This topic was created by Chazmon.
Sci Fi recomendations?
As someone who I assume is considerably younger than the average el Reg reader I would like to draw on your expertise to guide my science fiction reading habits.
To date I have read many of the 'classics' including dune, foundation trilogy, starship troopers, use of weapons and most of John Wyndam's material. I am also a big Niven and Pournelle fan and am almost all the way through their back catalogues. Ive read many others which I wont list here but wouldn't be supprised if they got recomended.
What would be really helpful is as well as naming the novel give me a comparison and why it is worth a read. I look forward to your recomendations
Re: Sci Fi recomendations?
Might not be a technique for everyone, but after El Reg did their poll of the top Sci-Fi movies never made, I copied it down as a checklist and am slowly making my way through them.
Once I've finished that list I plan on going through the "also-ran"s on the list. If I particularly like one of the authors I might take a look at some of their other stuff.
I really enjoyed Ender's Game by Orsen Scott Card. For me it hit the perfect pace of not so quick you get blown away and miss all the details, but quick enough you want to continue reading. I started on Speaker for the Dead but I am really struggling to get into it, the whole story moves a lot slower.
A nice short one that was great fun and had a couple of interesting twists was Deathworld by Harry Harrison. His is a name I've come across elsewhere as well so if his other books have the same flow I will certainly be looking for more. you can pick it up for free from Project Gutenberg.
If you don't consider yourself above some of the more "Mainstream" or cliché action Sci-Fi, the Games Workshop Black Library novels, particularly the Horus Heresy series, can be a very good read. I know some people have pretensions about how they could never stoop so low as to read books based on a series of toys, but the background fluff for the Warhammer 40,000 Universe is very broad and very detailed, and there's a lot of story to be found there.
While I dabbled in gaming beforehand, it was reading the Soul Drinkers series by Ben Counter that really got me interested in playing an army properly, modifying models and using less than competitive lists to capture the essence of the characters in the books.
More recently I have started another force based on the Gaunt's Ghosts books by Dan Abnett, about a force of Gaelic Ninja Soldiers in Outer Space... basically, and a great starting point for an interesting army. I think his inquisition Series Eisenhorn and Ravenour are better stories in general, and give more scope for unique characters, for me the Ghosts was a better series on which to base an army.
Re: Sci Fi recomendations?
Jack Vance's classic 'Planet of Adventure' series is definitely worth reading.
The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi, an excellent first novel.
Richard Morgan for "I can see the film in my head" sf action.
Chazmon, I would have to say that the comparison aspect of your post would be tricky but I can share my own tastes and recommendations.
Anything by Ian. M. Banks is my first recommendation, be prepared for detailed and complicated SciFi that is mostly based around a civilisation called the "Culture" and has a more philosophical outlook with socio-political overtones.
Alastair Reynolds is good too, as is Peter F Hamilton.
Peter tends towards classic story telling with a SciFi skin over the top, so if you like a good mystery then Peter is a good read.
Alastair likes to try and keep it "believable" if you know what I mean, there is some scientific background to his tech and environment, he used to work for the European space agency (obviously that's not always the case but you'll see what I mean.. you'll find yourself looking up Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle in detail before you know it)
These guys should keep you going for a few months/years depending on how much time you have to read of course.
My favourites out of those above are
The Algebraist (Ian M Banks) not one of his more popular ones and not a "culture" novel, but properly imaginative and quite bizarre in places
Void Trilogy (Peter F Hamilton) -good dual storyline writing with a fantasy meets SciFi edge
Revelation Space (Alastair Reynolds) the first of that (sort of) series that will hook you in.
Hope this helps (you may not like any of them!!)
Re: Epic SciFi
One slight disagreement here-- if you're going to read Hamilton, start with Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained, which set the scene for the Void trilogy.
And when you're done with those, you should also check out his Night's Dawn trilogy, which is also epic stuff full of lots of neat ideas. IMHO, the neatest one is asking, "So suppose risen hordes of undead actually *do* conquer the world-- what do they do with it next?"
