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  • Definitive sci fi and fantasy book list
  • infidel
    Free Member

    Bit of a fantasy fan here, so:

    Raymond Feist and the Magician series is superb and as been said a total classic.

    David Eddings – also classic. The Belgariad and Mallorean series and then the Elenium / Tamuli are supreme.

    Terry Brooks and the Shannara series are good too.

    Melanie Rawns Exiles series is good but frustrating because booms 1&2 are super engaging but book 3 is still not written 20 years later due to author health issues though she’s apparently starting on it.

    Trudi Canavan and the Black Magician and Age of 5 trilogies are good too.

    Last but not least Katherine Kerrs Deverry Cycle series are superb and expansive!!

    tjagain
    Full Member

    for a “ripping Yarn” – The lensman Series by EE doc Smith and Skylark as well. Laughably dated but one of the original space operas

    Elizabeth Moon – Trading in Danger for a modern Space opera.

    Dune and Ringworld have already been mentioned as have loads of other favourites.

    Why no mention for Golden Era and pulp short stories? the backbone of SF and full of wonderful gems. Get some anthologies or see below

    I am in the process of getting rid of much of my paper back SF collection. anyone want some for postage weighed by the kilo? PM me

    vintagewino
    Free Member

    @easily

    I don’t think anyone has mentioned John Wyndham. The Chrysalids is my fave.

    Yes! I love this book and have done so since I read it as a kid. Reading it again now. This book I think kicked off my long interest in post apocalyptica. Which obviously reached its zenith with Riddley Walker, which should definitely be on this list.

    Also everything by Cordwainer Smith should be included.

    And Star Maker and Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon. Amazing.

    johndoh
    Free Member

    Not a huge fantasy book fan, but of the few I have read, Weaveworld by Clive Barker really stood out – I think I have re-read it three or four times too.

    funkmasterp
    Full Member

    I actually missed the fantasy bit in the thread title. Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files are a pretty good light read as is The
    Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronivavitch. Richard Morgan also has a fantasy trilogy that’s worth a read. A little different from the usual fair.

    This thread has been great and caused me to spend a small fortune!

    IdleJon
    Full Member

    I wouldn’t dismiss these as ‘young adult’ books – that’s often more a publishers label than anything

    Alan Garner – Weirdstone trilogy, Owl Service

    Re the ‘young adult’ bit.. I’m re-reading the Earthsea books. I’m amazed that I managed to get through them as a teenager, and they definitely weren’t written for young teenagers, which is what they were sold as. Beautifully written books.

    And Alan Garner was the writer who kindled my love of weird stuff. His adult books are brilliant, if difficult to read.

    eddiebaby
    Free Member

    Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon. Amazing.

    The film may change your mind…

    Its on BFI Player. If you don’t subscribe there is a free 7 day trial on Prime.
    Don’t worry, the film only feels like its 7 days long.

    z1ppy
    Full Member

    @dufresneorama Huge amount great of suggestions (& some I diagree with being any good, but hey ho) but one large suggestion totally unmentioned is how you ‘read’. I have always loved reading but struggled to find/make time to read enough nowadays, until I discovered audiobooks. I know they are totally marmite, but I think well worth looking into, as you can do other stuff (drive/walk the dogs/gardening/solo cycling) and still listen to a book. I now listened to an inordinate amount of books & lots that I wouldn’t have tried if I had to totally sit down and spend time solely on.
    My personal love of audiobook maybe due to my ‘skim reading’, as I would read and re-read (or listen and re-listen now) a book a number of times & get more out of them each time . This may not suit others, who want to be enveloped by the story.
    The two books that drew me into audio books where Richard Mathersons “I am legend” and Max Brooks “World war Z” (again do not judge them by there pathetic film adaptions), both very very good if very different ways (ok, both are edging toward horror but aren’t really horror stories).

    molgrips
    Free Member

    Re Pratchett: I think the first three or four novels are the best, even the first two. They are more whimsical and fantasy like. After that they become more trite and more like 90s alternative comedy TV shows. I used to lap them up when I was 20 or so then I became jaded. The Last Continent was so offensive I gave up.

