Science fiction recommendations?

Wait…what about us grown-ups? What is the best science fiction novel you’ve read recently?

I’m seeing lots of recommendations for Orson Scott Card, but I have to admit that I’ve long lost any affection I might have had for his work. Did you know he has a new book? It looks like full-blown reactionary tripe.


  1. Martin Christensen says

    Since our daughter’s birth, I haven’t really had much occasion for books (I’m still stuck mid-chapter somewhere in Quicksilver). However, as a general recommendation, for modern sci-fi with plenty of intelligence and usually many interesting threads in the story (but not so that one gets lost), anything of Timothy Zahn may be recommended. The very best of the Star Wars literature is of his doing, and his Cobra and Conqueror trilogies (he has a thing for trilogies) are eminently readable.


  2. says

    Tough call. Out of the books I’ve read recently, if I restrict myself to those which were written recently, top picks might go to David Weber’s At All Costs and David Brin’s Kiln People.

    Nobody wants to call Thomas Pynchon’s work science fiction, but you can’t classify science fiction or draw boundaries around the genre without taking him into account. (The same holds true for Kurt Vonnegut.) I just finished Pynchon’s latest, Against the Day, last night. It was very good. One thousand eighty-five pages of goodness. Its only defect (and to some people this may be severe) was a deficit in the cephalopod department. For that, you need to read Gravity’s Rainbow.

  3. Will E. says

    I’ve been on an Iain M. Banks kick lately. I’ve been a fan for years but have just read The Bridge (not SF but has a hilarious sword’n’sorcery parody) and Use of Weapons, which was near-perfect SF. Player of Games might be my favorite SF novel ever.

  4. says

    Oh, I forgot to say that a friend lent me a copy of Charlie Stross’s The Atrocity Archives, and I enjoyed it very much. I also got myself hooked on the 1632 series by Eric Flint et al. (which my mother has likewise come to love).

  5. zadig says

    Dan Simmons’ Hyperion quadrilogy is a great epic read. He creates an immensely detailed universe and interesting characters, plus (as an added bonus) he steals shamelessly from a lot of great historical works of fiction in building his tale.

  6. William says

    Isaac Asimov’s Nightfall was a fun book for me, with a bit of commentary on how a religious belief could be put to the test and survive, with different interpretations being made of that fact by scientists and the religious.

    ‘course, there’s a bunch of stuff by Asimov that anyone could recommend.

  7. Chris Doan says

    The best science fiction book hands down has got to be Dune by Frank Herbert. And I’d say that no other sci-fi book has such a close resemblance to the current state of the world. Ultimately, it’s a science fiction book about ecology, with the “spice” mined from a desert planet being what everyone in the universe fights over. It was written a while back but it accurately predicts the desert and religious wars of recent history.
    The scarce water of Dune is an exact analog of oil scarcity. CHOAM is OPEC. But it’s so much more then that. It’s also about beuracracy, and power, and what sort of people that power attracts. Anyways, just go and read it. You’ll be amazed at its excellence.

  8. Mencken says

    I just finished three books by Robert Charles Wilson,
    Spin, The Chronoliths, and Darwinia.
    All different stories, all very literary and hard science fiction. They are all indicative of a supremely talented and intelligent mind at work.

  9. Ryan says

    All of an Instant by Richard Garfinkle has to be one of the most original Sci-fi novels I have read in a long time. Be prepared to pay close attention as the story line is (necessarily) convoluted. It’s a bit of a journey and crams 1000 pages into a svelte 383. Give it a try and you won’t be dissapointed.

    BTW Martin The Baroque Cycle is by far Stephensons best work. Keep pushing on through Quicksilver and you will be very pleased. The trilogy only gets better through The Confusion and System of the World.

    On that note, Neal Stephenson has quite a few great novels that you may enjoy PZ. Snow Crash his breakthrough work is amazing as is the (unrelated) follow-up Diamond Age.

    Amazon Links for your perusal:
    All of an Instant
    The Confusion
    The System of the World
    Diamond Age
    Snow Crash

  10. ctenotrish, FCD, PhD says

    I am re-reading all of David Weber’s Honor Harrington books – great characters, grand space opera, lots of books in the series, not dull on a second or third read-through.

  11. Dunesong says

    Alastair Reynolds – All of it (Pushing Ice, Revelation Space, Redemption Ark, Chasm City, …)

    I’ll second Kiln People by D. Brin.

    Learning the World: A Novel of First Contact by Ken MacLeod

    Vacuum Diagrams by S. Baxter

    Not novels or new but still fun sci fi reads: Appleseed (all of it) and Ghost in the Shell 1 and 2 by M. Shirow

  12. Gadfly22 says

    Just started The Iron Council by China Mieville — a follow-up to his Perdido Street Station and The Scar. Brutal backstreet grunge described in lyrical prose. Interesting and original ideas about a different but very familiar world. I’d recommend any of the 3 (pending my finishing the present book).

  13. billw says

    I surprised myself by enjoying John Ringo’s Gust Front. It was my first foray into “military” SciFi.

  14. says

    Don’t buy “Next” by Michael Crichton…
    It’s a lousy book and there isn’t much science to it, aside from stupid “news blurbs.”

  15. says

    In the “just released” category, I recently read Scalzi’s newest, _The Android’s Dream_, and found it to be simultaneously highly amusing (in a very good way) and strangely plausible. While it’s up-to-the-minute in terms of its storytelling, it somehow also harkens back to the olden days of SF, with highly entertaining results. It’s perhaps a bit lightweight, but I enjoyed it a lot.

    Max Brooks’s _World War Z_ is supposedly a “Oral History of the Zombie War”, and while that might sound really silly and cheesy, I found it enormously detailed in the thought that went into it, and even moving at times. A really first-rate work of fiction, despite the totally bogus pseudoscientific explanations for the cause of Zombie-ism.

  16. says

    City of Saints and Madmen, by Jeff Vandermeer.. a dark, obsessive compendium of stories set in the city of Ambergris. While not really all that science fiction-y (no “Tree’liq plugged his New Gencyte Bioprobe into the XJ-23 cyberjack while drinking his nano-coffee”), it does involve squid!

  17. George says

    Louis Menand (of “faith and reason” at Harvard fame) says of “Against the Day”:

    “Against the Day” is a kind of inventory of the possibilities inherent in a particular moment in the history of the imagination. It is like a work of science fiction written in 1900.

    I’m only on page 27, but it’s very entertaining so far. Almost every sentence seems like a beautiful, perfect construction. Very enjoyable.

    I’m reading Hitchhiker’s Guide for the first time, too (aren’t I lucky?). Actually listening to it. Stephen Fry does a terrific job with it. Lots of fun.

    Boy, do I love good books!

  18. Stargeezer says

    Try ‘The Carpet Makers’ by Andreas Eschbach. His only work translated into English. Maybe enough readers will get us some more.

  19. Argent23 says

    well, instead of reading SF, why not listen to it? The podcast Escape Pod buys SF short stories and puts them online in audible form each new week, completely free! They had this year’s Hugo nominees, but there’s not one episode I didn’t like so far. Go check them out!

  20. Brian888 says

    I can’t recommend Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon highly enough. It’s not too well-known today (neither is the author), but he crammed more ideas into every three pages of that book than almost anything else I’ve ever read. The scale of time covered by the novel (the entire history and future of the universe) is mind-boggling. And yes, “Star Maker” does refer to God, but not the Judeo-Christian God by any stretch of the imagination; think a more lucid and slightly less inimical version of Azathoth instead. Go read it now.

  21. says

    Things I could have done without in the last few years…

    Couldn’t get into Reynolds, though I liked his hard SF conceit in maintaining all the laws of physics for interstellar voyages; he just seemed to descend into mysticism at the end, not unlike the ridiculous Disney movie The Black Hole did.

    Sawyer’s Hominids series left me feeling flat. Consciousness explained as a byproduct of a quantum interaction in one primate precursor that somehow becomes inherited? Hmm. Not a little magicking up, there — and Calculating God was infuriating, pretending to be atheist when it was in fact anything but.

    Things I was glad I did…

    Stephenson. The Baroque series is lovely; its nominal prequel, Cryptonomicon, is astonishingly riveting and highly recommended. Start with Cryptonomicon. If you like it, you can take on Baroque.

    The Ravnica cycle by Cory Herndon — this absolutely shocked me because it’s a fantasy trilogy tie-in to Magic: The Gathering, which is a fun game and all … but I never, ever thought I’d enjoy this specific book cycle as much as I did. It’s really quite well done.

    I keep mining my library of Delany, savoring, taking my time. His product is consistently odd, which I appreciate. Similarly, I delve into Lem. (I have about a dozen books by each which I’ve collected over the last decade or so; I pay them out to myself slowly to make the experience last.)

    Ghost in the Shell: The manga by Shirow Masamune. The comic that spawned the movie, then the series. Very, very good stuff.

  22. says

    The Saga of Seven Suns by Kevin J Anderson. It currently weighs in at 5 thousand-page volumes (with two more in the planning, I think).

    I think it’s been a long time since I was impressed quite so much by space opera. It’s got genocidal robots, sentient space-going trees, aliens who live within stars, Bondian secret agents (sorry – “experts in obscure details”), an ancient empire held together with weak telepathy…

    What’s not to love?

  23. roystgnr says

    “The Atrocity Archives” is quite squarely on the “science fantasy” side of the science fiction continuum, but I loved it anyway. Stross also writes some passable “hard” science fiction (or at least as hard as Singularity stuff gets), but none of it is as fun as his “Slashdot meets Lovecraft” fantasy.

    I disagree that the Baroque Cycle just gets better. “The System of the World” is one of only a few books I’ve ever put down in midread, and if I didn’t have such high hopes (they are Neal Stephenson books, after all) I would have found it dull enough to put down a book earlier. It was never engrossing enough for me to appreciate the fiction and I was too worried about the artistic liberties taken to appreciate the history.

    Most of the best books I’ve been introduced to recently are years or decades old: John Barnes’ “Candle”, Vernor Vinge’s novels, plus a few by Michael Kube-McDowell and F.M. Busby. It gets harder and harder to keep track of the best SF authors as the genre grows. I had heard of Vinge, but might never have picked up “A Fire Upon The Deep” if Amazon’s recommendations system hadn’t caught it for me.

  24. tacitus says

    Nice to see someone else recommending Iain M. Banks. He’s probably Britain’s finest hard-SF writer today, and his non-SF stuff is pretty good too. I would also agree that the “The Player of Games” is one of his best.