Re: Epic SciFi
One disagreement on the disagreement.
Fallen Dragon is Hamiltons best where his trademarked Deus Ex Machina endings work best. Can't go far wrong with any of them tho.
Alistair Reynolds new one Blue Remembered Earth is a good un. Although for me he's a perrenial 4 star writer with nearly always one flaw in each book - The Inhibitors series in particular is fully of great stories and characters fairly poorly treated. The ending of the series in particular is a real take the wind out of your sails ending.
Greg Bear's EON and Legacy. Both set in the same universe and have some key characters in common but related to totally different events. There is a sequel to EON but it's unremarkable though it has some interesting ideas and other people seem to like it.
Greg Bear's "Forge of Gods" and "Anvil of Stars", the former is (together with Jack McDevitt's Moonfall) clearly the basis for some key plot points in Deep Impact, Armageddon and 2012. But the movies just cannibalised the excellent books and turned them into crap, and are not in any way indicators of the book's quality. The Anvil is a sequel to the Forge and is breathtaking in its scope and execution. Talking about global calamities - Baxter's "Moonseed" is also a good one.
Vernor Vinge's "A Fire Upon The Deep" and "A Deepness In The Sky", just pure distillation of scifi genius and both a Hugo winners.
Finally, I would add Ben Bova and his "Grand Tour" of the Solar System - an interesting series with some imaginative plots. I was not overawed by the Moonbase but the rest is quite good. This can be well complemented by Baxter's "Voyage" and "Titan" but he is a bit too downbeat for my liking...
Charles Stross is pretty good and depending on what you like :
There's more classic sci-fi in Singularity Sky ,Iron Sunrise, Glasshouse, Accellerandro.
He's also done some more HP Lovecraft crossed with Spy thrillers with his Laundry Series . Rather more fun.
And 2 Near future ones in Halting State and Rule 34.
Neal Asher is popular with his Polity series - although I liked the Spatterjay sub-series the most.
Ken McLeod's fall revolution series is very good as well .
Not keen on what I've read so far with Dan Simmons but give it a try .
As like others above Iain M Banks,Stephen Baxter, Alistair Reynolds and Peter F Hamilton are worth a look ,
+1 for Charlie Stross very versatile entertaining author and occasional commentard on here.
He has pretty much written a book in every Sci-fi / fantasy sub-genre including some very odd but brilliant cross genre novels in the Laundry Series. (lovecraftian horror comedy spy thrillers!)
Also his short stories in "Wireless" are excellent - particularly the chilling "a colder war"
I'd highly recommend Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon. Blew my mind.
Last & First Men by the same author isn't a bad read either.
Also, thumbs up for Iain M. Banks.
The Algebraist is one of my favourite books, and I'm just finishing Excession for about the 6th time.
I like some of the above particularly Iain (with 2 "I"'s you sassenach) Banks but Olaf Stapleton is a better start. The classic era of SF was the '50's and '60's with writers such as Brian Aldiss, Robert Heinlein, Algis Budrys, Isaac Asimov (before he became the World's greatest Expert on Everything) and of course Ray Bradbury .. Many others too ... Leading in to Arthur C. Clarke and his contemporaries.
The local library had a whole section of Gollancz SF novels which had a consistently high standard. Don't know if anyone else remembers their garish yellow covers.
These were all real SCIENCE fiction writers, not what I would call Science Fantasy of the '70's onwards. I think the pitch was queered by Star Trek and Lord of the Bloody Rings.
By way of example I read a story long, long ago (no, not in a galaxy far, far away) based on time moving sideways rather than forwards. That's the real thing. Mind boggling stuff.
I'll add my votes for Alastair Reynolds, Charlie Stross and Ken MacLeod - all good stuff.
