Sci-Fi & Fantasy Recommendations...?

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Thu Jan 03, 2008 11:29 pm Post

jennydiski wrote:Also ridiculous is the idea that eg Ian McEwan is a serious literary writer. Put your own over rated in.


KB wrote:I can think of a fair few (although I have to defend McEwan's Cement Garden and First Love, Last Rites... Couldn't read anything else of his, though - I put down Enduring Love after the first chapter).


Is that why the other thread went dead when I mentioned his name in a list of stuff I read recently?

To be honest (since this thread appears to be about confessing to awful literary taste), I have enjoyed *most* of his books that I have read: Atonement, Amsterdam, even *ducks for cover* On Chesil Beach. Not so much Saturday, and I think I put down Enduring Love too.

I don't read them because I think they have more *value* than other books, they just happen to be books I have read and enjoyed.

Haven't read the ones Keith mentions above though, so maybe I should so I can see where you think it all went wrong.

KB wrote:Browsing is indeed one of the nicest things about entering a bookshop. I always forget what authors I like when I enter a bookshop, anyway, so I have to browse (I have the same problem in record stores - the number of shelves just make my mind go blank).



I find it intimidating - such a big wall of books, with no real way to determine good from bad without spending my money. If I get too much choice, my eyes tend to blur over, and then only picks out books that I recognise (usually because I have already read them).

Which leads me to my next question, which I tentatively raised in another thread and didn't get a response:

Can someone please recommend some good SF or fantasy books, that can be read as a single book rather than a trilogy, or longer (and authors that get on with telling the story rather than falling in love with their powers of description).

Unfortunately, I know very little from the genre, and haven't liked what I have read: the early Harry Potters were written for kids, and I kept thinking "this would have been great when I was 10"; LOTR is too thick with description, I could barely get through the first fifteen or twenty pages; a few others that I think were the ones that give the genre a bad name.

I have enjoyed some SF and fantasy movies though, and expect I would enjoy the books too if I am reading the right ones. But with that big wall of books, they all look the same on the cover!

Matt

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rhacer
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Thu Jan 03, 2008 11:45 pm Post

I'm not a sci-fi fan (though I have a partially written sci-fi manuscript on this computer), that said, I adore David Weber, particularly the Honor Harrington books (but those don't meet the requirement of short, the series weighs in at 13 books). One of his trilogies started off with the book Mutineer's Moon. The three books combined are not very long, and the omnibus edition is shorter than many single novels. It's an interesting and fun read.

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Fri Jan 04, 2008 12:29 am Post

matt wrote:Can someone please recommend some good SF or fantasy books, that can be read as a single book rather than a trilogy, or longer (and authors that get on with telling the story rather than falling in love with their powers of description).


Charles de Lint (urban fantasy) is very good. I especially enjoyed The Little Country and Trader, but haven't been disappointed by any of his books. (Note that he has also written horror under a pseudonym, now being republished under his own name. I've only read the fantasy.)

Connie Willis is good. I liked both Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog. The former is a pretty heavy read, though: the Black Plague figures prominently and lots of people die. To Say Nothing is a lot of fun, hard to believe the same author wrote it.

Ursula le Guin probably needs no introduction. Left Hand of Darkness won a Hugo and a Nebula and remains a classic, but her Earthsea books are still my favorites. (These are a series, but can be read independently and are not too long.)

Neal Stephenson's earlier books are very good. I especially liked Snow Crash and The Diamond Age. More recently, I think he's gotten a bit carried away with proving how erudite he is and how much research he's done. The Baroque Cycle makes Middle Earth look like it was sketched out on a cocktail napkin.

Katherine

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Fri Jan 04, 2008 12:39 am Post

Scifi:

Richard Morgan's ALTERED CARBON, while it eventually spawned a series, stands alone and is one of the best neo-noir books I've read in the past few years.

Most of Michael Marshall Smith's books (SPARES, ONE OF US, et al) stand alone.

William Gibson's last two novels, SPOOK COUNTRY and PATTERN RECOGNITION, stand alone (and border on not-really-SF, but are excellent all the same).

