Science Fiction Disappoints Me

Spending less time reading blogs means that I have more time to spend reading fiction. Unfortunately, the fiction I’ve been reading has been letting me down. In particular, I’m very disappointed in the last two books I’ve (mostly) read.

For one of the books, N. K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (sample chapter),mit’s not entirely the author’s fault. Had I not gone on a big urban fantasy binge a little while back (as mentioned earlier), I probably would’ve liked this better. Having become fed up with the “My Awesome Werewolf Boyfriend” stuff in Patricia Briggs’s Mercy Thompson books, though, I found this book’s “My Awesome Boyfriend, the Enslaved God of Darkness” sections awfully hard to take. The setting is really cool, the eventual plot resolution is unexpected but cool, but the romance element was really off-putting for me. And as a result, I found myself noticing all sorts of other little distracting things.

To change pace completely, I opted to follow this with Paul McAuley’s The Quiet War, which was one of the books being held up as brilliant by people complaining about the Hugo ballot last year. I had looked at the jacket copy in the past, and not been blown away, but I added it to the list of stuff to read for possible Hugo nominations– I didn’t get to it before the deadline, but I decided to give it a shot, anyway.

I have to say, I’m baffled. I have a really hard time seeing what’s brilliant about this book. The future societies that are clashing are caricatures of extreme versions of modern ideologies (“Greater Brazil,” an ultra-authoritarian society ruled by aristocratic familes and organized around extreme environmentalist lines, seems like something from one of Glenn Beck’s less coherent days), the characters are (at least in the first half-ish of the book that I’ve slogged through) flat and unlikeable, and the author is clearly more concerned about getting the biological jargon correct than writing dialogue that sounds like anything one human being would say to another.

I’ve stuck with this for almost half of the book, hoping that it would develop some redeeming qualities, but it hasn’t, and I’m pretty much fed up with it. The problem is, nothing in the to-be-read queue sounds any better at the moment. (The book before those two, Iain (M) Banks’s Transition wasn’t a whole lot more satisfying.)

So, suggest something I should read. Preferably fiction, preferably in the science fiction/ fantasy genre, but really, I’ll take just about anything at this point.

Comments

  1. #1 Mike Kozlowski
    March 27, 2010

    So I just finished reading Robin Hobb’s Soldier Son trilogy, which I loved. You probably already know how you feel about Hobb, though.

    Lawrence Watt-Evans’ A Young MAn Without Magic is, like most Watt-Evans, good fun.

    Cory Doctorow’s For The Win comes out in a few months, so you’ve got that to look forward to.

  2. #2 Sue VanHattum
    March 27, 2010

    Have you read Joan Slonczewski (my fave: A Door Into Ocean), Gael Baudino (try Gossamer Axe), Octavia Butler, Laurie Marks (Fire Logic)?

  3. #3 Aaron Bergman
    March 27, 2010

    Just on the other side with the Hobb, the Soldier Son trilogy convinced me to stop buying her in hardcover. I guess one could write an interesting fantasy of powerlessness, but this certainly wasn’t it. I was going to recommend the Jemisin (which I’m about halfway through right now) but since you’ve already read that, try Dragon in Chains by Daniel Fox (who I believe is a more established writer in disguise, but I forget who).

  4. #4 Rod Gallant
    March 27, 2010

    its a little dated, but I enjoyed the trilogy ‘The Golden Age’ by John C. Write. I do not know but when reading it the style reminded me of ‘Heinlein

  5. #5 Cie
    March 27, 2010

    Being new here, not sure what’s on your queue and what you’ve read, but I have you tried Inkheart? I like the first best in the series. Doctorow is good, and a few years ago I discovered James Patrick Kelly (who won the Nebula for his *podcast* version of Burn). I now list Kelly as one of my favourite authors, and had the great pleasure of meeting him, so I can say he is a nice guy too :)
    Speaking of Podcasts, the Seventh Son Trilogy by J.C. Hutchins should be coming out soon, and I would highly recommend the entire series. Also anything by Scott Sigler if you can stomach it. Another good author who got her start by podcasting her books is Mur Lafferty, and she always adds some humor.
    Happy reading!
    ~Cie

  6. #6 Rod Gallant
    March 27, 2010

    Sorry, I would like to add an even more dated series by Doris Lessing ‘Canopus in Argos Archives.

