Truckers in Spaaaaaace - help me find realistic, grimy, near-future space stories
January 27, 2007 8:08 AM   Subscribe

I'm reading Alastair Reynold's excellent Pushing Ice and I'd love to read more like it - help me Mefi!

So, I picked up Pushing Ice in the library and I'm absolutely loving it. For those who don't follow the Wikipedia link, it's a relatively near-future set space opera (although that doesn't quite describe it) about the crew of a mining vessel called on to investigate one of Saturn's moons after it breaks orbit and starts to speed out of the system.

It's down and dirty space fiction, with grimy jumpsuits, hairy-knuckled miners and brutal choices. And I'm loving it, and want to read/watch more like it. So I'm looking for fiction (movies, books, games, especially games, now I come to think of it) that depicts near-future space exploration in realistic terms such as this, with small crews, physical gear, non-faster-than-light travel and a complete absence of standard Maguffins like teleporters, phasers and all the rest of it. Off the top of my head I can think of things like the Alien films (especially the first one), Darkstar, and slightly more fanciful series like Firefly. The new version of Battlestar Galactica might fit into this sub-genre at an outside because of its focus on a military crew flying semi-realistic ships (little thruster jets to maneuver etc).

So, hit me with your best truckers in space science fiction.
posted by Happy Dave to Grab Bag (24 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Surely whatever Outland loses for allowing FTL video chat it amply makes up in grit and dirt and miners-in-space physicality.
posted by nicwolff at 8:20 AM on January 27, 2007

Brin and Benford's Heart of the Comet might fit your bill. It's a tale of a single shipload of people who journey to Halley's Comet to redirect it, and hijinks ensue. Warning: wonky biology.

Alastair Reynolds' Inhibitor books (Revelation Space etc). There's wonky tech that people don't really understand, but it's still basically centered on "real" stuff. And there's FTL, but it's a very bad idea.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:42 AM on January 27, 2007

Peter Watts' Blindsight fits pretty well. Small crew, check, no FTL, check... It has vampires, but their biology is pretty well explained. Er, don't let that scare you off, it's a good book. The best part of the deal? You can read the entire thing for free. Two of his earlier books (not set in space, but still worth checking out) are there also. So I'd suggest you just start reading it (grab the PDF) and see if it sticks.
posted by whatnotever at 8:54 AM on January 27, 2007

Second Peter Watts. I like his Rifters stuff far more than Blindsight, which I read a week ago, but it's pretty good too.

It isn't quite what you're looking for, but Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars (and, to a lesser extent, the later novels) feature a pretty gritty retelling of early Martian colonization. It has some sort of wonky bioscience ("immortality treatments" are a central plot device, allowing a cast of familiar characters to persist through a several-hundred-year section of history, but Robinson addresses the consequences in an interesting way, at least.

If you're willing to go Japanese, the graphic novel/anime series Planetes, a story about humans working to clean up junk in orbit, features relatively hard science and interesting characters with a lower-than-usual-for-anime "WTF????" factor, if you're willing to ignore the implausibility of human garbage collectors in space.
posted by Alterscape at 9:26 AM on January 27, 2007

Seconding Planetes. Seconding Robinson's "Mars" trilogy, too, come to think of it.
posted by infinitywa1tz at 9:33 AM on January 27, 2007

It isn't quite what you're looking for, but Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars (and, to a lesser extent, the later novels) feature a pretty gritty retelling

These are good books, but in addition to the wonky bioscience you have to be able to ignore some other giant science howlers.

ROT13d spoiler:

Ng bar cbvag, crbcyr ner va n mrccryva qvfgevohgvat jvaqzvyyf gung jvyy urng gur ngzbfcurer. Guvf vf vgfrys fvyyl, orpnhfr vs lbh hfr jvaq raretl gb eha na ryrpgevp urngre, lbh znxr... jvaq raretl. Ohg gura bhe mrccryva svaqf vgfrys va n jvaqfgbez, fb gurl ybjre jvaqzvyyf bhg vagb gur jvaqfgernz naq hfr gur ryrpgevpvgl gb cbjre gur nvefuvc'f cebcryyref, znxvat tbbq cebterff jura gurl qb

Aside from occasional glitches on this level -- and they are generally pretty rare -- it's a good yarn.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:05 AM on January 27, 2007

6 different types of suggestions.

