less 50s-style sexism. What I don't want is anything HBO-like... I don't mind sex but I don't want a lot of thrust-by-thrust description and violence shouldn't be the primary solution to everything.

This question is too "literary" for my tastes: I've exhausted Iain M. Banks. I want more. What should I read next?

And this question is too HBO for me: Contemporary SF for someone who liked Philip K Dick?
posted by anaelith to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 69 users marked this as a favorite
If you haven’t yet read Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, you’re in for a real treat. The Warrior’s Apprentice is a good place to start. Miles is pretty much the quintessential clever protagonist, and while there are varying levels of violence in many of the books, brains tend to triumph over brawn. If you like Sanderson and Scalzi, I think you’ll love Bujold.

Both The Martian and Artemis by Andy Weir are also clever, problem-solving, and optimistic.
posted by bananacabana at 6:10 AM on May 23, 2020 [13 favorites]

Two series that are just starting out: Valerie Valdes' Chilling Effect and Suzanne Palmer's Finder.
posted by audi alteram partem at 6:28 AM on May 23, 2020

The Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal re-images the space race in a timeline where a small asteroid crashed into the Atlantic in the early 50s, wiping out the eastern half of the US and setting off a climate catastrophe that means humanity needs a plan B sooner rather than later. I thought it was very Salzi-esque, and she really leans into the racism and sexism that would have been standard operating procedure in the early 50s.
posted by COD at 6:33 AM on May 23, 2020 [15 favorites]

Tim Pratt's The Axiom series. Hits a lot of space opera notes - overall optimistic book about a crew who get in over their heads with aliens (no, not the aliens they know about -- much worse aliens).

If you're open to on-the-border-of-YA, Janet Edwards' Earth Girl series - far-future series about a universe where everyone but .1% gets to explore and settle the stars through portal technology, and our protag is stuck back on Earth as an archeologist thanks to an immune system issue. You have to have a certain tolerance for Sue-ish protagonists but if you like golden-era Heinlein, I'm assuming that's not an issue. Lots of exploration, competence, etc. (She also has a couple other series, but I think those worlds would be dark for you.)

This is old, but obscure, so you might not have found it yet: Pauline Ashwell, Unwillingly To Earth - far-future, golden-era but with a great female protagonist who's being shipped from her mining planet to Earth to study social engineering. This premise sounds YA, but it's not.

If you're up for middle-grade (but very readable for adults), Yoon Ha Lee's Dragon Pearl: Korea-based future space opera setting about a fox-spirit girl who's going to find her missing brother. Much more optimistic than Yoon Ha Lee's other work, with lots of adventure and space.

If you are open to military-based SF, K. B. Wagers' NeoG series (one book out so far) is about a ship in the space Coast Guard in a future space-faring society where the other space forces look down on the space Coast Guard. There's various plots involving the space forces annual competitions/war games and smuggling/crime. Similar to Scalzi in tone although with less focus on the humor; I don't normally read military-based SF but did very much enjoy the first book in this series.

Finally, I hesitate to suggest this one, because it might be too grimdark in terms of the universe involved, and there's a lot of violence involved. But Murderbot (Martha Wells) is amazing. Currently four novels + a novel, follows a security unit who's hacked its governor module but can't stop itself from getting humans out of trouble, even though it'd rather be watching media.
posted by pie ninja at 7:59 AM on May 23, 2020 [5 favorites]

Also check out:

Becky Chambers
Kameron Hurley
Marko Kloos
A second on Martha Wells' "Murderbot"
Myke Cole's "Sixteenth Watch"
Cat Valente's "Space Opera" if you like "Redshirts"
posted by jscalzi at 8:06 AM on May 23, 2020 [13 favorites]

Mos def Becky Chambers. Similar sort of voice in the sense of basically upbeat, charming people talking to each other a lot. Star Trek / Niven-y sort of universe full of aliens who you mostly would be happy to hang out with -- different, sure, but with a strong underlying "just folks" thing going on.

If you're looking for Heinleinish that isn't Heinlein, you might try out John Varley if you haven't. His EightWorlds books/stories fit but with maybe more graphic sex than you'd like. _Steel Beach_ opens with something like " "In five years the penis will be obsolete," said the salesman." Heinleiny enough that there are Heinleinists. Maaaaaaaaybe also the first Red Thunder book, which is sort of a fun Heinleiny romp, but the later ones in the series channel some Bad Heinlein. The _Titan_ series depends on your tolerance for deep-70s-hippy-dippy-ness.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 8:18 AM on May 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

Oh my gosh I feel you. I am working through a Poul Anderson book right now and I just.... can not deal with the sexism in it. Agreeing with others Murderbot and Becky Chambers both write nice epic SF. Murderbot has, naturally, some violent parts but it's really not the bulk of the novellas or the recent novel. I also agree with COD, the Lady Astronaut series is nice. There's also the Expanse series which is really popular, a little HBO-ish but has some great character arcs (and it's loooooonnng0). Also Wool which I assume you've read but if not, go get it! Other books I enjoyed...