    And if you want a flavour of how intriguingly twisted his mind can be then you can give his non-SF thriller Complicity, or The Wasp Factory a go. (Though, be warned, the latter is definitely not for the faint-of-heart!)

  25. will says

    If you liked “Fire Upon the Deep” be sure and get “Deepness in the Sky”. I haven’t managed to snag “Rainbow’s End” yet, but it is most likely great.

    These aren’t science fiction, but the best scifi/fantasy book last year was “Johnathon Strange and Mr. Norrell”

  26. says

    Relatively recent authors/books:

    I’ll add my vote for any of Iain Banks’ books (‘Use of Weapons’ and ‘Against a Dark Background’ are favorites). Rudy Rucker’s stuff is always a bit of a mind-bending romp. I’ve become a big fan of John Scalzi – everything he’s written has been very enjoyable. Joe R. Lansdale’s ‘Drive-In’ series and the ‘Zeppelins West/Flaming London’ pair are a nice introduction to his science fiction – he’s better known as a mystery/horror writer, although in reality his work spans as many genres as you’d care to name. China Mieville and Jeff VanderMeer books are always on the ‘purchase on release’ list.

  27. quork says

    The most recent science fiction I have read is The Twilight of Evolution by Henry M. Morris. It’s light on the science, but heavy on the fiction. I really can’t recommend it, it is lacking in strong characters, good dialogue and a coherent plot.

  28. Eric says

    Charlie Stross – Accelerando. Fun singularity stuff. Not always hard sci-fi but his solution for the Fermi Paradox is novel.

    Anything by Vernor Vinge – Fire Upon the Deep, Deepness in the Sky, Rainbow’s End, Marooned in Realtime

    China Mieville – Perdido Street Station, The Scar and Iron Council. Not strictly sci-fi, and in fact a lot of it is marxist philosophy masquerading as fantasy, but it’s a great read. He and Gaiman are probably the only two fantasy authors I’ll read.

    Peter F Hamilton – Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained. Space opera, pure and simple. But big. Not as big as the Night’s Dawn trilogy, but still big.

    Ken MacLeod – Cosmonaut Keep and its sequels, whose names escape me right now. It’s got intelligent squid in it.

    Stephen Baxter’s Xeelee saga. Ring, Raft, Flux, Vacuum Diagrams, and a few others. This guy doesn’t think small, when you have stories about races hurling planets and stars at each other as warfare. Also, his alternate-history “Voyage” is a fun thought-experiment about going to Mars in 1974.

    I can’t get through Neil Stephenson anymore. I liked Snow Crash and Diamond Age, I was okay with Cryptonomicon but felt it needed both some serious editing and a better ending, and the baroque cycle kind of left me cold (and it too needed editorial pruning).

    If you liked Dune, avoid the new books. It feels too much like cheesy fanfic.

  29. Russ Myers says

    Excellent (IMHO) recent science fiction:

    Dies the Fire
    The Protector’s War
    A Meeting at Corvalis
    by S. M. Stirling

    Counting Heads
    by Marusek, David

    by Robert J. Sawyer

    Altered Carbon
    Broken Angels
    Woken Furies
    by Richard K. Morgan

    by David Sosnowski

    Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
    by Cory Doctorow

    by Paul Di Filippo

    I just can’t get enough, really.

  30. Rich says

    David, I love Iain Banks’ books as well – great choice, but it’s Iain M. Banks when talking Sci-Fi and Iain Banks when talking regular fiction. It’s all about the ‘M’.

    All his culture books are good, and I found the algebriast (his latest) to be very good also.

  31. Sammy says

    Oh god, Julian May. “My metapsychic redactive talent is bigger than your metapsychic redactive talent.”

    I recommend “The Dazzle of Day,” by Molly Gloss.

  32. Joshua says

    The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson. Oddly, I’ve been off sci fi for a while, even though in general it’s one of my favourite genres. Hm.

  33. les says

    Not new, but my perennial vote for (at least) best first contact novel is Niven and Pournelle’s “Mote in God’s Eye.” Pretty much anything the pair did is worth the time, and “Footfall” gives you another interesting alien gang. I agree with the Stirling recommendation above, though I wonder of the flood of “modern man thrown back in time” stories really are sci fi any more; fun, anyway. Bujold is a great story teller; and if you like a smart ass, the Vorkosigan series works fine.

  34. says

    Hi Rich,

    I have all of Banks’ novels (as Iain or Iain M) as I’ve been reading his stuff for years – in fact I’ve collected first printings (UK and US) of all of his books. I didn’t make the distinction because, personally, I think anyone reading this list would probably enjoy his straight fiction as well as his SF – the characteristics that make his SF so enjoyable carry over to his mainstream work (although I will admit that ‘Song of Stone’ and ‘Whit’ were lesser works). ‘The Crow Road’ and ‘Espedair Street’ were particular favorites from his mainstream books, and ‘The Wasp Factory’ is amazing (you have to respect a book where, upon reading the final chapter, you realize that you must immediately re-read the whole book!).

  35. J-Dog says

    Keith Laumer – Dead now, but his books are being re-issued by Baen Books. I like his lighter attempts (like The Great Time Machine Hoax and Reteif Series) as opposed to his more serious writing, but hey we’re all different.

    S M Stirling – Against The Tide Of Years series (3 books). Nantucket transported to the Bronze Age. Interesting premise, and fun to read. I also liked his Peshawar Lancers – Comet hits earth – wipes out European and American civilization – England survies by moving to India, and Conquistador, where WWII vet comes home – goes to alternate universe where he accidently finds a portal to unspoiled alternate world and creates a feudal society . Interesting action when 1990’s Game Wardens find out.

    1632 series – Eric Flint – also alternate history, when a Pennsylvania Union town is transported to Germany in the midst of the 30 years war.

  36. Karl says

    I have a book to recommend that will surprise you as to its being science fiction. But it is, and the best kind – a single premise about science, and how that affects society. In addition it is beautifully written and is a gripping story.
    “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro; Knopf, 2005.
    Ishiguro’s previous book was “The Remains of the Day”.

  37. says

    I quite enjoyed Eifelheim (Michael Flynn). It’s a first-encounter story through the lense of plague-times Europe, interlaced with the story of a math-focused historian studying a missing village from the past. Brings up issues of religion, astrophysics, aliens … kind of rough in the first few chapters, but then becomes gripping.

  38. Will E. says

    I think all of Banks’ early Culture books are out of print here in the States–a real crime. And purely as a book nut, I loved the artwork on those Bantam Spectra paperbacks, which I have to say got me to check out his work.

  39. mss says

    Charles Stross’s latest two books may be his best yet:

    _The Jennifer Morgue_, which is Lovecraft meets Fleming meets Coupland: foreboding, fast-paced, yet lots of in-jokes for your inner geek.

    _The Glasshouse_, which is more hard-scfi and Matrix-y.

    And anything by Iain M. Banks.

  40. Silmarilion says

    I also recommend “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro. Not typical science fiction, but an absolutely beautifully written story.

  41. says

    Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt is more alternative history than straight-up science fiction, but it is fiction with a lot of science in it. It’s about how the world might have turned out if the plague killed off nearly all the population of Europe in the High Middle Ages, leaving the Chinese, Indians, Muslims, and Americans to fill the gap.

    Aside from assuming the truth of some form of Buddhism (as the main characters meet in the Bardo between reincarnations and occasionally recognize one another while alive), it’s naturalistic in outlook, and the characters are often scientists or liberal activists.

  42. Ginger Yellow says

    I haven’t been reading that much SF recently (by my standards). The only ones I’ve read in the last few months are:

    Lathe of Heaven – Ursula LeGuin
    Excellent stuff, if very Dickian and less political than most of her work.

    The Sirens of Titan – Kurt Vonnegut
    Very funny, but always promising more than it delivers.

    Y: The Last Man – Brian Vaughan
    Probably the best comic currently running. Every male animal on earth is killed by a mystery plague, except for one man and his monkey.

  43. G. Tingey says

    I think Vonnegut’s brain has slowly rotted over the years, I’m afraid.
    Anything by Le Guin, or Ian (M) Banks, Stross’ non-merchant princes, and we’ve forgotten the last of the “Golden Age Authors, old and ill as he is, yet “Against the Fall of Night” and almost anything else by A C Clarke is worth the read.
    Don’t bother with Julia N. May – it is christian apologetics.

  44. says

    Iain M Banks, yes.
    Larry Niven, yes.
    Vernor Vinge, yes.
    Isaac Asimov, yes.
    Robert A Heinlein, yes.
    Neal Stephenson, no, no, a thousand times no.

    OK, that’s a little harsh. Diamond Age and Zodiac were passable, but nothing special. Snowcrash had a really cool first and last scene, but everything in between wither bored r annoyed me. And as for Cryptonomicon, well, it was a 20-page story mixed in with a 1000-page Libertarian manifesto on why we need strong crypto, or the government will kill us all…

    I mean, the greatest heroes of the book are a bunch of people who want to walk around openly carrying military-grade almost-portable weaponry while masked, and think it’s evil and wrong that the police think they might be planning something illegal.

    Heinlein’s Libertarian manfestos never seemed to get in the way of a good story. But then, he could actually write.

    oh, and in case no-one’s mentioned them yet, the Polity novels of Neal Asher and anything by Peter F Hamilton (I’d recommend starting with either The Reality Dysfunction”> or Pandora’s Star are well worth reading.

    Hrm. Everything I recommend seems to be high space opera. Ah, well.

  45. zadig says

    Boy, Julian May seems to polarize people, doesn’t she? I’ve always liked the many-colored land series, as well as the later prequels, but it’s only marginally science fiction… more fantasy than sf, even though it has the trappings of sf (future/distant past settings, outer space, aliens). The bulk of the story is in the characters, and in their mental abilities that are completely indistinguishable from magic. Great read, though.

    And I’ll second the Niven/Pournelle recommendations… great team. Better together than either author individually, although they’ve both written good stuff on their own.

    And I don’t see David Brin mentioned, but anything he’s written is great. And soundly based in science, a lot of the time.

  46. Miguelito says

    Altered Carbon
    Broken Angels
    Woken Furies

    By Richard K. Morgan. Read them in that order.

    Futuristic setting where people have all sorts of implants and can swap bodies. The main character is a real anti-hero (a murderous thug, actually), but is also extremely charming. Something that should please PZ and many others on this board: I get the feeling that he’s an atheist.