Fantasy:

China Mieville's New Crobuzon books (THE SCAR, PERDIDO STREET STATION, IRON COUNCIL) and Jeff VanderMeer's Ambergris stories (CITY OF SAINTS AND MADMEN, SHRIEK) are both "cycles", meaning they re-use locations and environments, but aren't true sequels, and thus each book stands alone.
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Fri Jan 04, 2008 12:49 am Post

Well the movie adaptation got a mention, but I don't think the book did. Solaris, by Stanislaw Lem is an good classic in the Science Fiction realm, and definitely one of those examples where the genre can be very thought provoking. The Golden Age, by John C. Wright is particularly opaque, but has some interesting points to make about extremist libertarian viewpoints and intellectual property rights, amongst a thousand other topics. While it is part of a trilogy, the book does stand well alone, and in fact the other two (while good) were less compelling in my opinion. If you can tolerate a little 1960s flavour post-modernism and occasional sexuality, Dhalgren, by Samuel Delaney creates an interesting world to live within for a while, and raises a lot of interesting questions about identify, art, community, and fame. It seems to be a love or hate book, so maybe sit down in the bookstore for a bit before purchasing. Another book that comes attached to a series, but does not at all require the series (and certainly not the spin-offs) to be enjoyed alone, is Dune, by Frank Herbert.
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Fri Jan 04, 2008 1:03 am Post

I second Connie Willis. She's a fine writer and a great storyteller. My favorites are To Say Nothing of the Dog and Passage.

I've been thinking lately that the books to write are the ones you most loved when you were young, before anyone told you what was good or bad, literary or genre.

My favorite bookstore was one that carried paperbacks and most were new releases. They did segregate by genre, but the categories ran together and going from mysteries to science fiction was simply a matter of looking at the next book in the row. They didn't have regular shelves - just racks so all the covers faced out. No one author seemed more important than the others because you didn't see ten books by the same person all in a row. The only book experience I've liked more is going to Amazon and following the "customers who bought this item also bought ..." links. I can do that for hours.

Margaret

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Fri Jan 04, 2008 1:16 am Post

Wow, thanks rhacer, Katherine, antony, Amber, for all the suggestions... I will make a list and over the weekend find one of those appealing bookstores that gives you space to sit down and read a book before buying it.

More suggestions are of course welcome :)

[Edit to add Margaret too... seems I took too long replying the first time].

rhacer wrote:I'm not a sci-fi fan (though I have a partially written sci-fi manuscript on this computer)


Not intended to be in any way critical, but what made you decide to write a sci-fi if you aren't a sci-fi fan? Most people seem to write the styles/genres they preferred to read, that's all.

kewms wrote:More recently, I think he's gotten a bit carried away with proving how erudite he is and how much research he's done. The Baroque Cycle makes Middle Earth look like it was sketched out on a cocktail napkin.


You know, I think that is why I didn't like LOTR. I actually get turned off by all of those extranneous bits (so what if he invented a whole other language). That and the large army of imitators it spawned. By the way, am I the only person who thinks LOTR should have ended at the exact moment the ring is destroyed, with Frodo and Sam floating on their rock in the lava? I have only seen the movie, but everything beyond that point felt unnecessary (I wouldn't even rescue them, and yes, I know the book goes on even longer after the movie).

AmberV wrote:Another book that comes attached to a series, but does not at all require the series (and certainly not the spin-offs) to be enjoyed alone, is Dune, by Frank Herbert.


I think I got turned off this when I saw part of a movie adaptation. I seem to recall a lot of bright blue eyes! My girlfriend's brother has all of the books, and all of the Children of Dune books, so I will borrow the original off him.

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Fri Jan 04, 2008 1:57 am Post

matt wrote:You know, I think that is why I didn't like LOTR. I actually get turned off by all of those extranneous bits (so what if he invented a whole other language). That and the large army of imitators it spawned. By the way, am I the only person who thinks LOTR should have ended at the exact moment the ring is destroyed, with Frodo and Sam floating on their rock in the lava? I have only seen the movie, but everything beyond that point felt unnecessary (I wouldn't even rescue them, and yes, I know the book goes on even longer after the movie).


Funny how different folks can be.... I personally like LOTR, Moby Dick, War and Peace etc.. because of the descriptions. I also wanted to follow Frodo and the elvish people over the sea. But as my Mrs. regularly reminds me I am "touched in the head" and should not be considered representative of "normal" people.

That said I am struggling to keep the descriptive BS to a minimum in my current piece. I am going for enough descriptive to outline the picture while requiring the reader to provide the colors. Struggling to the tune of editing out 2K words per chapter. My book just got a LOT shorter ;)

On the plus side the reading I just returned from seems to indicate that I have it right this time. absolute silence during and after. only 2 questions/comments:
1) Would I read the previous chapter
2) Would I read the next chapter.

I gotta tell you. That felt good.

Oh vic-k, story teller.

Jaysen.

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Fri Jan 04, 2008 2:27 am Post

matt wrote:I think I got turned off this when I saw part of a movie adaptation. I seem to recall a lot of bright blue eyes! My girlfriend's brother has all of the books, and all of the Children of Dune books, so I will borrow the original off him.