- A Memory Called Empire - sort of "diplomacy SF" like some of Scalzi's more recent stuff
- Have you read Kim Stanley Robinson? I feel his stuff is hit or miss but both Red Moon and Antarctica are good reads.
- The Dazzle of Day by Molly Gloss might be a little too slow but it's.. a Quaker spacer and has some really interesting interpersonal stuff that grows out of that.
posted by jessamyn at 9:01 AM on May 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

You know, not modern at all but so much fun I reread them every decade is Brian Daley's science fiction trilogy featuring Hobart Floyd and Alacrity Fitzhugh. Space Opera done by a master of story telling, grand picaresque adventures. Even though the first book is 35 years old, it has aged well, unlike a lot of earlier science fiction. Here is a description of the first book to let you know if you'll like it or not.

Brian Daley was a great, fun, science fiction and fantasy author who died too early. If you read the recent FPP about the Star Wars radio plays, that was his work. He passed away just as the final Return of the Jedi show was wrapping up.

If you are willing to stray into fantasy, Daley used his experience in Vietnam to inspire the two Coramonde books, which begin with a wizard summoning a Armored Personnel Carrier loaded with an infantry squad to fight a dragon.

Something about your requirements-- not too much HBO, not too much literary-- made me think of Brian Daley. For me, he hits that sweet spot you are looking for.
posted by seasparrow at 11:24 AM on May 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

Spinward Fringe Series by Randolph Lalonde is a rollicking ride. Lalonde is a prolific writer, with a lot to choose from in addition to the Spinward Series.
posted by mule98J at 12:12 PM on May 23, 2020

Try the "New Space Opera" and "New Space Opera 2" collections of short stories, they will expose you to a lot of authors you may want to read more of. Also try Neil Asher.
posted by 445supermag at 12:32 PM on May 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

I'll strongly second Murderbot, Bujold, Space Opera by Cat Valente, and Becky Chambers, but I'm commenting to add that the Expanse series is pretty good, and epic. I haven't managed to get into the show yet (something about the mood of it puts me off), but I've read the first four books and enjoyed them.

Edited to add that I missed that someone actually had mentioned the Expanse! Anyway, this is a comment full of "yes that," then.
posted by hought20 at 1:25 PM on May 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure if Kage Baker's "The Company" series would count for you or not, but I think it's interesting and goes from the 1500's to 2355 via "slow path" time travel, since time travel only goes back to the past and The Company is sending technology secretly back into the past, creating immortal agents, etc.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:28 PM on May 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

I just finished Max Gladstone's 2019 standalone novel The Empress of Forever, which has mind-boggling far-future tech, a smart, creative lesbian protagonist and lots of other strong women as main characters, and definitely satisfies the "violence shouldn't be the primary solution to everything" requirement. I liked it a lot; it's a strange, fascinating, thrilling space opera with nice emotional weight.
posted by mediareport at 2:34 PM on May 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

Also, This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, is truly marvelous, with a take on conflict that you'll probably like a lot. From the starred Publisher's Weekly review:

Part epistolary romance, part mind-blowing science fiction adventure, this dazzling story unfolds bit by bit, revealing layers of meaning as it plays with cause and effect, wildly imaginative technologies, and increasingly intricate wordplay. El-Mohtar (The Honey Month) and Gladstone (the Craft Sequence) pack their narrative full of fanciful ideas and poignant moments, weaving a tapestry stretching across the millennia and through multiple realities that’s anchored with raw emotion and a genuine sense of wonder.
posted by mediareport at 2:59 PM on May 23, 2020 [4 favorites]

Elizabeth Bear's Ancestral Night hit this sweet spot for me.
posted by yarntheory at 4:15 PM on May 23, 2020

Elizabeth Bear
Jim C. Hines
posted by plinth at 5:27 PM on May 23, 2020

Yeah, Marko Kloos's first series is good stuff.

What about the "Vatta's War" series? Woman space captain protagonist, very lively stories.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:07 PM on May 23, 2020

seasparrow's suggest of Brian Daley is a great one! Not currently writing, alas, but good stuff.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:09 PM on May 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

I like a lot of the suggestions so far, but good grief do not read Kameron Hurley for optimism.

At least, do not read Bel Dame, Light Brigade, or Worldbreaker for optimism, which I think is the majority of her catalog at this point.

She also likes to do a lot of 50s-style sexism (or worse), but gender-swapped, which some people might find a different reading experience but bums me out in roughly the same way.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 12:20 PM on May 24, 2020

No one here recommended How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse, which is a fabulous romp.

Nthing The Expanse (the writing in the first book is not great, but it improves drastically thereafter) and Becky Chambers. There is violence in The Expanse but it definitely doesn't feel like most characters feel violence is a solution to all problems. (Even Amos.)

My mom loves Douglas E Richards for the reasons you cite. He's only available via Amazon, though, and I don't have Amazon, so I can neither confirm nor deny.
posted by rednikki at 2:37 AM on May 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

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