    IdleJon
    Full Member

    Richard Mathersons “I am legend” and Max Brooks “World war Z” (again do not judge them by there pathetic film adaptions), both very very good if very different ways (ok, both are edging toward horror but aren’t really horror stories).

    Matheson wrote some good books. I Am Legend is very, very good, especially the ending. It’s a pity that the film wasn’t brave enough to follow the plot.

    dufresneorama
    Free Member

    Thanks everyone for all the suggestions. I’ve not really had a chance to look at all the replies yet, but will try tomorrow.

    I’m going to try to put a list together of all the recommendations/authors and will endeavour to make it available here. Few questions that people asked which I’ll answer when I get the chance too.

    Only books I’ve really read in the last decade were uni books and a song of ice and fire. I really enjoyed that series, especially the world building and lore that accompanies it. Infact, that’s what I tend to enjoy about most scifi/fantasy. I enjoy the deep, intricate connections and feel cheated when an in depth history or technical explanations of tech etc aren’t given.

    roger_mellie
    Full Member

    Just for a bit of balance, and I realise book choices are a very personal thing, but some I’ve read after recommendations on other threads but not got on with are: (Science fiction)

    • Asimov – Foundation. Nothing much happens in the first book, other than world building if you’re into that.
    • Neal Stephenson – Seven Eves. Long winded technical explanations. Ridiculous last third.
    • James SA Corey: The Expanse. Corny. Written for Hollywood.

    Recommended:
    John Scalzi – The Interdependency series. Each book is fairly short, but funny, skip along well with interesting concepts. Limited to the 3 books

    roger_mellie
    Full Member

    And I’d add to my previous: read what you think you’ll like, rather than reading what you think you ‘should’ read, just because it’s on a classic list.

    AD
    Full Member

    Some great suggestions above.

    I’l probably get flamed for this but if you are after some ‘pulp’ fiction style yarns have a look at the Games Workshop Black Library 40k stuff. The 40k Universe is brilliantly dark.

    On the Fantasy side I don’t think the Winter of the World Series by Walter Scott Rohan has been mentioned (Anvil of Ice, Forge in the Forest, Hammer of the Sun) – well worth a look if you like the world building and lore that accompanies it. The books feel more like an alternative history if that makes sense.

    Malvern Rider
    Free Member

    Infact, that’s what I tend to enjoy about most scifi/fantasy. I enjoy the deep, intricate connections and feel cheated when an in depth history or technical explanations of tech etc aren’t given.

    Argh, best give my list a pass in that case 😉

    Enjoying this thread. Someone piqued my imagination mentioning a ‘first contact’ story. I enjoyed Contact (movie) but didn’t know it was a book. Worth a read? Read the first few pages of ‘The Mote In God’s Eye’ and tbh it appears at first a lot wooden/starchy/of it’s time? I’ll give it a go, but are there any more recent ‘first contact’ type novels?

    mariner
    Free Member

    I cant find the reference I was looking for but do explore Judith Merril’s writings and compilations of Best SciFi and Fantasy. Late sixties vintage is good if you like that sort of thing.

    spot1978
    Free Member

    I’m currently working my way through the Horus Heresy books by Games Workshop. I can hardly put them down; ok I’m and Old GW fan but you don’t really have to be for the Heresy books.

    Currently reading Legion and John Grammaticus is one of the best Sci fi characters ever.

    GW and the black library have huge number of books. Ok not to everyone’s taste but there are some cracking books.

    Garry_Lager
    Full Member

    Enjoying this thread. Someone piqued my imagination mentioning a ‘first contact’ story. I enjoyed Contact (movie) but didn’t know it was a book. Worth a read? Read the first few pages of ‘The Mote In God’s Eye’ and tbh it appears at first a lot wooden/starchy/of it’s time? I’ll give it a go, but are there any more recent ‘first contact’ type novels?