  7. #7 Grad
    March 27, 2010

    Mortal Coils, Eric Nylund, (first 9 chapters (they’re short) available at http://ericnylund.net/?page_id=175 )

  8. #8 Cie
    March 27, 2010

    oh! David Brin!
    He even has a list of books on his website called “Science Fiction that Teaches”
    http://www.davidbrin.com/teachingsf.htm
    (Check out his list of movies that teach too, very cool)
    ~Cie

  9. #9 eNeMeE
    March 27, 2010

    Try reading The Carpet Makers.

  10. #10 --bill
    March 27, 2010

    Against the Day, by Thomas Pynchon.

  11. #11 Jacob Stewart
    March 27, 2010

    I don’t know if you’re into graphic novels, but my wife and I have been enjoying Gunnerkrigg Court by Tom Siddell. It’s available in book form or you can read it online at http://www.gunnerkrigg.com/

  12. #12 Susan
    March 27, 2010

    It’s historical, not science, fiction, but anyone who hasn’t read the over 20 superb novels in Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey & Maturin series has so much to look forward to. Start with Master and Commander, and by the end I guarantee you’ll be hooked.

    (These books did inspire the Russell Crowe movie, and the movie is not too disappointing to this reader, either.)

  13. #13 Hibob
    March 27, 2010

    “In reading a lot of the new urban fantasy, I find myself wanting the Ponder Stibbons story– I want to see what this world looks like from the perspective of the nerdy guy who disdains tradition, and sits down to figure out the exact amount of mouse blood required to summon Death for a conversation. I want to see the new gadgets developed from an investigation of the physical principles that allow a hundred-odd pound woman to transform into a twenty-pound coyote– ”

    I think you are looking for Charles Stross:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Stross#The_.22Bob_Howard_.E2.80.94_Laundry.22_series
    Peter Watts:
    http://www.rifters.com/real/Blindsight.htm

    and Ian McDonald:
    http://www.amazon.com/Terminal-Cafe-Ian-McDonald/dp/0553374168

    Though Charles Stross probably comes closest, and does so with the most humor.

  14. #14 Kate Nepveu
    March 27, 2010

    Sue VanHattum, I thought about suggesting _Fire Logic_, but thought the romance bits might be too much in this mood–I don’t think they are at all generally, but it’s a good book and it doesn’t deserve to be read in a mood that might predispose one against it. Also, it does start slow.

    My recommendation was _In Great Waters_, a unsentimental novel about merfolk that does an amazing job of conveying an alien worldview. Chad picked up one of Brandon Sanderson’s YAs for SteelyKid’s naptime, though.

  15. #15 Mike Kozlowski
    March 27, 2010

    I thought Fire Logic was pretty unremarkable, and haven’t really understood what people see in it that makes it special.

    How are the Sanderson YA novels? I’ve liked his books for regular people, but for whatever reason haven’t even tried his kidbooks.

  16. #16 Mike
    March 27, 2010

    I’d have to agree with Aaron about the Hobb stuff — repetetive of past series (honestly, everything since that first trilogy’s been pretty repetetive; I haven’t even bothered with Liveship), set in a knock-off of the midwestern-US settlement Way Back When.

  17. #17 cisko
    March 27, 2010

    I kind of appreciate what Hobb’s trying to do in Soldier Son, but the second book was a pretty hard slog, mostly because the hero is so damn unlikeable. It will be a while before I pick up the third, though I will eventually.

    I’ve been on a bit of a kick in reading (or re-reading) much of the older, classic fantasy that I’m not well familiar with. I enjoyed the first omnibus of Cook’s Black Company, and I’m about to start the second. But I think the best of the lot — surprisingly so — are the Conan books. He’s a good bit more interesting as a hero than I would have guessed. Having some fun with Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, too; Lankhmar is a pretty fun place.

    My favorite read lately, though, is not just nonfiction — it’s actually a textbook. On the recommendation of Erik Klemetti from Eruptions, I picked up Volcanos by Francis and Oppenheimer. It reads quite well, and I’m enjoying it enough that I’m reluctant to finish it.