I'd also add Richard Morgan - his Takeshi Kovacs trilogy is superb (Altered Carbon, Broken Angels and Woken Furies). I'd also highly recommend 'Black Man' (called 'Thirteen' in the States, for some inexlicable reason). Hard edged and dark stuff.
His latest two books are his skewed take on fantasy, and if you like things like Elric thy're worth a read.
I'd also give Gary Gibson's 'Shoal Sequence' (Stealing Light, Nova War and Empire of Light) a go. I've got the last of the trilogy on my shelf waiting to be read.
I agree with most of the recommendations (I'm a big fan of Niven and Banks), but would like to add John Varley. He has a 'future history' series (humans thrown off Earth by hyperintelligent (but not, apparently, pandimensional) beings, reduced to living in habitats across the solar system) - try starting with the first "The Ophiuchi Hotline" - as well as a stand-alone trilogy "Titan/Wizard/Demon" set on an alien habitat orbiting Saturn.
Most Heinlein. You have to rember these were written in the cold war time so theres always a USA Vs USSR type of hero/ villan (and the ocassional oedipus issues) but the beauty of Heinlein to me if the fact the characters and inventions appear in cameos' in other books, and that gives it a more believeable universe feel to me.
Colossus by Feltham Jones (According to Wikipedia) Interesting twist to the idea of a master computer to help man then taking over the world.
Charles Stross - read The Atrocity Archives recently and liked it, probably as its scifi in the present time, am looking for more of his at the moment.
Lincon Child's Utopia, theme park gone mad.
I'm guessing you detect a trend in my reading, although I liked Michael Crighton but of late I can take or leave it, Andromedra strain was excelent.
I liked Heinlein's style, but I always got the feeling that he wrote half books. I'd be deep in the story, looking forward to the next chapter, turn the page - and that was it. Fin. I gave up after a few disappointments like that.
Granted, the current trend for 6-volume epics is going too far the other way, but even so, there's a happy medium.
Back to Old school
I'd like to say War of the Worlds by H G Wells (Time machine pretty good, Invisible Man, not so) and grab a copy of the Sentinal by Arthur C. Clarke (a collection of short stories)
Reading these gives you an idea of old school thinking of Sci-Fi and highlight how bloody good these guys were. Reading the Sential will scare you when you see the dates they they were written and how close they are to modern reality.
A Fire on the Deep by Vernor Vinge is superb., although I was not enamoured of the prequel. I also loved Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson and The Dragon Never Sleeps by Glen Cook.
I will second, third, and fourth A Fire Upon the Deep, even if you're too young to remember the Morris worm.
I would dispute A fire upon the deep. There is a good ebook called Zones of thought that contains both Novels. A deepness in the sky is far superior and has dated less. Fire reads very similarly to Brins Uplift war series.
I'll second the Peter F Hamilton recommendations, I could never really get into Alistair Reynolds.
To add a few names not yet covered here, more lightweight perhaps but still entertaining, what about:
Jack McDevitt, has an interesting take on the abandoned artifacts/first contact storyline. I think he would appeal to Niven fans.
Lois McMaster Bujold's "Vorkosigan" series. Not heavy on the science, but *very* clever character writing. My wife wasn't keen on the militaristic aspects ar first, but I got her hooked after reading "A Civil Campaign" which is practically a SciFi comedy of manners. Some of her fantasy ("Chalion" series) is not bad either, although I really disliked the Sharing Knife sentimental gloop.
+1 for Vorkosigan Saga - multiple Hugos and Nebulas and everyone deserved.
Forgot a good one...
David Feintouch, Seafort saga. Inspired by Horatio Hornblower and I would recommend the whole series.
Also, Commander Leary series by David Drake. This one is inspired (have to use that word again) by Captain Aubry/Stephen Maturin and, just like Patrick O'Brian did, the author often takes real historical events and weaves them into his space adventure stories.
Re: Sci Fi recommendations
-- Arkady and Boris Strugatsky: Roadside Picnic (how it will be...)
-- Stanisław Lem: Solaris (how and what we will understand...)
