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Saturday 29 June 2002

Sci-Fi 'must read' shortlist [lurks]

Am recently mentioned that he enjoyed reading the Gibson classic Neuromancer and was up for more of the same. I promised to provide a short list of essential Sci-Fi works and then promptly forgot about it. This evening he's reminded me and I thought about it and typed a few out onto IRC. He also mentioned this would be a good Blog topic and yeah, it would be. So off the top of my head, here's my 'must read' list;

  • The Gap series by Stephen Donaldson
  • The Hyperion series by Dan Simmons
  • A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge
  • Alastair Reynolds books, Revelation Space, Chasm City and Redemption Ark
  • Marrow by Robert Reed
  • Timescape by Gregory Benford
  • Diaspora by Greg Egan

I'm sure I'm leaving some classic stuff out and that some of the other Sci-Fi fans in the clan will step up to the plate with worthy additions like Hamilton, Bear and Iain Banks etc. I still reckon much of what's on my list here is a good cross-section of essential Sci-Fi reading.


  1. I'll probably incite snorts of derision here, but I reckon the Nights Dawn trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton makes for some pretty fine sci-fi reading

  2. I'd also like to point out new Brit writer Neal Ash. His first novel, Gridlinked, was OKish - good story but fairly immature writing erring on the side of action. His second (in Hardcover now) called The Skinner is much better and is genuinely inventive.It's still not quite 'classic' stuff. If I had to recommend stuff to 'Go Read Now' then it'd be the top 3 from my list above.

  3. Yeah, I particularly enjoyed the Greg Bear EON series. I'll check out the Gap by Donaldson too. Was a big fan of the Tom Covenant books, even though they were a bit of a LOTR ripoff :) Got the last in the series signed by him too, in Adelaide of all places!

  4. Anything by Neil Stephenson and Iain 'M' Banks (the M being the important bit ;)) of course.. Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy is superb - after reading it you're like 'right, lets go! what are we waiting for!'. For a good laugh E. E. Smith's Lensman series are fun.. really old, terrible characters but you have to respect the technology he thinks up, given stories are written in the 40s/50s. Umm, Philip K Dick and Jeff Noon for extra weirdness. Oh and 'Neurogib' by up and coming auther Matt Bettinson ;)

  5. Well, some obvious ommissions... Arthur C Clarke's work is still hugely enjoyable and important as SF goes, particularly early stuff like The City And The Stars and Childhood's End (and 2001, of course). Iain M. Banks writes superb novels that are a bit lightweight in terms of Sci-fi detail but superbly entertaining; Use of Weapons is the obvious classic but Player of Games and Look To Windward are also great books - in fact his only truly disappointing Culture novel is Excession, which loses its way badly at the end.

    In terms of cyberpunk Gibson-esque novels, Neal Stephenson writes arguably the best stuff in the field; Gibson invented cyberpunk, but in my opinion Snow Crash and The Diamond Age are the best books ever written in that genre.

    Greg Bear is hit and miss; The Forge of God and Anvil of Stars are both excellent in very different ways, but that was pretty much his 'big idea'; a lot of his other novels vary from distinctly average to downright awful. EON is certainly an entertaining series though.

    By the way, a chap called Richard Morgan just had his first SF novel published - picked it up in the airport last week, it's called Altered Carbon and it's actually shockingly good. Nice mix of film noir detective story and near-future hard sci-fi - I suspect that he plans to continue with further stories set in the same universe. Well worth a read.

  6. I liked Altered Carbon but I felt the metaphores were unncessarily convoluted. That book needed a good edit in my opinion, then it would have been great. Well worth a read though.

  7. Am I the only person here who doesn't read Sci-Fi ? Its just never appealed to me.

  8. So shut up then? :)

  9. I must say that SI-Fi and fantasy have never kept my attention. Notsaying that they are crap, just not my cup of tea. I prefer to readhistory or politics. I have been trying to read a few classics alaDickens and that kind of think since I came over to London too. Itsstrange as I could not put Lord of the Rings down when I re read it afew months back, so I tried Ian Banks and another random fantasy writera mate told me was good (writing about Alexander the Great, so I thoughtI would like it) but I just could not get into it at all. Maybe I willhave a look at some of Lurks suggestions after I get thru the massivestack of books I got for my birthday, or when I'm on holidays after CM4comes out!

  10. Most kind - I shall purchase in order and feedback in due course.

    I'm not one for the genre to date so this is a nice comfy feeling oflots of good stuff coming my way. If I had a similar blog it would beabout mainstream but fucked up writing. Couldn't think of a finerplace to start with there than Martin Amis who, despite the occasionaldross, has been a very very fine writer. If I had to pick it out foryou I would recommend (in this order) Dead Babies (a seventies book written about theseventies - you've got to read it that way or it'll be too odd),followed by Money (a few may know this - just perfect fucked up stuffabout booze, drugs, excess, mental health issues etc) and then London Fields. LF is often seen as his most 'difficult' book to stay with by people who read it without doing any of his stuff first. If you can it is just fucking brilliant. The payoff at the end is large in the extreme. London Fields then, London Fields.....

