Science Fiction Recommendations

post by MinibearRex · 2011-04-05T17:38:22.998Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 53 comments

I have never read very much Science Fiction, unlike some of the people here on Less Wrong, and I think I would like to. At least, the few books I have read I enjoyed. I've read a couple of books from Asimov's Foundation Series, two Michael Crichton books, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne, and an anthology of SciFi short stories (no really famous authors) that my dad owned.

That list looks very short. I just finished reading a fiction book, and am looking to start another. Recommendations? What are the two or three books I simply must read?


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by LucasSloan · 2011-04-05T20:33:22.201Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What is your purpose in reading SF?

Do you want to be better able to understand the sort of references someone on Less Wrong might make?

Then I'd suggest The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, A Fire Upon the Deep and Accelerondo.

Do you want to be exposed to a lot of futurism ideas?

Then I'd suggest Permutation City, Blindsight and Rainbows End.

Do you want to read something that's just fun?

Then I'd suggest A Civil Campaign, On Basilisk Station and Ender's Game.

All of these books are written by people who have written multiple books, if you find you like them, you can easily read their other titles.

comment by XiXiDu · 2011-04-05T18:30:58.495Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What are the two or three books I simply must read?

I missed this, sorry for that. If I had to pick 3 books:

There are others but they are part of a series so I had to pick those stand-alone novels.

comment by moridinamael · 2011-04-05T18:47:24.173Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was going to post Blindsight. I read a lot of sci-fi, and I have read no other work containing more genuinely mindblowing ideas per page.

This is one of the few fictional works that significantly and permanently changed my perspective.

comment by nazgulnarsil · 2011-04-14T11:26:37.117Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

curiosity is bugging me on those series since I read those 3 and love them.

comment by XiXiDu · 2011-04-14T11:51:59.449Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

curiosity is bugging me on those series since I read those 3 and love them.

First you might want to read another stand-alone novel called Ventus that I didn't mention. I talked to some people who have stopped reading it because it seemed too much like fantasy, but that isn't true, it is part of the story. If you keep reading you'll see what I mean, it is definitely worth it.

Other stand alone novels that are must-reads are Accelerando by Charles Stross, Pushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds and Diaspora by Greg Egan.

Regarding series I recommend you to start with Alastair Reynolds and the Revelation Space series. Here the same applies, it will become clear once you have read a few books that the story is much deeper than one would initially guess. The second book, Chasm City (one of my favorite books) is not directly connected to the series but is taking place in the same universe.

The next series of novels is definitely the Culture universe by Iain M. Banks. I would love to live in it!

And here comes a more subjective recommendation as many people won't like it. I recommend the Takeshi Kovacs novels by Richard Morgan. It is hard, dirty and the hero is not one of the good guys. The novels feature explicit and brutal torture scenarios that are only possible given advanced technology. One of the very benign scenarios is to leave someone in an unchanging and simple simulation without the need to eat and the ability to die and then hide the substrate somewhere where nobody will find it for a very long time. So you are warned.

There is much more but that should be enough for some time ;-)

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-22T19:35:48.117Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The novels feature explicit and brutal torture scenarios that are only possible given advanced technology.

This is curious. I was attracted by this line. I bet some other people also were. Are there reasons we (Less Wrong/SF fandom folks) are interested in torture beyond S/M and sexual gratification? And beyond the reasons horror movies are popular in general, too, etc. That is, are there some explicitly geek reasons for being interested in torture?

[Also: Why on earth would anyone downvote this, unless they're karmassassinating me for recent below-average comments? Not angry or annoyed, just surprised.]

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-22T22:34:15.278Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are there reasons we (Less Wrong/SF fandom folks) are interested in torture beyond S/M and sexual gratification? Oh, and the reasons for watching horror movies, too, etc. That is, are there some explicitly geek reasons for being interested in torture?

I don't like horror or reading about torture. I don't have any explanation for why geeks may like it.

comment by Prismattic · 2012-01-22T22:56:16.063Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would tend to self-identify as a geek, and I love science fiction, but while I like actual horror (suspense) movies, I hate "horror" movies (i.e. the slasher films that have mostly supplanted actual horror films in the desire to take the lowest common denominator's money).

To put it more concretely, an actual horror movie would be something like (the original version of) The Thing, for example.

A "horror" movie would be crap like the Friday the 13th and Saw franchises.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-23T08:50:53.193Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Uh-huh. What constitutes "authenticity" in horror movies is kind of blurry for me though; say, I'm one of the very few people who like the critically panned 2002 film Ghost Ship a lot. It's one of the few genuine hellfire-and-brimstone Puritan-flavoured stories you're likely to see in modern days. (There's also Drag Me To Hell)

comment by XiXiDu · 2012-01-23T10:00:32.111Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't like horror or reading about torture.