-- Stephen Baxter: Titan (why manned space travel won't work...)
-- Kim Stanley Robinson: Mars Trilogy: "Red/Green/Blue Mars" (how things never really change...)
Re: Sci Fi recommendations
"-- Arkady and Boris Strugatsky: Roadside Picnic (how it will be...)"
I didn't know there was an English translation of this one...
"-- Stephen Baxter: Titan (why manned space travel won't work...)"
My reading of that was completely the opposite - how only manned space travel could save the human race.
My other recommendations
If you're here as an IT geek, you need to read The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem.
It looks like you're reading a broad range of sf, so I'll just list some random good stuff that hasn't been mentioned yet:
Diving Into the Wreck/City of Ruins by Kristine Kathryn Rusch - proper sf yet also proper horror!
Signal to Noise/A Signal Shattered by Eric S. Nylund - starts as small-scale cyberpunk, but rapidly scales up, hitting galactic size in book 2.
Spin by Robert Anton Wilson
A Maze of Stars by John Brunner
City at the End of Time by Greg Bear - a bit overlong, but worth it
That's just a few off the top of my head, if I go stare at my bookshelves for a bit I'll have more recommendations-- probably too many.
I've only read two of them so far, but the Barsoom series by Edgar Rice Burroughs was hugely influential on a lot of subsequent sci-fi. Plus, they're all available on Project Gutenberg.
Hmm - I don't read many, but here's a few.
Job: A Comedy of Justice - Heinlein. As he tells an alternate-reality tale from a religious viewpoint which turns out to be... well... that'd spoil it, wouldn't it? Suffice to say, this one carries on further than you would ever expect but has a good and proper end.
I tried reading Asimov's Foundation, as it's supposed to be part of that Sci-Fi 'golden age', but frankly I found the science to be laughable and the misogyny excruciating. Though one that does still work from that era:
Rogue Moon - Algis Budrys. Before the moon landings, the US Navy is investigating an obscure structure found on the moon by sending astronauts through a crude duplicating transporter device. Nicely tackles the idea of what happens to the guy you're tearing apart to transport, and how weird multi-dimensional spaces might be to explore.
Only Forward - Michael Marshall Smith. Slightly hip British satirical and occasionally cliché-subverting take on a future of walled cities (one colour-coordinated, one where they all believe there are no outsiders left, one bequeathed by an old lady to her cats, etc.) that takes an odd twist. Not keen on anything of his after it though since it tends to be derivative of this, his début.
The Raw Shark Texts - Stephen Hall. Not sure how much flak I'll take from the hardcore for suggesting it's Sciffy enough, but it's a conceptual mystery about predatory memes that does wonderful things novels aren't supposed to do.
The Complete Ballad of Halo Jones - Alan Moore/Ian Gibson. Yes, it's a comic. With a solid, believable female lead and more brilliant futurist ideas thrown away in the edges of a panel than some authors come up with in a lifetime.
New style vs old style
Having read sci-fi for the last 30+ years I've read probably every sub-category within the genre. Some authors/books stand out for me above all others:
Anything by the ubiquitous Asimov - obviously
The timeliner trilogy by Richard C. Meredith - rare classic
Anything by Iain M. Banks - obviously
Waging war in the afterlife by Shaun Othen - a neat take on religion!
Spinward Fringe series by Randolph Lalonde - good high tech series
Turing Evolved by David Kitson - a love story with a twist!
Other great masters of the genre:
Arthur C. Clarke, Nick S. Thomas, H. Beam Piper, Stephen Sweeney, Poul Anderson, Ray Bradbury and so many, many others...
There's so many good writers that I've read over the years, and probably many more that I haven't yet discovered, so I'll definitely try some of the recommendations here from other posters...
Re: New style vs old style
Spinward would be my recommendation in the "Good for home published ebooks section"
Far better than 99% of the home published dross that infests the kindle store and the other ebook sellers.