    @Malvern Rider I just read a fantastic book that had this as a tangential theme – Engine Summer by John Crowley. Don’t know if you’ve read JC but he is a top drawer writer so recommended if you’re in the mood for some quality writing, but not so much if you fancy a more classic big SF universe first contact book.

    mogrim
    Full Member

    I’l probably get flamed for this but if you are after some ‘pulp’ fiction style yarns have a look at the Games Workshop Black Library 40k stuff. The 40k Universe is brilliantly dark.

    I’d add Star Wars novels to the guilty pleasures list, if you’re willing to risk them the Timothy Zahn books are great :)

    easily
    Free Member

    Read the first few pages of ‘The Mote In God’s Eye’ and tbh it appears at first a lot wooden/starchy/of it’s time?

    As I said Niven is not a great writer. He is, though, very good at creating plausible universes and situations, and following them to a logical conclusion.
    The human society in “The Mote …” is believable, and the aliens are … well odd, but he gives entirely rational reasons for why they’ve turned out that way.

    I’d stick with it. You notice the writing less as you get caught up in the universe.

    vazaha
    Full Member

    I probably shouldn’t say this, but i’ve always thought of ‘sci-fi’, as much as it is lauded for being amazingly inventive, as actually being a failure of imagination.

    Having said that, The Handmaid’s Tale and 1984 are obviously bona fide classics, and the Hitchhiker series is a lot of fun.

    Malvern Rider
    Free Member

    ^. You should definitely say it. And you may ‘always’ have thunk it. But, contrast could be even more interesting. What genre (for instance) have you so far found to be the ‘most imaginative’?

    ChrisL
    Full Member

    OK, you’ve probably had enough people recommending Banks, Pratchett, Gibson, Stross, etc., to you so I’ll try and mention some relatively recent books and authors that I’ve enjoyed.

    For sci-fi I’d back up a recommendation from page one to try Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice. It’s the first in a trilogy and there’s a fourth book set in a different part of the same universe. She’s also written a fantasy novel called the Raven Tower. Ancillary Justice moves along at a decent pace but annoyingly I reckon it’s more enjoyable to read if you haven’t read the blurb for it first, as the blurb gives away much of the setup and it is more interesting for that setup to be slowly revealed through the story itself.

    Another sci-fi novel I’d recommend is Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee. Again, it’s the start of a trilogy (this seems to be what the publishing industry demands these days). One similarity it shares with Ancillary Justice is that it’s set in a civilisation that in many ways isn’t very nice. Actually, it may just be easier to copy and paste the blurb for this one:

    When Captain Kel Cheris of the hexarchate is disgraced for her unconventional tactics, Kel Command gives her a chance to redeem herself by retaking the Fortress of Scattered Needles from the heretics. Cheris’s career isn’t the only thing at stake: if the fortress falls, the hexarchate itself might be next.

    Cheris’s best hope is to ally with the undead tactician Shuos Jedao. The good news is that Jedao has never lost a battle, and he may be the only one who can figure out how to successfully besiege the fortress. The bad news is that Jedao went mad in his first life and massacred two armies, one of them his own.

    As the siege wears on, Cheris must decide how far she can trust Jedao – because she might be his next victim.

    Fantasy-wise I’d recommend the Divine Cities trilogy by Robert Jackson Bennett. It’s definitely fantasy, but it’s a setting that’s moving into an industrial era after one country rose up and killed the gods, so there’s a mix of the industrial and the miraculous going on. The first book in the trilogy is called City of Stairs:

    You’ve got to be careful when you’re chasing a murderer through Bulikov, for the world is not as it should be in that city. When the gods were destroyed and all worship of them banned by the Polis, reality folded; now stairs lead to nowhere, alleyways have become portals to the past, and criminals disappear into thin air.

    The murder of Dr Efrem Pangyui, the Polis diplomat researching the Continent’s past, has begun something and now whispers of an uprising flutter out from invisible corners.

    Only one woman may be willing to pursue the truth – but it is likely to cost her everything.