  18. #18 Harlan
    March 27, 2010

    You should read “The Lost Books of the Odyssey,” by Zachary Mason. It’s general fiction, but with much of the sensibility of speculative fiction at its finest. Beautiful, beautiful writing.

  19. #19 Kate Nepveu
    March 27, 2010

    I read some of the second one of Sanderson’s YAs just now and I must quote the grandfather from _The Princess Bride_: “Yes, you’re very smart. Now shut up.”

    And normally I _like_ metafiction.

    However Chad liked the first lot, obviously.

  20. #20 Bill
    March 27, 2010

    For fantasy, the trilogy by Elizabeth Moon collectively called the Deeds of Paksenarrion.

    For urban fantasy, the Tom Dietz series that starts with Windmaster’s Bane.

    For science fiction that was written fairly recently, just about anything by Jack McDevitt will end up in my library.

    And, of course, just about anything by Terry Pratchett — in the Disc World series the Vimes novels are my favorites, that sub-set begins with Guards, Guards!

  21. #21 Rosemary Kirstein
    March 27, 2010

    Robert Charles Wilson’s SPIN. If you haven’t already, that is, as it’s not a new book. (Actually, I’d be interested in a scientist’s take on the science in it…) You can follow it up with everything else ever written by Robert Charles Wilson.

    On the absolutely opposite end of the spectrum: Catherynn M. Valente’s THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND IN A SHIP OF HER OWN MAKING. (I haven’t quite finished reading it yet, so I hope that after recommending it, I don’t watch it flip around and prove me wrong!) That one’s online, and can be read for free, although the author politely requests donations (which I shall, even should it flip; the pleasure I’ve got from it so far is already worth the bucks). http://www.catherynnemvalente.com/fairyland/ In a certain mood, I’m ready to read things that are clearly shaped as fairy-tales, and I’m finding Valente’s take on the form both charming and moving.

    And for something smack-dab in the middle, how about PANDEMONIUM by Daryl Gregory? I came across this book when I was a judge for the Phil K. Dick award (a strictly-SF award, so the book was disqualified by some of the judges as not being SF, in their opinion). I found it fun, and poignant, and clever and deep. (Don’t read the cover blurb, however — I feel it gives to much away.)

  22. #22 Andy B
    March 27, 2010

    I’ve been getting frustrated by bad sci-fi lately as well but my wife has been researching young-adult novels for the last couple of years and she passes on the best of the best. They’re fast and easy to read and some are strikingly well written. The first three that I can think of are:

    “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time,” by Mark Haddon
    “The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing,” by M. T. Anderson
    “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” by Brian Selznick

  23. #23 DuWayne
    March 27, 2010

    Hmmm…

    I am not sure I can really suggest anything new – I am currently on a Clarke binge. Mostly stuff I have read before, mainly because I am doing eighteen credits and need my rather infrequent bouts of spare (more like, if I don’t stop now, I will totally lose it) time.

    However, if you haven’t read it, Raymond E. Feist’s Conclave of Shadow’s series is a lot of fun, if not rather more brain candy than anything else. While it occasionally has the feel of “this was obviously gamed out” that his earlier novels are painfully inundated with, it is considerably better than pretty much anything else he has written.

    I would also recommend Dennis Lehane, in particular Sacred. It is not scifi/fant, but Sacred is one of the very few novels I have ever picked up and could not put down. I would note that about ninety percent of what I read or watch is scifi and fantasy. I rarely break away for a little crime fiction or traditional detective novels – so I am not making a superfluous recommendation.

    Unfortunately I haven’t seen a lot of new scifi that I am terribly interested in. I have had a little bit more luck with fantasy, but I tend to prefer epic high fantasy. I have actually been reduced to interspersing my reading with some of Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth crap – mainly because, as I mentioned I need stuff I needn’t focus too hard on.

    I am rather disappointed to about McAuley. I was putting him on the list for my short break between this and the summer semester – or possibly the break after summer. I still have nearly half of Deacon’s The Symbolic Species to get through. I really enjoyed the Confluence trilogy and had high expectations.