  11. Dave (who can't blog for himself) reminded me of David Brin. Indeed another top author, real good space opera stuff. If you get immersed into the whole world there's a load of books in a long series. Ace stuff, although it can drag a bit in places.

  12. Just a quickie to back up Teeths reccomendation of Kim Stanley Robinsons 'Mars' Trilogy. Quite long reads and occasionally wanders a bit, but absolutely superb characters, intriguing politics and 'combat' that you can imagine - not all out war in space like so much sci fi dross, but realistic, guerilla terrorist style combat - and not overdone. Thoroughly reccomended.

  13. Iain M. Banks is on Question Time next Thursday, he's one of your sci-fi chaps isn't he? Pratchett was on this week - he rocked.

  14. I heartily agree with the recommendation of the hyperion series.

    A few authors i would highly recommend are Neal Stephenson, Julian May and Orson Scott Card.

    In addition to those, the following are well worth a look, Stepehen Baxter, Alexander Besher, Michael Marshall Smith and Bruce Sterling. A few gems can also be found in that sf masterwork series of books that are published by Orion.Thought I'd bump this thread back up with the release of the new harry potter book,since it gives potter haters some good alternatives to read.

  15. When I was around 12 I used to love and still have a couple of storage boxes full of Steve Jackson and Ian Livingston fighting fantasy books! heh :o)Looking forward to Progressions, The Art of Jon Foster!!

  16. Loads of good to great stuff already mentioned. Here's a few more worth a peek that I think have been missed out.Stranger in a Strange Land Written by Robert HeinleinDune Written by Frank HerbertLord of Light Written by Roger ZelaznyBlood Music Written by Greg BearFoundation Written by Isaac AsimovRingworld Written by Larry NivenBerserker Written by Fred SaberhagenThe berserker series goes from by the numbers to occasionally brilliant. Worth a go if you can pick em up cheap. The rest are all absolute classics, blood music especially as it's a short story but frankly stunning.

  17. I read a lot of Sci-Fi, most of which has been mentioned above, but I'll just add a few :

    Everything by Robert HeinleinEverything by Isaac AsimovThe Tarot series by Piers Anthony

    By the way, Ringworld (mentioned by shedir) is fucking ace. In particular, it was obviously the source of inspiration for Pratchetts Strata, and in a way for DiscWorld, since Strata was a scientific version of the magical world in DiscWorld.Dune was good, although I recall by about the 6th book it was getting a bit tired.

    I really should try a few more authors, but I never seem to have time to read !

  18. I'm not sure whether this qualifies as Sci-Fi or not, but since it is chock full of parallel dimensions, wormholes and the like, I'm prepared to catagorise it as such (it's certainly not horror, as you might expect). What am I talking about? Stephen King's magnum opus: The Dark Tower series.

    It's a kind of Fantasy/Western with a Sci-Fi tilt. It is truely epic - King has been writing these books since 1970, and is about to release the fifth in the series this November. It acts as a kind of lynchpin to the rest of King's books, tying just about every character and world together. Recently, most of King's novels have had a DT connection - from the entirely overt Black House and Hearts in Atlantis, to the more subtle Desperation. And it doesn't stop there. The connections stretch right back to The Stand (Randall Flag) and Salem's Lot (Father Calahan).

    To be honest, I'm not sure whether these links are intentional by design, or whether King has restrospectively engineered them - I'd like to think the former, but I suspect the latter. Regardless, it all makes for a truely fascinating read.

  19. It must be because one of the first 'proper' books I read on my own was the Lord of the Rings, but I always dig epic worldbuilding stuff. I love the Dark Tower stuff dave mentioned for that reason, the Michael Morecock Eternal Champion stuff (although I suspect it's a bit teenage fantasy now if I read it again!), Fiests Riftwar stuff, Dune, and even some of (don't hurt me) the Pern/Dragonriders stuff and the first bunch of Shinara books. I suppose I like to revisit a world once its been constructed, rather than have to build it and tear it down each book. Mostly of course, they degenrate into cash cows, like the Shinara stuff did, and Dune for that matter.

  20. On that front I'd recommend both Ringworld and the other books by Larry Niven etc, and also much of Heinleins stuff, he has a hugely consistent world going through about 10 books, all about different things but all fitting in the same setup.