    Robert Jackson Bennett is two books into another fantasy series now, he really likes his world building, so there’s quite a lot of “well if this is how <fantasy thing> works, then this is what will happen because of that” type world building in his stuff.

    Finally, I’ll second an earlier recommendation for Kate Griffin’s Matthew Swift books. They’re entertaining, fairly grim at times, urban fantasy. I initially found the first one, A Madness Of Angels, a bit difficult to get into, but once I did I found it and all the rest of the series (and the related Magicals Anonymous books) really enjoyable.

    The blurb on Amazon for A Madness of Angels is a bit dull, but here it is:

    When a man is tired of London he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford – Samuel Johnson

    In fact, Dr Johnson was only half right. There is in London much more than life – there is power. It ebbs and flows with the rhythms of the city, makes runes from the alignments of ancient streets and hums with the rattle of trains and buses; it waxes and wanes with the patterns of the business day. It is a new kind of magic: urban magic.

    Enter a London where magicians ride the Last Train, implore favours of The Beggar King and interpret the insane wisdom of The Bag Lady. Enter a London where beings of power soar with the pigeons and scrabble with the rats, and seek insight in the half-whispered madness of the blue electric angels. Enter the London of Matthew Swift, where rival sorcerers, hidden in plain sight, do battle for the very soul of the city…

    jwh
    Free Member

    something which was written differently which i really enjoyed was ‘The Themis Files Series’ by Sylvain Neuvel

    Cletus
    Full Member

    Jack Vance wrote some wonderful science fiction and fantasy books – The Demon Princes was probably my favourite but The Dying Earth and the Elder Isles trilogy run it close.

    Others I have enjoyed:

    Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe

    Elric by Michael Moorcock

    Earthsea trilogy by Ursula le Guin

    nickc
    Full Member

    Hmmm, there’s a reason everyone recommends Ian Banks.

    Lots of Sci-Fi/Fantasy writing is just churned out and properly shit*. I’d even go as far as to say much of it is just sub par fan fiction. (most of the Star Wars, and Warhammer stuff falls into this category) There are a few (and I mean a few) that are worth investing in, the rest are publishing houses cashing in.

    OP, make use of your Library (and be prepared to shove the 12 year olds aside) or the Charity shops, don’t spend your hard earned on anything, especially not multi book series, until you’ve road tested them for free (or 50p max)

    * I’d make the comparison that Sci-Fi is the men’s version of the poverty porn and chick-lit that women are feed by the publishers.

    HarryTuttle
    Full Member

    Some good books here, reminds me of a youth with lots of long, book-filled, flights….

    I see there have been some ‘first contact’ stories mentioned but my favourite of the genre hasn’t been listed: Footfall, by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven. A proper alien invasion and fight back story.

    Rio
    Full Member

    I’d agree that much SF is lightweight stuff but that’s probably what many people want – see the chick lit, action stories and whodunnits in the paperback bestseller lists to understand the sort of thing that’s read by your average commuter on the train. Anyway, on the more literary side I don’t think anyone’s mentioned Station 11 by Emily St John Mandel for some topical post-pandemic dystopia. Also I’d echo the recommendation of anything by Adrian Tchaikovsky, also Connie Willis for a quirky take on time travel.

    sanername
    Full Member

    This thread has sent me on a mega mission to work out the title of a book I read in the late 90s, a really twisted piece of very British science fiction called Vurt by Jeff Noon. It won the Arthur C Clarke Award when it was first published, but I don’t know how it has aged on the page, but the story, characters and world still rears its head in my imagination.

    I don’t know where they sit with most people, but I think David Mitchell’s novels (no, not the comedian) are wonderful. Especially Cloud Atlas, Bone Clocks and the Thousand winters.

    finbar
    Free Member

    Lots of Sci-Fi/Fantasy writing is just churned out and properly shit*. I’d even go as far as to say much of it is just sub par fan fiction. (most of the Star Wars, and Warhammer stuff falls into this category) There are a few (and I mean a few) that are worth investing in, the rest are publishing houses cashing in.