    Such is life…

  24. #24 vasha
    March 27, 2010

    Some good science fiction and fantasy I’ve read in the last five years (mostly not new): “Halfway Human” by Carol Ives Gilman, “Filter House” by Nisi Shawl, “Sacrifice of Fools” by Ian MacDonald, “In the Mothers’ Land” by Elisabeth Vonarburg, “Dawn” and its sequels by Octavia Butler, “Galveston”, “Perfect Circle” and almost anything else by Sean Stewart, “Skin Folk” and “Midnight Robber” by Nalo Hopkinson, “Stations of the Tide” and “Bones of the Earth” by Michael Swanwick, “The Falling Woman” by Pat Murphy, “Brother Termite” and “Conscience of the Beagle” by Patricia Anthony

  25. #25 benjdm
    March 27, 2010

    My favorite sci-fi authors: David Brin, Greg Bear, Alastair Reynolds. If you like one or two on the list check out the others.

  26. #26 Tacroy
    March 27, 2010

    If you want super-hard science fiction, I would recommend Alastair Reynolds; he’s pretty much always readable, though if you’re reading Ian M. Banks you’ve probably read something of his already. I’ll also second Blindsight at this level; it was surprisingly trippy. I especially liked one incidental throwaway detail that’s stuck with me: as an obvious-in-hindsight consequence of universal translation, everyone speaks their own personal language, especially when discussing complicated technical concepts. After all, if you like referring to tau neutrinos as “whatsits”, there’s no reason not to – the translator will just pick that up and translate it for other people.

    Going down the scale of Sci-Fi hardness, I would recommend Singularity’s Ring by Paul Melko. For some reason my library has it classified as a Young Adult book, but I definitely didn’t notice. The basic idea is that the Singularity has passed – but what of the people it left behind?

    Even further down, there’s Walter John Williams’ Implied Spaces (no WP page for this one unfortunately), a fun pulp-ish-but-not-quite romp through several interesting post-mortality universes. I especially appreciated the conclusion, but I think other people may not.

    If you want something that’s more towards urban fantasy, I would recommend The Magicians – it’s like Harry Potter, except Hogwarts is actually a college (with all that implies) hidden in New York. And done very, very well; the characterization may be the best of all the books in this list. It made me want to beat the main character for being so goddamn human.

    If you want pure plain fantasy, I would highly recommend The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss; it’s basically perfect in every way besides the fact that Pat hasn’t finished the first sequel yet, damn him. I found no flaws with this book besides the fact that the hardcover is only five hundred pages long.

    I liked Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy quite a bit, but it may not be to everyone’s taste; however, his novel Elantris was excellent. He needs to stop finishing the Wheel of Time and write a sequel to that damn it.

    I would also recommend The Warded Man / The Painted Man (depending on if it’s the US or the UK edition) by Peter V. Brett; it’s pretty great, but for some reason I just think the writing is a little shaky.

  27. #27 Sab
    March 27, 2010

    @25: Strange, I like Alastair Reynolds at the moment (and his writing improves over time) but I can’t stand Greg Bear.

  28. #28 Sab
    March 27, 2010

    Have you read Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan? Apparently his new Fantasy book ‘The Steel Remains’ is worth a look.

  29. #29 ForSure
    March 27, 2010

    Ian M Banks “The Algebraist” made me realize what a genius this guy is. Also Blindsight (Watts) is awesome.

    But if you are into young adult literatures, then I would recommend the following:

    1) Anything by Darren Shan
    2) The Spook’s Apprentice series
    3) Fablehaven

    And if you’re brain dead then try Going Rogue (aka Conversations With My Cunt) by Sarah Palin.

  30. #30 Birger Johansson
    March 27, 2010

    Quote from Freeman Dyson: “In general, anything by Stanislaw Lem is worth reading”.
    I know science is not about quoting authorities, but what the hell….
    For Lem’s take on SETI, see “His Master’s Voice”

    Lighter stuff:
    Hard-boiled ass-kicking: Anything by Richard Morgan
    Urban fantasy: Try Glen Cook (Garrett P.I. series)

  31. #31 D. C. Sessions
    March 27, 2010

    Recent workout reading (Baen e-books on the widescreen monitor in front of the stair machine) are authors who have had bad luck with publishers [1]:

    P. C. Hodgell’s Kencyrath novels (God Stalk and sequels) and
    Miller and Lee’s Liaden Universe tales.

    Miller, Lee, and Hodgell have landed with a reliable publisher and are making up for lost time with a lot of new material.

