Distracting and enjoyable fantasy/sci-fi books to read
February 27, 2022 7:30 PM   Subscribe

For reasons *waves hands at the state of the world* I would like some distracting fantasy/sci-fi (also open to other genres) books to read that would make me feel good during/after reading.

Here are some books I've read or re-read recently that are the kind of thing I'm looking for:
* Provenance - Ann Leckie (I didn't like it quite as much as the Ancillary* books but I did enjoy it.)
* The Hands of the Emperor - Victoria Goddard (re-read; honestly I think I liked it even better the second time. I did also read The Return of Fitzroy Angusell.)
* Teixcalaan series - Arkady Martine (re-read; I really like the complexity of the relationships between people and cultures in this series yet it still kept me feeling good while reading it.)
* The Interdependency series - John Scalzi (re-read; the first time I read it the sections from the antagonists point of view made me a bit anxious, but I really enjoyed it and on re-reading didn't have to worry about that.)

Here are some things I've read in the past that are the kind of thing I'm looking for:
* Murderbot series - Martha Wells
* Vorkosigan Saga - Lois McMaster Bujold
* Terry Pratchett (I've re-read pretty much all of these between several and many many times.)
* Swordheart - T. Kingfisher (Just a solid really enjoyable book that subverts some of the common fantasy tropes.)
* The Elemental Mysteries - Elizabeth Hunter (Recommended somewhere on MeFi and I found them delightful and have re-read them at least one.)
* The Goblin Emperor - Katherine Addison (I've re-read it multiple times. I did read the sequel and it was fine but I didn't like it as much as the first one.)

Here are some series I bounced off of and didn't finish:
* The Expanse series - James S.A. Corey (I read a few books and eventually the anxiety of the setting/world combined with no connecting with the characters enough to offset that made me stop.)
* The Dagger and the Coin series - Daniel Abraham (more or less the same experience as The Expanse.)
* The Green Bone Saga - Fonda Lee (The moral ambiguity of the characters made it hard for me to connect with them and hard to enjoy the books, even though the world building and writing seemed really good.)
posted by unus sum to Writing & Language (33 answers total) 84 users marked this as a favorite
Anything and everything by Becky Chambers!
posted by cooker girl at 7:36 PM on February 27, 2022 [10 favorites]

T. Kingfisher has three more fantasy romances - Paladin's Grace, Paladin's Strength and Paladin's Hope - set in the same world as Swordheart, and all are pretty delightful. I also really liked her novella Minor Mage and novel A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking (starts a bit slow, but quickly fulfils the promise of the awesome title).

I'm a massive Bujold fan and constantly reread her books; if you are not familiar with her fantasy books, you are in for a treat. Like the Vorkosigan series, they can deal with serious issues, but always with such heart and basic faith in humanity that I never find them to be dark. If you are looking for a lighter side, her more recent novellas about a young sorcerer and his snarky older demon (Penric and Desdemona) are fun reads set in the World of the Five Gods.
posted by jb at 8:42 PM on February 27, 2022 [12 favorites]

Rosemary Kirstein's "Steerswoman" books.
posted by brainwane at 8:44 PM on February 27, 2022 [14 favorites]

Seconding both Becky Chambers and the Penric books by Bujold.

* A Spindle Splintered by Alix Harrow
* The Once and Future Witches by Alix Harrow
* Legendborn by Tracey Deonn
* The House on the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
* The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal (plus the sequels)
posted by kbuxton at 8:54 PM on February 27, 2022

The Culture series by Iain M Banks. You don't need to read them in any order
posted by McNulty at 9:11 PM on February 27, 2022 [3 favorites]

Yes to Mary Robinette Kowal. Yes to Becky Chambers (A Psalm for the Wild-Built is a hug in book form).

All of T.Kingfisher's books are very good for comfort reading. Her retellings of fairytales are particularly great. I'd recommend all of Martha Wells' books (in particular the Raksura books) and everything Alix Harrow has written too.

Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke & Bone books are comforting to me as well. I have also enjoyed V.E. Schwab so far. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue was fun, and I also am enjoying The Near Witch, which I'm reading right now.

Have you tried Leigh Bardugo? You might like her books too.
posted by gemmy at 9:13 PM on February 27, 2022 [3 favorites]

Oh and nth-ing Bujold's fantasy books as well.
posted by gemmy at 9:18 PM on February 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

Terry Pratchett's Dodger is super enjoyable and you learn about London sewers.

Seconding Klune's The House in the Cerulean Sea. It's young adult, but so good and so warm and fuzzy.

Speaking of which, there's actually a lot for you in the young adult fantasy section. I recently recommended Kate Milford's The Broken Lands - there is a scary set of villains but the protagonists are so delightful and the overall premise so life-affirming. Lee & Miller's Fledgling series. How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse by K. Eason is another.

You might also look for "competence porn" recommendations
posted by spamandkimchi at 9:58 PM on February 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

Oh! And Jo Walton's list of books in which no bad things happen has a lot of recs in the comments.
posted by spamandkimchi at 10:06 PM on February 27, 2022 [3 favorites]

I think you might like Freya Marske's new (and first) novel, A Marvellous Light. It's not perfect, and drags a bit at times, but worth a try.