Personally, the first stuff to leap to my mind was by Elizabeth Moon, who happens to be an ex-Marine, and so tends to get into the nitty-gritty. Definitely along space opera lines.

I know her fantasy series spends close to 100 pages in the equivalent of boot-camp for the main character, and the sf runs along the same lines.
posted by timepiece at 10:35 AM on January 27, 2007

One I read recently that you might enjoy is "To Crush the Moon" by Wil McCarthy. It's part of a series, so you might want to start earlier, but it's basically about the rise and fall of a solar Queendom and its immorbid (i.e. unable to die of natural causes) monarchs.

You might also enjoy some of Catherine Asaro's stuff. It's heavily in the romance vein (i.e. the main character in pretty much every book falls in love with someone else) but plotwise, a lot of it focuses on the Imperial Family of Skolia, one of whom (Sauscony) has a military career as a Jagernaut (space fighter pilot), and there are a couple books focused on that part of her career. There's a lot of hard science in it too, as Asaro is a physicist -- she has worked out the physics of her tech in some detail (you'll get tired of reading her description of how telepathy works in each book), and her explanation of how FTL travel looks to stationary observers is pretty mind-twisting.
posted by kindall at 10:51 AM on January 27, 2007

Xenophobe, you're right. That is fairly egregious, when you stop to think about it. I sort of justified it to myself because Fnk jnf znvayl vagrerfgrq va hfvat gur jvaqzvyyf nf n irpgbe sbe uvf nrebsbezvat onpgrevn, ab? Bs pbhefr, gur "jvaqzvyyf sbe cbjre va n jvaqfgbez" guvat jnf cerggl ubxrl, ohg.. I thought that the people were well-done and believable, which is in my mind the largest failing in so much speculative fiction.
posted by Alterscape at 11:01 AM on January 27, 2007

I agree that Moon's Trading in Danger and Marque and Reprisal might fit along the lines of Galactica. FTL and stuff, but it feels pretty grounded.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:50 AM on January 27, 2007

And I really do like KSR's Mars books. They're great, but with glitches.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:50 AM on January 27, 2007

I recently read Pushing Ice also, and loved it. You should look into Iain M. Banks' space operas, and Peter F. Hamilton - try Fallen Dragon (a standalone), Pandora's Star and, if you like those, embark on his three-volume monster space opera, the Night's Dawn trilogy. And then Reynolds has written plenty of other stuff. I'm just finishing reading Century Rain, another standalone, but I've got his four-volume epic waiting to be read.

What these writers all have in common is that they're UK writers of space opera. Someone else who's often mentioned in this category is Ken Macleod, but I haven't taken to his books so much.
posted by zadcat at 12:06 PM on January 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh, and someone else you might like is Richard MorganAltered Carbon and its sequels.

Here are some links to my suggestions – Alastair Reynolds, Iain M. Banks, Peter F. Hamilton.
posted by zadcat at 12:10 PM on January 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think the term you're looking for is Hard SF.

Other people found it too dry and depressing, but I loved Voyage by Stephen Baxter. Published in 1997 it's set in an alternate-history 1986 where NASA launched a Mars mission instead of a Shuttle programme. Baxter's other hard SF books are well worth reading, but don't necessarily fit your bill. Titan does though.

The near-future requirement is the toughest to fulfill. Star Dragon by Mike Brotherton fits the bill, but I thought the book sucked big time. The Sunborn by Gregory Benford was OK.