    [1] Can we all say, “Meisha Merlin?”

  32. #32 Steven Colyer
    March 27, 2010

    Best SciFi novels I ever read, in order:

    1) Schismatrix, by Bruce Sterling
    2,3) Ender’s Game/Speaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card
    4) Ringworld, by Larry Niven (there are no better aliens than Pierson’s Puppeteers – the 3rd of a new Ringworld prequel series, The Destroyer of Worlds, is his latest and in hardcover, begin with Fleet of Worlds of a few years ago)
    5) The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov
    6,7) Consider Phlebas, and, Use of Weapons, by Iain M. Banks
    8,9) Revelation Space, and, Redemption Ark, by Alastair Reynolds
    10) Rendezvous with Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke
    11,12) Pandora’s Star, and, Judas Unchained, by Peter F. Hamilton (Ozzie is the coolest cat in all of Sci-Fi, and a genius Physicist as well)

  33. #33 guthrie
    March 27, 2010

    You should be reading Charles Stross and Ken Macleod.
    Their bibliographies can be found here:
    http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/fiction/online-fiction-by-charles-stro.html
    http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/m/ken-macleod/

    Both have some near future SF, some far future SF, and Stross has just finished his 6 novel fantasy that is almost like SF series.

    I’d avoid Alastair reynolds first few novels, they are long and boring, so I han’t read the newer ones, they may be more interesting.
    The only Banks worth reading is the early Culture stuff like “Player of games”. And his non-SF weird stuff like “The wasp factory” and others.

  34. #34 Steven Colyer
    March 27, 2010

    14) A Fire Upon the Deep, by Vernor Vinge – especially for those of us who love dogs

  35. #35 Steven Colyer
    March 27, 2010

    13) Eon, by Greg Bear

    Disagreed re Reynolds except for Absolution Gap, the 3rd of the Revelation Space series which was below Reynold’s standards because of the weird religious cult. Reynolds is notorious for refusing to give into Faster-Than-light travel, which is realistic, but not necessarily what you want in sci-fi. A better introduction to Reynolds may be Pushing Ice.

    The Algebraist is an excellent introduction to Banks, who sometimes kills off his main protagonist at the end, sometimes not. You never know with Banks, but you’ll always be in for a good ride. Yup, The Player of Games is excellent, as is Excession, Against a Dark Background, and Matter.

  36. #36 Petréa Mitchell
    March 27, 2010

    It’s hard to make recommendations without knowing some of your likes, so here are a scattershot few…

    If you like horror (of the scary variety, not the bloody variety)– Diving Into the Wreck by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, which uses sf as a basis for the horror.

    If you’re going to read Stanislaw Lem, my favorite of his books is The Cyberiad.

    If fantasy isn’t totally out of the question, try A Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart, and if you like that, the sequels, The Story of the Stone and Eight Skilled Gentlemen. (The second is my favorite, but they’re best in order.)

    Or read anything by Dave Duncan; I haven’t read nearly all his books but I’ve read enough to say that I don’t think he’s ever had an off day in his entire career.

    If you didn’t know Ursula K. Le Guin had a sense of humor, read Changing Planes, whose opening story is hilarious in places.

    And I second the recommendation of A Fire Upon the Deep, possibly one of the best Hugo winners ever. Especially fun if you’re at all familiar with Usenet or the Morris worm.

  37. #37 Joshua Zelinsky
    March 27, 2010

    Will echo earlier comment about “Mistborn”. Also more YAish but good are Garth Nix’s Abhorsen trilogy (although they run into the whole magic and science being enemies trope which is just really annoying).

    “The Atrocity Archives” is a lot of fun. “Singularity Sky” is another good novel by Strauss. Both are in the scifi rather than fantasy genre. And anyone who hasn’t read “The Mote in God’s Eye” should really do so. That’s not recent but is very good.

