Sci-Fi & Fantasy Recommendations...?

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.

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!


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.

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.



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).


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.

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.

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.


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 :slight_smile:

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

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.

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).

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.

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 :wink:

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.


I can’t say I blame you! What is Agent Cooper doing wearing all of that black rubber!

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!

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 - 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:


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


CITY by Clifford Simak

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

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.


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.

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

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 … 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 … 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?”


Strongly second the Leibowitz recommendation. It’s on my desert island list: if I could only keep ten books, it would be one of them. It’s a few years old now, but by no means dated. (Unfortunately.)


Lol - another example of the massive variety within the genre and of the tastes of its - and all - readers. I consider myself a fan of science fiction but I don’t really like any of these things! I don’t mind them in some films or TV - I loved Star Wars as a kid (who doesn’t? I have a theory that most men in their thirties internally think of themselves as either a Han or a Luke…) and love the new Battlestar Galactica.* But generally, even there I prefer the more Earth-bound sci-fi. Donnie Darko and Primer are two of my favourite SF films of the past few years. The Matrix is a good example, too. Heroes was excellent as well. I suppose I must be a fan of what Geoff Ryman calls “Mundane SF”, though I hate that title…


  • But one of the reasons the new BSG it is so much better than the original is that there are no aliens in it and it is more about politics and what human beings will do to survice. I watched Razor last night - the protagonist murders the families of civilian scientists and other workers who are needed to help in the survival effort to prevent the scientists refusing to come and abandon their families. Whilst in this case the protagonist sort of gets her come-uppance, more often this isn’t the case: Roslin, Adama, Tigh and Tyrrol have all done some horrible things and are utterly unlikeable.

I just finished this. I mentioned earlier I was reading Halo books at my son’s request (I’m currently part way through The Flood). I found this The Fall of Reach to be much better than I expected, a very fun and fairly quick read. The Master Chief is, indeed, a wonderful protagonist, especially given the back story presented in this book. On the other hand, I don’t believe it was particularly well written, and I really wished that Nylund had investigated the ethics of the Spartan project a little more deeply than he did.

I recommend the book as a fun read, and a great story, but not necesarily an example of great writing.

I’ve always wanted to create, to be an artist. In my early years that itch was scratched through writing software (I’m in the software is art not science camp). However, as I got older I was finding myself wanting to do more, to tell stories that others would find compelling, a couple of years ago I started writing some erotica. The few people who I actually allowed to read it said “This is good, I want more, and why aren’t you writing things for publication?” So last summer I set myself the goal of writing a mainstream novel.

My writing is hampered by two things, fairly severe ADD, and a pernicious desire to edit before I have finished the story. I just got past a month long bout of writer’s block. Allowing my ADD to have some control and still write, I keep two or three different manuscripts open in Scriv at all times now, so if I get distracted from one story line I can move to another.

[Keith, Scriv has helped me dramatically in this area by allowing me to write several sections of one story at once and still keep things straight! Thank you!]

On the editing front, I just repeat the mantra every time I get the urge to go back and “clean up a bit” Write first edit later. When that doesn’t seem to help I have a couple of close friends who will get the most recent draft and then will tell me to keep writing and forget the editing for the moment.

Oh, oh, big second vote on His Dark Materials. I know, I know, YetAnotherTrilogy, but really worth it. It was written for a YA audience, so even though there are a lot of pages, they go fast. So fast you’ll find yourself superficially wishing it were ten times longer—simply for the world of it. Pullman did a superb job of writing a story though. This isn’t a story for the sake of showing off a world (Tolkien). And for that, it is perfectly written to length. It almost seems like he started writing with one intention, and ended up writing something else entirely by the end, but this might be an intentional device showing the maturation of the principle characters over time. As they become less like children, they see more of the world around them in relational terms.

It is probably the only yarn I have ever read that has put me into a state of literal sobbing, every time I read it! I tear up just thinking about it, ha.

And I suppose it should go without saying that this is another one where the original material should not be judged by the lacklustre attempts to convert it to film. :slight_smile:

Yep, the film The Golden Compass was… bleh. Pointless. The girl who played Lyra was good, and it all looked beautiful and pretty much as I imagined it (though Miss Coulter should have had dark hair and a red coat… Hmm, minor thing, I actually quite liked Nicole Kidman in it and I don’t usually like her). But, given that it looked just as I imagined it but tore out all of the philosophical and thoughtful underpinnings… it was empty. (Even though HDM is a young adult series, it is some of the most thoughtful literature I’ve read, setting up some amazing modern mythology to explore themes of morality, life, death, god - or a lack of - and so on.) Pretentious git that I am, as I walked out of the cinema, I said to my partner, “Hmm, it seems the book underwent an intercision to get to film…”

Also, did they really have to give the film the American title, even in the UK? Pullman’s title for the book was Northern Lights (mind you, they didn’t even show the northern lights in the film! And they play a big part in the book…). In an interview recently, Pullman said that the film was called The Golden Compass for reasons too long and boring to go into. Hmm, I wonder. Please understand that I do not mean this as a slur against Americans in any way whatsoever, but I do seriously think that there must be some PTB (powers-that-be) inside the US who do not credit American people in general with enough intelligence (honestly, I think we’re treated like idiots in the UK - “Milk - warning: contains dairy products” - but you guys in America get it a lot worse). The alethiometer is described as looking like a golden compass in the book (I think once, the first time Lyra sees it) - it is not actually a golden compass nor has it ever been known as such. It is a bloody alethiometer; that is its name. So the film and US book title is just stupid; and it’s even worse in the film, where every time they mention the alethiometer, they absolutely have to follow it with, “otherwise known as the Golden Compass”. Honestly, they may as well have had the actors turn to the screen to say that bit, sotto voce: “It’s okay, we know it’s a long word and that you’ve never heard of it, but just think of it as a golden compass, okay? Better now? Don’t worry, there’s a talking polar bear coming up…”. It’s the same sort of unintelligent thinking that had Spielberg change the name of Schindler’s Ark (“Great metaphor, Tom, but will the average Joe schmuck get it?”) to Schindler’s List (“It’s literal! I like it!”) and The Madness of King George III to The Madness of King George (in case American audiences thought it was a sequel to two films they’d never heard of… Um, really? Would anyone interested in a film like that really be confused by the “III”?).

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