Brimming with great concepts and characters - lacks a little polish and could do with a strong editor but otherwise good. Think of it along the lines of the better franchise novels like Star Wars/ star trek/games workshop but set in its own universe and you won't go far wrong.
Re: New style vs old style
Want old style v.s new style?
The first five books of Roger's Amber series, followed by the second five books. More Fantasy than SciFi, true ... but I think my point stands.
(I won't get into the awfulness that Clarke's "Rama" devolved into ... but same point. To say nothing of Fred Pohl's "Heechee" universe.)
Ten of the best
I’ve been reading SF, off and on, for the last 45 years, so many of these recommendations may appear very dated now, but here’s ten (in no particular order) to add to your list that I found memorable and / or entertaining…
1) The Demolished Man & The Stars My Destination (aka Tiger, Tiger) by Alfred Bester. He only wrote a few novels but these are classic SF thrillers, both based around mental powers – telepathy and telekinesis respectively. There are lines and rhymes from these books that have stayed in my head for over 30 years.
2) WASP – Eric Frank Russell. Not the greatest SF classic but great fun - how to subvert an entire planet on your own. Surprised the CIA have never banned it.
3) The Riverworld series – Philip Jose Farmer – Mark Twain, Richard Burton and Alice Liddle amongst a cast of several million. Great storytelling based on a wonderful premise of universal resurrection
4) Stand on Zanzibar – John Brunner (in fact most things by Brunner). This blew my mind when I first read it – the style and construction were extra-ordinary, for their time, and I still think it’s worth reading now
5) Day of the Triffids (in fact most things by John Wyndham). Just a classic story, well written.
6) The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. Rightly renowned as a classic (plus still one of the few SF books I found that tackles time dilation as a side effect of space travel)
7) A Canticle for Leibowitz (Walter Miller) – to my mind still one of the best post apocalytic novels
8) Ursula Leguin’s The Dispossessed and the Left Hand of Darkness – intelligent, thoughtful, political – landmark books in SF. Her Earthsea stories are supposed to be for kids, but I confess I found them very entertaining too.
8) James Blish’s Cities in Flight series – perhaps a bit adolescent but I have fond memories of great stories; plus the notion of city-states uprooting themselves and roaming the galaxy free of their home worlds is just wonderful. Also worth checking out: Blish’s unusual A Case of Conscience (shades of Greene).
9) The Dangerous Visions anthologies (edited, long windedly, by Harlan Ellison). Rereading them they now appear patchy and nowhere near as ‘dangerous’ as when they first appeared, but – Ellison’s sometimes wearisome self aggrandisement aside – they are still worth reading. Phil Farmer’s ‘Riders of the Purple Wage’ is a stand-out.
10) A bit off-piste perhaps – but if your french is up to it or you want, like I did, to try and improve it by using material I actually wanted to read, try anything by René Barjaval, a french contemporary – very roughly – of John Wyndham. His ‘Ravage’ provides an interesting comparison with Triffids. A very good modern writer of french SF is Pierre Bordage. Sadly I’ve never seen either author in translation.
Also from the the classic era – anything by Fred Pohl (or Pohl and Kornbluth, e.g the Space Merchants), Cordwainer Smith (C’mell and the cat people etc.), Ted Sturgeon (More than Human is a classic), Poul Anderson, Heinlein (e.g. Stranger in a Strange Land), Bradbury (e.g. Vermillion Sands) and of course Asimov (the Gods Themselves is his best). I’ve forgotten hundreds, but available on the Kindle is ‘100 Must-Read Science Fiction Novels’ by Andrews and Rennison – well worth investing in that if you want a comprehensive annotated listing of some of the best SF ever published.
Amongst the more modern stuff then all of Iain M Banks fantastically exuberant culture novels (and ‘Transition’ is very good too). I also enjoyed Gary Gibson’s Nova trilogy – fast paced space opera – and Peter Hamilton’s invention and industry is amazing. Also – they’re not SF (more medieval power play with elements of fantasy) but in terms of great story-telling and characterisation I think George Martin’s Ice and Fire novels (sex, violence, and gratuitous heraldry) are well worth a significant chunk of your leisure time.