Also Alice Degan's From All False Doctrine.

Smart Bitches recently did a Rec League on Cosy Fantasy which it might be worth you looking at.
posted by paduasoy at 11:47 PM on February 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

Have you tried Ben Aaronovich's Rivers of London series?
Zen Cho's Sorcerer to the Crown?
Nnedi Okorafor's Binti series?
Kage Baker's The Company series?
Mary Steverner's A College of Magics?

You said you were open to other genres. Absent fresh SFF leads, I turn to golden age mysteries — Elizabeth Daly's Henry Gamadge novels and all of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfes have filled several recent months.

Laurie King's Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series isn't terribly mysterious, but it's very cozy.
posted by mumkin at 11:49 PM on February 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

If you read YA, Sal and Gabi Break the Universe is up your alley here.
posted by away for regrooving at 11:58 PM on February 27, 2022

Some of the ones in these two recent Asks might click?

I don't think I've recced Unnatural Magic by CM Waggoner for a while- that had some of the heart of Goblin Emperor, for me.

I agree with Mumkin about golden age mysteries. Freeman Wills Croft seems to hit a decent sweet spot, doing absorbing clockwork-y puzzles but with some human interest (and not too much of the period-typical racism that is a risk in the genre); so do Molly Thynne and Patricia Wentworth.
posted by Shark Hat at 12:39 AM on February 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

The House in the Cerulean Sea is just a nice cozy fantasy hug.
posted by charmedimsure at 1:52 AM on February 28, 2022 [3 favorites]

If you're open to books for young people, I highly recommend Kate Milford's Greenglass House series. They're set in a world that initially seems like it could be our own, but that slowly turns out to be stranger and more mysterious. The first is a good, solid cozy mystery about strangers in a snowbound inn, and the series gets even better as it goes.
posted by yankeefog at 2:04 AM on February 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

I'm going with a single book - we did it in my book club, and a sensitive friend who'd joined us for that one month later described it as "the coziest and most cheerful dystopia I've ever read".

Ella Minnow Pea is based on a small border island somewhere off the US coast - in the world of the book, it's the birthplace of the guy who came up with that sentence "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog" and there's a statue of him in the town square with that sentence underneath it. And one morning when people get up they notice that the X has fallen down off that statue - and the town leaders decide that this is A Message From Beyond, and make it a rule that no one on the island is allowed to use the letter "X" any more. Then, gradually, other letters start falling off the statue with similar laws being passed, and soon there's an underground movement devoted to trying to find another such sentence that uses all letters to prove that the Original Guy wasn't anyone all that special....

It's an epistolary novel, with people writing their letters in a sort of Victorian-era fancy genteel way, but the letters gradually get more and more loopy as people have to do without writing Q or S or E or what have you...And there's a happy ending, and I think the main character is even being gently wooed by a young man throughout so there's some of that going on too.

It's kooky, it's gentle, and it's cozy and there's a happy ending.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:07 AM on February 28, 2022 [4 favorites]

I asked this question a while ago and got some wonderful recommendations: https://ask.metafilter.com/354299/Science-Fiction-Beach-Reads

Chaos on Catnet is probably the lightest, most fun of the recommendations there and I loved it.
posted by snaw at 4:15 AM on February 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

This might be a great time to read some of the older oddball classics.

Hope Mirlees's Lud-In-The-Mist is a nice, strange little book.

Kingdoms of Elfin is a sort of satirical book of stories about fairies by lesbian feminist and [old-school] New Yorker columnist Sylvia Townsend Warner.

Peter Beagle's The Last Unicorn is a wonderful, funny book. His The Folk of the Air is urban fantasy avant la lettre and an amazing portrait of a college town after the sixties. I tend to hope that Beagle is as nice a person as his books make him seem.

I also enjoyed both of Robin McKinley's retellings of Beauty and the Beast - they ramble a tiny bit but I like spending time in those worlds.

Tanith Lee's extremely highly colored Flat Earth series is, well, it's lurid and gaudy and obviously trying to recreate not One Thousand and One Nights but various lurid and gaudy British retellings, but I find it really distracting. The last book, Delirium's Mistress, is much more character driven in its own room-sized-sapphires-plus-demons way and I feel like it's genuinely affecting in places.

I've only read the first two of The Darkangel Trilogy and cannot vouch for the third. The first one is better-plotted but I did get pretty into the second one when I thought I wouldn't. They are very strange and atmospheric books, just a really satisfyingly odd setting.

The Wandering Unicorn by Manuel Mujica Lainez, is actually kind of a Serious Novel by a Serious Argentinian novelist and critic, but it's also really totally the story of the fairy Melusine. It's one of those odd out of the way covertly influential books.
posted by Frowner at 4:45 AM on February 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

N'thing Becky Chambers, she's pretty amazing.

