So, what SF books should I be reading?

I’ve recently been wanting to read more new science fiction books – mostly since discovering Charles Stross’ writing last year – but I’m not sure what’s actually good.

I’m more than familiar with the genre from roughly 1930-1980 – I know all the classics backwards, and grew up reading Fred Pohl, Clifford Simak, Heinlein, Henry Kuttner, Cyril Kornbluth, Philip K Dick, Clarke, Asimov and so on.

But I’m mostly unfamiliar with SF from recent decades, and so I was wondering if people had recommendations for me.

Of what I know from say 1990 on, I *love* Greg Egan’s work, and have read everything I could by Neal Stephenson. I’ve now read most of Stross’ non-Merchant Princes stuff, and found all of it enjoyable (except Singularity Sky which I couldn’t get into) but his Laundry stuff, Glasshouse and Accelerando I found far better than the rest. I liked David Edelman’s Jump 630 series. I’ve tried reading Vinge but not been hugely impressed, but suspect maybe I’ve tried the wrong books, and I’ve tried twice to read The Quantum Thief but both times found it didn’t click with me.

What I *don’t* want to read is any of the tons of militaristic/quasi-libertarian stuff churned out by the yard by Baen and so on (I don’t mind someone wanting to be Heinlein if they do a good enough job – I’m quite enjoying Monster Hunters International at the moment, which is definitely written from a hard-right-wing point of view – but that ultra-macho breed of American politics seems to go hand in hand with a kind of stupidity which isn’t conducive to good writing). On the other hand, being available on Baen’s Webscriptions service would be useful – they’re one of the few places that sell DRM-free ebooks (and I’ve picked up a few good things from their back catalogue of older writers), and I’d rather have ebooks than paper ones.

Nor do I want anything space-operatic or part of a ‘saga’. Ideally I want, right now, stuff that’s relatively-near-future, with a strong central idea, where the science is not too stupidly wrong (and right now I’m more interested in interesting biotech or information processing ideas than interesting physics or engineering ones), and well-written. And the moon on a stick.

Anyone got any suggestions?

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19 Responses to So, what SF books should I be reading?

  1. Madeley says:

    Anything by Richard Morgan. Black Man (Thirteen in the States) probably fits your criteria best. Spin by Robert Charles Wilson was good in an old fashioned SF kind of way.

  2. Mike Scott says:

    Ian McDonald: River of Gods, Brasyl and The Dervish House

    Robert Charles Wilson: Spin (first of a trilogy) and several other novels

    Paolo Bacigalupi: The Windup Girl (but some of the science is stupidly wrong)

    Cory Doctorow: Little Brother (ebook legally available for free with no DRM)

    Peter Watts: Blindsight, Starfish (both legally available as free DRM-free ebooks)

    Lauren Beukes: Zoo City (DRM-free ebook available from Angry Robot)

    Jon Courtenay Grimwood: Pashazade (first in a trilogy)

    China Miéville: Embassytown (bit far-future and space opera-ish, but its speculations are more linguistic than technological)

    Ken MacLeod: The Star Fraction (with three sequels), The Execution Channel

    Geoff Ryman: Air

    Elizabeth Moon: Speed of Dark

    That should be enough to keep you going for a while.

    • Mike Scott says:

      Forgot to mention that you can get a DRM-free ebook of The Windup Girl via Baen.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Thanks. I didn’t know Watts’ stuff was available DRM free – I *loved* The Things, and enjoy his blog, so he was already on my to-read list. And I have a PDF of The Dervish House, but it didn’t play nicely with my old ereader – I’ll try it with the new one.

  3. Wesley says:

    I may not be the best person to make recommendations, because my tastes in SF appear to be the opposite of yours — I prefer the less realistic end of the genre, particularly space opera (of the “visiting other planets and imaginary cultures” variety, not the “space battles” kind). My favorite recent SF novel, the book that most readily overcame my current anhedonic tendencies, is China Mieville’s Embassytown, which only matches your criteria in that it stands entirely alone, but is very well written.

    That caveat aside… I’ve heard good things about Geoff Ryman’s Air. Nancy Kress’s Beggars in Spain is a well regarded book that doesn’t appeal to me personally but fits your criteria; the same goes for Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl. Octavia Butler’s work might not quite fit, but I’d recommend checking her out anyway–she’s very good. I’m less familiar with Gwyneth Jones and Ian McDonald, and I’ve read very little Adam Roberts, but I think all three have written books that may work for you.

    There are also a lot of “best of the year” anthology series at the moment, which might be a good place to look for new writers.

  4. Joachim Boaz says:

    Can I please give you recommendations from the 50s/60s/70s? hehe — BY far my favorite science fiction.

    If you haven’t read, John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar (1968) you must… Joanna Newsom’s And Chaos Died (1970), obviously Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), D. G. Compton’s The Unsleeping Eye (1974), Silverberg’s The World Inside (1971), and Brian Aldiss’ Non-stop (variant title: Starship) (1959)….

