Last December, I went with Eric Scott and Peter Kloess to see the midnight premiere of The Hobbit. While we were waiting for the movie to start, we decided to trade suggestions for sci-fi and fantasy books to read. We started an email thread about it, and it’s past time that I put some of the recommendations online. Here are mine. Hopefully I’ll get Eric’s and Peter’s posted soon.
I got the idea for this from an old post on Uncertain Principles with the awesome title, “Recommend some genre trash“. Feel free to do just that in the comments.
Richard Morgan, Takeshi Kovacs novels (Altered Carbon, Broken Angels, Woken Furies) — I did not know that it was possible to get Big Idea sf and balls-out action with ridiculous body count in one package. But here it is. Setting is a few centuries hence, mankind has settled a fair number of star systems. Cargo goes by slow boat, but info goes FTL, including consciousness, which can be downloaded into any body. Takeshi Kovacs is an ex-UN envoy–basically a retired supersoldier spy, now living hand-to-mouth as a soldier of fortune and sometime private detective. Morgan’s other SF novel, Thirteen (published in the UK as Black Man), is set about a century from now and not overtly connected, but it’s the same kind of thing, lone hardass against the universe. These books made Morgan my #1 author to watch, in that when a new book of his comes out, reading it temporarily becomes my highest priority in life. Also has a fantasy series going now (see below).
Neil Asher, Polity books — There are basically two linked series here, and then a few one-offs, all set in an AI/human techno-utopia-except-for-the-horrible-alien-menace modest space empire a millennium or so from now. First series follows Ian Cormac, basically one of the James Bond types responsible for keeping everything from going tits up when some truly civilization-ending alien technologies come to light (Gridlinked, The Line of Polity, Brass Man, Polity Agent, and Line War, with Shadow of the Scorpion as a pretty satisfying prequel and The Technician as an eminently satisfying sequel). Second series starts on one of the most interesting and deadly planets I’ve ever read about, and eventually follows one character off-planet and into a collision with another potential civilization-ender (Spatterjay, The Voyage of the Sable Keech, Orbus). If anything, Asher trumps even Morgan in mixing real, honest-to-goodness intellectually satisfying idea-driven sci-fi with embarrassingly violent mind-candy adventure. My go-to airplane reads.
James S.A. Corey, The Expanse (Leviathan Wakes, Caliban’s War, Abaddon’s Gate, more coming?) — Gritty, not-terribly-distant future where mankind has colonized the solar system and Earth, Mars, the Belt, and the outer planets are all in an uneasy peace–until something horrible pushes them out of it. Excellent characters and plenty of mystery and action in a hardscrabble “used universe” that feels much more Tatooine than shiny silver spaceship. Corey is a pen-name for the collaborative team of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, which is how I discovered Daniel Abraham (see under Fantasy, below).
Alastair Reynolds — Much of his stuff is set in the same hard-sf-meets-space-opera universe as his central trilogy (Revelation Space, Redemption Ark, Absolution Gap); other books in that universe include Chasm City and The Prefect. My favorite book of his, however, is House of Suns, which has some of the most kickass, galaxy-spanning adventure I have ever read. I’d start with that one; I’m on the cusp of reading it again myself.
Scott Westerfield, Succession (The Risen Empire and The Killing of Worlds) — I got put onto these because in the Acknowledgements in one of his books, John Scalzi said that the space battles in those books would make you weep tears of joy. They pretty much did–I think they are hands-down the most badass space battles I have ever read. Solid plot and very interesting characters, too–almost everyone has more complex motivations than it seems at first. The two books are halves of one novel. I blasted through both of them in the space of about 48 hours, to the detriment of all my other responsibilities.
David Gunn, Death’s Head books (Death’s Head, DH: Maximum Offense, DH: Day of the Damned) — If you just need to see a bunch of stuff blow up and you don’t really care about respecting yourself in the morning, here’s your guilty pleasure. There are a few ideas in here and a few refreshing glimpses of scope, but mostly the books are about the protagonist and his ragtag band of troops kicking bad-guy ass, brutally and almost continually.
Richard Morgan, A Land Fit For Heroes (The Steel Remains, The Cold Commands, one more projected) — Fantasy, but not like you’re used to. It’s Weird, with Weird assumptions and Weird technology and a super-Weird backstory. The chances of it all having a happy ending are pretty much nil. But it’s undeniably gripping.
Daniel Abraham, The Dagger and the Coin (The Dragon’s Path, The King’s Blood, The Tyrant’s Law and 2 more to follow) — These are the books I was telling you about, with the oddly absorbing economic plot thread. Setting looks like a fairly typical epic fantasy world at first, but isn’t. All the weird races are strains of humans, who were genetically tinkered with by the dragons back when dragons ruled the world. Like Abraham’s sci-fi, the real draw here is the solid characterization and crackling dialogue.
Fritz Leiber, the Lankhmar stories — stylish, crazy entertaining, basically invented the sword-and-sorcery genre. Mostly short stories with novellas and novelettes thrown in here and there. I read these in the White Wolf omnibus editions (4 volumes) in the early 90s, and damn, they’re good. Probably the only fantasy author other than Tolkien who has given me heart-pangs because I’ll never get to go visit his world.
Dan Abnett, Fell Cargo — This is a Warhammer tie-in, and may be the most swashbuckling book ever written. In 250 pages, there are four major naval engagements, each involving at least three ships and each ending in a bloody boarding action. There is a treasure map, a stowaway, a voodoo ritual, a prophetic dream, chum in the water, kidnapping, a witch, a sea serpent, a cursed mummy, and a case of hidden identity revealed at the dramatically appropriate moment. Duels of honor decided with swords, drugged wine, sharks, walking the plank, abandoned death ships, and vampire feedings (I know, wtf?) each appear more than once. Oh, and zombies. Fighting frikkin’ pirates. Abnett has written a shedload of Warhammer and W:40K tie-ins, and they’re all much better than they have any right to be. The Eisenhorn and Ravenor trilogies especially–these are just the ticket for long plane flights.
Michael Chabon, Gentlemen of the Road — This is historical fiction, not fantasy, but it’s written like a fantasy adventure novel, with the caveats that there is no magic, the places were all real, and everything could have happened just as described. Definite echoes of Leiber’s Lankhmar stories. You’ll put this down thinking, “Man, they just don’t write ’em like they used to.”