    The books are extremely graphic in terms of violence and sex (so they’re not for kids) and are written in a noir style like a 50’s detective novel (it’s a great fusion of sci-fi and the noir-detective novel, IMO). My wife was jealous about the time I was spending with the books instead of with her on our honeymoon (yes, they were that good).

  47. Miguelito says

    I should add that, because everybody’s mind is stored in their cortical “stack” (which is retrievable after death), it makes murder and intrigue in Altered Carbon, Broken Angels, and Woken Furies, that much more interesting.

  48. craig says

    haven’t read any sci-fi lately, so I’ll just mentioned my favorite.
    Gateway, by Frederik Pohl.

    Incidentally, is anyone ever gonna bring up a discussion of the new insane neocon book by Orson Scott Card?

  49. Carl Sachs says

    I’ll definitely second the vote above for Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon, Broken Angels, Woken Furies. Characters, dialogue, literary finesse, plot, and political commentary — Morgan has it all, nailed. Fantastic.

    Other sci-fi writers worth mentioning: the Gregs, Bear and Benford. Bear’s Axiomatic, an anthology of short stories, is a delight — but out of print. Terry Bisson’s Bears Discover Fire, another short-story collection, is excellent — it includes “They’re Made Out of Meat!” which I use when I teach philosophy of mind.

    I recently discovered M. John Harrison, whose Viriconium and Light were recently published in the States by Bantam. Elegant, weird, a bit light on the science, but fascinating. Viriconium is a collection of stories set in the far distant future (part of the “dying Earth” genre); Light goes back and forth between the present, where two programmers are on the verge of discovering the mathematics of FTL travel, and the far future, where the next great leap forward is about to happen.

  50. says

    Another vote for Iain M. Banks and second plug for his Player of Games (damn, but I enjoyed that — all three times that I’ve read it). It’s a pity that sometimes you can’t get his books here and need to resort to, but it’s worth it. His Culture novels are especially delightful, but even his non-sf works (for which he drops his middle initial as a friendly warning) are usually engrossing. Beware of Feersum Endjinn, however, which is a rough read because of his phonetically rendered dialect in many passages. Not the place to start reading Banks.

    I’m also on record as a big fan of Alastair Reynolds.

  51. Lee says

    Over the last 2 years, my favorite author has definitely been Neal Stephenson. Yes, he gets wordy at times, and could use an editor, but I found his work to be entertaining and clever, and the subject matter to be engaging. Unlike another reviewer here (20 pages of material in 1000 pages of text), I would recommend Cryptonomicon first, followed by Snowcrash, and then followed by the Baroque Series. The Baroque Series is about 3000 pages spread over 3 volumes, but the volumes are not standalone; you need to read all three to get any closure on the story lines. Don’t start on the them unless you like Neal Stephenson’s other work and are ready to commit to 3000 pages.

  52. G says

    I have no idea why Janet Kagan has only written two novels, but both of them are extraordinary. Hellspark speaks more intelligently about the diversity of human language and culture than any novel I’ve ever read, all in the context of a rollicking good mystery yarn. Mirabile has an engaging, well-characterized cast – most of whom are hard-working field biologists on a colony planet where something has gone seriously awry with human-imported organisms. Great stuff! My most enthusiastic recommendations (after Dune, natch).

  53. says

    From Timothy Zahn, I would recommend the Conqueror’s trilogy. A first contact goes horribly wrong, and the only chance to save humanity is a bluff.

    The Icarus Hunt by Zahn is also really good.

    For fluff scifi (I don’t always have time or energy at the end of a day to read a dense author like Frank Herbert, despite his brilliance), I would go for Dan Abnett’s Warhammer 40K novels, especially the Gaunt’s Ghosts, Eisenhorn and Ravenor series.

    Sandy Mitchel’s Ciaphas Cain novels are often histerical, with a cowardly antihero who gets thrust into situations where his best chance to survive is to charge headlong into battle.

    Despite the response that some have given Frank Herbert’s son and his prequals to Dune, I have really enjoyed them.

  54. octopod says

    China Mieville, seconded. Good stuff there. Probably some of the best new sci-fi I’ve read.

    Also some of my friends are really into Gene Wolfe’s stuff, particularly the “Book of the New Sun” and “Book of the Long Sun”. Not my personal favourite, but absolutely an interesting writer.

    Another vote on the pro-Stephenson side here. I disagree with most everything the reviewer above said; I find his work consistently engaging and innovative and his world-building among the best. Actually liked Cryptonomicon least of the lot, really, which seems unusual. I’d add “Zodiac” to the list above as well; it’s an older book of his and less well-known, but still excellent stuff.

    Charles Stross is also worth reading. The person who got me reading him described his book “Accelerando” as “the first four pages of ‘Snow Crash’, except the entire book’s like that”. Good stuff, especially if you’re willing to immerse yourself in it and read it all at one go which is what I did.

    And everyone — and I mean everyone — should read Ursula K. LeGuin’s “The Left Hand of Darkness” if you haven’t already.

  55. bernarda says

    The best one I have read in years is perhaps fanatasy rather than SF, but it is the trilogy by JOHNATHON STROUD, “The Bartimaeus Trilogy”.

    Of course start with the first, “The Amulet of Samarkand”. The best way to describe this is perhaps that it is an anti-Harry Potter, or if you like, Harry Potter for adults and older kids that get irony.

    It is published in a children’s series, but everyone I have given it to has loved it, including adults. Usually they have then told me that they offered it to friends or family.

  56. sfreader says

    Although they are classified more as historical fiction, the “People of” series by Kathleen and Michael O’neal Gear are great if you like anthropology and ethnology.

    They seem to be well-researched, and when I have read the non-fiction literature on the cultures they use as background they are usually fairly accurate. Unlike Jean Auel.

  57. says

    I’ve seen Stephen in the thread a couple of times already and I must recommend him as well for his Manifold Trilogy. They’re three different novels that examine different possible answers to the Fermi Paradox. They all contain the same characters, each in a different universe. Very good hard sci-fi. Each novel is both thematically different and examines a different part of science. The books are Manifold: Time, Manifold: Space, and Manifold: Origin.

  58. Baratos says

    Not new, but my perennial vote for (at least) best first contact novel is Niven and Pournelle’s “Mote in God’s Eye.”
    I would call the moties my favorite aliens in all of scifi. How could anyone NOT like Crazy Eddie?

  59. says

    A fantasy series with an interesting take on atheism is Jennifer Fallon’s Second Sons series… the first one is “Lion of Senet.” There is no god (well, Goddess, in this case) and the priestess-in-chief knows it; but she uses her astronomical knowledge to predict eclipses, etc. and make the hoi polloi think she has divinely-granted powers. Hijinks ensue…

  60. says

    Second Richard Morgan. I think “Broken Angels” can work well as a stand alone, and makes an ideal gift for anyone getting off on warporn – enough violence to sate any perversion, and cynical enough about it to put you off the genre.

  61. Rich says

    David, I agree with you 100% on ‘The Wasp Factory’. I enjoyed ‘complicity’ too – great kinky sex!

    I think Banks’ Sci-Fi is great. so conceptual you couldn’t really make a film of it. Is this an acid test for good sci-fi?

  62. Jim says

    I found John C. Wright’s Golden Age series absolutely dazzling. In fact, it got me back into reading sci-fi. I love books that are so full of inventive ideas that it’s worth the 50+ pages of saying “Huh?” before you figure out what’s going on. I wish I could find more of them. Of course, I did read it soon after the birth of our son, so the sleep deprivation might have hindered my capacity to quickly understand what was going on.

  63. says

    China Miéville, seconded. Also M. John Harrison, though his best SF novel (The Centauri Device) seems out of print.

    Best recent thing I’ve read recently is Justina Robson’s Mappa Mundi. I look forward to reading her Natural History, which has gotten rave reviews, soon.

    Folks who loved Heinlein when they were growing up should definitely check out John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War (and its sequel The Ghost Brigades) … military SF w/ a humanist soul (aside from the bizarre intrusion of the “accommodationist politician” in the first).

    I also loved Paul Cornell’s convoluted time-travel novel British Summertime, which took a long time to get an american release. Why are so many of the best SF writers these days British?

  64. Graham Douglas says

    Iain M. Banks for definite (although a couple are a bit iffy): Use of Weapons is one of the best constructed books around. I’m surprised no-one’s mentioned Excession, though.

    I’ll add my vote for Alastair Reynolds, Peter F. Hamilton (but he can go on a bit…) and Richard Morgan.

    I like The Saga of Seven Suns, apart from the idea that humans could cross-breed with the aliens – that spoils it for me.

  65. nocturnation says

    Both of Alfred Bester’s novels. I just discovered these recently but they are must-reads for anyone into speculative fiction.

    The Stars My Destination
    The Demolished Man (first Hugo winner, 1953)

    The Vintage reprints are expensive, but excellent.

  66. bernarda says

    There is a back-in-time novel by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, “The Difference Engine”. What if computers had been developed in 19th century Britain?

    A bit more in the fantasy department is Ishmael Reed’s “Mumbo-Jumbo”. A bit of voodoo.

    Not SF, but if you are interested in academia, there is Ishmael Reed’s “Japanese Spring” and Stephan L. Carter’s “The Emperor of Ocean Park”.

  67. Steve says

    I’m still surprised I bothered to read Perdido Station (Mieville) all the way thru. I thought it was an awful book.

    To add to the good list:
    Karl Schroeder
    Pamela Dean (not your usual sorts of fantasy)
    Charles Sheffield
    Jack Vance, especially two trilogies: Lyoness and Araminta Station. Excellent books.


  68. says

    I’m surprised that no one has mentioned Joan Slonczewski, a practicing biologist; A Door Into Ocean and The Brain Plague are good starters. Nancy Kress writes a lot of interesting science-premise-based SF, e.g., Beggars in Spain and Maximum Light. Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy — especially the first, Red Mars — is great science-based terraforming / planetary colonization, and a lot of his stuff is credibly science-based. Kathleen Ann Goonan’s Queen City Jazz and Mississippi Blues did nanotech & her The Bones of Time is about cloning.

  69. says

    I’ll second the recommendations for Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (which I just finished) and Pynchon’s Against the Day (which I just started, so far so good). Completely different stories, but they seem to go together.

  70. says

    Rich – in case you didn’t know, two of Iain Banks’ mainstream books have been filmed: ‘Complicity’ was released in 2000, and ‘The Crow Road’ was done as a UK TV miniseries in 1996. I don’t think anyone’s dared to do one of his Iain M. Banks books yet, however…

  71. says

    Anything by Robert Charles Wilson or Will McCarthy. No apologies for being vague, I haven’t found a bad by them yet.