If you're willing to go into the future, Marrow by Robert Reed is a superb slower-than-light, realistic-physics space opera. Has an equally good sequel, "The Well of Stars".

Vernor Vinge bends the faster-than-light rule: it's impossible near Earth, but possible in other parts of the galaxy. A Deepness in the Sky and A Fire Upon the Deep are absolute classics of hard SF and ought to be read.

Other stuff. The classic relativistic SF book was The Forever War by Vietnam veteran Joe Haldeman, about soldiers becoming ever more alienated by time dilation as their missions take months for them, but decades at home. Might be a bit dated now though.

Iain M. Banks "Culture" novels break all your rules, but they're just so good I feel obliged to mention them anyway: the first was Consider Phlebas but you can read them in any order. I suspect ROU_Xenophobe likes them too.

I also liked Diaspora by Greg Egan and Vast by Linda Nagata, which are slower than light, but might be too weird for some.

C.J. Cherryh has written a hard-SF series called Alliance and Union which I think is slower-than-light in its early stages, and is pretty popular.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 12:22 PM on January 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

Seconding Zadcat's recommendations.
posted by zaphod at 12:35 PM on January 27, 2007

Thirding Zadcat, with the proviso that Morgan and McLeod both include elements like FTL transport and teleporters. If you don't mind that, their works are generally realistic and gritty.

Definitely check out Reynolds other work, as ROU_Xenophobe suggests.
posted by Infinite Jest at 1:39 PM on January 27, 2007

Metafilter's own asavage cstross is another one of those wacky UK authors that's relit hard SF, though in some ways, much of his work is better described as hard fantasy, such as the Laundryverse works, in particular, The Atrocity Archive and The Jennifer Morgue. Another, much harder SF work of his is Glasshouse, which deals with "what happens if nanotech reassembly really works?"
posted by eriko at 3:14 PM on January 27, 2007

Seconding Stephen Baxter. I just finished Manifold: Time, Manifold: Origin and Manifold: Space. Dynamite stuff. For what it's worth, I think he's an ex-astrophysicist from Cambridge who worked at (or with) NASA for a spell, so you're not going to get a lot of fanciful scenarios in his books (although the scene in Manifold: Time where he explores the dying eons of the universe and humankind's adaptation thereto is breathtaking).
posted by Doofus Magoo at 4:35 PM on January 27, 2007

I second the above-named Vernor Vinge novels.

Thomas Harlan's Wasteland of Flint and its sequel House of Reeds are really good, too.
posted by neuron at 6:50 PM on January 27, 2007

Greg Bear's Moving Mars is my favourite Mars novel, set in the same universe as the excellent Queen of Angels, Slant and the forgettable novella Heads. They're pretty gritty and all set within the next 200 years, though don't have space travel as a major component. Eon has the exploration of an asteroid with a fun twist, which is explored further in Eternity and Legacy.

Will McCarthy's Bloom is a decent look at runaway nanotech and struggling to survive in the outer solar system.

Anything with Greg Egan's name on it is worth reading. See his website where he's got a few short stories to get your started.
posted by Freaky at 3:48 AM on January 28, 2007

Allen Steele's Near Space novels and short stories should meet the letter of your request for "truckers in spaaaaaaace." Much of his early writing deals with blue-collar workers in space.

On the whole, Steele's fiction is grounded in plausible science while being highly entertaining and an enjoyable read.
posted by LinnTate at 5:09 AM on January 28, 2007

Response by poster: Fantastic answers folks - This little lot will take me a while to work through!
posted by Happy Dave at 5:18 AM on January 28, 2007

Just so you're aware, there is in fact a movie called Space Truckers -- Dennis Hopper, Stephen Dorff, George Wendt, square pigs, from the director of Re-Animator. Not really hard SF, though.
posted by blueshammer at 1:25 PM on January 28, 2007

How about Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game, or maybe Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama. Perhaps not hard hard SF, but both are excellent.
posted by bkudria at 2:33 PM on February 1, 2007

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