I'm looking for well-written sci-fi / fantasy, set in other worlds or the future, that isn't didactic or idea-driven.
December 16, 2003 10:57 AM   Subscribe

Like many other geeks here, I grew up reading sci-fi and fantasy. But I gradually got tired of it, because so much of it was poorly written or antithetical to my tastes. But I still yearn for other worlds at times, so I'd be interested in recommendations. [more inside.]

About my tastes: I HATE literature of ideas. This rules out a ton of SF, I know. I love ideas, but I prefer to get them from non-fiction. The only reason I read any fiction, is for plot and character. I like a really good story – a page-turner – and characters that I can fall in love with (or hate). I find that if there are too many ideas, then I start thinking about the author and that distances my emotional connection with the world. I stop believing in it.

But when you remove all the “smart” SF-novels, you tend to be left with “Xornon the Slobberer for Zabian IV,” poorly written hack stuff. Basically, I want well-written fiction, set in other worlds (or the future of this world) that isn’t didactic or idea-driven. In terms of writing style, I prefer the simple (think Hemingway and Carver), but I’m happy with anything that is evocative and not cliché-ridden.

Below, I’ll list some novels that I’ve enjoyed. Some of these might violate my “rules” – you might be able to think of them as idea novels – but the plot/character stuff in them is strong enough that I’ve was able to ignore any intellectual content while I was reading them and just get involved in the story.

Metropolitan & City on Fire by Walter Jon Williams
(the first book of the series) His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
The Mars Books by Kim Stanley Robinson
The Iron Dragon’s Daughter by Michael Swanwick
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Millar Jr.
The Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin

I’ve also read most of the classics (Wells, Tolkien, CS Lewis, etc.)

[As a side note, I’d like to add that I’ve always enjoyed the Escape-from-dystopia genre (i.e. Logan’s Run), but It’s hard to find them. Does anyone know of any besides Logans Run, 1984, Brave New World, This Perfect Day (my favorite), and the Tripods Books.]
posted by grumblebee to Media & Arts (64 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
You can't go wrong with Phillip K. Dick's "Ubik," unless of course you like your literary characters to be non-psychotic. :)
posted by inksyndicate at 11:02 AM on December 16, 2003


Why would I want my literary characters to be any different from me, inksyndicate? :-)

[In case anyone shares my tastes and is looking for recommendations, I love most novels by Robert Charles Wilson.]
posted by grumblebee at 11:05 AM on December 16, 2003


Read "Norstrilia" by Cordwainer Smith yet?
posted by clever sheep at 11:06 AM on December 16, 2003


Terry Pratchett. Not really straight fantasy tho...
posted by Orange Goblin at 11:09 AM on December 16, 2003


Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld and World of Tiers series are two of my all-time favorites.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:11 AM on December 16, 2003


Octavia Butler "Kindred"
James Morrow "This Is The Way The World Ends"
James Morrow "Towing Jehovah"
posted by skwm at 11:13 AM on December 16, 2003


Great piece of literary sci-fi: "The Man Who Fell To Earth." Much less psychadelic and more moody than the movie.
posted by inksyndicate at 11:13 AM on December 16, 2003


Iain M. Banks - Consider Phlebas (his first science fiction novel, and the first of the Culture novels) - it's space opera, but filled with wonderful characters, neat settings and has a great, compelling, intelligent story.
posted by biscotti at 11:15 AM on December 16, 2003


Thanks for the suggestions so far. I have jotted them all down. It would be really great if you could include a short phrase about why you liked the novel, i.e. great hero, really scary, fantastic world, etc.
posted by grumblebee at 11:16 AM on December 16, 2003


Another escape-from-dystopia, and possibly the original one: We by Evgeni Zamyatin (sp?).
posted by ptermit at 11:17 AM on December 16, 2003 [1 favorite]


There's another classic dystopian novel, We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, that's not as well-known as 1984 or Brave New World but was written before either of them and covers a lot of the same ground (and was actually written by a Russian writer in the early days of the Soviet Union). Definitely worth checking out.
posted by staggernation at 11:19 AM on December 16, 2003 [1 favorite]


Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow and Children of God are pretty fantastic. There are pretty big ideas involved, but they're full of fantastic characters.
posted by COBRA! at 11:24 AM on December 16, 2003


Iain Banks, The Player of Games or Use of Weapons. Both Culture novels. Can edge into preachy at times. I think the TPoG is a better intro than CP, but that's because I read them in that order.

