Recommendations for SF/Fantasy books that deal with "lost civilizations"
June 27, 2008 9:44 AM   Subscribe

Recommend me some SF/Fantasy books that deal with "lost civilizations"

I'm a sucker for stories with mysterious lost civilizations as the focus, or the backdrop. Can't get enough of 'em. I know that's a pretty general requirement and that they've become a kind of a SF/Fantasy cliché at this point, but what are people's favorite books that deal with lost civs?

For instance, I love Richard Morgan's Takeshi Kovacs novels with the Martian technology strewn around all over the place. (Although am frustrated that we never find out more than we do about the Martians.)

Elantris was an interesting idea that, ultimately, fizzled to me.

Love the LOTR's deep history and, yes, have read the Silmarillion and love it as well.

So, Mefites, any suggestions?
posted by papercake to Media & Arts (34 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
I'll be the first of, I imagine, many to suggest Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun, which is set in a future littered with Sufficiently Advanced Technology left over from collapsed civilizations.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:54 AM on June 27, 2008

Does it have to be a book? Fine Structure.
posted by Freen at 9:57 AM on June 27, 2008

Tomorrowful: I loves me some Gene Wolfe and have read, almost, everything he's written. But maybe it's time for a re-read.

Freen: innnteresting
posted by papercake at 10:00 AM on June 27, 2008

I'm sure I'll think of others, but right now what's popping into my head foremost is Rendezvous with Rama.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:01 AM on June 27, 2008

Thought of something again already. Gateway by Frederik Pohl.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:03 AM on June 27, 2008

CONAN!!!! Lost civilizations out the wazoo.
posted by Liosliath at 10:08 AM on June 27, 2008

I just finished reading a trilogy (Revelation Space, Redemption Ark, Absolution Gap) by Alastair Reynolds, which was pretty good. The first book deals with the investigation of a dead civilization, although the last two books have a different feel.

Small warning: with all three of these books, it took me a couple hundred pages to get my teeth into them, but then I finished the last several hundred pages (yeah, they're long) at a run. This may be a problem with me, or they may be slow starters.
posted by TypographicalError at 10:08 AM on June 27, 2008

carnival, by elizabeth bear
posted by rmd1023 at 10:13 AM on June 27, 2008

Some of Jack McDevitt's stuff would be right up your alley, as far as the science fiction side of things goes. The Alastair Reynolds books recommended by TypographicalError are also good, and he's written lots more stuff in the "Revelation Space" universe, including a couple of books of short stories.
posted by infinitywaltz at 10:16 AM on June 27, 2008

James Rollins writes terrible books, but they are fun to read nevertheless, and every single one features some sort of lost civilization.
posted by Vindaloo at 10:20 AM on June 27, 2008

The Ringworld novels deal with the exploration of an artificial world populated by civilizations too primitive to have constructed the world.
posted by demiurge at 10:22 AM on June 27, 2008

Check out The Malazan Book of the Fallen series. It's very good and the author definitely has a lot in there about lost civilizations. China Mieville also deals a lot with it in his book The Scar.
posted by skewedoracle at 10:28 AM on June 27, 2008

Seconding Jack McDevitt. He wrote several books concerning interstellar archaeology and the mysteries of vanished alien civilizations. The Engines of God, Chindi, Deepsix, and others.
posted by spasm at 10:31 AM on June 27, 2008

Edgar Rice Burroughs! Like two-thirds of his books deal with lost civilizations. Specifically, take a look at the Pellucidar series and the Land That Time Forgot series. The Lost Continent is a stand-alone book that's about all of Europe being a lost civilzation a couple hundred years after an apocalyptic war. The Barsoom series has a pile of lost civilizations too. Hell, even Tarzan came across a couple lost cities.

Conan books too, as Liosliath mentioned. Also by Robert E. Howard are the Soloman Kane books, about a Puritan adventurer traveling through Africa.