  5. MatGB says:

    Essentially agreeing with Mike above on the stuff I’ve read-I love Grimwood, and have tried to read all his stuff, Mieville is awesome and you’ll almost certainly love Ken Macleod’s stuff (some is space operay, but it’s still good)

    Have you read much Iain M Banks? It sorta falls way out of your criteria, but it’s really well realised stuff.

  6. Dave Godfrey says:

    Another vote for Iain M. Banks. Alastair Reynolds is probably not what you’d like either- very space-opera-ey, but he did train as a physicist, so there’s no getting around the universe’s speed limit. I’m a big fan of Ken Macleod who writes from pretty much the opposite end of the political spectrum from Heinlein.

    John Scalzi channels a very good Heinlein for his “Old Man’s War” series, although he isn’t on the right wing by any stretch of the imagination.

  7. Karl says:

    The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

    lots of stuff by David Brin, Earth for being ‘near-future’, I’d also recommend Startide Rising despite it being part of a saga, works well as a stand alone.

    Tim Powers and China Mieville are both more urban fantasy than sci-fi, but are awesome

    For Vernor Vinge I think his best is A Fire Upon The Deep, if you don’t like that one don’t bother with the others

  8. Brad Hicks says:

    Near-future SF, hard-SF, strong central idea, lots of biotech? You’re looking for Jetse de Vries’ Shine anthology.

  9. Axolotl says:

    I’d go for some Cory Doctorow. Little Brother is marketed as YA, which I approve of because we should be teaching our kids this stuff. Makers gave me a manic sense of neophilia that I’ve not had from sci-fi since I realised my chances of going to the moon were basically zero. I’ve not read For the Win, but I’ve heard good things. Plus it’s all available under Creative Commons.
    Gibson’s Bigend novels might qualify.
    Richard Morgan’s stuff is exciting pulpy stuff.
    I’ll back up the recommendations for Ken Macleod as well.
    Baen has Eric Flint, who as a former union organiser is at the opposite end of their usual political spectrum, but is possibly not what you’re looking for.
    Angry Robot may be worth checking out. Not all their stuff meets your criteria, but some does. Plus their e-books are DRM free and sensibly priced.

  10. Phil Masters says:

    My reading is a bit patchy these days, but I’m a bit surprised that nobody has mentioned Bruce Sterling (or William Gibson, much). Schismatrix caught my attention years ago; as with Gibson, he’s got more subtle over time.


    Phil Masters

  11. Hmmmm…. Stephen Baxter’s Coalescent, but ignore the other two books that follow (they are related rather than a trilogy in the strictest sense)….

  12. Jonathan says:

    This might be more information than you’re looking for, but the WWEnd site has a large selection of scifi lists: https://www.worldswithoutend.com/lists.asp

    I’ve been using the Guardian list to fill my own reading pile for some time.

  13. plok says:

    I have the solution to all your problems, Andrew: subscribe to Asimov’s and F&SF. (I think you would very much like Robert Reid, by the way)

    Outside of that suggestion which is CLEARLY WHAT YOU WANT, Asimov’s at least, I have to say that Schismatrix is a great, great cyberpunk novel, Spin by Robert Charles Wilson is a book I have MASSIVE affection for and that I think is a nice piece of writing too, and of course KSR. I ask you people, how does Andrew not like KSR? “But why, Sax? But why?”

    Asimov’s has a yearly Best Of, which I highly recommend picking up. Big fat phone-book thing. Very good quality. Sadly Gardner Dozois has left Asimov’s but he was a TERRIFIC editor, Campbell-level editor, honestly. Andrew, go and get that stuff. You’re a periodical-buyer, buy a periodical, get in on the ground floor of someone you like. Asimov’s is where “Accelerando” was first serialized, by the way. They are sharp folks over there. I cannot recommend this course of action too highly. Every month the SF mag will come through the door. You will be up to date. You’ll love it, even when you read a story and holler “aw, *I* could do better than *that* one…!”

    Also, you’ve read “Partners In Wonder”, right?

    And you own “The Best Of Howard Waldrop”?

    HOLLA, SF FRIEND.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      I really should get Asimov’s, shouldn’t I? Especially as you can get it from fictionwise as an epub without DRM, so there’s not even the hassle of buying a dead-tree version.

      Not read Waldrop, actually, but have definitely read and reread Partners In Wonder.

  14. burkesworks says:

    Not the world’s biggest skiffy fan as you know – space opera and fantasy leave me cold – but I’ll cheerfully cast another vote here for Ken MacLeod, not that I am in any way biased (see also Charlie). Like Charlie, Ken Gets It. Start with “The Execution Channel”. Their occasional drinking buddy Mr Banks has written some good gear too, but you probably knew that already.

    Jeff Noon’s “Vurt” may be up your street too, given its Manc-itude.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      I’ll defnitely check out The Execution Channel, then – MacLeod was on the list, anyway, but he’s been bumped up a bit now.

      As for Banks, I’ve read most of his non-M stuff, but the M stuff looks a bit too old-school for me. I may be wrong there though.

      Never really got into Noon.

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