    Avoid Stephenson’s Baroque trilogy. I haven’t, and will never, read the third book. The first two were so bad, and so long. I liked the first half of the first book for its portrayal of the Royal Society. Other than that — poo.

  72. says

    Lots of wonderful recommendations in the thread. I hope I don’t repeat any of them.

    Walter Jon Williams’ “Dread Empire’s Fall novels”. Novels set in a multispecies empire (with humans as a high but not the highest member) which starts to crumble after the founding species dies out. It feels a lot like 18th century Britain in its social structure, and the technology encourages the feel of “Horatio Hornblower in Space”

    Naomi Norvik has a trio of novels, speaking of which, set in an alternate Napoleonic era with dragons, yes, dragons, as bonded to human fliers air corps. Book One sets the stage, book two brings the main characters to China for a very different view of the Dragon-human relationship. I haven’t read Book three…yet.

    And let me plug my friend Elizabeth Bear’s “Jenny Casey novels” (Hammered is the first, Scardown and Worldwired complete the set). Near future America and Canada beset by Global climate change, the emergence of an AI, a broken US, oh, and yes, the discovery of an alien space craft on Mars by the Canadians and Chinese, and attempts to reverse engineer it…

  73. Schrodingers Gnu says

    Another vote for Richard Morgan, particularly the first in the series, Altered Carbon. While written in the style of Philip Marlowe, it really deals well with how your perspective changes when you can’t die, as long as you have enough money to afford a new body.

    And I think the PZ’rs of the world would appreciate the ramifications of the clash between religion and science when science has defeated death… In the book, devout catholics are not allowed to be revived after death, and I can’t help wondering what would happen to the old “there are no atheists in the fox holes” in this situation. When death approaches, how strong would your faith in a god have to be to turn down the sure resurrection?

  74. Warren Terra says

    Some of these have been recommended above:

    Anything by David Brin, but especially Kiln People

    Vernor Vinge, especially A Deepness In The Sky and A Fire Upon The Deep

    Connie Wills (The Domesday Book and To Say Nothing Of The Dog)

    And, jut to mix things up a bit, the Foglio’s Girl Genius graphic novels

  75. Pierre says

    “The Golden Age” trilogy by John C. Wright. A highly intricate plot in an ambitious hard sci-fi space opera context (the setting is hunderds of thousands of years in the future, but oddly enough the limitations of physics still apply). A series that is very difficult to stop reading once started… basically, it’s the literary successor to methamphetamines.

    On the Iain M. Banks bandwagon, “Player of Games” is one of my favorite books, but I think I like “The Algebraist” even more, even though it does not take place in the extraordinary Culture background.

  76. david1947 says

    OK, keeping it to what have I read recently (2006) and enjoyed:

    Alastair Reynolds, all
    Charles Stross, all
    Julie Czernada, Species Imperative trilogy
    John Varley, Red thunder-Red Lightening, rollicking+fun early-heinlein-esque rocket stuff
    Vernor Vinge, fire upon the deep etc
    C. J. Cherryh, allways a good read, her massive 9 (12?) volume Foreigner tri-trilogy, read them in order please.
    Nancy Kress, esp. probability … series.

    and yes, I do have a life.

  77. Pierce R. Butler says

    It’s amazing how tastes can differ: count one vote for Mote in God’s Eye as worst-sf-ever.

    For vivid prose, imagery & insight (though negligible science value), Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun tetralogy is unmatched.

    For hard science (plus good characterization & plotting), put Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars/Green Mars/Blue Mars at the top of the list.

    Sophisticated political thought in sf? Most anything by Ken McLeod, but be sure not to start in the middle of one of his various series.

    Really high lit’ry values? Damon Knight’s Humpty Dumpty: An Oval; most Gene Wolfe works; ditto John Crowley, Octavia Butler.

    Possibly the best-written alternative-history novels are those by Guy Gavriel Kay.

    SF may well be the last bastion of short stories: the Nebula Awards collections always have prime material, and there’s usually something pretty good in the sundry “Best of the Year” anthologies.

  78. Katie says

    I’m surprised no one’s mentioned this, maybe it’s not sci-fi enough, but what about Kurt Vonegut? My favorite so far is Cat’s Cradle (but I haven’t finished Slaughterhouse-five yet…)

  79. says

    Best SF book read recently: Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi. Can’t wait to read his other, newer books too!

    I tried to read Neal Stephenson, but I bounced off him hard. The Diamond Age was marginally better in audiobook format, but I still found myself uttering the Eight Deadly Words.*

    I’ve got “Wintersmith,” Terry Pratchett’s new Tiffany Aching novel, in queue. I’ve been hoping the audiobook would come available on, but no joy so far. I’ve listened to “The Wee Free Men” and “A Hatful of Sky” multiple times.

    Speaking of audiobooks, my hands-down favorite has to be “Anansi Boys” by Neil Gaiman, narrated by Lenny Henry. Good book, FABULOUS performance.

    *I don’t care what happens to these people.

  80. says

    Iain M. Banks is without doubt one of the best authors around at the moment. My favourites are:

    Use of Weapons
    Player of Games
    The Algebraist

  81. nm says

    Ursula LeGuin’s SF is very good, if your science of choice is anthropology. Her recent story collection, Birthday of the World, has a story called “Paradises Lost” which is a wonderful consideration of the relationship among science, religion, and politics.

  82. says

    I’d still recommend UBIK from Philip K. Dick.

    Philip K. Dick’s searing metaphysical comedy of death and salvation is a tour de force of panoramic menace and unfettered slapstick, in which the departed give business advice, shop for their next incarnation, and run the continual risk of dying yet again.

  83. says

    Peter F. Hamilton (but he can go on a bit…)

    Hamilton started out okay, but he’s getting better as he publishes more. The Pandora’s Star two were fine, and “Fallen Dragon” worked well by itself. Keep an eye out for any new stuff by him to see if this continues.

  84. Will E. says

    I just read in the NY Times that Dick is getting the Library of America treatment, with four of his novels to be published in one volume (to be edited by Jonathan Lethem) next year. Boy, first Lovecraft, now Phil K.!

  85. Ah Clem says

    Anything by Maureen F. McHugh. It’s all good.

    Her latest collection of short stories is “Mothers and Other Monsters”. Published by Small Beer Press.

  86. Nix says

    Paul, _Dread Empire’s Fall_ is not 18th-century England: it’s late-Republic-era Rome. The protagonists’ names are a huge great steaming hint (think Gaius Marius and Cornelius Sulla).

    wintermute, I’m sorry, but on the Saga of Seven Suns I’m afraid I’m of the opposite opinion: it’s badly-written tripe.

    Strong recommendations for everything Charlie Stross has ever written, everything Iain Banks has ever written (but warning: some of it is terribly dark, e.g. _Against a Dark Background_), and everything M. John Harrison has ever written, especially _Light_, which now has a sequel on my to-read pile, _Nova Swing_. (Warning: _Light_ is not what you want if what you want is pleasant characters. Two of the story-strands have mass-murderers as their protagonists and the last one has a lumpen idiot who gets pushed around by events rather than actually affecting them. Amazing work nonetheless.)

    (Warning: _The Atrocity Archives_ and _The Jennifer Morgue_ may cause pun and bad-hidden-joke overload, as may the cover of _The Jennifer Morgue_. But it’s impressive to find that the latter book has an *excuse* for being a Bond pastiche, and that the protagonist is fighting against it for pretty much the entire book.)

  87. Ginger Yellow says

    Ubik is in my all time top three novels. I strongly recommend reading it in conjunction with Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman.

  88. David Harmon says

    Anything by Greg Egan, most of David Brin. Octavia Butler, Joe Haldeman, Philip Jose Farmer. Don Sakers’ The Leaves Of October. I’m going through a bunch of Moorcock now, way cool. (But it’s embarrassing seeing how much Zelazny swiped from him!) Tad Williams (fantasy). Fred Saberhagen, notably his Empire of the East and the series starting with The Mask Of Apollo. (Oh heah, he did a bunch of Berserker stories too. :-) ) Stanislaw Lem for laughs, lots of laughs. ;-)

  89. says

    Kim Stanley Robinson’s 50 degrees below (coupled with 40 signs of rain.) Good story, relevance, characters, and also full of good science, too. The Anti-Chricton. His third book will come out in March. Also, anything by David Brin is good, too.

  90. Gray Lensman says

    Did anyone mention James White? His Sector General series about a huge future hospital in deep space is great for the alien medical mysteries fans. The whole set is available in two volumes.

  91. Magpie says

    Must add my weight behind the Iain M. Bnaks brigade, especially for Use of Weapons, which has the best plot twist in any book ever. Well, one of them then.

  92. says

    It isn’t recent, but probably my favorite science-fiction novel is Bradley Denton’s Buddy Holly Is Alive And Well On Ganymede.

    Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels aren’t strictly science fiction, but they’re entertaining as hell, and they have enough science-fiction elements to keep most geeks entertained.

  93. Mencken says

    I agree with your attitude toward Orson Scott Card, however the Ender Series still stands up. The first two books won both Hugo and Nebula awards and the conclusion, though a bit slim, is satisfying. The parallel novel Ender’s Shadow is also, I think, an entertaining read. His sequel novels following the Bean character are horrendous, politically inept, and in my opinion unreadable. I gather the same is true of his latest work. It is odd, to me, that a writer who’s earlier work I hold in such high esteem, a science fiction writer, can have attitudes and beliefs towards Intelligent Design, and homosexuality that border on medieval. I’ve bought my last Card book.

  94. Bruce Baugh says

    Someone up above praised Richard Garfinkle’s All In an Instant, rightly so. I also recommend his earlier novel, Celestial Matters, which is a hard sf techno thriller…in a universe where Aristotelean physics work. It’s more or less unique in my experience, and a delight.

    I’m also happy to see some love for Wil McCarthy, who (I very much agree) hasn’t written a bad one yet. I’d recommend Bloom (set mostly in the outer solar system after a very, very bad nanotech accident) or The Collapsium (a sort of comedy of manners with programmable matter) to start with.