It's a little less Sci-Fi, but Allan Quartermain was pretty good at finding lost cities in Africa.
posted by The Man from Lardfork at 10:34 AM on June 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

Alan Mendelsohn, Boy from Mars.
posted by lemuria at 10:50 AM on June 27, 2008

This book is a pretty fun read on the history of hollow earth theories, and has a lot on the hollow earth in fiction, which seems to have played a cruicial part in the evolution of the whole lost-civilisation-utopia genre
posted by Artw at 10:55 AM on June 27, 2008

If you liked the computer game Myst (and played enough Riven to know more about the D'Ni), there was a trilogy of books based on the D'Ni civilization... one with a character *in* it, one with a character after the civilization was "lost", and one with an entirely other civilization discovered in a linking book (I think. If I remember correctly. They might be out of order) I though they were really cool.
posted by olinerd at 10:57 AM on June 27, 2008

The Death Gate Cycle by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
(link to first book in series)
posted by Deflagro at 10:59 AM on June 27, 2008

Thanks for all the suggestions! I'm getting a nice little list to seach for.

I've read the Rama books (yes, all of them). First one was great.

I read the Revelation Space trilogy not too long ago myself. I thought it was interesting, but that Reynolds liked to use ten sentences where one would do.

Read and liked the Ringworld books and the Hyperion books as well.

I keep hearing over and over again that the Malazan books are genius. Maybe I'll finally pick them up. I hate to start a series when it's not finished, though.
posted by papercake at 11:16 AM on June 27, 2008

Ken McLeod's "Cosmonaut" series: Cosmonaut Keep, Dark Light and Engine City.
posted by scrump at 12:01 PM on June 27, 2008

The Dark Tower series has elements of a decaying technology/society strewn throughout ("the world has moved on"), especially in books 1 and 3.
posted by wundermint at 12:42 PM on June 27, 2008

You should introduce yourself to the works of Abraham Merritt. I will specifically recommend The Face in the Abyss, a tale that includes a two-fisted explorer, a native princess, a lost civilization, dinosaurs, a body-snatching Lord of Darkness and the alien Snake Mother.
posted by SPrintF at 12:53 PM on June 27, 2008

In H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness, Antarctic explorers discover the ruins of a vast alien civilization.
posted by Dean King at 12:53 PM on June 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Regarding the Malazan books: Steven Erikson is an archeologist and anthropologist so there is a lot of lost civilizations and dead races (some still very active) all through the books. Also, he's been pumping out the books at a very rapid and reliable pace and he seems to be sticking pretty strictly to a 10 book plan so I wouldn't worry about this dragging on more and more as the series progresses (like the Wheel of Time) or never being finished (like the Wheel of Time).
posted by jefftang at 1:29 PM on June 27, 2008

In H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness, Antarctic explorers discover the ruins of a vast alien civilization.

God, I don't know how I missed that one.
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:55 PM on June 27, 2008

Some old school: Leigh Brackett - Sword of Rhiannon.
posted by coffeefilter at 2:10 PM on June 27, 2008

A couple of classics... The Lost World, She
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:05 PM on June 27, 2008

Not a book, but have you ever played Myst?
posted by thebrokenmuse at 8:06 PM on June 27, 2008

thebrokenmuse: I played the original Myst a long long time ago, yes. Never did do the sequels.
posted by papercake at 10:19 AM on June 28, 2008

Borges has at least one short story in Ficciones about something like this. It's called Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius and is about one found volume of an encyclopedia containing information about Tlön. Not exactly adventuring, but if the discovery and world/setting is what fascinates you about these stories, it's definitely worth a read.
posted by mismatched at 10:31 AM on June 28, 2008

Seconding skewedoracle: Mieville is a really good example of this. For example one of the areas of his city, Bas-Lag, is called The Ribs. Because they are gigantic fossilised ribs. It is the fantasy version of the Martians in the Kovacs books.

Something similar happens in Scott Lynch's Locke Lamora novels with lots of artefacts of a more powerful previous civilisation being present in the world.

As has also be mentioned it turns up a lot in Reynolds, including his latest novel House Of Suns.
posted by ninebelow at 3:26 AM on June 30, 2008

Old school: The Secret People by John Beynon (pen name of John "Day of the Triffids" Wyndham).
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 12:18 PM on June 30, 2008

I recommend The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. It has a very deep history, like LOTR, and it also has remnants of past times hanging around for people to rediscover. As Jefftang alludes to, some of the later books get a bit slow, especially Crossroads of Twilight, but even if you don't go for the long haul the first 7 or so are great. (Jordan died before finishing the series, but author Brandon Sanderson is finishing it based on Jordan's notes.)

I would also recommend the Reality Dysfunction and other books of the Night's Dawn Trillogy by Peter F. Hamilton.
posted by catquas at 6:04 PM on August 1, 2008

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