Iain Banks, Against A Dark Background. Not a Culture novel. Dark adventure set in a world with a really interesting twist; someone trying to escape from being legally murdered by a sect of religious fanatics. This is the one I'm most confident about. If you're in the US, you might need to order it from a Canadian or British bookseller.

Ken MacLeod, The Stone Canal. Sequel to The Star Fraction, which has more Big Ideas in it. Or try The Cassini Division, which will likely seem too didactic, but, if you squint at it, isn't really. You can read TCD as an escape from dystopia if you identify with one particular character.

John Varley, Steel Beach and The Golden Globe. Or The Ophiuchi Hotline if you want. Different characters having different adventures in a setting where aliens showed up and kicked everyone off Earth a while back; it's the characters and plots interacting with the setting that make it work. Where else will you find a kid's show called What The Fuck?

Lois Bujold's books about Miles Vorkosigan. There's an escape-from-dystopia, sort of, as part of the first Shards of Honor(?).

Peter F. Hamilton, The Reality Dysfunction and successors. Maybe too trashy for your tastes -- pick up the first one cheap and start it; if it hasn't grabbed you inside the first 150 pages, ignore the author forevermore.

Richard Morgan, Altered Carbon. Sort of a film-noir version of cyberpunk, but without the hero being a desk-jockey dweeb. Instead, he's a trained uber-soldier/assassin who gets zapped from body to body across the stars. He gets sent to Earth where he's hired by someone to solve his client's previous apparent suicide (he feels much better now).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:24 AM on December 16, 2003


"Norstrilia": Loved it for its beautiful and extraordinary weirdness of content, and the liquid prose.

Oh, and I hope you've read some Jack Vance. He's of the invincible-protagonist school, but I could forgive him anything for his plotting and pacing ability. I've got most everything he ever wrote, and that's a lot. I'm trying to think if any of it has a dystopian slant. ...Maybe try the "Tschai" series, which follows a central hero crashed and marooned on a far planet, encountering alien cultures as he seeks to build a spaceboat and return home.

You can find relatively inexpensive copies of Vance on eBay--for some reason I can't fathom, you'll almost never find his stuff in a standard book store.
posted by clever sheep at 11:30 AM on December 16, 2003


hmmm...

"Gun With Occassional Music" by J. Letham is really good, also most Thomas Disch, and "Nymphomation" by Jeff Noon though that's both more childlike and weird.
posted by drezdn at 11:33 AM on December 16, 2003


A friend of mine made me read "The Book of the New Sun" by Gene Wolfe, and I really enjoyed it. It's actually a tetrology of books. The setting is damn cool (some time in the far future, when Earth has been exhausted of its resources), and Wolfe does a great job of making the main character seem sympathetic (despite the fact that he's nobody you would like to associate with.)
posted by Johnny Assay at 11:34 AM on December 16, 2003


I'd recommend Vernor Vinge - rip roaringly fun, intelligent and enthralling space opera. Probably the best space opera out now, in fact. Try 'A Deepness in the Sky' and 'A Fire Upon The Deep'.

As for Iain Banks, you should read 'The Player of Games' or 'Consider Phlebas' first. CP is theoretically a better introduction since it was written first and because of the particular viewpoint used in the novel, however, TPOG is much more accessible and more similar to the other Culture novels.
posted by adrianhon at 11:37 AM on December 16, 2003


I don't know if this fails the "no literature of ideas" test, but Jonathan Lethem's Girl in Landscape is a pretty evocative, character-driven story that happens to be set on a distant planet, and As She Climbed Across the Table is a satirical "deconstruction"-mocking romance that happens to have a sci-fi concept at its core.