  95. Dr. Locrian says

    Don’t know if anyone’s mentioned it yet, but Paul DiFillippo’s short story collection “Ribofunk” is an excellent, squishy counterpoint to cyberpunk’s digital mannerisms. It was written in the early ’90’s, and was a landmark in the transition from the virtual reality/computers sci-fi paradigm to more current bio-nanotechnology obsession. Still one of most witty and strangely sexy examples of the “biopunk” genre.

  96. Occasional Expositor says

    I second the nomination of Maureen McHugh.

    But I insist that everyone run out right now and buy Rosemary Kirstein’s books. The first two (of four) in the Steerswoman series are available in omnibus form as The Steerswoman’s Road.

    This is a fantastic series that starts out seemingly as fantasy, but ends up as science fiction. Beautiful integration of math and science into the storytelling. Fantastic, intelligent protagonists. Intriguing world building.

    What are you waiting for? Go!

    PS – Here’s a link to science fiction haikus:
    Nebula Winners

    Ender’s Game —
    Outcast kid genius
    Though unpopular, saves Earth
    Guess why geeks love this.

  97. Steviepinhead says

    I enjoyed Ender’s Game, and the Alvin Maker series, but I’ve kind’ve gone sour on the suthor ever since his moronic pronouncements on evolution…

  98. Nick Tarleton says

    I second all recommendations of John C. Wright (a bit of an ideologue but very well-thought-out quirky far-future vision) Charles Stross (one of the most prescient sf authors around), and Alastair Reynolds (great space opera, although his quality varies some; _Redemption Ark_ was probably the best)

  99. says

    I have to second recommendations for John Scalzi and Walter Jon Williams’ Dread Empire’s Fall (from which I didn’t get either an 18th-century Britain OR late Republic feel).

    Also recommend the In The Time of the Sixth Sun novels by Thomas Harlan, Wasteland of Flint and House of Reeds. It’s set in an alternate future where the Aztecs dominate Earth and its stellar empire. It has some elements that are more “science fantasy” than “hard” sci-fi, but its very, very good.

  100. Nick Tarleton says

    Additionally Stephen Baxter (specifically _Manifold: Space_, _Evolution_, _Vacuum Diagrams_) and Greg Bear (_Blood Music_, _Eon_, _Eternity_).

  101. says

    Hey, PZ, you can’t be like those fucktards, though, who can’t listen to the Dixie Chicks because of their politics. Card has written some great books, regardless of his politics. Judge the two separately.

  102. gkru says

    This was supposed to be in comment to Will E.’s post about Dick and Lovecraft being allowed into the Pantheon of American Letters via the Library of America, but my attempt to quote it fizzled somehow.

  103. hen3ry says

    Steve Aylett, if you can find him, is probably the sci-fi/fantasy/other author most likely to drive you mad, but you won’t notice till you try to tell people about the books. Bigot Hall is imo the best, with the Beerlight series following close behind.

  104. says

    Good to see so many Iain M Banks fans, although I’m a little surprised to see him described as “hard s-f”, it’s more space opera (as is a lot of David Brin’s stuff like the Uplift books, also brilliant). The first four of the Culture novels are fabulous (Consider Phlebas, Player of Games, Use of Weapons and Excession). And I met my wife on the (wonderfully off-topic) Culture List, so Banks has a bit to answer for… ;-)

    Also a bit surprised to see China Mieville described as science fiction too – it’s fantasy IMO. Perdido Street Station was a bit of a slog, currently reading The Scar which is way better.

    Books I like to recommend:

    The Diamond Age – Neal Stephenson
    Earth – David Brin
    Slaughterhouse Five or Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut
    Darwin’s Radio – Greg Bear
    Most of Stephen Baxter’s hard s-f (Titan, Voyage, the Xeelee sequence, Manifold) and his nod to Olaf Stapledon in Evolution.
    And my favourite s-f novel of all: Arthur C Clarke’s The Fountains Of Paradise

    In fact, an s-f explorer could hardly go wrong by collecting the SF Masterworks imprint, which has a lot of classics that you might otherwise miss like Stand On Zanzibar by John Brunner and too many others to mention.

    Best s-f I’ve read very recently is probably Stephen Baxter’s new series starting with Coalescent which has some entertaining biological speculation.

  105. says

    I guess some might consider it more “horror” than SF…but what about Danielewski’s House of Leaves? (And I know “House” should be blue…sorry)

    Great book, total mind-seduction. I would say what it does to your head is more sci-fi than the actual content. His new book just came out too, Only Revolutions. I haven’t read it yet…has anyone on here?

  106. says

    Peter Watts’ Blindsight and Chris Moriarty’s Spin State and the sequel Spin Control are good reads in very hard SF. Karl Schoeder’s Ventus and Lady of Mazes are excellent, Permanence is the novel to which Blindsight is the reply (they both address the Fermi Paradox), and Sun of Suns, which came out this year, is the first volume of a series that looks quite interesting.

  107. says

    No one has mentioned Roger Zelazny yet. His Amber novels are the kind of sf that is undistinguishable from fantasy (parallel worlds that can be traveled by those with the power to “add” and “subtract” features from the environment so that they gradually move from one world to another via intermediates). Zelazny is very entertaining to read (usually) and the first five novels (beginning with Nine Princes in Amber) form a unified cycle. They’ve been collected, together with a later five novels, into The Great Book of Amber. The later novels are, to my mind, uneven and sort of trail off, but the first five are great fun.

    Then there’s his wonderful standalone novel, Lord of Light.

  108. heckblazer says

    I’ve just stumbled across Charles Stross myself, and have The Jennifer Morgue on my Christmas list. In a related vein Stross also wrote “A Colder War”, which you can read online at:

    I’d also highly reccomend The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe, which is sort of high fantasy that is really hard SF (e.g. after a bit you realize that a tower the narrator describes is actually an ancient starship).

  109. Anna Feruglio Dal Dan says

    Despite Iain Banks being my personal God, and seconding the reccomendations for Charlie Stross and Richard Morgan, I can’t understand why Greg Egan only gets one reccomendation. Best hard sf witer of all times, bar none. And a militant atheist, too. There is a page in Distress about the spiritual greatness of atheism that reduces me to tears every damn time. And a great debunking of the fallacy that evolution has a purpose in Teranesia.

  110. says

    Despite Iain Banks being my personal God, and seconding the reccomendations for Charlie Stross and Richard Morgan, I can’t understand why Greg Egan only gets one reccomendation. Best hard sf witer of all times, bar none.

    His short stories are great. “Quarantine” was excellent. But others of his novels were so far out in the mathosphere that they left me cold. The latter bits of Stross’s “Accelerando” suffered from the same problem.

  111. llewelly says

    I find it interesting to compare Jerry Pournelle’s long-lived fetishisms of certain idealizations of technology (Orion, SDI), and his reflexive assaults on anything that smacks of pacifism and conservationism, with the most self-destructive aspects of Motie society. The guy has a lot in common with the Libertarian driving the car in PZ’s infamous anti-libertarian rant.

    I loved _The Mote In [God|Murcheson]’s Eye_ when I first read it as a child. As the years went by, I read more and more Pournelle, learned more and more about his politics, and re-read _Mote_ time and time again … slowly, over time, my irony meter began to take on a brilliant glow, which was beauteous to behold.

  112. says

    At last, a subject I know enough about to comment on. I thought The Alejandra Variations by Paul Cook was under-rated.
    Also, I recommend anything by Walter Jon Williams. Maybe the Forbidden Borders series by W. Michael Gear belongs in the juvenile thread, but I enjoyed it as an adult. But then again I like Don Pendleton.

  113. says

    Ooops, Egan. Totally forgot about him. Distress is a fantastic novel, and the first chapter creeps me out every time I read it. I can understand the math-aversion to his work, but I very much enjoyed Diaspora. His short stories are probably the best intro.

    Jeff Noon’s Vurt should appeal to those who like Egan too.

  114. says

    C. J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series — first contact, linguistics, rapid technological expansion — what’s not to like?

    Personally I like “young adult” fiction (see Terry Prachett’s Tiffany Aching novels, recommended above.)

    Tamora Pierce’s two-volume series Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen. Well, there are gods in it, but they are capricious and unreliable. Excellent YA fare — spy craft and nation building.

    For lovely fluff, try Harry Turtledove’s The Case of the Toxic Spelldump

  115. says

    I really feel I have to say right here and now that Orson Scott Card is not a good writer. He has a painfully small imagination: he simply cannot write anything that isn’t fundamentally reflective of his deranged religious politics. It pervades everything of his I’ve ever read. Even his good works, which have seemingly been flukes.

    He didn’t suddenly turn into crap recently; he was crap as far back as 1980, when he published Songmaster, one of the absolute worst novels I’ve ever read. The best I can say about it is that it’s heavy-handed and completely contrived, like most of his fiction; even in Ender’s Game, his best work, the whole universe of the story is stacked by the author so ridiculously that no alternative can possibly emerge to the worldview the author wants to espouse, which is one of genocidal violence. He cheats. There’s never any chance of a dialogue. The worst I can say about Songmaster is that it’s Card’s most bigoted and homophobic book, and that’s saying something. It’s really, really nasty, honestly skin-crawling. He tries to create a gay character, you see, and portray him as sympathetically as he possibly can. The result is, well…Ugly. Just ugly. Card simply cannot imagine a homosexual can be a fully-formed human being. The character is a pathetic broken submissive shell of a person who requires abuse and domination and is unable to survive as an independent entity in even the most basic way. Basically a well-kicked dog with the power of speech.

  116. says

    I’ve been receiving recommendations for Orson Scott Card’s work too. I agreed to get Ender’s Game, but beyond that I’ll see.

    Anyways, I highly recommend Frank Herbert’s Dune. I very much like that book.

  117. llewelly says

    C. J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series — first contact, linguistics, rapid technological expansion — what’s not to like?

    You forgot the alien language that requires habitual algebraic manipulations simply to speak correctly, and, most importantly, the hero hooks up with 9-foot tall black-skinned assassin/special forces/body guard as a girlfriend! It’s interesting (but not surprising) that a 65 year old woman has such a deep insight into the fantasies of young male geeks.

  118. llewelly says

    C. J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series — first contact, linguistics, rapid technological expansion — what’s not to like?

    You forgot the alien language that requires habitual algebraic manipulations …

    Er, sorry, you didn’t forget.

  119. ewan says

    Stuff that gets an extra vote: Charles Stross (my most recent discovery; check out the delightful online short, with Cory Doctorow, _Ownz0red_); Niven’s early stuff (but please, not the Ringworld sequels); the Red/Green/Blue Mars series; Snow Crash/Diamond Age/Cryptonomicon (but not the Baroque cycle).