What about violence? It seems that humans demand violence: Total Recall - All The Deaths

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-23T10:23:28.370Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What about violence?

Love it. And occasionally my love of protagonists being ruthless badasses overcomes my aversion to torture - for example I liked seeing Liam Neeson torturing the kidnapper then killing him. And Jack Bauer torturing people just seems so natural that I couldn't possibly object.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-22T22:57:04.772Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(slightly edited my comment, I'm curious about torture alone here, as there are in fact lots of explanations for horror's popularity)

comment by XiXiDu · 2012-01-22T20:43:50.999Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are there reasons we (Less Wrong/SF fandom folks) are interested in torture beyond S/M and sexual gratification?

I guess that we are just more comfortable to admit it and probably also a bit naive about the social perception of doing so.

There is a very broad spectrum of what humans like. I am pretty sure that some people would be shocked if the different tastes and attitudes would be revealed, let alone extrapolated.

Anonymity provides some examples of how quite a few people tick.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-22T21:25:26.550Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

anonymity ... [link to rant about reddit]

Reddit is not anonymous. Unless you mean the upvotes.

comment by nazgulnarsil · 2011-04-14T23:21:09.395Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

well sure, everyone would love to live in the culture. thanks for the extended reply. Ventus wasn't on my radar, and the others will get bumped up nearer the top of the pile.

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2011-04-06T10:56:05.803Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Try some Stanislaw Lem for something different. His Master's Voice is about trying to decode an alien radio transmission, and I remember the characters resembling actual mathematicians pretty convincingly. Solaris is also good, and a nice counterpoint to the overly straightforward can-do attitude English-language SF from the same era. The Cyberiad and The Futurological Congress are absurdist humor. From stuff I haven't read, Tales of Pirx the Pilot gets mentioned a lot, and Golem XIV is about a self-improving military AI.

Bruce Sterling on Lem. Lem on SF.

comment by Kutta · 2011-04-06T10:58:43.739Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Lem strongly seconded. I just listed him in my own comment because no one had mentioned him yet, and alas, three minutes later you bring him up.

comment by D_Alex · 2011-04-11T06:48:51.957Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thirded. I recommend "The Chain of Chance" to LW readers - not SF, but a detective novel with a fascinating take on probability, rationality and reasoning.

Aside: "The Chain of Chance" is an awful title... the original title was "Hay Fever" ("Katar" in Polish). "The Chain of Chance" is a spoiler for an idea that creeps up like a mouse and hits like Mike Tyson.

Aside #2: I was a big fan of Lem from my teens, read his books, and met him in person. Lem lived near my uncle's house in Krakow. I visited my uncle in 1992 and we had tea and biscuits with Lem at his house. He was very charming, but gave me an impression of being resigned to never being able to talk to anyone on level terms. My uncle is a professor of physics, and I'm considered pretty bright (by my mom at least...), however we both felt in awe at Lem's intellect and the depth of his thinking, even in social conversation. I think he was a philosopher mainly, using science fiction as a medium for his ideas... a bit like EY and HPMOR!

comment by cousin_it · 2011-04-05T20:51:57.698Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree with many of the recommendations offered already. If you like Greg Egan, you may also like Ted Chiang. For a free taste of Egan, try Crystal Nights. For a free taste of Chiang, try Exhalation.

comment by Kutta · 2011-04-06T10:53:58.567Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Since there seems to be quite a bit of overlap here already I'd just like to list three authors who haven't been mentioned yet. Extremely highly recommended.

  • Stanislaw Lem: pretty much everything, but you should start with Cyberiad and His Master's Voice.

  • Arkady and Boris Strugatsky: First and foremost I recommend Roadside Picnic. (later adapted to the Stalker movie and the Stalker games). Their other books range from decent to great.

  • Jorge Louis Borges: everything. He was not strictly a sci-fi author but was actually marketed in the Soviet bloc as sci-fi, and justifiably so. I would call him a writer of "philosophy fiction".

comment by XiXiDu · 2011-04-05T17:48:38.474Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

See here. Especially here.

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2011-04-06T16:53:25.084Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar, The Sheep Look Up and The Shockwave Rider are classic dystopian SF.

comment by nazgulnarsil · 2011-04-14T11:35:53.871Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was quite shocked to see futarchy pop up in shockwave rider sort of as an aside.

comment by XiXiDu · 2011-04-05T18:00:30.190Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Also don't miss out on Orion's Arm:

Welcome to Orion's Arm, a scenario set thousands of years in the future where civilization spans the stars. Godlike ascended intelligences rule vast interstellar empires, and lesser factions seek to carve out their own dominions through intrigue and conquest. And out beyond the edge of civilized space and the human friendly worlds, adventure awaits those prepared to risk all.