Thanks for the suggestions so far.

Don't thank us. Thank Uni.
posted by soyjoy at 11:45 AM on December 16, 2003


Since I don't have a lot of time to devote to SF anymore, I tend to read the Hugo and Nebula winners.

Some of my recent faves have been (on preview: seconding the recommendations of others):
Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan books: mutant rascal makes his way in a unaccepting world

Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep: space opera

Connie Willis's Doomsday Book: time-travelling grad student stuck in a plague infested town in the dark ages
posted by turbodog at 11:46 AM on December 16, 2003


Just started to read the Arabesk trilogy by the Brit writer Jon Courtney Grimwood. I have finished the first 2, Pashazade and Effendi, and plan on reading the 3rd over the holidays.

It is set 'now' in Alexandria, but in a world where Germany won WW1 and the Ottoman Empire is still alive (and the decadent Sick Man of Europe). Not sure how to describe it other than SF-Noir.

Also I recommend Altered Carbon and Broken Angels by Richard Morgan. Connected to each other but only loosely. Again hard to describe in a few words. From Amazon. "Humans are issued a cortical stack, implanted into their bodies, into which consciousness is "digitized" and from which -unless the stack is hopelessly damaged- their consciousness can be downloaded with its memory intact, into a new body. Laurens Bancroft brings Takeshi Kovacs (an Envoy, a specially trained soldier) to Earth, where Kovacs is resleeved into a cop's body to investigate Bancroft's first mysterious, stack-damaging death."
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 11:53 AM on December 16, 2003


I don't read much SF/fantasy these days, either. But here's what I've loved in the past, say, ten years:

Tad Williams' Otherland. It's accessible and highly readable, but also unbelievably ambitious. It's more imaginative than any ten SF novels by most other writers. (There's an underlying thread in it that implies that it's a reaction against the aesthetic of postmodern epics of writers like Thomas Pynchon and David Foster Wallace--I won't get into that here, though, but I routinely recommend it to Pynchon fans as well as SF fans.)

If you can find it, E. R. Eddison's Zimiamvia trilogy: Mistress of Mistresses; A Fish Dinner in Memison; and The Mezentian Gate. Eddison was a contemporary of C. S. Lewis and Tolkien: his style can be hard to get used to, but he's really imaginative. Zimiamvia is super-hard to find these days, but well worth the search.

Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun strikes a good balance between being a novel of ideas and a plot-drive work. He's also one of the few true prose stylists working in fantasy/SF right now.

Anything by William Gibson, of course--Gibson sounds more like Raymond Chandler than he sounds like anyone in SF.

If you like George R. R. Martin, check out the Wild Cards series of shared-world novels that's edited by him. They were originally published in the late 1980s to early '90s, and are now being reprinted by ibooks. (Roger Zelazny, Walter Jon Williams, Melinda Snodgrass, Lewis Shiner, and Martin himself were some of the writers that contributed: sort of a murderer's row of pulp writers from the '80s.)

Steve Aylett's first book The Crime Studio is good for lots of laughs--I can't recommend anything else after that, though.
posted by Prospero at 11:55 AM on December 16, 2003


I second the recommendation of Against A Dark Background, it's hands-down one of the most entertaining novels around, very hard to put down. I also second (third?) Altered Carbon, it was thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish.

If you like dystopias, I'll also recommend I Am Legend by Richard Matheson - it's short and a quick read. About the sole "normal" human remaining in a world where everyone else is a kind of vampire. The first three-quarters are just beautifully-written, and really give you a sense of being there. Try not to think of the Charlton Heston movie based on it called The Omega Man, it's a much more cerebral story than the movie.