  21. I was thinking of some of the latest stuff I read which is worth recommending. Light by John Harrison is fucking brilliant. Proper modern sci-fi with rich human themes and a good dose of space opera drama - it's in hardcover now. Psycho dragging up some classics. Classics are good. Hmm, sticking with the light theme, a must-read (no, really) for sci-fi fans is Lords of Light by Zelazny. If you can, for massive entertainment value, just order it from Amazon, read it without reading the in-face and try guess when it was written. You will get it wrong. :-)

  22. The hitch hikers guide to the galaxy!Oh, nobody like Harry Harrison? I know it's pretty lightweight, but it's lots of fun in a comicbook stylee. The stainless steel rat books pretty much got me into reading in me early teens, and are pretty rare in the sci-fi comedy genre. The Deathworld books were brill too. West of Eden is prolly his very best though, an alternate reality thing in a 'what if dino's didn't die out' stylee.

  23. Have you read Light by Zelazny yet? Fiver ffs.

  24. Ressurecting this perenial favourite... I feel compelled to point you in the direction of the new multi-volume space epic by Peter F. Hamilton - Pandora's Star. You may remember me waxing lyrical about Hamilton's Night's Dawn trilogy previously in this thread. Well, this is in a similar mould, albeit with a completely radicalised view of the near future.

    I should warn you, my lyrics will once again be comprehensively waxed, since I found this book to be excellent in every regard. It explores similar themes to Night's Dawn, that of memory, self, continuation after death, but approaches them from a wholely different direction. No spirituality here, just cold (if fantastical) science. The threat is convincingly worrying, when it is finally revealled and there are some excellent plot twists and turns. Once again, many different strands are woven into the big picture before you finally get an idea how it all fits together. Then torturously, the book ends and promises to conclude in the sequel. Gah!

    Buy this book.

  25. Amazon have it going cheap with Ken MacLeod's Newtons Wake as part of their evil upselling technique. You might wanna do that since it's probably a must read for sci-fi buffs too.

  26. Oh sacred sci-fi blog... I command thee! Wise fwom your gwaaave!

    Just dusting the fomaldehide off this perenial favourite to remark on the frankly astonishing ending to Alastair Reynolds' Inhibitor series.

    'Abolution Gap' makes a good stab of providing 650 pages of pretty readable story, moving the whole thing along, some nice action set pieces. Then in the space of the final three pages, takes the whole thing, rips it up and starts again on a completely different tack. It's ludicrous, as though Reynolds really couldn't be bothered with the series anymore.

    And trying to get away with using the same grand-scope plot device twice in the same series... sheesh!

    Right, back in your box!

  27. I've always worshipped the ground Dan Simmons walks upon (Hyperion is in my original list on this ye olde sacred blog) and with the issue of Ilium, his latest, I have resurrected this blog to add another Must Read recommendation. Unlike Iain M Banks who is sadly losing his craft on the basis of his last two decidedly average efforts (even if I have got a copy of the Algebraist with "Eat Electric Death!" signed in it by Banks on the insleeve - cheers Am!), by contrast Simmons only gets better. The Ilium is a pretty astounding combination of a reworking of the ancient Greek Iliad by Homer combined with a space opera. You wouldn't believe it would work but it does, it's brilliant.

    Simmons is, in my opinion, the best SF writer today for SF connoisseurs. Although some readers may find it heavy going if their ultimate idea of SF is the wonderful Peter F Hamilton. This has much less action and is much more layered and involved and, for me at least, that little bit more rewarding as a result. Ultimately I love both but I eat a Hamilton book for breakfast and savour a Simmons for dinner.

  28. I did a bit of a book swap, and managed to get hold of Foundation by Asimov. The unravelling of the story (that in the distant future, science becomes a lost art and empires fall) is good brain fodder, although I must admit my enthusiasm did wane in the last chapter. It's ambitious, and that's before you consider that it was written in the 50s when the author was no older than Muz. Amazing.

    The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower) (mentioned earlier) has been sent to me by a clannie and I've really enjoyed it. Great book, now reading the next in the series. Thanks Slim!

  29. Just quickly updating this 2 and a half year old blog, I did actually get round to reading Snowcrash in the last month or so. What an utterly spankingly top read that was. An absolute must for anyone who's got more than 3 neurons firing. Ace.

  30. Inspired as always by Amnesia, I felt compelled to dust off my copy of Snowcrash and take it for a ride. Excellent book, completely recommended, natch.

    But it left me with a whiff of nostalgia tinged with regret, as I realised that in the 15 years that have passed, we haven't managed to implement the "metaverse". Oh sure, we have persistant online worlds, but nothing that is primarily a social construct. Folk run around EQ or WoW, but always in pursuit of gaming, and any socialising is done in IRC or guildchat windows as it was back in 1990. Nothing has really progressed in the field of virtual communications since then.

