[conspire] OT: Science Fiction, places to start

Edward Cherlin echerlin at gmail.com
Fri Aug 5 00:17:48 PDT 2011

On Thu, Aug 4, 2011 at 05:50, Rick Moen <rick at linuxmafia.com> wrote:
> After tonight's SVLUG meeting, we had the regular after-meeting dinner
> at Frankie, Johnny, and Luigi's Too.  Yudhvir 'Mehma Sarja' Singh, who
> is SVLUG's Meeting Coordinator these days, heard me mention being a Hugo
> Award voter and attender of the annual World Science Fiction Conventions
> (such as the one in a few weeks in Reno, www.renovationsf.org), and
> asked if I could recommend good science fiction for him, as he hasn't
> yet read much.
> I'm passing along my initial thoughts, for anyone else who might want to
> try them.  I'm pretty sure we have every one of these in my bookshelves.
> (And no, I really don't mind if others want to continue this off-topic
> chatter for a while.)
> ----- Forwarded message from Rick Moen <rick at linuxmafia.com> -----
> Date: Thu, 4 Aug 2011 02:42:48 -0700
> From: Rick Moen <rick at linuxmafia.com>
> To: Mehma Sarja <mehmasarja at gmail.com>
> Subject: Science Fiction, places to start
> Yudhvir, you asked for recommendations for good science fiction
> (including fantasy) for someone who's not read much.  Let's do novels.
> You've already read _Dune_.
> Here, in no particular order, are a few dozen top recommendations.  Of
> course, you'll naturally want to know what each is like, and I _might_
> send you another version of this mail with a paragraph about each, but
> figured a list with no details is better than no list for a long time.
> Some of these suggestions are the first (or first and second) of a
> continuing series of novels.  In some cases, the rest of the series is
> equally as good, and I'm listing novel #1 in the series just so you can
> decide if you want to continue.  In others (notably, Zelazny's _Amber_
> series), I stop after #1 or #2 because of a steep falloff in quality
> thereafter.
> If you want to know in individual cases, please ask, and I'll give you
> my opinion.

Before we dive into details, I agree with nearly everything here,
except that I can't give an opinion on those that I have not read.

> _A Fire upon the Deep_, by Vernor Vinge

The best take on Usenet in all of SF, along with many other extremely
good things, but some goofy biology.

> _Tigana_, by Guy Gavriel Kay
> _Nine Princes in Amber_ and _The Guns of Avalon_ by Roger Zelanzy

Fantasy, of course, not SF.

> _Lord of Light_, by Roger Zelazny
> _The Warrior's Apprentice_ by Lois McMaster Bujold
> _Jhereg_ and _Agyar_ by Steven Brust
> _Good Omens_ by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett


> _Consider Phlebus_ by Iain M. Banks
> _Startide Rising_ and _The Uplift War_ by David Brin

Descends into total silliness. He lost me at memetic life. YMMV.

> _Neuromancer_, _Count Zero_, and _Mona Lisa Overdrive_ by William Gibson
> _Code of the Lifemaker_ by James P. Hogan
> _The Mote in God's Eye_ by Jerry Niven and Larry Pournelle

Goofiest biology in the universe.

> _To Say Nothing of the Dog_ by Connie Willis

Willis is the best comic and tragic SF writer I have encountered. She
shows a serious understanding of Shakespeare. Lincoln's Dreams,
Doomsday Book.

> _Ringworld_ by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, and also any collection
>   of short stories by Larry Niven

Inferno. Sort of Catholic/Buddhist fantasy with various people you
have heard of, including a good wrestling match with the Bodhisattva

> _Ender's Game_ by Orson Scott Card

Speaker for the Dead is even better, in my opinion, and then the whole
series goes into a terminal decline.

> _Cyberiad_ and _The Futurological Congress_ by Stanislaw Lem
> _The Demolished Man_ and _The Stars My Destination_ by Alfred Bester

Best of the best.

> _The Man in the High Castle_ by Philip K. Dick
> _City_ by Clifford D. Simak
> _Snow Crash_, _Cryptonomicon_ and _Quicksilver_ by Neal Stephenson

I loved Cryptonomicon, but Snow Crash lost me at the pizza mafioso.

> _The Left Hand of Darkness_ by Ursula Kroeber LeGuin
> _The Witches of Karres_ by James H. Schmitz
> _The Moon is a Harsh Mistress_ by Robert Heinlein
> _The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy_ by Douglas Adams
> _Cat's Cradle_ by Kurt Vonnegut

Amazing satire.

> _Altered Carbon_ by Richard K. Morgan
> _Jennifer Government_ by Max Barry
> _Shadow of the Torturer_ by Gene Wolfe
> _Gun, with Occasional Music_, by Jonathan Letham
> _The Anubis Gates_ by Tim Powers
> _Old Man's War_ by John Scalzi
> _Halting State_ by Charles Stross
> _War for the Oaks_ by Emma Bull
> _Spin State_ by Chris Moriarty
> _Mainspring_ by Jay Lake
> _WWW:Wake_ by Robert J. Sawyer
> _Tea with the Black Dragon_ by R.A. MacAvoy


> _Towing Jehovah_ by James Morrow
> _Perdido Street Station_ by China Mieville

It is very important to be aware that these are not all straight
science fiction. Some are really fantasy. Some are meant to be as
silly as possible (Douglas Adams), while others achieve utter
silliness without even trying (Niven) while still being thumping good
stories. In fact, that is Niven's explicit creed, never to let facts
get in the way of a good story. Heinlein could also be extremely silly
about politics (not always), and is in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.
Some are biting satire. Some of Stanislaw Lem makes no sense unless
you understand that it does not take place in Outer Space or The
Future, but in a Poland-under-Russian-domination of the mind. Fiasco
in particular, but chunks of the Cyberiad, too, particularly the one
where Karl Marx makes an appearance as a robot. I have not worked out
how to make that point without giving any kind of spoiler. The best I
can do is not to mention which episode this occurs in.

> There.  That's at least a half year's worth of absolutely masterful
> writing for you, extremely varied, most (but not all) of them inarguable
> classics.  You may hate some, but I doubt you'll be bored by any.
> Have fun!

I would add Rudy Rucker, White Light (mathematical; not for everyone,
but not for that reason); Manly Wade Wellman, Silver John; Zenna
Henderson, The People; Sherry Tepper, True Game, Raising the Stones;
Robert Sheckley, Mindswap.

> ----- End forwarded message -----
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Edward Mokurai (默雷/धर्ममेघशब्दगर्ज/دھرممیگھشبدگر ج) Cherlin
Silent Thunder is my name, and Children are my nation.
The Cosmos is my dwelling place, the Truth my destination.

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