Also Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, it's a really fun cyberpunk romp - our protagonist, Hiro Protagonist, is a pizza-delivery man for the Mafia in the real world (although we hear about it through his fantasy-driven imagination), and a sword-wielding hero in the Metaverse. A computer virus which crashes peoples minds shows up, and hijinks ensue.
posted by biscotti at 11:56 AM on December 16, 2003


I really liked Tony Daniel's "Metaplanetary," which is basically a space opera about an interplanety civil war, except -- well, two of the characters are an AI and a human, and they're married, and they have children. It's full of pretty imaginative stuff like that. When I read it for the first time a couple years ago, I was disappointed to find out it was the first book of a series. The good news is that the sequel, "Superluminary," will finally be out next May.

Another rip-roaring good read is the Ukiah Oregon series by Wen Spencer. These are basically detective novels with an appealing young protagonist with curious abilities who was raised by wolves. (Well, that's what he thinks at first, but it turns out there's much more to it.) The books are "Alien Taste," "Tainted Trail," "Bitter Waters," and the forthcoming "Dog Warrior" (also due next May).

I would also recommend anything by Daniel Keys Moran. Very strong characters, lots of action, and so on. "The Long Run" is definitely one of the best SF action books ever. He seems to have stopped writing, though, and it seems likely that he will never finish his "Continuing Time" series.

Anything by Bruce Sterling, especially "Heavy Weather" and "Distraction," which are two of my favorites.
posted by kindall at 12:14 PM on December 16, 2003


I'm not sure what you mean by "literature of ideas", but I would recommend Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville, as well as its follow-up, The Scar. I was led to these books by another discussion here on MeFi, about the "uncanny valley". Mieville has an incredibly vivid imagination and a glut of original ideas, as well as a knack for transforming existing myth into new things. The first book is a little dense, like he had more ideas than paper, but the second book really soars. A little bit of steampunk, a little bit of fantasy, and a whole lotta good words.
posted by starvingartist at 12:20 PM on December 16, 2003


I'd second kindall's Bruce Sterling mention, and add that you shouldn't forget to read 'Schismatrix' which is an interesting variant of space opera.

Some other people have recommended 'Altered Carbon' by Richard Morgan. I didn't really like this book; didn't seem very original to me, just a testosterone-filled SF action-adventure.
posted by adrianhon at 12:24 PM on December 16, 2003


Anyone like Sean Stewart? He "wrote" the A.I. game, which I thought was terrific, but I haven't picked up his real SF yet.
posted by blueshammer at 12:28 PM on December 16, 2003


Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan books: mutant rascal makes his way in a unaccepting world

But Miles isn't a mutie! His damage is teratogenic! Which is really quite important in the universe her books are set in.

I've got to third Bujold, though--she's fantastic.

Also, I'm a big fan of Joan D. Vinge, specifically The Snow Queen and Catspaw.

The first book is a bit dystopian, but it brings in aspects of British colonialism in India, Finnish mythology, a vanished space-going civilization, and cloning. The second is about a half-alien telepath named Cat and religious fundamentalism (among other issues).

I have no idea if she's related to Vernor Vinge at all, but I've always wondered.
posted by eilatan at 12:33 PM on December 16, 2003 [1 favorite]


I'll second starvingartist on Perdido Street Station.

Avoid Kim Stanley Robinson's Years of Rice and Salt, it was one of the few books I've ever read that were boring enough not to even bother finishing.
posted by Icky at 12:36 PM on December 16, 2003


>John Varley, Steel Beach and The Golden Globe. Or The Ophiuchi Hotline

I'll second this. Varley is an under-appreciated talent.

A Scanner Darkly, Philip K. Dick. (Man in the High Castle, Ubik, Bladerunner are good too)

Camp Concentration, ummm Disch?

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Heinlein

Snow Crash, Stephenson

Some of Vonneguts more surreal pieces.
posted by skallas at 12:38 PM on December 16, 2003


There are actually three books about the telepath, Cat: "Psion," "Catspaw,' and "Dreamfall." All of 'em are great.