P.S. Like PhilipN I also have fond memories of Gollancz’s yellow bedecked SF hard backs in my local library – but the good news is that a lot of those are now available on the Kindle.
Re: Ten of the best
"Her Earthsea stories are supposed to be for kids"
Who said that? Certainly not Le Guin! You have nothing to be ashamed of.
My favorite Le Guin sf is Changing Planes-- a short-story collection in the good old-fashioned "what if?" tradition, with the opening story being one of the funniest works of sf I have ever read.
Now, if we're going to start recommending fantasy: anything Dave Duncan has ever written. Come to think of it, he writes occasional sf, too. Pock's World is a great deconstruction of the standard far-future setting where technology has barely advanced from our own time aside from FTL travel.
Re: Ten of the best
The thing I found oddest about Earthsea was that when the whole "Harry Potter is a formulaic rehash of XYX" thing was going on, not one person mentioned Earthsea.
Roke Wizard school anyone?
Yellow jackets still very much alive
No need to be satisfied with just fond memories of the Gollancz Yellow Jackets - walk into a decent bookshop and their selection of the 50 best are dead easy to spot - bright yellow (but hardly garish), with a thick black line. Buy 'em all.
Baen Free Library
Note: My only connection to Baen is as a very, VERY satisified customer. All of the below information, though, is easily verifiable just by browsing the two sites that I talk about below.
Baen Publishing, by far the most reader friendly publisher of e-books in any genre, has hosted the Baen Free Library for several years. They use it as a means of getting people to check out new authors and re-releases of the giants of sci-fi and fantasy. Several of the authors mentioned in this thread are listed here, plus quite a few others that don't have quite the same name recognition but should be on everyone's Must Read list. Names like Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, Andre Norton, Keith Laumer, and Murray Leinster are there. Newer names include Lois McMaster Bujold, Eric Flint, David Weber, David Drake, and Elizabeth Moon. You can find them at:
Once you're done browsing through the Library, check out the store:
E-books with no DRM so you can read them anywhere on any device. Quoting from their FAQ:
"What is Baen Ebooks' DRM policy?
Baen is committed to remaining free of Digital Rights Management (DRM).
All of Baen's Ebooks available on its Baen Ebookstore are DRM-free and available worldwide. Once you purchase one of our Ebooks, you can download it as many times as you would like, in as many of the seven formats we provide, for as many Ereaders as you'd like."
Prices are VERY reasonable with novels typically going for $6.00US, bundled novels for about $24US, and ARCs (Advanced Readers' Copy, or semi-finished drafts for readers who simply can't wait for the final release to publication) for $15.
A dozen other publishing houses are beginning to dip their toes in the water there, as well. While most have only one or a handful of books up, three have listed dozens. (E-Reads, Ford Street Publishing, and Night Shade Publishing).
It looks like Baen Ebooks now lists books from a couple of hundred authors. Just a few to keep the typical sci-fi or fantasy loving geek awake at night for months. :-)
Just to add another couple..
Many sterling reccomendations already listed above; I'd particularly pick up Neal Stephenson starting right from Snow Crash, he's palpably grown as an author over his career. The last few have just been mind-blowing - Cryptonomicon + System of the World trilogy and the stand-alone Anathem. It's fiction you put down feeling that you've actually learnt something!
From the Golden Age, I'd also take a look at EE 'Doc' Smith - The Lensman series and Family D'Alembert series. The Grand-daddy of space-opera.
David Gerrold's War Against the Chtorr series. "Not quite finished yet". Dense investigation of Eco-Alien Invasion. IMO Falling Skies would have been a lot better-off going this route rather than the way it currently is. Although it would have needed to be HBO then...