I can't say I blame you! What is Agent Cooper doing wearing all of that black rubber!
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Fri Jan 04, 2008 6:05 am Post

matt wrote:
rhacer wrote:I'm not a sci-fi fan (though I have a partially written sci-fi manuscript on this computer)


Not intended to be in any way critical, but what made you decide to write a sci-fi if you aren't a sci-fi fan? Most people seem to write the styles/genres they preferred to read, that's all.


While not a sci-fi fan I have read the stuff! All of the Honor Harrington books onetime through, and I'm working on a second go-round. The aforementioned Mutineers Moon. I'm currently reading some of the Halo books to appease a son who is currently reading Honor at my behest, so I'm not unfamiliar with the genre.

There are three reasons I have a partially written sci-fi manuscript on this computer....

1) As was mentioned before, when writing sci-fi, the skies the limit. You can write anything you want in any universe you want, supposedly that may make it easier to get started. (Of course I found myself knee deep in research about 1000 words into it which is something I never thought I'd have to do since I could just "make it up" as I went along).

2) It is partially written because I found myself trying to be someone I wasn't. However, this discussion prompted me to dig it back out and re-read, and some of it is really pretty damn good. I'm trying to work out whether it's worth saving.

3) Most importantly, the characters were insisting I tell their story. So I have been attempting to do so!

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Fri Jan 04, 2008 11:52 am Post

matt wrote:Can someone please recommend some good SF or fantasy books, that can be read as a single book rather than a trilogy, or longer (and authors that get on with telling the story rather than falling in love with their powers of description).


I think it is almost impossible to recommend a good science fiction book in exactly the same way as it is impossible to recommend a good non-genre book without knowing that the person to whom you are making the recommendations has a similar sort of taste in books to yourself. (How often has someone you don't know that well told you that you simply must read this brilliant book they have read when you know that the book they are talking about isn't the sort of thing you enjoy?) I think this, in fact, is the problem with labels such as "science fiction" and "fantasy" and "thriller" or whatever in the first place. For instance: I love Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy (children's fantasy!) but I just can't get along with LOTR (despite the fact that I studied medieval literature for my MA and abandoned PhD and my supervisor was appalled that I didn't like Tolkien given that Tolkien had taught her supervisor and used so much of what I was studying in his own work - phew, long sentence!). Technically, both are "fantasy", but there is just about nothing they have in common other than the fact that they take place in imaginary worlds (but then, doesn't all fiction?).

In the same way, "science fiction" is as broad a genre as fiction in general - it just so happens that the settings for this sort of fiction tend to be futuristic or set on other planets ("fabril literature", I heard it termed recently - the opposite of pastoral). But then, not necessarily - some science fiction is set now but just uses a made up technology at the centre of its plot (I read a great novel like this a couple of years ago called Moebius Dick). Then, there are two whole different types of science fiction. There is so-called "hard sf" - which is primarily concerned with technology and making sure all the science "works" (sort of - at least in a convincing and consistent manner). I've never been a particular fan of this sort of sf, because it usually doesn't raise the sort of questions I personally am interested in. Then there's the other sort of sf that is more about using science fiction concepts to discuss ideas that are more about the way we are now. The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy has got nothing to do with other worlds, despite the abundance of them in the narrative; the androids and telepaths in the works of PKD are really only there so that PKD can explore themes of human-ness, paranoia and the mind. And so on. In this way it can embody ideas rather than just discuss them, which is what I like about what I consider good sci-fi.

All the best,
Keith

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Fri Jan 04, 2008 12:24 pm Post

Keith - well, I guess it can be difficult to recommend ANY book to someone if you don't have an idea of their personal taste, but there are plenty of safe bets out there. Not quite the same as getting that dodgy shirt and tie from your mum at Christmas. And when I say "your" mum, I mean of course the universal mum, not yours personally...

So, Matt, here are a few things I can recommend unreservedly, one volume specials, a short list which could easily be expanded, but I don't think you can go wrong with any of these:

CONTEMPORARY SF:

LIGHT by M John Harrison
RIVER OF GODS by Ian McDonald
ALTERED CARBON by Richard Morgan

OLDER SF:

CITY by Clifford Simak
THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE by Philip K Dick
A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ by Walter M Miller

FANTASY (One volume)

LITTLE, BIG by John Crowley
THE ONION GIRL by Charles de Lint
PERFUME by Patrick Suskind
MOCKINGBIRD by Sean Stewart
SLEEPING IN FLAME by Jonathan Carroll

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Fri Jan 04, 2008 12:44 pm Post

KB wrote:I think it is almost impossible to recommend a good science fiction book in exactly the same way as it is impossible to recommend a good non-genre book without knowing that the person to whom you are making the recommendations has a similar sort of taste in books to yourself.