Joan D. Vinge used to be married to Vernor Vinge.
posted by kindall at 12:41 PM on December 16, 2003


Have you read China Mieville's Perdido Street Station and The Scar? They are truly well written, set in a fascinating world and are damed fine stories to boot.

See also the works of Sean Russell...
posted by JollyWanker at 12:47 PM on December 16, 2003


Sean Stewart is fantastic and underappreciated. His novels are atmospheric and heavily character-driven. His best work is the triptych of Resurrection Man, The Night Watch, and Galveston, three independent novels that take place at different times and places in a world in which magic slowly seeps back into the world, causing no end of weirdness and commotion. Jonathan Carroll's books are also heavy on character and low on Big Ideas: Sleeping in Flame is may favorite of his, but they're all good. Bones of the Moon and The Land of Laughs are both favorites as well.

Someone else mentioned Octavia Butler; I'll second that. Her best work is probably Wild Seed, a fantastically imaginative novel about a man who can kill anyone he touches and take over their bodies, rendering him immortal.

Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness is idea-rich, but still one of the best sf novels ever written.

For pure science fiction chocolately goodness, though, nothing beats Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game. If you haven't read it, I guarantee you it's exactly the book you want.
posted by vraxoin at 1:00 PM on December 16, 2003


I notice you mention reading only the first book of His Dark Materials. If that's the case, I urge you to finish the series, as they only get better.
posted by GeekAnimator at 1:07 PM on December 16, 2003


I really like Pat Murphy. Her stuff has a sense of whimsy that never seems forced, vibrant characters, and interesting settings. If you can find The City, Not Long After, that'd probably be the best choice to start with, given your preference for post-apocalpytic works. You might also try There And Back Again. It's a space opera loosely based on The Hobbit, and is pretty much a couple hundred pages of pure fun.
posted by vorfeed at 1:18 PM on December 16, 2003


I'm very fond of Robin McKinley and in particular recommend Sunshine, her latest novel; but all her novels are great. They are more on the fantasy side and read as fairy tales for grown-ups.
posted by zia at 1:25 PM on December 16, 2003


Glad someone has finally mentioned Le Guin. The Dispossed is even better than The Left Hand of Darkness, and The Lathe of Heaven is good too. Ideas, sure, but terrific characters and worlds too. I'll also second Jonathan Carroll, long a favourite of mine - his novels start out straight and then dissolve into dreamland. A Scanner Darkly is my favourite PKD for sheer mind-meltingness.

How about some '70s Silverberg, his most prolific period - A Time of Changes, say? Or Greg Benford's Timescape, one of the best SF books about actual realistic scientists? Or, for sheer escapism, Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat series?
posted by rory at 1:27 PM on December 16, 2003


I really enjoy The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. The first book is called The Eye of the World. Good vs Evil in a fantasy world, excellently written characters, plot that is great (although later in the series, 8th book and later, the plot is almost too complex).

I've also just started in on Michelle West. Well written, fairly light read. The first book is Hunters Oath which is out of print, but you can find used copies online. Lots of magic and interaction with the Gods.
posted by BigVACub at 1:54 PM on December 16, 2003


I'd second the recommendation for Jack Vance. Also: The Wreck of the River of Stars, by Michael Flynn, is one of the least-talked-about and most-underrated books of the last year or two, in my opinion. Dark Sleeper, by Jeffrey Barlough, is a fascinating post-apocalyptic/Lovecraftian/Dickensian book. Alexander Jablokov is another interesting and not-terribly-well-known Russian writer of excellent and elegant space opera.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 1:55 PM on December 16, 2003


Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy is one of my all-time favorites. It works on several levels - a look at current-day plight of the poor and mentally ill - and the main character's escapes into a future that has discarded big cities but not technology. A departure from the usual tech-heavy sci-fi, and not a dragon or talking tree in sight. Great story that makes you think about what does and does not work about civilization.