  38. #38 D. C. Sessions
    March 27, 2010

    Best I can tell, that came from a story in Astounding by (not sure but might have been) Christopher Anvil. The observation is hard to avoid: science depends on experiments coming out the same regardless of who does them. Magic …

    The original idea was that whichever got a good start in a society tended to keep the other from getting a foothold.

  39. #39 Tacroy
    March 27, 2010

    Oh yeah, I forgot to really strongly second The Atrocity Archives and its sequel, The Jennifer Morgue – it’s an incredibly unique mix of the Cthulhu Mythos, Snowcrash, and the Bastard Operator From Hell. I especially liked one part in the second book where the main character hacks in to his enemy’s computer network with a mixture of black magic, thaumaturgy and Linux using a couple of James Bond-esque gadgets (like a Bluetooth keyboard disguised as a tie, I think I want one of those). If you want an idea of what it’s like there’s a couple of short stories available for free here and here.

    The only downside is that, as always, Charles Stross doesn’t let characterization get in the way of telling a neat story.

  40. #40 Aaron Bergman
    March 27, 2010

    (Geez, Chad, it’s like these people don’t know who you are…. :))

    Another thought — I don’t know if you ever picked up Michelle Sagara’s Cast in … books, but they’re definitely worth it. I also quite liked Darkborn by Alison Sinclair. If you can tolerate a little more urban fantasy, the Seanan McGuire and Devon Monk both have decent series, although the latter is much worse than the Jemisin in terms of the romance stuff).

    There’s a lot of urban fantasy stuff out there right now, and I’m reasonably happy with a fair bit of it. But it’s getting a bit frustrating that no one out there is really doing anything with the genre; there is just this pervasive sameness lying underneath almost everything out there. By far the best vampire urban fantasy ever written is McKinley’s Sunshine (you’ve read that, right?), and that predates the current rush by years. I guess what I’m wondering is, when are we going to see urban fantasy’s A Game of Thrones? The analogy isn’t all that great, but someone’s got to go out there and kill a wolf or two, or the whole thing is just going to quietly fade away.

  41. #41 Kate Nepveu
    March 27, 2010

    Oh, man, _Sunshine_ is so not Chad’s kind of thing. It’s much closer to being my kind of thing and even I was pretty mixed on it. I mean, talk about your frustrating narrators!

  42. #42 Chad Orzel
    March 27, 2010

    (Geez, Chad, it’s like these people don’t know who you are…. :))

    I probably should’ve specified “recent” in there, but it’s sort of amusing to see suggestions of things I read ages ago…

    When putting SteelyKid down for her afternoon nap, I picked up a Brandon Sanderson YA book, which is light and entertaining, and about the right level for reading while she goes to sleep. Rosemary Kirstein’s suggestion at #21 of Robert Charles Wilson is a good one, though– I’ve got at least one unread book of his upstairs…

    There’s a lot of urban fantasy stuff out there right now, and I’m reasonably happy with a fair bit of it. But it’s getting a bit frustrating that no one out there is really doing anything with the genre; there is just this pervasive sameness lying underneath almost everything out there. By far the best vampire urban fantasy ever written is McKinley’s Sunshine (you’ve read that, right?), and that predates the current rush by years.

    I’d go even earlier, with Brust’s Agyar.

    I do tend to agree about the vampire end of things getting stale. I’d like to see more stuff in the Wizard of the Pigeons kind of vein (or The Last Hot Time, but Mike Ford was sui generis), but that doesn’t seem to be happening.

    (I still want the Ponder Stibbons story, though. Which the twenty-years-later sequel to Boyett’s Ariel might almost be, based on the jacket copy I read in the library today…)

  43. #43 D. C. Sessions
    March 27, 2010

    RE: #38

    Dunno where the block quote went, but it was WRT the “science vs. magic” cliche.

  44. #44 Aaron Bergman
    March 27, 2010

    Yeah, I have this vague recollection that we’ve had the Sunshine discussion before, but I liked the book so much, I’ll recommend it anyways. It scratched my McKillip itch.

    (And now I have the phrase “It’s like McKillip… but with Vampires!” in my head.)