    New to this thread:
    _Dream Park_ and sequels; not really much science, but neat and appeals to the inner geek; some of my favourite fluff SF. Much of Bruce Sterling’s stuff, ditto Cory Doctorow. If you want fluff military SF, John Ringo starts each series very well; I enjoyed almost all of the _March to the Stars_ series; and Honor Harrington stuff is very easy reading. For older stuff, try Cornbluth’s _The Merchants’ War_ (I *think* that’s the right title – there’s a sequel, too) or Sheckley for a darker take on life. Harry Harrison’s _Stainless Steel Rat_ series is great escapism, and his series on worker rebellion that I am currently blanking on the name of is great.

    OK, I could go on for a long time here.

    Avoid at all costs: _A State of Disobedience_ by Kratman, new in paperback from Baen and the only recent book from which I have been almost physically repulsed by the atrocity of the writing. Amazingly bad. However, *many* kudos to Baen for the manner in which they handled my irate feedback and made me feel valued as a customer, can’t praise that enough.

  120. George says

    Something I read in college that I might pick up again: Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We. I remember liking that sci-fi dystopian novel a lot.

  121. George says

    Amazon description of Zamyatin’s We:

    Book Description
    “[Zamyatin’s] intuitive grasp of the irrational side of totalitarianism- human sacrifice, cruelty as an end in itself-makes [We] superior to Huxley’s [Brave New World].”
    -George Orwell

    An inspiration for George Orwell’s 1984 and a precursor to the work of Philip K. Dick and Stanislaw Lem, We is a classic of dystopian science fiction ripe for rediscovery. Written in 1921 by the Russian revolutionary Yevgeny Zamyatin, this story of the thirtieth century is set in the One State, a society where all live for the collective good and individual freedom does not exist. The novel takes the form of the diary of state mathematician D-503, who, to his shock, experiences the most disruptive emotion imaginable: love for another human being.
    At once satirical and sobering-and now available in a powerful new modern translation-We speaks to all who have suffered under repression of their personal and artistic freedom.

    “One of the greatest novels of the twentieth century.”
    -Irving Howe

  122. says

    Good luck to PZ in getting stuff out of this…

    Yeah, I like Iain M. Banks, but I’d hardly call him hard SF, especially the Culture and AaDB. Algebraist might be semi-hard space opera, at least the only FTL is wormholes. Brin’s Uplift books are over the top space opera; the first three are generally considered to be good, the second three to be horribly disappointing. Yeah, some people like them but I doubt that’s the majority.

    OSC being a Democrat makes more sense when you read Wikipedia on his other political positions. Pro-gun control, pro-regulation, pro-educating illegal immigrants… there’s more to party affiliation than homophobia, especially if you picked your party decades ago.

    I haven’t read John Wright, but the label I associate with his books is “Christan Objectivism”. I have read Spin State, and had problems with it, like coal mining with humans IN SPAAACE plus Weird Quantum Abuse.

    China Mieville uses the language of magic — thaumaturgy — but there’s little separating him from the looser “science fiction”, and some will classify him as SF. I like The Scar the most.

    Actual recommendations

    Yes, Greg Egan (for ideas not characterization). Peter Watts seems to be his successor, with Starfish (set at the bottom of the ocean) and Blindsight; both have extensive references. Lois McMaster Bujold hasn’t been mentioned yet but has four Hugo awards and writes masterful blends of unobtrusive science, plot, and characterization; for re-reading she’s up there with Terry Pratchett, for me. Donald Kingsbury wrote Psychohistorical Crisis, an amazing ‘sequel’ to the Foundation books and arguably better than the original Asimov *and* the official sequels done by Brin et al. Stanislaw Lem has some great stuff.

  123. Daverz says

    Lately I’ve been enjoying Kage Baker’s ‘Company’ series (more of a mileu, really, than a strict linear series), which starts with _In the Garden of Iden_.

    Not science fiction, but my best recent read was Kim Newman’s _Anno Dracula_ (another loose series). Da-yam, that guy sure can write.

  124. bernarda says

    An early 1984-style novel is by Jack London, THE IRON HEEL.

    You can find it at Project Gutenberg to check it out.

  125. William Carson says

    Stargeezer said:
    “Try ‘The Carpet Makers’ by Andreas Eschbach. His only work translated into English. Maybe enough readers will get us some more.”

    Hear, hear. Why do publishers keep churning out “Da Vinci Code” knockoffs when for the price of a good translator they could offer an English version of Eschbach’s clever and blasphemous “Das Jesus Video”? In the meantime, it’s almost worth learning German just to read it.

  126. Graculus says

    Orson Scott Card lost me back for good at the Memory of Earth when he wrote that males were more important, bologically, than females.

    Science fiction should be at least somewhere close to accurate on basic science.

  127. flounder says

    I have to read The Man in the High Castle by Phillip K. Dick every couple years because it’s so good. About people just keepin’ on keepin’ after the Nazi’s and Japan win the war (hey, don’t forget about Italy and their new little Roman Empire!). Of course they get caught up in a plot by Germany to bomb the Japanese homeland and another to murder a writer (who lives in the Rocky Mountain states no one wanted) who wrote a book in which the Allies won the war.

  128. llewelly says

    Orson Scott Card lost me back for good at the Memory of Earth when he wrote that males were more important, biologically, than females.

    Most (all?) of his other work displays this attitude strongly, though not always explicitly.

  129. rmb says

    Personally, I think the novel is overrated as a science fiction form. Most SF authors should be writing short stories or novellas. For example, I never really liked any of Asimov’s novels (although the Lucky Starr books were/are fun kids books), but he was one of the best as a short storyist (and you should read any of his short stories). Similarly, Clarke was a much better writer of short stories than of full-length novels. Here’s my (rather lengthy) list of favorites and least favorites.

    I second (or third, or nth) *Mote in God’s Eye*. Pournelle’s grasp of sociology and evolutionary biology is simplistic at best, but *Mote in God’s Eye* features one of the very few truly alien civilizations. If you like military sci-fi (which I sometimes do), read Pournelle’s Falkenberg’s Legion books. Pournelle is a royalist who fetishizes ancient Sparta, but god, he can write (sometimes his politics do get in the way, like in *Go Tell the Spartans* and *Fallen Angels*). *King David’s Spaceship* explores the downside to the Second Empire of Man, which is a nice reality check. Also check out *Ringworld* and some of the Known Space stories, especially the Gil the Arm stories, by Niven.

    John Varley. Amazing writer, and amazingly underappreciated. I don’t like *Red Thunder* or *Mammoth*, but his earlier sci-fi is truly stunningly good. It’s so good that I will continue reading whatever he writes, even if it’s as bad as *Red Thunder* and *Mammoth*. The Gaia trilogy is a tad disjointed plotwise, but still quite good. Varley is also one of the few writers, male or female, who can actually write female characters.

    Lois McMaster Bujold. Just read anything she writes. Start with *Warrior’s Apprentice* and *The Vor Game* for her sci-fi, and read *Curse of Chalion* for her fantasy world.

    Arthur C. Clarke. *Tales from the White Hart* is a collection of science fiction tall tales, as recounted in a bar (called the White Hart) by a figure named Harry Purvis. The stories feature things like the osmotic bomb, which allegedly worked by exploiting the power of osmosis. *Childhood’s End* and *City and the Stars* are also quite good; *Childhood’s End* is the only book I’ve seen that comes with a disclaimer stating that the ideas expressed within do not necessarily represent the author’s beliefs. Clarke’s short stories are almost all worth reading, and “The Star” (about a Jesuit astrophysicist’s crisis of faith) is one of the best ever written. One caveat: Clarke can’t write women, and his attempts to do so are painful.

    Jacqueline Carey. *Kushiel’s Dart* and its sequels aren’t for everyone (there’s a lot of kinky, sadomasochistic sex, described in wonderful/excruciating detail, depending on your perspective), but they’re gorgeously written and Carey is a wonderful world-builder who writes wonderful characters. The main character is a masochist (an “anguisette”) and a very expensive prostitute (perfectly respectable profession in this universe) involved in political intrigue (you’ll have to read *Kushiel’s Dart* twice to keep the characters and plots straight).

    Neil Gaiman. *American Gods*, *Neverwhere*, and *Sandman*. Also his short story collection *Smoke and Mirrors*. He has a new collection out, which I haven’t read yet (it’s only out in hardcover and I’m an impoverished college student), but the first story is Lovecraft mythos meets Sherlock Holmes. Literally. It’s great.

    Ursula LeGuin. Read *Left Hand of Darkness* and *The Dispossessed*. I enjoyed the Earthsea books, as well. The rest of her stuff…eh.

    Robert Heinlein. I loved his juveniles when I was a kid, although his lack of basic writing skills (and inability to write women) annoyed me even then. IMO, his two best books are *Starship Troopers* and *Moon is a Harsh Mistress*. *Stranger in a Strange Land* is quite good, but last third is too preachy. Scalzi’s *Old Man’s War* is a fun remake of *Starship Troopers*, but not as interesting as the original.

    Roger Zelazny. Other people have mentioned the Amber books (especially the original pentology) and *Lord of Light*. Also read *Jack of Shadows*, *Doorways in the Sand*, *Damnation Alley*, and pretty much anything he’s written.

    Vernor Vinge. I literally could not put down *Deepness in the Sky*. I spent an afternoon reading it instead of working because I couldn’t put it down long enough to get anything done. His novella *True Names* is an underappreciated precursor to cyberpunk, and IMO, better done than most of it. *Rainbow’s End* I read as a response to cyberpunk; he readdressed a lot of the themes and ideas from *True Names*. It was a fun read, heavy on the new ideas, but I’m not sure it really worked as a novel (the characters annoyed me).

    Randall Garrett. The Lord Darcy stories feature forensic sorcery, in an alternate universe where Richard the Lionhearted didn’t die, and instead went on to preside over the codification of the laws of magic. ‘Nuff said.

    Charles Stross. *Accelerando* needed a good editor, but it’s worth reading anyway. The *Merchant Princes* series is quite enjoyable, and is actually the best defense of free market capitalism I’ve read to date.

    Diane Duane. *So You Want to Be a Wizard*, *Deep Wizardry*, *High Wizardry*, *Book of Night With Moon*, *To Visit the Queen*. Fantasy, set in New York City (mostly). They’re about wizards whose mission is to slow down the heat death of the universe. Literally. The first three books I listed are about a pair of teenage wizards; they’re aimed at younger readers, but they’re still quite good. The last two are aimed at adults, and they’re about cat wizards. One of the things that really comes through is how much Duane loves New York, and especially Manhattan. She also wrote a short story in the same “universe” called “Uptown Local,” about the magic inherent in the subway system, and you can find a link to her reading it on her wikipedia page.