A note on Rosemary Kirstein's "Steerswoman" (I only read the first one). It was okay in the first part, and then after a pause it got better when I came back, except for a one scene that kind of put me off the whole thing. An enemy solder is tortured (off screen) by one of the protagonists. Later it is implied that the tortured soldier, who was released post-torture, is killed to prevent him recognizing the protagonists. Other than establishing that the protagonists are not the decent people you liked I didn't understand why the author thought that was necessary.
posted by Awfki at 5:09 AM on February 28, 2022

I have been very into lighthearted "portal fantasy" recently - a fun, easy series is the "Magic 2.0" by Scott Meyer.

"Portal fantasy" is apparently where someone is sucked/travels from our world to a fantasy world. (I didn't know there was a term for this sub-genre until 2-weeks ago, even though it has been a favourite of mine since childhood)
posted by rozcakj at 6:29 AM on February 28, 2022

The Culture series by Iain M Banks. You don't need to read them in any order

As you might guess from the username I'm a fan of Banks but the Culture books are just so very much *not* happy distractions from the world right now.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 6:58 AM on February 28, 2022 [4 favorites]

Lots of good recommendations here!

Half a Soul (and it sequels) by Olivia Atwater - This is a cozy and sweet romance series.

The Lady Sherlock series by Sherry Thomas - A mystery series where Sherlock Holmes is a woman. These books are delightful and they get even better as the series goes on.
posted by Maeve at 7:18 AM on February 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

Have you seen the Bobiverse books, starting with "We Are Legion (We Are Bob)," by Dennis E. Taylor?

A guy wakes up to find that he was killed by a car and his mind uploaded into an interstellar probe like 100 years later. It is both hard scifi and fairly light in tone, and I really enjoyed it.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:39 AM on February 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

Ilona Andrews (a husband and wife duo writing team) Kate Daniels series is great fun. Kate's major arc is essentially finished which is nice so you can just read the whole thing rather than waiting for new installments. These are what I like to re-read when times are tough.

They are also writing installments to their Innkeeper series on their blog which I am greatly enjoying and really appreciating considering they have family in Russia and the Ukraine and are dealing with that fear and anxiety.
posted by rdnnyc at 10:43 AM on February 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

Highly, HIGHLY recommend A Deadly Education and its sequel The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik. About as warm and comforting as it's possible for a series about a magical boarding school unpopulated by teachers that is constantly trying to kill you to be.

Also Gideon the Ninth, obviously and evergreen-ly.

Oh! And The Philosopher's Flight and its sequel by Tom Miller are simply lovely.

Also The Book of Koli and its sequels by M.R. Carey.

Happy reading!
posted by Gadarene at 12:04 PM on February 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

Just a note that not ALL of T Kingfisher would qualify.
Two (I think) are horror (or whatever, but pretty unsettling!). The Twisted Ones, and The Hollow Places.
posted by Acari at 12:47 PM on February 28, 2022 [3 favorites]

Seanan McGuire's October Daye series could be a good option (faerie living in/adjacent to contemporary San Francisco).

Agreeing with Mary Robinette Kowal's Calculating Stars (though the background to the story is 'meteor strike wipes out DC, creates risk of catastrophic global warming, we rush-start a space programme', which may be a bit dark).

Agreeing with GCU Sweet and Full of Grace that Banks is not really an appropriate answer to this question, much as I like his work.
posted by Pink Frost at 1:56 PM on February 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

2nd'ing Lois McMaster Bujold World of the Five Gods. I <3 The Curse of Chalion & Paladin of Souls.

Lawrence Watt-Evans has some light fantasy that may work for you. Try his Ethshar books like The Misenchanted Sword or With a Single Spell.

Garth Nix has his Old Kingdom series. I've only read the original trilogy so far (Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen), but plan on starting the next three soon.

Lastly, I'll recommend Rainbow Rowell's Simon Snow books - Carry On, Wayward Son, Any Way the Wind Blows. They can be read as thinly veiled Harry Potter/Draco slash-fiction-inspired books, but they work on their own.
posted by fings at 2:39 PM on February 28, 2022

I think Uprooted by Naomi Novik is the best stand-alone fantasy I’ve read this century (out of hundreds).

I read it almost a year ago and picked it up again recently thinking 'I’ll just read a few pages before I go to sleep.' Four hours later at 3 in the morning I'd finished it with almost no sensation of time passing, and I was so excited it took me another hour to go to sleep.

Her now finished (9 volume!) Temeraire series is also amazingly excellent.
posted by jamjam at 4:22 PM on February 28, 2022

Response by poster: Thank you so much everybody, a *lot* of great suggestions here. I will be coming back to this thread for my next book for a while:).
posted by unus sum at 4:59 PM on February 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

I'm currently re-reading the Change series by S.M. Stirling (starts with Dies the Fire) - it's long and engaging and follows a bunch of interrelated story arcs and is generally positive.

Seanan McGuire is excellent, though I favor the InCryptid books - October Daye is good too, though.
posted by sibilatorix at 6:30 PM on February 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky is short, propulsive, clever, and finally really rather sweet.
posted by nicwolff at 7:07 PM on February 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky is short, propulsive, clever, and finally really rather sweet.

Loved it and love him generally.
posted by Gadarene at 8:53 AM on March 1, 2022

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