Keith, I completely agree with you. But I think the people here are a discerning enough crowd that they will be able to point me towards the best books written in a particular style (or sub-genre, or sub-sub-genre, if you will).

My aim is to get a list of books that are of better quality than 90% of the books that surround them on the shelves, which is often the hardest part.
From there, I will read blurbs and first few pages and all the usual things I do when decided which books to buy.

Some of them I may enjoy, some I may not, but if I am at least getting what someone classifies as the 'best' of that particular area, it will allow me to make a fairer judgement of which of those different sub-genres of SF or fantasy I do or don't like, and I can do my own exploring from there.

Kind of like the list John has provided (along with others I have compiled from the various recommendations throughout this thread) - thanks John.

Matt

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Fri Jan 04, 2008 1:51 pm Post

Thanks, Matt, hope my list was helpful. I'm not sure whether CITY is still in print, to be honest, but doubtless you'd pick up a copy from ebay or somewhere.

I could add greatly to the list, but I find lists overwhelming usually, and prefer a few limited choices.

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Fri Jan 04, 2008 4:47 pm Post

(1) Vic asked why read fiction.
If you were born hundreds of years ago I would swear you were related to Socrates. :-) Such philosophical questions.

What a loaded question! I guess I could could give the vague and broad statement by saying I read it because I enjoy it or I find it entertaining or I could go into a more indepth response by replying that reading fiction gives me many abilites.

Or I could summarize a few by stating that reading fiction gives me the ability to (a) explore places I have never seen (b) meet strange people and exotic creatures that I cannot meet on the "real plain of existance" or to do things I cannot afford such as explore space, or do things that I just haven't had the opportunity to do such as cave exploring, sky diving, shooting 6 billion monsters with guns so massive they make the walls shake, to fire millions of bullets without having to reload or to meet that really sexy woman and save the world from rabid robot bunny rabbits.

In the end there are millions of reasons why I read fiction but the overall reason is I love a good story. :-)

As to some good Sci-Fi books.

(2) Ok if you want Fantasy (dragons, magic, etc.) I would recommend this book.

Wizards First Rule by Terry Goodkind
http://search.barnesandnoble.com/bookse ... 8051&itm=1

Now it is the FIRST book in a 10 book series (Sword of Truth Series)

BUT.... it can be read as a single book because the ending is an ending. You can stop with the first book and never feel like you were left hanging for an ending or you can choose to continue the series if you enjoyed it.

In my humble opinion this is probably the best Fantasy book I have ever had the pleasure of reading. What impressed me most is this is Terry's FIRST book and he truly came out of the gate swinging. It is an epic story with fun loving characters and the "evil" ones are truly scary. I would recommend this story to anyone, even those that dislike fantasy or Sci-Fi because it is a truly unique and exotic tale. The nice thing about it is his choice of language and writing does not use a lot of words that are hard to pronounce or confusing. It is an easy read and truly a page turner.

And for about 8 bucks it is worth the investment. I would tell everyone to go out and buy this and read it. Especially authors because since this is Terry's first real entry into authoring I think any author who reads it would be very impressed by his first real piece of work.

(3) For Sci-Fi I would recommend one that many may feel is odd.

HALO - The Fall of Reach by Eric Nylund
http://search.barnesandnoble.com/bookse ... 1323&itm=5

Now this is another series BUT once again you don't need to read the full series. This first book is truly a great piece of work. It has everything a Sci-Fi fan would love. Space battles, aliens, Advanced Armor Systems, Epic battle and action scenes.

This is an excellent travel book (airplane, train, trip). And truly an epic adventure. You will come to love the main character "The Master Chief" because he is one who really "kicks ass". He makes Rambo look like a spice girl and yet he seems realistic. This story goes back to when he was a child and how he became the "Master Chief". This story is the precedes the actual game. The game follows the Second Book in the series (The Flood) so it feels a little limited and more like a game story narrative. The first book though has none of those limitations so it is rich in story and detail.

There was supposed to be a movie on this but Microsoft pulled the plug.

(A little history here. Halo is a continuation of a video game story. The forefather of Halo was a Video Game called Marathon. Which was a MAC only game. When the company Bungie started working on Halo it was supposed to be a Mac only video game. Microsoft loved the story and the game so much that they went out and bought into Bungie and in turn made Halo the game for XBox when it first released. The marathon story and the original Halo epic story was that good. The Mac Community was furious at this since it was announced first that Halo would be on the Mac then it became a PC game only reaching Mac at a much later time.)

Now Bungie has left Microsoft but Microsoft still retains the rights to Halo which is sad because the original story line is such a good Sci-Fi one that it could really be expanded upon for epic tales.

A question for everyone.

"Why do you write fiction?"

:-)
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