I love Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea Quartet and The Dispossessed, and if you're open to it, the Sandman graphic novel series by Neil Gaiman.
posted by widdershins at 1:55 PM on December 16, 2003


Everything by Guy Gavriel Kay. His first books are in the fairly standard fantasy genre, which by no means makes them unworthy. Everything after the first three though is really interesting historical fantasy. He picks a time and a place, inserts some genuinely interesting characters, and throws in some fantasy elements. They make for very good reads in my opinion.

Also, he's Canadian. That's cool, right?
posted by ODiV at 2:14 PM on December 16, 2003


The Eyre Affair and Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde are very entertaning.

I second widdershins vote for the Sandman; actually I'd reccomend any of Mr. Gaiman's novels.

Ray Bradbury is an excellent author, both his sci-fi, fiction, and non-fiction.
posted by jazon at 2:16 PM on December 16, 2003


There are a lot of ideas in The Diamond Age (Stephenson) but it was still pretty good. The first hundred pages of Cryptonomicon (same author -- I'll let you know about the next 800 when I get there) are pretty much all character-driven and very good.

I liked Darwin's Radio (Greg Bear) okay. One or two big ideas, but decent character. Sagan's Contact, too. Orson Scott Card, of course.
posted by callmejay at 2:25 PM on December 16, 2003


(Also Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, which I wouldn't really call science fiction, does take place in a near-future with some significant changes from our present. It's a great book if you have a month or two to kill.)
posted by callmejay at 2:28 PM on December 16, 2003


Lots of good suggestions folks! I'll add another novel I enjoyed:
The Dark Beyond the Stars by Frank M. Robinson, I think it fits the bill of what your looking for.

Pohl's Heechee series make interesting reading as do many of Pohl/Kornbluth's collaborations, especially The Space Merchants and if you're a collector of just about anything its sequel The Merchants War (by Pohl alone) has some great humor and touches on the subject of media manipulation.
posted by DBAPaul at 2:45 PM on December 16, 2003


Peter Carey (especially The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith, or Fat Man in History-that one is stories) or Gregory Maguire (Wicked, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, etc)-- other worlds, but not sf.
posted by amberglow at 3:12 PM on December 16, 2003


Try Roger Zelazny's Amber series. Especially the first five books are excellent.
posted by rjs at 3:15 PM on December 16, 2003


I'll come in late and say anything by Gene Wolfe will be enjoyed.
posted by Mick at 3:22 PM on December 16, 2003


I'll second Infinite Jest.

It's my favorite book ever.

And remember, it's not about the destination, it's about the journey :)
posted by bshort at 4:10 PM on December 16, 2003


My favourite new sci-fi author of the last decade has to be Jeff Noon. Read ... Vurt, Pollen & then Nymphomation. Avoid Automated Alice like the plague.
posted by seanyboy at 4:23 PM on December 16, 2003


I liked Automated Alice! I second Jeff Noon too. Also Peake's Gormenghast trilogy, but a lot of people don't like his style.
posted by amberglow at 4:30 PM on December 16, 2003


Wow. Thanks for the reading list, folks!
posted by grumblebee at 4:54 PM on December 16, 2003


I second Doomsday Book by Willis. It's a wonderful read. For pure fantasy try out the Kushiel series by Jacqueline Carey. And Marion Zimmerman Bradley is ..er.. was a wonderful writer.
posted by deborah at 6:19 PM on December 16, 2003


Anything by Jules Verne is worth reading. Some of the finest science fiction ever created.
posted by oissubke at 7:23 PM on December 16, 2003


No Greg Bear?

No Card?

Both are exceptionally good at combining character driven with idea driven "strange premise" fiction... Card a bit more of the former, Bear a bit more of the later.
posted by weston at 7:31 PM on December 16, 2003


Card has been mentioned twice, Bear once. So no, yes Greg Bear, yes Card. I will say that "Speaker for the Dead" (the sequel to "Ender's Game") is the only book I've ever read that can consistently make me cry, and not just from sadness either.

I second Doomsday Book by Willis.

