Building a SciFi/Fantasy Library discussion


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message 1: by Robert (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:20PM) (new)

Robert (rgbatduke) Hello, all. I'm a longtime reader of SF&F (and more recently a writer of same). I have a library of several thousand books, mostly in this genre, so it should be fun participating in the conversation. Favorite authors (really too many to mention) but: Zelazny, Heinlein, Asimov, Brin, Forward, Niven, Farmer, Brunner, Gerrold, and many, many more.

message 2: by Megan (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:20PM) (new)

Megan | 12 comments I'll bite ... Hi, Robert, I'm Megan. :D Big Sci-Fi/Fantasy reader (with side-forays into chick-lit and historic fiction) with a much smaller library than you have, lol.

I'm looking for new sci-fi worth reading. So far I've only found two this summer that struck my fancy -- "Think Like A Dinosaur," a collection of short stories, and well worth reading! ... and "Perdito Street Station," which shows promise, but I haven't finished it yet.

Maybe it's just me, but it seems like most of what's out there is more military sci-fi than hard sci-fi, and while I don't mind them, they're not my favorite flavor.

Anything you'd recommend? Or warn me against?

message 3: by Sarah (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:20PM) (new)

Sarah Sammis (caligula03) | 4 comments I followed Robert here.

message 4: by Robert (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:20PM) (new)

Robert (rgbatduke) At interesting question indeed. The genre actually fills a more or less smooth continuum from science fiction that actually does focus on military issues as a primary part of the theme -- sort of a soldier of science fiction fortune thing -- to books where the actual focus is on politics and social issues (but with some large scale conflict in the background that at some point does become one of the books themes but the book isn't "military" per se) to books where there is conflict of some sort but not necessarily military conflict at all -- no big war or clashing, large scale cultures, just normal human conflicts. There is even SF without any real "conflict" per se at all, but it can be borderline boring to a lot of readers, as one attractive feature of SF is that it tends to be plot-rich.

There are several other degrees of freedom as well -- books in this GENERAL genre range from fantasy-free, what you might call "hard science fiction" to almost any mix of SF and fantasy. There are also books where the science is "good science" -- violates no known physical laws as of the time the book was written, "speculative science" -- extends the known science with some speculations that enable, e.g. space travel faster than lightspeed, and "bad science" -- violate known laws in unbelievable ways. The latter tends to run over into SF's disreputable cousin, "space opera" where Star Wars is a fairly good example although there are many others including two long series by E. E. "Doc" Smith (the Lensman series and the Skylark series, which I dearly love but which have TERRIBLE science and which I would not recommend to you given your criterion above).

With that said, let me offer you a spectrum of choices with a SHORT review of each. I've learned the hard way that these interfaces only accept 4000 characters before they refuse to save your message and it vanishes without a trace (and I tend to be verbose and type 4000 characters in only a few minutes) so I'm going to post the list in a few following comments. If I can figure out how to embed books from the goodreads library in the comments, I'll do so, otherwise I'll just do an itemized list with associated comment.


message 5: by Robert (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:20PM) (new)

Robert (rgbatduke) This may take me a couple of tries, but here is the first one.

The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner

This is a really different book -- not at all a linear novel. I had some problems with Perdito Station (which IIRC is also a bit nonlinear) but TSLU is well worth it if you get through enough of his apparently disconnected threads to see how they start to wind together. I wrote a review and added it to the book proper, so if this works you should be able to just click on it and read it.


message 6: by Robert (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:20PM) (new)

Robert (rgbatduke) Here's another.

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny

I have to preface this one with the statement that IMO Zelazny is one of the best SF&F authors of all time. If you haven't read the Amber series, well, you probably should. His novels are definitely not militaristic as a general rule (with maybe one exception) but they often do include sweeping trans-universal conflicts with one or more embedded battles or wars. The wars aren't the POINT, however -- the point is in the human interactions, the character portrayals, the philosophy, and the lovely, lovely plots.

Lord of Light is one of my favorite all-time books. It portrays a culture "frozen" on a world that was apparently created when a slowboat ship of settlers arrived from earth sometime in the distant (maybe 4000 year old) past. A form of serial human immortality has been achieved where they can grow bodies and move the human spirit from one (old) one to another. For a variety of reasons, the original crew has adopted the forms of deities from the Hindu pantheon and are masters of Karma and the transmigration of souls. But all is not well -- although originally their purpose was to maintain this as an illusion of sorts while uplifting the global culture to modernism, the "gods" have grown complacent in their role and now wish to maintain the status quo forever.