Echo David Brin's Uplift War two trilogies. Moving, insightful and hopeful. Startide Rising is the best of the first 3 and I'm sure is everyone's favourite ;)
Well - there's about 10K pages to get your teeth into... :)
Re: Just to add another couple..
One vote here against Neal Stephenson-- except for Anathem, which is just barely worth struggling through because it has not one but two interesting original ideas buried in there.
OTOH, how did I forget about the Uplift books? Absolutely include those!
Re: Just to add another couple..
Another qualified vote against Stephenson; Snow Crash is great fun if you've got some patience, Cryptonomicon is...tolerable, shading to decent by the end, and everything else he's ever written may be safely ignored.
A couple more ...
Harry Harrison's "Stainless Steel Rat" is a fun series. (Also, his "Make room! Make room!" is the base of the movie "Soylent Green".)
Richard Avery's "The Expendables" ... Pen name of "Edmund Cooper", who also wrote under a few other names.
Spider Robinson's "Callahan's Crosstime Saloon" series. Most of the rest of Spider's works are also worth a read.
Not exactly great works of literature, but all three groups of books should keep the self professed "younger" original poster occupied for a week or two :-)
A singleton is "Lancelot Biggs, Spaceman" by Nelson S. Bond, if you can find it. My older nieces & nephews are currently enjoying this one. The rest of his catalog is worth reading once, as well, if you can find 'em. If you don't know about "inter-library loans", ask your local librarian for help.
Ok so no shortages of recomendations then!
Its nice to see so many recomendations that I have already read!
I worked my way through the 'chronicals of amber' as one great tome it was hard work and between the books often confusing but really rewarding. I would certainly recomend them again.
I recently got my hands on 'ringworld' and 'engineers' and am now certain why they are considered classics.
Im currently reading 'left hand of darkness' which like the 'disspossesed' is blowing my mind and certainly contributed to why I was late for work this morning!
Im now going to keep an eye out for 'Stand on zanzibar' as I read the sheep look up over the summer and loved it. On a similar vein il look out for 'the golden globe' having read steel beach a while ago.
As a piece of general advice for anyone wishing to do this I can thouroughly recomend Oxfam bookshops. My local one has a respectable selection of scifi at good prices and an in house expert in once a week. I was appalled to see teenage vampires have now moved into the section but I wont hold this against them.
Thanks to all who have contributed and please continue!
Many of the above suggestions get a thumbs up from me, but one thing I really enjoyed recently was Elizabeth Moon's "Vatta's War" series.
Space Opera written by someone who both actually knows a thing or three about military tactics and can also do decent plot / human content? Bloody marvellous. Well written too.
Quite a way from your regular sci-fi spaceships in the future stuff, I REALLY enjoyed Margaret Atwood's "Oryx and Crake" and also "Year of the Flood" (both stories run kinda parallel in the same near-future world - she's writing the third of the trilogy at the mo). If you are looking for the intersection between "literature" and sci-fi, this is it, very classy work, exquisitely researched and imagined, but with superb characterisation too. She's good at characterisation.
Right now I'm reading "Flowers for Algernon", which was apparently a set text in US schools for a while, but I'd never read it. Worth a read, you'll find it for pennies online.
Re: Something different...
Careful, now! Call Margaret Atwood a science fiction author and you're liable to find a nasty message on your answering machine.
Charles Stross. excellent writer of many and varied styles. I know he's mentioned above but very worth the re-mention here. The Laundry books are lovely and there's a new one due shortly ( Apocalypse Codex) .. Halting State and Rule 34 are near-ish future stories with lots of good ideas tested to distruction.. the hard/mundane SF is clever and has lots of good world-building and doesn't patronise.
aside from that, and in the same mental company: Pratchet (yeh, i know discworld ain't sf.. but anyone with a brain will enjoy the City Watch stories..) Banks's Culture and other SF, Hamilton is a bit brain-on-the-shelf plot-wise.. but lovely graphics, William Gibson, Neil Stephenson, The Gap series by Stephen Donaldson ( not for the faint-of-mind, some adult topics.) ,
Steven Errikson's Malazan stuff.. again, couched in Fantasy terms.. but hella good and some clearly cyber-punky things via 'magic' and the best characterisation and word-smithery of the lot. and there's lots of it too.. :)
Re: Stross +1
Pratchett may not be SF, but he makes a wonderful pons asinorum for SF fans: if you call yourself a fan, but you don't like Pratchett because he's not SF enough for you, then you simply have no taste. Tout voila!