    George Martin. His fantasy is notable for not romanticizing medieval life. His characters get hurt (they don’t just die, they get hurt) and make serious mistakes and grow and change. Unfortunately, he shows signs of having Robert Jordan syndrome: the “Fire and Ice” series is at four thick volumes, with no hint that it’ll be wrapped up any time soon.

    Deborah Christian. She’s another underappreciated writer. She hasn’t written much, but what she has written (*Mainline*, *Kar Kalim*, and *Truthsayer’s Apprentice*) is quite good. *Mainline* is sci-fi, the other two are fantasy.

    Jack McDevitt. His production is a bit uneven, but *A Talent for War* and *Eternity Road* are quite good.

    *Dune* by Frank Herbert. I love it, although the racial and monarchist subthemes are a tad disturbing (why do so many otherwise great works of SF espouse such reactionary/borderline fascistic politics?).

    *Mists of Avalon* by Marion Zimmer Bradley. A retelling of the Arthurian legends from the perspective of the women, especially Morgan Le Fay and Guinivere. Don’t bother with anything else she’s written (some people like the Darkover books, who knows why).

    *Watchmen* by Alan Moore. Graphic novel exploring the fascistic themes of superhero comics.

    *The Martian Race* by Gregory Benford. Very hard science fiction, about the first manned expedition to Mars.

    *Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell* by Susanna Clarke. It was marketed as a mainstream book, but it’s genre. And it has footnotes detailing the alternate world, and it’s hilarious in that dry, upper-class English way.

    *The Witches of Karres* by James Schmitz: “In the far future, Mankind has scattered among the stars, bred into peculiar forms, and developed peculiar powers. Captain Pausert of Nikkeldepain makes the serious mistake of rescuing three little Witches of Karres from their overwrough owners. There follow espionage, piracy, assorted forms of mayhem, and a freewheeling galactic war that nobody knew was in progress…” (from the back cover of my ancient and much-loved copy). Best fluffy science fantasy every written. Mercedes Lackey, Eric Flint, and Dave Freer blasphemed by writing a (bad) fanficcy “sequel” to it.

    *A Canticle for Leibowitz* by Walter Miller. Post-nuclear-apocalypse history, seen from the perspective of an order of Catholic monks founded by a guy named I. E. Leibowitz to preserve knowledge and culture. A bit preachy, a bit dated, but still quite good.

    *Man in the High Castle* by Philip K. Dick. One of Dick’s more accessible books. His short stories also tend to be more accessible than his novels.

    *Architect of Sleep* by Stephen Boyett. Another underrated book, possibly because it’s twenty years old, ends on a cliffhanger, and has no sequel. Boyett says on his website that he’s still planning to publish one, but it’ll probably involve rewriting his entire story arc. The basic premise is that a human living in Florida gets transported to an Earth where raccoon relatives became sentient and apes stayed in the trees.

    *Mathemagics* by Margaret Ball. As a math major, I love this book. The main characters are: a chain-mail bikini-wearing warrior from a dimension where magic is done by doing math, a math teacher and sci-fi nut, and three eighth-graders. The villain is a fundamentalist preacher running around Austin, Texas destroying books (by turning them into their main characters in the other universe). The climactic scenes involve the math teacher recognizing which characters represent which books and performing “Furry R” transforms to turn them from people/monsters back to books (for example, he comments that he always thought the landscape was the main character of *Dune*). The other climactic scenes take place at a con. And the chapters are numbered using mathematical expressions.

    Stuff I hate:

    I couldn’t stand the Honor Harrington series; they’re exhibit A in terms of the heavy-handed politics of the author getting in the way of a perfectly good story.

    Sawyer: About the only Sawyer novel that didn’t manage to seriously offend me was *Flashforward*, which was…ok. The eugenics theme and the “rape as a response to affirmative action” plot device in the Hominids series just made my skin crawl.

    Neal Stephenson: I liked *Cryptonomicon*, mostly for the portrayal of Alan Turing and company. The first couple of chapters of *Snowcrash* were great (the rest of the book kind of sucked). Stephenson has a real gift for writing one-off ironic/satirical scenes that are hilariously funny. That said, he can’t string the scenes together into good novels. By the third volume of the Baroque Cycle, I just didn’t care enough to finish it.

    Orson Scott Card: I loved *Ender’s Game* when I was growing up, and I still do. That said, the essay “Creating the Innocent Killer” by John Kessel points out the numerous philosophical problems with the story. *Speaker for the Dead* was ok, but I’ve hated everything else I’ve read by Card. Also, his politics appall me to the extent that I just can’t bring myself to give him any more money (I didn’t pick up on the gay parts of *Songmaster*; maybe I was just too young when I read it).

    I’m going to stop here, before I think of any more authors or books I need to add. Timothy Zahn is good, I’ve liked the Iain M. Banks I’ve read (sadly, most bookstores around here don’t carry him), and I liked *Perdido Street Station* (the best description I’ve heard of it is “high fantasy meets Dickens”), but I haven’t read enough by those authors to really comment.

  130. llewelly says

    Pournelle’s grasp of sociology and evolutionary biology is simplistic at best, but *Mote in God’s Eye* features one of the very few truly alien civilizations.

    I think the evolutionary biology in _Mote_ (and the other Pournelle / Niven collaborations) owes more to Niven than Pournelle. _Ringworld_, _The Smoke Ring_, and many other Niven novels contain many examples of simplistic but nonetheless entertaining takes on evolutionary biology. _Destiny’s Road_ (probably my favorite Niven novel), has a slightly less simplistic take on evolutionary biology.

  131. djlactin says

    My votes for favorites…

    Heinlein in his better moments: “Time enough for love” my favorite offhand.

    The Mote in God’s Eye and Lucifer’s Hammer by Niven/Pournelle

    Has anybody mentioned the Dune series? (Herbert’s originals… i’ve also read the Herbert jr/Anderson prequels; they’re good but not in the same class)

    Favorite short story writer is Harlan Ellison:

    “I have no mouth and I must scream” and
    “A boy and His Dog”.

    I also believe that Lord Of the Rings is Sci-Fi: With the mixed-up domestic biology (corn, potatoes and tobacco from the new world and horses from the old), it can’t be set in the past. Witness the relics of superhuman ancient technology: the rings, the see-globes, saruman’s castle walls, gandalf’s staff. (There’s also a toss-off line that the see-globes had been constructed about 50000 years earlier.) Consider also that humanity has had time to separate (or be engineered) into several species. The story has to be set far in the future. Perhaps millions of years.

  132. ellen says

    Given the nature of this website, i can’t believe no one has shouted out ‘John Wyndham’ Its old school, i know, but its all the better for it. Read all of it!

  133. Brian says

    I recently read Burrough’s first three martian novels, which were (obviously) terribly space-operaish but quite good.

    Also, Frank Herbert seems to get narrowly focused attention on the Dune series; which is perhaps because that’s pretty much all that book stores carry. His other novels, especially White Plague, are quite good as well. I can’t speak for his short stories.

    Again, Dan Simmons, I’ll second Hyperion and raise you Ilium and it’s sequel. Excellent books, though it’s often disappointing not to buy Simmon’s novels in the matched pairs.

    And to the Stephenson detractor far above… you had me accepting your criticism until you went on to say Heinlein was a stand out example. I enjoy both, and have read a majority of Heinlein’s books, and frankly, nobody could get on a podium and preach at the cost of a story like Heinlein.

  134. Jud says

    Can’t believe no one has mentioned Gibson’s Neuromancer, whatever you may think of his later stuff.

    Love “A Canticle for Liebowitz,” already mentioned above.

    If you can find a short story collection with Alfred Bester’s “Fondly Fahrenheit,” it’s quite wonderful.

    Though it’s not a genre novel, my favorite novel, period, and one with a strong science component, is Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow.”

  135. josh says

    Can’t believe only one or two people have recommended brilliant stylist and aggressive atheist James Morrow to PZ. From the story in which God speaks to Job from a Whirlpool washing machine to the pyrotechinic novel in which C.S. Lewis risks being trapped in God’s rotting corpse, JM packs a wallop.

  136. DBarker says

    I’m kind of surprised no one has mentioned the only science fiction writer I now read, which is J.G. Ballard.

  137. Nix says

    ewan, if you want to stay sane avoid anything with Kratman even tangentially associated with it. Before he broke it through technological incompetence the man had a blog, too: it was frankly terrifying.

    (Also to avoid: Ringo’s _Ghost_, a story Ringo wrote as an act of catharsis and then rightly refused to publish until semi-forced by his more moronic readers.)

    The Kratman/Ringo novel _Watch on the Rhine_ is notable if just because it’s a novel ostensibly set in Germany which no German I have yet talked to finds even slightly plausible (Kratman is *proud* of never having left the US, sheesh); and a novel in which the *Waffen-SS* are the *good guys*. I jest not. This is a work of manifest insanity, and if it has sold more than about three copies in Germany I’d be surprised. If it’s been banned there I would *not* be surprised.

  138. Nix says

    (As an aside, the pub meet (the London Circle) chronicled in _Tales from the White Hart_ is still going strong. If you’re in London the first Thursday in the month, come along! Alas no Harry Purvis.)

  139. Nix says

    Oh, and rmb, you got the name of the Vinge wrong. It’s an easy mistake to make: the correct name is _Rainbows End_. (At least, it’s an easy mistake to make if, um, you haven’t read the book, what with one chapter being called `The missing apostrophe’ and all.)

  140. Robert Taylor says

    First, let me say, I really like your blog.

    Onto the Books, probably, you need to specify what genre of sci-fi you actually would prefer to get requests on.

    For Military SCI-FI, try David Weber’s Honor Harrington Series. William Dietz’ Legion of the Damned series is excellent, as are his new books Runner, and Logos Run.

    If it’s more Fantasy, you night enjoy Steven Erikson’s New series, Malazan Book of the Fallen. This series is extremely intricate and well crafted.

    For a more novel approach, Try Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, for some reason the Library Classes them as Sci-Fi , they are really nifty Fantasy, set in today’s Chicago.

  141. Will E. says

    DBarker said, “I’m kind of surprised no one has mentioned the only science fiction writer I now read, which is J.G. Ballard.”