Except for one, or rather a small cadre of "revolutionaries" who hold to the original vision. The main protagonist, Sam, introduces Buddhism of sorts as the protestantism of Hinduism to oppose heaven, which sets the stage for the rest of the book. Yes, the book does wind its inevitable way towards a Mahabaharata-like war between the gods with the freedom of the world at stake (and with the participation of actual rakasha "demons" -- beings of organized electromagnetic energy that were the original inhabitants of the world) but the ending is very satisfying and even a bit profound.

The tale, ultimately, is lightly told and just plain fun to read. Zelazny is a master storyteller.


message 7: by Robert (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:20PM) (new)

Robert (rgbatduke) Dragon's Egg by Robert Forward

This is actually one of the most unique and interesting pure science fiction novels of all time. It has nothing to do with Dragons, by the way. "The Dragon's Egg" is the name of a neutron star. Humans have arrived there and are hovering overhead in a specially designed ship that uses a propulsion laser for both cooling and thrust to remain as close as possible to the star while people study its surface, where of course all they expect to find is cool physics.

However, life has evolved on the surface of the star. It is unique life in two ways -- it is based on nuclear chemistry -- chemistry of the strong nuclear force, since the very surface of the star is crusted with a degenerate mix of protons, neutrons, and electrons that permits the formation of structures that are at least metastable on a timescale of minutes. Because nuclear forces are so very strong, "time" passes very quickly indeed -- hours of human electronic chemistry time are a lifetime to the beings on the surface. Second, the lifeforms on the surface are very nearly "two dimensional" life. They do have vertical extent, but gravity on the surface is so strong relative to the strength of the nucleosynthetic materials available that tall structures are all but impossible.

The free energy source that drives these lifeforms is a mix of charge-rich mater on the surface and electromagnetic radiation from overhead. When the laser of the hovering ship is turned on and strikes the surface of the planet, it is literally manna from heaven. It stimulates evolution of the not-quite intelligent beings there and uplifts them to civilization.

The result is a lovely story that spans generations of cheela-time and days of human time, where the latter is enough, in the end, to bring them from what is basically a stone-age culture to a spacefaring culture. The differential time theme is again an amazing aspect of the ongoing story, where there are two distinct threads of plot that get tied together at the end.

Dragon's Egg is continued in a sequel, Starquake, that is also well worth it (at least if you end up liking Dragon's Egg. Yes (sigh) there are wars in the books -- they span a history of the cheela, and war is a part of any evolving being's history. But war is not what the plot is all about, it is a story of social evolution under highly unique circumstances, where IMO Forward is also a master storyteller.

message 8: by Robert (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:20PM) (new)

Robert (rgbatduke) The Flying Sorcerers By David Gerrold and Larry Niven

Here is a book that is Science Fiction and contains absolutely no wars or warlike conflict. It is pure science fiction, although the story doesn't really focus on cool science -- it is a satirical, light, humorous story of cultures in collision. Don't read the book, though, expecting great insights into sociology -- read the book just for fun. It is full of puns and inside jokes, but the story itself stands alone and is quite unique, a real departure for both authors from their usual fare.


message 9: by Robert (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:21PM) (new)

Robert (rgbatduke) When Harlie was One by David Gerrold

Here is another one with absolutely no war or violence. It is one of the first two or three books in the sub-genre of the "intelligent computer", following Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (which is also worth a read, by the way). It's a period piece, but it is by no means a story that could not yet happen much as it was told. It is especially interesting to contrast this with modern visions of computer intelligence like those by Gibson, Vinge, and others (where they have a much rastier vision of society and where the intelligence is more delocalized and integrated with "the network".


message 10: by Robert (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:21PM) (new)

Robert (rgbatduke) The Joy Makers by James Gunn

An absolute classic. No war, no overt violence. Possibly one of the greatest pieces of literature of the 20th century, for all that is largely forgotten. A "must read" for any serious SF fan, and a "damn well should read" for philosophers and everybody else.


(GTG, sorry, maybe I'll post more later.)

message 11: by Robert (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:21PM) (new)

Robert (rgbatduke) The Space Merchants by Frederick Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth

This is a hoot. Again, a fairly unique piece of work, a mix of satire and science fiction that only people like Terry Pratchett seem to produce today. A few people who reviewed it compared it to 1984 or Brave New World, but this really isn't apropos -- the tongue is firmly in cheek throughout this work. One manages to somehow truly like its slightly crazed main character as his consciousness is gradually raised to where he finally sees his world the way it really is.


message 12: by J-Lynn Van Pelt (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:21PM) (new)

J-Lynn Van Pelt | 19 comments Megan,

I would try Enchantress from the Stars by Sylvia Engdahl (The new version has a forward by Lois Lowry). It is decidedly non-militaristic. Plus, it has a really strong, but unique heroine which can be uncommon in this genre.

Also, The Star Shards Trilogy by Neal Shusterman. He is a young adult writer and you could argue that the first in the trilogy is a YA novel, but the other two are printed as adult novels. One of the most interesting series I have read in a long time--a mix of science fiction, fantasy and mythology.