    Regarding urban fantasy, it’s more than simply the vampires, or the werewolves, or faeries or whatever. The whole thing just feels so much the same to me. The frosting is different, but it’s always the same damn cake underneath. Everyone seems satisfied with writing more and more fluff. Which is fine — I like fluff — but I also want to see an author or two show a little ambition from time to time. The closest thing I can think of is Justina Robson’s recent quartet, but calling that urban fantasy is a bit of a stretch (and I don’t think the books really succeeded in the end). I have to believe that there is a great urban fantasy novel out there waiting to be written because, right now, there’s only so much more of the current crop that I can really take.

  45. #45 sadpanda
    March 28, 2010

    I recommend a couple of excellent graphic novel series:
    Warren Ellis’ SF series Transmetropolitan and Bill Willingham’s urban fantasy series Fables.

  46. #46 Iain Breaknold
    March 28, 2010

    I would recommend Stephen Hunt’s Jackelian fantasy series – they’re page-turning fantasy with a dash of science fiction.

    Some people reckon they’re steampunk, but that’s just because the backdrop is a Victorian-level society and they’re easily confused (must be the weight of all those brass goggles).

    It’s actually set in the far future after an ice age has erased most of known history from the annals of time.

    Current books are (1) The Court of the Air, (2) The Kingdom Beyond the Waves, (3) The Rise of the Iron Moon, and (4) Secrets of the Fire Sea.

    They are all standalone books, rather than direct sequels, but share many of the same characters, a little like Pratchett’s Diskworld series (also very good).

  47. #47 P
    March 28, 2010

    Chad: “I probably should’ve specified “recent” in there, but it’s sort of amusing to see suggestions of things I read ages ago…”

    I recommend you reread some of the books you most enjoyed ages ago, it can be very rewarding.

  48. #48 Waterdog
    March 28, 2010

    I seem to recall that Chad, like me, is not a fan of Stross. I’ve read some good stuff lately, but none of it is recently released.

    Forever Peace – Joe Haldeman
    Dying Inside – Robert Silverberg
    Rollback – Robert J. Sawyer

    Have you read Sawyer, by the way? If not, you really need to pick some of his stuff up.

  49. #49 fizzchick
    March 28, 2010

    If you’re looking for lighter stuff, I’ve had great fun with Tamora Pierce’s YA fantasy novels. They’ve got strong female protagonists and realistic young people.

  50. #50 Pam
    March 28, 2010

    You might like Emissaries from the Dead, by Adam-Troy Castro. It starts off like a science-fiction murder mystery (human protagonist is sent to investigate death of a human researcher on an artificial habitat built and controlled by alien AIs), and develops into something that’s more Big Scifi. I read it on John Novak’s recommendation, so that’s two people you know who enjoyed it.

  51. #51 Mike Kozlowski
    March 28, 2010

    Aaron, you can treat your McKillip Itch with simple topical creams. This is vastly better, on the whole, than trying how to pronounce Ghisteslwchlohm.

  52. #52 abb3w
    March 28, 2010

    You might find Connie Willis an interesting mix of historical novels and time travel SF. Doomsday Book tied for a Hugo in 1994; semi-sequels include To Say Nothing of the Dog, the just-released Blackout, and the forthcoming All Clear.

    Fair warning: Blackout ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. When the novel grew Just Too Durn Large, the second part was split off as All Clear, which is scheduled for October release.

    I’ve heard her apparently unrelated novel Bellweather is good; however, I haven’t read it or her others.

  53. #53 Pierce R. Butler
    March 28, 2010

    Speaking of Peter Watts, his next novel is likely to be a blistering expose’ of police state bureaucracy.

  54. #54 Aaron Bergman
    March 28, 2010

    The fact that you bothered to spell Ghisteslwchlohm correctly shows you really do care.

  55. #55 Konrad Gaertner
    March 28, 2010

    For “Ponder Stibbons urban fantasy”, try to find Robert Weinberg’s A Logical Magician and A Calculated Magic. For non-European urban fantasy, try Liz Williams’ Detective Inspector Chen series (starts with Snake Agent).

    For high fantasy, Lawrence Watt-Evans is good at thinking through his worldbuilding and is always a pleasant read. Martha Wells’ Ile-Rien books are high fantasy with technological progress. And I’ll second the suggestion for Sagara’s Cast books.