    Is there a need to upgrade our communications protocols to be more true to the visions of Gibson, Stephenson et al? Or can we all get along in a purely text based environment? Is this a seperate blog?


  31. Well it was a passing comment in IRC a month or so back that got me back into reading fiction again.. Have to say, it was a welcome change from tome after tome of O'reilly books!

    Anyway! The comment was relating to someone just finishing the latest volume of George RR Martins epic 'Game of Thrones' series.. the brief description was enough to get me interested so I put in a speculative order into Amazon and, when the book arrived, it took pride of place on the window in the toilet.

    Since then.. I've not looked back.. I've plowed through that series.. (well as far as I can for now) and figured I'd come back to this blog to pick up some more recomendations..

    Just so happens that I was a huge fan of some of Stephen Donaldsons fantasy fiction so thought I'd give the Gap series a try.. off I went to and another order was placed

    So.. I arrive home today to a nice delivery from amazon and rush to open it up.. first thing that springs to mind.. "right.. thats the books introductory chapter.. where's the rest of it?'

    200 pages for £6.. or, another way of putting it.. about 2-3 'sittings' while it takes pride of place in the loo..

    I understand that not every story can be told in 'X' number of pages.. but surely there should be a sliding scale for books?.. a book that takes 1 hour to read should cost less than one that takes 5 hours to read surely?

  32. No 2nd hand bookshops near you Suit? It's a plot setter the first book, the rest are thicker and a more worthwhile read.

    I read the first one of the new Covenant series, bit of a rehash of old ideas sadly.

  33. I hear what you're saying. I've also steamed through the George RR Martin works and I experienced something similar afterwards. I read some trashy sci-fi peice of shit I bought an an airport and my God, the pace! It ripped along, things happened. I couldn't put it down, the pace was breathtaking after the collosal glacier-like pace of Martin's stuff. I liked the Martin stuff but, to be frank, he was banging on with piss all happening for so long it was actually really pissing me off. To be fair, the Martin stuff was frighteningly better written than this amateur peice of pulp fiction trash (Hidden Empire, for reference, avoid) and I loved it for it. I wouldn't have kept going if it wasn't for his quite remarkable skill in story telling.

    However, like some others, I felt he just lost the plot a bit with that last book. So many factions (too many, let's be honest) all doing their stuff but you don't hear of them in the entire enormous book! Was there a Wight in that entire book? Wasn't that the entire menace from the North and it's just... irrelevant this book? So that comes out and he tells you he's going to write another book covering the same period just telling all the other faction's side of the story. Oh piss off, jesus. That's taking the mick.

    So actually I feel more ripped off, in some sense, that I paid out all that money for those books (the last one was a huge book in particular) and felt like I just hadn't had the story unravel and there's no end in sight. I mean my God, the entire next book still wont see Daenerys show up with the cocking dragons yet or the inevitable long drawn out conflict in the North actually amount to anything. Gah!

    There's a lot to be said for keeping the pace going. I'm not entirely sure I buy the value-for-money of the RR Martin series there. Quality versus quantity is something to consider no? That said, it was broken up in to managable chapters and made good reading on a sort of one a day period for a protracted period. So yes, it was good value in that sense. Or, more cynically, is he just milking it out? I think it's his style actually, rather than a deliberate attempt. A real editor would have told him this but of course the actual editor would have been employed by a publisher who is delighted to have a gravy-train multi-book epic cash cow in the bank.

    I would have been much happier to have paid the same and had the story actually end up somewhere by the end of it. So I'll be warey of starting unfinished multi-book epics again, I think, unless I know the author. I just... I dunno, I found going back to a 'regular' book just so much more gratifying knowing that something was going to happen on the next page. So as a result of George RR Martin, I read that trashy novel and I actually enjoyed it. I guess I can thank him for that anyway.

  34. Ahh blog 181! I finally finished the Gap series, the first book reccomended in this most classic of all classic eed blogs. Quite a challenging series to finish, as Suit reports, it seems to be out of print everwhere. I got my copy of the last book off ebay.

    Some folks have slagged it and not made it through to the end, but I recon it's one of those series that has to be completed before you can pass judgement. It gets very messy in the middle, and bloody depressing too, but the amazing ending certainly justifies any hard going through the middle. I'm down to line two of this blog now, having bought they Hyperion omnibus. At this rate I'll be reading Vernor Vinge by about 2015 and the stuff in these books will be coming true!

  35. So I'm still munching my way though this list! I've finished the first two books from Hyperion, and a visit to amazon almost warns me off the next two. I enjoyed the first half immensely, should I preserve the experience by avoiding the last two?

    Got a break while I read the Culture books anyway, they're working out ok.