    I thought about mentioning Ballard–I haven’t read his earlier novels, which I think are more SF-oriented, but his early’70s output, Crash, Concrete Island, and High Rise are all perverse little masterpieces. Same for Atrocity Exhibition and Unlimited Dream Company. He’s more of a surrealist than anything, I think.

  142. says

    I second “Childhood’s End” by Arthur C Clarke–it’s my favorite scifi book.
    I despise Neil Gaiman, his writing involves too much fantasy inserted into the real world for my taste.
    Two excellent scifi books by Jonathan Lethem are “Girl in Landscape” and “Gun, with Occasional Music”
    “Gun, with Occasional Music” is written Phillip Marlowe style, but takes place in a world that reminds me of Vonnegut or Philip K Dick.
    And speaking of Philip K. Dick,”The Man in High Castle” is awesome.
    As much as I hate the man, Michael Crichton’s early novels are really good–“Andromedia Strain”, “Jurassic Park”, “The Lost World”, “The Terminal Man”, “Eaters of the Dead”.
    Of course, we can’t forget Ray Bradbury.

  143. rmb says

    Oh, and rmb, you got the name of the Vinge wrong. It’s an easy mistake to make: the correct name is _Rainbows End_. (At least, it’s an easy mistake to make if, um, you haven’t read the book, what with one chapter being called `The missing apostrophe’ and all.)

    Whoops, sorry. I don’t usually pay attention to chapter titles.

  144. says

    For a Christmas present, consider Miracle and Other Christmas Stories by Connie Willis. Heck, just about anything by Connie Willis. Her short story In the Late Cretaceous takes place on a college campus, quantifies the rule that if good food is served at a faculty convocation, then bad news is sure to follow, and raises the intriguing possibility that the dinosaurs were killed by the department of campus parking.

    Orbital Resonance by John Barnes is a nice coming-of-age story set on a station in a highly-elliptical orbit around the sun. Recommended for teenagers and people who used to be teenagers.

    As mentioned above, Greg Egan writes good, diamond-hard SF. Unfortunately, his later novels tend to be technical enough to be somewhat inaccessible to the layman.

    I just plowed through Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End and liked it.

    And this isn’t an SF book, but I just read Santa Lives!, which takes five of the classic arguments for the existence of God, and uses them to prove the existence of Santa Claus.

  145. scott says

    I’ll third the rec for Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro. Incredibly good book on every possible level. Do yourself a favour and don’t read anything about the book before you read it. It’s the kind of book you don’t want spoilers for.

  146. says

    “Doomsday Book” by Connie Willis, also “Bellwether,” “Remake,” and “To Say Nothing of the Dog” and its prequel, “Fire Watch” as well as many other stories. “Children of God” by Mary Doria Russell. “The Female Man” by Joanna Russ (a bit of a rant, that). “The Demon Breed” by James H. Schmitz. “Exile’s Gate” by C. J. Cherryh. “Changing Planes” by Ursula K. Le Guin. “The Drawing of the Dark” by Tim Powers. “Foreigner” and its sequels by C. J. Cherryh. “Starship Troopers” by Robert Heinlein. “Cuckoo’s Egg” by C. J. Cherryh. “The Witches of Karres” by James H. Schmitz. “Kesrith” and its sequels by C. J. Cherryh. “Glory Road” by Robert A. Heinlein. “Finity’s End” by C. J. Cherryh. “Have Spacesuit Will Travel” by R.A.H. “The Lion Game” by James H. Schmitz and all the other Telzey Amberdon and Trigger Argee stories. “Arrive at Easterwine” by R. A. Lafferty. “The Girl Who Was Plugged In” by Alice Sheldon (James Tiptree Jr.)–the origninal cyberpunk story, and her “Love is the Plan the Plan is Death.”

  147. David Harmon says

    I want to second Varley — besides the Titan trilogy, The Ophiuchi Hotline is a classic, and there’s more….

    Christopher Rowley has a couple of cool books featuring the Vang, a truly nasty alien race that’s (unfortunately) not quite extinct.

    John E. Stith has some nice work — my favorite is Redshift Rendezvous, set mostly on a hyperspace ship where relativistic effects happen at human scales. There’s a piracy-and-payback plot in there, by by the author’s own admission, the real point is playing with that concept….

    Bostonites especially will appreciate David Alexander Smith’s Future Boston books — an eponymous shared-universe anthology, and a novel, In The Cube.

    PZ and other heretics especially will appreciate Robert Anton Wilson, his classic being the Illuminatus trilogy. His non-fiction rants are a hoot, too — you could totally stock your autoquote thingie from Natural Law, or Don’t Put a Rubber on Your Willy.

    Now, I like Larry Niven a fair bit, though I’m not so wild about Jerry Pournelle (Exiles To Glory is OK). But together, they totally kick ass, and bringing Stephen Barnes on board just adds to the fun! (Not only the Dream Park books, but also Legacy of Heorot and Beowulf’s Children, probably others I haven’t seen.)

  148. cooper says

    Just comment on the comments:

    God Emperor of Dune is the high water mark of the Dune series. And for god’s sake, don’t read the new ones.

    Neuromancer might be a classic, but it is hard to give to “new” readers now. For all it was a groundbreaking work in the mid 80s, it has been copied and cribbed so much that it almost seems cliche at this point. I am, however, awestruck by Gibson’s ability to remain relevant. Pattern Recognition was a really, really amazing novel.

  149. says

    More votes from me for Charlie Stross and for Banksy. I was particularly impressed by Player of Games. (Charlie’s Merchant Princes series isn’t really hard SF in the classic sense, but I really like that, too.)

    And I’d recommend Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky too, if you haven’t read them.

    As to the older writers, Charles Harness is a particular favorite of mine. And I totally fell in love with his (fairly recent) Cybele With Bluebonnets.

    Edgar Pangborn’s A Mirror for Observers is rather beautiful, as well.

  150. Susan Francis says

    I don’t think anyone’s mentioned Sheri S. Tepper. She can rant, and some of her books are Fantasy, but I can recommend Grass, which I read recently in the SF Masterworks series. It’s got a nice biological mystery at its heart, and regards god-bothering with a jaundiced eye, which I guess PZ will approve of.

  151. says

    The science fiction I would recommend to anyone, young or old includes:

    THE SHADOW OF THE TORTURER by Gene Wolfe, and its sequels
    EMPHYRIO by Jack Vance
    CITY OF THE CHASCH by Jack Vance and its sequels
    DUNE by Frank Herbert, but not its sequels
    HYPERION by Dan Simmons, and its sequels
    HARVEST OF STARS by Poul Anderson, and its first sequel
    LORD OF THE RINGS by J.R.R. Tolkien
    FLATLAND by A. Square (A.A. Abbott)
    A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS by David Lindsay
    THE LAST UNICORN by Peter S. Beagle
    A MOTE IN GOD’S EYE by Niven and Pournelle

    The science fiction I would recommend only to the young or the young at heart:

    STAR KING by Jack Vance, and its sequels
    CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY by Robert Heinlein
    LAST AND FIRST MEN by Olaf Stabledon
    THE WORM OROBOROS by E.R. Eddison
    GALACTIC PATROL by E.E. Doc Smith and its sequels
    FOUNDATION by Isaac Asimov and its two immediate sequels
    CITY AND THE STARS by Arthur C. Clarke

  152. says

    It may be unbecoming, even peevish, for me to comment, but, as I am myself John C. Wright, I hope I can be forgiven for speaking out:

    “I haven’t read John Wright, but the label I associate with his books is “Christan Objectivism”.”

    That is a label someone stuck on me as a joke, a bit of good natured ribbing, not a real description of anything I’ve ever really written.

    I am not now and have never been an Objectivist, and the only books of mine that have seen print were written back when I was a die-hard, vehement, take-no-prisoners atheist.

    Written since my conversion is NULL-A CONTINUUM, a sequel to A.E. Van Vogt’s world famous WORLD OF NULL-A, and I assure you it preaches non-aristotleanism and General Semantics, not anything else.

    It is annoying to have comments like this driving away my customers, coming from someone who says he has not read my books.

    (Besides, have you ever heard of such a thing as a Christian Objectivist? What is that, a theist atheist? We all go to worship the image of a crucified John Galt, who selflessly died for the principle of self-interest, and call each other hatred-eaten mystics?)

    We might mock good old Bob Heinlein for using his stories as a soapbox to preach his politics, but, Jeez, he did not have the problem I have, of people reading (or, in this case, not reading) the exact opposite of my stance into something I wrote.

  153. says

    Doris Lessing’s Shikasta novels are the best sociological SF i’ve read, not easy reading but well worth it; the order is unimportant – i’d start with The Sentimental Agents or The Sirian Experiments. C. M. Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants is an all time classic, only dates in a few minor ways, and even has some accurate predictions (e.g. chicken little). Olaf Stapledon’s Odd John is even older but also still relevant. Alexei Panshin’s Star Well and sequels are fun.

    And seconding (thirding, etc.) some of the other greats already mentioned: Lem (especially The Cyberiad), Vinge, Dick, Butler, Banks, Robinson, Brin.

  154. Tom Kratman says


    Frankly, I can’t decide if you’re a moron or a liar. (Of course, these are not mutually exclusive.) I’ve never had a blog, broken or otherwise. I’ve a website that’s never gone down. I’ve never lived outside the States, you say? Try Panama 77-78, 81-83; Germany 97; Saudi Arabia 90-91; Kuwait 91, 99.

    As for Watch on The Rhine, it might interest you that, in Germany, it was right behind Harry Potter for English books, and 117 in rank for _all_ books, which even a dolt like yourself would have to admit is pretty good for a book not even in the local language.

    Jeez, what a maroon!

    Have a nice day,


    PS: Where do you get your information, a Quija board? If so, send it back to the shop for repair.

  155. Tom Kratman says

    Oh, and just for grins I checked just now. The paperback was released a couple of hours ago. Watch on the Rhine sits at 479 for English books, about 7400 or so for all books. Not bad for a book that can only sell three copies. Not bad for a book just released. Also not bad for a book not in German being sold in Germany.

    Remember to get that Quija board fixed.


  156. Danny says

    (A very late reply)

    Janet Kagan only wrote three novels (two original, plus one Star Trek adaptation) because she was chronically ill.

    I reiterate the intense recommendation of Mirabile and Hellspark; Uhura’s Song is pretty good too, but it is a Trek novel, so make of that what you will.