And, lets not forget Michael Crichton--who is often left out of science fiction discussions. I still love to reread Jurassic Park and Lost World every couple of years. I also really enjoyed Congo and Sphere, although I would consider those light reading.

message 13: by Robert (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:21PM) (new)

Robert (rgbatduke) I completely agree about the Crichton stories, starting long ago with the Andromeda Strain and running through, and I actually like both versions of The Lost World -- his and Arthur Conan Doyle's. I might try Enchantress from the Stars and Shusterman's stories as well, next run to B&N I make.

In the meantime, continuing my own listing of non-militaristic classics (and great authors) there is Norman Spinrad's Bug Jack Barron. Jack Barron is a talk show host that does incisive but humorous political commentary on TV. He started out as a hippie revolutionary (story written in the late 60's IIRC) but sold out and now is a rich guy in his own right, as sort of an anti-Jesse Helms.

He finds himself going up against a very rich, very politically powerful, very bad man who just happens to want to live forever and even has the technology worked out to do so, but he needs Jack Barron to help sell the, um, "unsavory" methodology to the masses.

This is a truly great book -- one of the best all time SF novels. It has 4.5 stars on Amazon, which has a much tougher system of stars than goodreads! Of course, I really like Spinrad's books, especially his earlier stuff, although Song from the Stars is worth a read, as is The Void Captain's Tale. Still, who couldn't love The Last Hurrah of the Golden Horde? Doddering Mongols on their last charge...


message 14: by Robert (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:21PM) (new)

Robert (rgbatduke) I think I'll post just one more for the moment -- a trilogy that isn't exactly Science Fiction, but it isn't exactly not, either, and that is Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle: Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World. I don't know what exactly to call this. Historical fiction? Hardly. Magical Realism? Perhaps. Satire? Absolutely. Adventure? Without a doubt. A rollicking good read, and as a physicist it is very definitely science fiction too, in reverse. It is the speculative story of the Enlightenment, featuring Isaac Newton, Leibnitz, Hooke, and truly a cast of thousands. One of the best things I've read in year -- purely entertaining, and actually amazingly educational. It is also something of a prequel to Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, albeit a very distant one.


message 15: by Megan (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:22PM) (new)

Megan | 12 comments Wow ... I think my autumn reading list just got a lot longer, lol! Thanks for all the suggestions, you two. It's not, so much, that I dislike any military in my science-fiction ... I mean, I've got all the Honor Harrington books on my shelf. It's just that I can't seem to find anything but "great military captain/general/uber-tactitican-and-all-around-nice-guy(girl) saves the world by being brilliant!" on the shelves, these days.

As for "Lord of Light," remember this quote? "I was either the first person to see him dead, or the last person to see him alive, depending on what the twitching signified." (Crudely paraphrased, of course.) I'm still updating my own shelves -- well, on the site, at least -- and while I try to add a few a day, it's going to be a while until everything gets in there ... but I can't believe I left out Zelazny. He's one of my staples -- and it was my mom, of all things, who introduced me to him, and she's not a great fan of sci-fi, though I must admit, "A Night in Lonesome October" is by far my favorite (that and the Amber books were her contributions).

I think my favorite form of sci-fi tends to vary between the light, quick, and comedic -- if it's done well --, and the far-reaching empire building/philosophical look at humanity -- which can either be brilliant, or boring, depending on the author. Asimov and Heinlein were my first two authors, remember ... and while I do like the occasional bug-hunting book, I've just had a few too many of those this summer.

Since I'll be heading to the book store sometime soon, I'll see what I can get. (Frankly, "The Last Hurrah of the Golden Horde" is one of the first on the list. I feel in the need of something funny, with all the remodeling going on. All of my books are in boxes, which means I have nothing to read! The horror, the horror ... )

message 16: by Robert (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:23PM) (new)

Robert (rgbatduke) Glad to be of service, and I remember all of Lord of Light pretty well -- I've probably read it 20+ times at this point. Zelazny is arguably my favorite SF author, although (sigh) then I have to figure out what to do with Heinlein, Niven, McCaffery, Spinrad, Ellison, Lovecraft, Asimov... and then there are the masses of authors that produced one or two great books amongst many mediocre ones.

If you're looking for light and fluffy, I must only assume that you've already discovered Terry Prachett. Or for something really different, you might find John Jakes' Mention My Name in Atlantis. A very, very funny book. It isn't in goodreads yet, but it is still in print (my copy is thirty years old at least). Think a SciFi version of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, set in ancient atlantis, featuring mighty-thewed warriors and extremely buxom maidens (I want to say that there is a woman called "Voluptua" in the text but I might be recalling wrong:-).



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