    For younger readers, Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant series is good, as is Frances Hardinge’s Fly by Night. And I’ll second the rec for Nix and add Stroud’s Bartimeaus trilogy (in case you haven’t read it yet).

  56. #56 Chuk
    March 29, 2010

    If the Robert Wilson you have waiting is _Julian Comstock_, then I liked it but I’m not sure how to tell if you would or not. It’s hard post-apocalyptic fiction — no breaking of the rules of reality, the setting seems like Victorian Era US but with some artifacts and history still leftover from our present.

    MacLeod I would second and specifically recommend Learning the World, a neat first contact story with an interesting alien culture. Pretty hard SF…I can’t remember but it might have FTL.

    And if you’re interested in a mystery with a fun narrator, Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is well worth looking into. Post WW2 Britain, eccentric eleven year old chemistry expert Fights Crime. She has a pretty original voice and there are sequels (I think one in print and more sold already). (She = the narrator, Flavia.)

  57. #57 Petréa Mitchell
    March 29, 2010

    Having had a chance to look at your “booklog” posts now, I’d like to double down on my Hughart and Rusch recommendations and add Indigo Springs by A. M. Dellamonica. It’s the story of a woman who moves into her dad’s old house and discovers a magical spring that she and her friend are able to use to enchant everyday items.

    And then things go wrong. Really, really wrong. I mean, so wrong that the book is structured as a psychological thriller…

  58. #58 Chad Orzel
    March 30, 2010

    Regarding urban fantasy, it’s more than simply the vampires, or the werewolves, or faeries or whatever. The whole thing just feels so much the same to me. The frosting is different, but it’s always the same damn cake underneath. Everyone seems satisfied with writing more and more fluff. Which is fine — I like fluff — but I also want to see an author or two show a little ambition from time to time.

    I needed to dig something out of the bag I took to the March Meeting, which also uncovered the Midnight Mayor, the sequel to Kate Griffin’s A Madness of Angels (I had taken it as possible airplane reading, but never got to it). Which doesn’t have the vampire-and-werewolf trappings, but is definitely urban and most definitely fantasy, and has an entirely different sort of ambition than the usual run. And while I’m not 100% sure the first one needed a sequel, it’s exactly the sort of thing I want to read.

  59. #59 Mu
    March 30, 2010

    Franz Schatzings’s The Swarm was the best SF I’ve read in years. So you might not like it, it’s the chemists that save the day, not the physicists.

  60. #60 Aaron Bergman
    March 30, 2010

    Is A Madness of Angels worth picking up? I’ve looked at it at the bookstore a few times, but the cover copy didn’t really grab me.

  61. #61 Chad Orzel
    March 30, 2010

    A Madness of Angels is well worth reading just for the scene in the subway station on page 74. I thought it was great, and better than the jacket copy made it sound.

  62. #62 Jonathan Vos Post
    March 30, 2010

    Second the motion for “Against the Day.” The pricey private university where my wife is PHysics professor has a great little library, with a bust of Ray Bradbury and a prize named after him. They decided to have a poster of my wife holding two hardcover novels. My wife chose, and the poster shows, “Space” by James A. Michener (1982) and “Against the Day”, by Thomas Pynchon.

  63. #63 Jeff Grygny
    March 31, 2010

    I picked up “Consider Phlebas” by Ian Banks. SO excited to start on the culture– very disappointing. Terrible writing. Have you read “The Sparrow” and “Children of God” by Mary Doria Russell? She goes a long way to make a credible alien civilization– admittedly not that alien, but still very well-done. I was literally breathless by the end, to see how she brought it all together.

  64. #64 agm
    March 31, 2010

    If you need 5 minute bites to read, Mark Stein’s How the States Got Their Shapes is great. He covers every border between the 50 states in brief chapters. By the end you can predict why a certain type of border exists, you have a greater appreciation for the creative scheming problem solving Congress used to resolve some very serious conflicts throughout American history. Even better, you can put it down for days or weeks without losing anything and come back later to continue reading.

  65. #65 AJ
    April 21, 2010

    For science fiction, I recommend Stephen R. Donaldson’s “The Gap Into Conflict: The Real Story.” Start with this book and I believe you won’t be disappointed.

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