Come join us in this ever-expanding collective worldbuilding effort. Within the vast universe that is Orion's Arm you will find:

  • Hard Science
  • Plausible Technology
  • Realistic Cultural Development
  • A vast Setting
  • 10,000+ years of historical development Realistic Exobiology
comment by knb · 2011-04-06T18:18:44.301Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I recommend The Golden Age by John C Wright. It is about the closest thing to a genuine post-singularity utopia I've ever read in Sci Fi.

The main character is a (kind of) rationalist hero, but he lives in a world where some humans have chosen radically different "neuromorphologies". Some people live in Hive Minds, some in dreamy, emotional, intuition-based "covens", etc.

comment by Normal_Anomaly · 2011-04-05T19:56:48.830Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Anything by Neal Stephenson is good, especially Snow Crash and The Diamond Age. His work is characterized by very detailed, interesting settings.

For sheer scale and mind-bendingness, I haven't seen anything better than City at the End of Time, by Greg Bear. It's got a 100 trillion year old civilization with very alien culture, in a disturbingly weird universe.

comment by atucker · 2011-04-06T06:06:36.771Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm gonna come out and say that Snow Crash is fun, and fairly short.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-22T19:37:48.616Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Cryptonomicon is indeed a masterpiece; the author's arrogant and pushy but I like how humanist he is.

comment by simpleton · 2011-04-05T21:02:07.843Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Stephenson remains one of my favorites, even though I failed at several attempts to enjoy his Baroque Cycle series. Anathem is as good as his pre-Baroque-Cycle work.

comment by Normal_Anomaly · 2011-04-05T22:08:52.263Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have not attempted the Baroque Cycle. I enjoyed Anathem, and am hoping to read Cryptonomicon next.

comment by folkTheory · 2011-04-06T03:05:59.396Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Cryptonomicon was awesome.

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2011-04-06T11:10:35.674Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I liked the Baroque Cycle, but sometimes it seems like I was the only one who did. Stephenson's thing of doing science fiction style storytelling in a historical context worked for me both here and in Cryptonomicon.

comment by Cyan · 2011-04-06T14:49:34.022Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're not the only one. It's a masterpiece.

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2011-04-06T17:03:28.023Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Philip K. Dick was pretty much the third classic SF guy after Clarke and Asimov in SF translated to Finnish, with Heinlein being almost unknown here. Dick's stuff is clever and consistently off-kilter in some way, and often somehow tied to the 60's counterculture. A big theme is identity and reality breaking down in some way. The Man in the High Castle, Ubik, A Scanner Darkly and VALIS are good. The short stories are also full of all sorts of weirdness.

Stanislaw Lem on Dick

comment by magfrump · 2011-04-06T01:08:54.622Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There have been extensive discussions of this, but I'll throw in my two cents.

Read because they were recommended on LW: "A Fire Upon the Deep" and "A Deepness in the Sky" by Vernor Vinge

Recent favorites: "Red Mars" by Kim Stanley Robinson

comment by Eneasz · 2011-04-05T21:56:24.252Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Windup Girl - Paolo Bacigalupi

This is the most enjoyable book I read last year, and I believe it won the 2009 Hugo. After you're done reading you have a few fridge moments ("wait... that probably couldn't work") but while you're reading it it's pure enjoyment and it's really easy to overlook those for the sake of the story. Set in a post oil-crash world, focusing on working class characters trying to make a living while still doing something bigger with their lives. Great action, great plotting, really interesting characters, and a really unique society (from an American point of view anyway).

comment by Dreaded_Anomaly · 2011-04-05T20:34:49.624Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Click here for a comment thread containing many sci-fi recommendations, from the open thread in January 2010. This includes a long list of recs that I posted in January 2011, having failed to read the date of the thread.