Her "To Say Nothing of the Dog" is also worth a read, especially if you're a Jerome K. Jerome fan. But having read those two, you can skip most of her other stuff.
posted by kindall at 8:14 PM on December 16, 2003


children's books i've read recently that i thought were really good, 'the curious incident of the dog in the night-time' by mark haddon is about a crime-solving autistic boy and 'the boy who reversed himself' by william sleator (who authored 'interstellar pig' :) a great look at higher dimensional beings for young adults!

for other SF, if you liked the matrix and dark city, 'permutation city' by greg egan [warning! like richard powers, it's a "literature of ideas" :] is better than both put together! and a great short story collection along the lines of george saunders' 'pastoralia' is 'super flat times' by matthew derby. oh and for epic space opera, the best thing since frank herbert and jack vance is dan simmons' 'hyperion' series. also, dystopias :D
posted by kliuless at 10:11 PM on December 16, 2003


Ooohh... If you're going to read Greg Bear, read Blood Music. It's one of the few Sci-Fi books that seems truer now than when it was written (though there are some spooty parts plot wise).

I enjoy "Automated Alice" but see it as more of a kids book that illuminates Jeff Noon's other work.

Pretentious Bookstore employee observation: One way of finding really good Sci-Fi is to look for the Trade Paperbacks (not hardcover, and not mass markets- ie. the ones in supermarkets)... If a book is published in TP in sci-fi it usually means it's a really good book that could be enjoyed by the non-sci-fi fan, but that probably doesn't sell that well.
posted by drezdn at 10:38 PM on December 16, 2003


dan simmons' 'hyperion' series

Just pretend that the series ends after The Fall of Hyperion unless you really really need more...the Endymion ones are nowhere near as good.

I agree with the Greg Bear recommendations, Queen of Angels is my favourite of his science fiction novels, I really enjoy Blood Music and the two Darwin's Radio books, but they're much more like Michael Crichton than science fiction in my opinion (there's science, and there's fiction, but they're not really science fiction to me).
posted by biscotti at 10:47 PM on December 16, 2003


I'm surprised nobody's mentioned the Ender's Game series by Orson Scott Card yet. Or at least Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead. I also got quite a hoot out of Singularity Sky by Charles Stross, and I can definitely second the votes for Neal Stephenson, Connie Willis (also check out the brilliant-but-not-SF Bellwether), Vernor Vinge and Jeff Noon.
posted by arto at 12:49 AM on December 17, 2003


If you like anti-hero types, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever is totally character-driven (not simple, though). On a lighter note, I enjoyed Gaiman's Neverwhere and American Gods.
posted by taz at 3:29 AM on December 17, 2003


Lawrence Watt-Evans is pretty good. His stuff is often funny or really dramatic. I just read his "Obsidian Chronicles" (Dragon Weather, etc.) and they're ONLY plot and character. Really pulse-racing stuff.

I second Kay, Jordan, Stephenson, Card, Martin, Bear, Gaiman? Try some female writers, too...Mercedes Lackey, Melanie Rawn. Stay away from LeGuin (grandmother of the "Big Idea" Sci-Fi)...but throw in some Anne McCaffrey for good measure (Pern is kinda pulp, but it's an interesting and unique setting).

I'd stick with Fantasy if you want to try and shy away from the "Big Ideas". Fantasy is usually plot and setting driven, as opposed to some huge new conundrum that the author is trying to fit characters and setting into.
posted by taumeson at 9:46 AM on December 17, 2003


I had a lovely little post, and it died. So screw it. Try Eric Flint, James Alan Gardner, and Julie E. Czernada.

Go to the Baen Free Library, where they have free books online, and good ones too. Also, there was a good Metafilter thread on short SF stories. That's about it.
posted by stoneegg21 at 1:01 AM on December 19, 2003


Any works by David Gemmel, especially Legend.
posted by elphTeq at 10:17 PM on December 22, 2003


sorry, neglected to mention that Gemmel's genre is "Heroic Fantasy" - ie it's all about the characters.
posted by elphTeq at 10:28 PM on December 22, 2003


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