In search of good but linear science fiction recommendations
April 28, 2021 4:32 PM   Subscribe

What are some good recent-ish (last 20 years) SF novels that are mostly told from a single perspective and don't hop back and forth in time?

I have a couple of problems with a lot of modern SF, which make it harder to enjoy. I've found that keeping track of a multi-stranded story with several main characters requires too much investment; combine that with jumps to different parts of a character's life, and it's all a bit too much for my brain.

What are some books that I might have missed, that are well-written, intelligent, but are mainly linear and focussed on a single character, or at least books that don't throw the reader around too much? And more generally, which authors? Less well-known is good, as I read a lot of SF.
posted by pipeski to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells will do some flashbacks now and then, but they are told from the perspective of SecUnit, self-named Murderbot, a cyborg slave which broke its chains, so to speak, and now must learn how to blend in as if it's a regular human in a society which is TERRIFIED that such "rogue" SecUnits can exist, because, you know, it has guns in its arms, and has also been an unwilling accomplice, and therefore witness, to a lot of corporate murder.

Read in Publication Order, which begins with "All Systems Red."
posted by Sunburnt at 4:48 PM on April 28, 2021 [13 favorites]

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai is about time travel, but it still is pretty linear and told from one perspective.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is about a giant video game with high real-life stakes.

I think Bad Monkeys by Matt Ruff fits this, there is a little jumping in time but not much. It is about a girl who becomes involved with a secret society that assassinates people who are deemed 'Bad Monkeys.'
posted by catquas at 6:18 PM on April 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

Becky Chambers doesn’t usually jump around in time, but she writes braided narratives looking at a situation from multiple points of view.

I deeply love Eleanor Arnason’s writing, especially Ring of Swords, but she’s also a friend, so take that with a grain of salt. Her stories are very linear with no-nonsense characters dealing with aggravation and, possibly, murderousness.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:25 PM on April 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

Charlie Jane Anders’ book The City in the Middle of the Night was, as I recall, pretty linear. There are two main narrators, switching back and forth, but the story begins in one place and ends in another, so to speak.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 7:13 PM on April 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

Tamsyn Muir's Gideon The Ninth is great and follows a single point-of-view character through a linear story. That said, there are a quite a few characters to keep track of through the story, which can occasionally be a little difficult to follow.
Yoon Ha Lee's Ninefox Gambit is great fun with one (…ish) point-of-view character.
Most of China Miéville's books meet your criteria as well. I particularly enjoyed The City And The City and Embassytown.
I super enjoy Ted Chiang's short stories (he has two collections, Stories Of Your Life And Others and Exhalation). They're not all completely linear but they're short stories - if one isn't to your taste, give it a skip!
posted by dudekiller at 3:57 AM on April 29, 2021 [2 favorites]

(Apologies, I missed the last sentence of your question so I'm guessing you're going to be aware of most of these already!)
posted by dudekiller at 4:02 AM on April 29, 2021

Response by poster: Yes, I've read most of what's been mentioned so far. But some good suggestions for others that might be looking for something similar.
posted by pipeski at 4:22 AM on April 29, 2021

I loved Micaiah Johnson's The Space Between Worlds, it's a little complicated narrator-wise but essentially from one point of view and the action is all linear in time (but across several parallel worlds).

If you'd count Kazuo Ishiguro as SF, Klara and the Sun would definitely fit your bill, and though it's been a while since I read it, I think Never Let Me Go would too.

If you like the weird fiction genre (a la Jeff VanderMeer), you could try Hiroko Oyamada. I found The Hole engrossing in a way a lot of other books in the genre aren't because the characters were developed enough to make the reader care about them. Plus, there was an actual plot and clear, linear movement through time, which is not always the case in the genre.

Sam Miller's Blackfish City is all from one point of view and pretty linear (I think there are a couple of memory scenes, but it's mostly real-time). So that might work.

I found Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon series very gripping (I think I got through the whole series in about a week and a half), it's straightforward adventure scifi, nothing special about the writing, but great plotting and not strenuous to read.
posted by snaw at 4:49 AM on April 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

The Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kierstein is awesome. Almost everything Bujold writes meets this category; the Vorkosigan series is her big sprawling SF entry. Tobias Buckell's Arctice Rising books are near future SF/thriller with global warming driven intrigue.

Some examples from authors who are MeFites include John Scalzi (Old Man's War), Charles Stross (the Laundry Files series), or Elliot Kay (Poor Man's Fight series).
posted by mark k at 8:01 AM on April 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

K. Eason's How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse is classified as YA, but is delightful and imaginative and except for two (I don't have a copy in front of me, but I vaguely recall one of the side characters going on a diplomatic mission alone and I think the opening chapter is more of the omniscient narrator perspective as it begins with the fairy tale framing)? chapters, is focused on the perspective of the titular Rory Thorne.

Blackfish City I also recommend!

Ilona Andrews' Innkeeper series (a ton of "sweep" puns in the book titles) straddles the scifi/fantasy line, but has a straightforward protagonist-narrator viewpoint for each book and is also set in a super fun universe with space chicken philosophers and hot space vampires who read Twilight for tips on romancing humans.
posted by spamandkimchi at 10:25 AM on April 29, 2021 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Interesting suggestions. Blackfish City was good. Have also explored work by Messrs Stross and Scalzi. Richard Morgan's stuff is OK, if a little too action-packed for me. YA and fantasy are things I'll dip into, but aren't really what I'm looking for here. Jeff VanderMeer, Gene Wolfe, M. John Harrison and Haruki Muramaki are writers I've been enjoying. Will take a look at Micaiah Johnson, Kazuo Ishiguro and Hiroko Oyamada.

A few things I've found that fit the bill were several books by Claire North, Emma Newman's Atlas novels, and Caitlin Starling's The Luminous Dead.
posted by pipeski at 4:00 PM on April 29, 2021

Two I've recently read and enjoyed that align with your specifications (though they might be too action-y for your tastes, idk):

Suzanne Palmer's Finder. Single viewpoint character, straightforward plot. There was one chapter that involved a flashback, but it was otherwise linear with uncomplicated narration.

Kali Wallace's Dead Space. Single viewpoint character, only short flashbacks interspersed.
posted by mixedmetaphors at 1:49 PM on May 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

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