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-04-05T18:14:27.059Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
The Mote in God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

comment by Costanza · 2011-04-05T17:47:33.071Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Part of the answer must depend on your own tastes, at least as they are right now. What did you like or dislike about the works on your list? For that matter, what do you hope to get out of reading science fiction?

comment by MinibearRex · 2011-04-05T17:53:21.685Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Mostly I read fiction for the entertainment value. I enjoy the stories. The science fiction stories I have read, I've enjoyed because the stories were imaginative.

comment by Costanza · 2011-04-05T18:01:51.682Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Entertainment value is good, but I must press you to be much more specific. Let me just say a lot of science fiction is "imaginative," and there's a lot of science fiction. You don't have all the time in the world, and there's plenty of writing that's imaginative, but will still seem like crap to you -- or at least not as good as some other stuff you might be reading. Anyway, what do you mean by "imaginative?"

comment by jschulter · 2011-04-09T00:59:12.358Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can highly recommend everything I have read by Niven. Many of his works are really well done fairly "hard" Sci-fi, particularly the Ringworld series (the titular object is related to Dyson spheres, and has been called a "Niven ring" in his honor). I just finished Destiny's Road, and I couldn't put it down. The Mote In Gods Eye is an amazing collaboration with Pournelle, and a classic to boot. The last is the only one I saw mentioned elsewhere, but if you enjoy any of these, you'll likely enjoy the rest too.

comment by Dr_Manhattan · 2011-05-06T23:23:25.779Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Just finished the Mote. Nice twist on evo-psych

comment by jschulter · 2011-05-07T07:04:34.938Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I just recently found out about and obtained the sequels, and I have high hopes for them too.

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2011-04-06T16:49:31.801Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Anything by Ian McDonald should be worth a read. I remember liking Hearts, Hands and Voices. A lot of people seem to have liked the more recent River of Gods and Brasyl.

comment by noSee · 2011-04-05T21:20:56.413Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Quite a classic collection here..

Douglas Adams - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Also try Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land and don't miss Sagan's Contact.

comment by XiXiDu · 2011-04-05T17:55:02.588Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Authors that I recommend:

  • Iain M. Banks
  • Greg Egan
  • Vernor Vinge
  • Alastair Reynolds
  • Karl Schroeder
  • Richard Morgan (keep care, a lot of torture etc.)
  • Charles Stross
  • Stephen Baxter
  • Hannu Rajaniemi
  • Peter Watts (Blindsight)
comment by Barry_Cotter · 2011-04-19T19:36:37.412Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

take care, not keep care

comment by beoShaffer · 2012-01-22T21:24:17.750Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would suggest looking through the Baen free library. Most of the content is high quality, also it's free so you can easily sample the first chapter or two of different books to see what you like. If you like alternate history I would particularly recommend the 1632 books. They are one of my favorite series in terms of entertainment value and also have some interesting rationality realted themes. Specifically they involve a lot of plaining and decision making both of which tend to succeed or fail in realistic ways. For example serval characters fail at their goals because they add unnecessary complications to their plans.

comment by futurecastings · 2011-04-07T18:36:14.617Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Start with early science fiction.

Read We by Yevgeny Zamyatin from 1921

This book influenced some of the greatest writers of the 20th century.

Here is a good blog post about We:

Also read Frankenstein, one of the first science fiction books ever published - 1869

It is a free eBook on Google:

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2011-04-06T18:29:50.162Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I really liked Bruce Sterling's Schismatrix when I read it in high school. It's set in Sterling's Shaper/Mechanist universe, where humanity is expanding into the solar system and modifying itself with cybernetics and biological engineering, slowly evolving into something posthuman. Sterling's Holy Fire was a bit more down-to-earth later transhuman novel I also liked.

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2011-04-06T18:21:04.909Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Dan Simmons is a bit hit and miss, but his Hyperion might be a pretty good choice to read if you're going to read exactly one SF novel. It's basically a Canterbury Tales style framing story, with the protagonists' stories being pastiches that span the history of written SF from pulp-era planetary romance to post-cyberpunk. There are three sequels that are ok, but don't measure up to the first book.

Simmons' more recent Ilium/Olympos duology drives a mountain of literary references that threaten to drown any internal coherence in the rest of the story into post-9/11 crazy right-winger bat country. Still pretty entertaining on the account of Simmons really knowing how to write stuff, but more just weird than good weird.

comment by virtualAdept · 2011-04-06T14:50:44.262Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm sure these have already come up, but I'll add my voice in enthusiastically recommending the following -

  • The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
  • Accelerando by Charles Stross
  • City at the End of Time by Greg Bear
  • Neuromancer by William Gibson

Accelerando will have rather familiar themes and ideas to anyone who's spent significant time on LW, in particular, although that goes for the others to a slightly lesser extent. City at the End of Time was probably the most "work" for me to read out of the four - I enjoyed it greatly, but it's a book best savored slowly. Neuromancer is pretty much the grand icon of cyberpunk, and Gibson's facility with densely evocative language makes me jealous. The Diamond Age is probably the one I had the most lighthearted fun in reading, the easiest to follow, even though it's a very thought-provoking story.