I'll second the Stross rec, especially for the Laundry series, which has just seen its fourth installment published in the US and (I think) will see likewise in the UK in another week or so; I would avoid Stross's Singularity stuff, which I found excessively hyperkinetic and quite wearing, not to mention rather dated now the Rapture of the Nerds fad has died down. Haven't read the Halting State/Rule 34 stuff yet, so can't suggest anything there; I'd buy it if Amazon would sell me a copy I can use, but they won't, so why throw money away?
Gibson is dated, too, but in my opinion more timeless, especially the Neuromancer trilogy -- dunno, though; it may be a lot more like Stross's older stuff than I've thought, in that the 'timelessness' I'm seeing isn't a function of the work, so much as my having grown up when the work's assumptions were the Next Big Thing in SF. (If I hadn't read Gibson, would I have enjoyed System Shock 2 as much as I did? Doubtful. Oh, and speaking of SF -- if you're a gamer at all, and haven't played System Shock 2 before, hie thee to GOG.com right now and get yourself a copy, especially if you enjoyed Portal; nothing against GLaDOS in her own right, of course, but next to SHODAN she's a parvenu.)
I'm not sure how it is that no one here has mentioned Peter Watts, who has been interestingly compared to Stross, but I'm happy to redress the omission. Watts's work has also been described by at least one person as "what I read when my will to live gets too strong", so make of that what you will; certainly it is not for the faint-hearted. The entire Rifters trilogy, plus Blindsight which is set in the same universe, are freely available online from the author's website; I highly recommend them -- I would, though, start with Blindsight, which is in my opinion both more polished and better written than the earlier novels. Be warned, though: people don't say the things they do about this author for nothing -- especially the "will to live" comment -- so if you're looking for something pleasant to curl up with on a rainy day, look elsewhere; Watts makes a better companion on a white night, or maybe something to pass the time while you're standing death watch for a beloved relative.
I'll also, no doubt to jeers of derision, recommend David Weber's Honor Harrington series, which I think is on something like book 12 now; it started out as the French and English wars In Space!, which actually isn't a bad place to start, and the series has since grown into a fairly unique and appealing piece of military SF -- if not, of course, one that's free of flaws, or well suited to every SF fan. (If you're uncomfortable with anything that doesn't hew to progressive dogma, for example, then the Honor Harrington series, which is set in a sort of quasi-Victorian far future, may well not be for you. On the other hand, if you've had enough Singularity nonsense and would rather read about human beings instead, may I recommend Weber?)
So many excellent choices
Many of which are already on my shelves... and yet I go into a bookshop (y'know, sort of paper roms with a built-in reader interface) and what is actually science fiction is outstocked four or five to one by sword and sworcery and extruded SF TV product.
Re: So many excellent choices
So true. Similarly proper horror is out stocked at least 2-1 by teenage vampire crap. Not much point looking at the book shelves these days.
What I recomend is
Go to a SH book shop and buy everything you can from the following older (and a few current) authors.
Arthur C Clarke
Orson Scott Card (8 Enders universe books)
Harry Harrison (some great series - my favourite is To The Stars trilogy)
Poul Anderson (Tau Zero is excellent)
That is a year sorted
There are a few new British authors who are good
Richard Morgan (Takeshi Kovacs)
Alastair Reyolds (Revelation Space series)
There are many many more worth getting as well.
One final thing, if they are alive, and you like their books, or have a question email them, Authors generally reply, so far no failures. They love to hear from their fans.