    * I’d make the comparison that Sci-Fi is the men’s version of the poverty porn and chick-lit that women are feed by the publishers.

    That’s a pretty snobbish attitude IMO. I know various successful and intelligent women who would describe chick-lit as an (admittedly) guilty pleasure. Nothing wrong with that.

    Similarly I’m reading some Margaret Atwood at the moment – which I don’t think anyone would describe as sub-par fan fiction – but last week I read “Chaos Undivided” by John French, the 47th (?) book from the Horus Heresy series. It absolutely is Warhammer cashing in, but I still enjoyed it wholeheartedly.

    IdleJon
    Full Member

    That’s a pretty snobbish attitude IMO. I know various successful and intelligent women who would describe chick-lit as an (admittedly) guilty pleasure. Nothing wrong with that.

    I think it’s realistic rather than snobbish. The standard is pretty low when it comes to SF&F. There’s a reason why Iain Banks is named in every one of these threads – it’s not just his utter brilliance, but also because no-one even comes close to his SF stuff. And while his non-genre output was excellent, he doesn’t often get listed in ‘books you must read’. So does that mean that he was better at SF, or that the standard of non-SF is much higher? I think it’s the latter.

    Anyway, as you say, not everyone wants to read high-brow stuff all the time. That’s why James Corey gets a name-check in these threads. You can watch it on TV. 😁

    nickc
    Full Member

    That’s a pretty snobbish attitude IMO

    It has nothing to do with snobbery, other wise every writer has to be judged as equally good, and that just simply isn’t the case is it? There are some great sci-fi books, but there’s also a huge amount of utter dross. This is true for everything,not just books, or sci-fi for that matter.

    For every Alan Dean Foster, Attwood and Ian Banks, there’s a Brain Herbert. Kevin Anderson and L Ron Hubbard.

    finbar
    Free Member

    It has nothing to do with snobbery, other wise every writer has to be judged as equally good, and that just simply isn’t the case is it? There are some great sci-fi books, but there’s also a huge amount of utter dross. This is true for everything,not just books, or sci-fi for that matter.

    I disagree. The arts are subjective. My little sister liked One Direction. Did I tell her they were ‘utter dross’ and what she ought to be listening to instead? No, that would be arrogant, unpleasant and snobbish in my opinion.

    tjagain
    Full Member

    The standard is pretty low when it comes to SF&F.

    I would disagree. The genre is so wide and deep that there is everything from literary masterpieces examining complex human actions to pulp potboilers

    a lot of popular SF is poor yes – but there is a huge body of good work.

    CountZero
    Full Member

    I probably shouldn’t say this, but i’ve always thought of ‘sci-fi’, as much as it is lauded for being amazingly inventive, as actually being a failure of imagination.

    Explain, please, how a form of literature that relies primarily on imagination to portray worlds and people and societies far beyond anything that we can experience, shows a failure of imagination? Enquiring minds want to know.

    nickc
    Full Member

    The arts are subjective

    Up to a point, but literature is different; plots have to make sense, the grammar needs to be correct, the story needs to hang together and be gripping and entertaining, the characters need to be believable, have their own motivations, and so on…So the comparison with music doesn’t work. If a writer can’t manage those things; it’s objectively bad.

    Look, Don’t be defensive, if you like something, cool, be happy, but everyone knows what trash looks like. The point was be selective; Use of Weapons, Dune, 2001, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Starship Troopers are all decent novels…Star Wars: Darksaber, not so much.

    Edit, I haven’t said don’t enjoy whatever, all I said was be selective; there’s a lot of rubbish out there. Use the library and charity shops before splashing the cash, I don’t see this as massively controversial, TBH.

    Garry_Lager
    Full Member

    Explain, please, how a form of literature that relies primarily on imagination to portray worlds and people and societies far beyond anything that we can experience, shows a failure of imagination? Enquiring minds want to know.

    An argument would be that real life is so fantastic, and so mysterious, that walling the reader off in a completely made-up world is a very unnecessary, juvenile approach – shows a stunted imagination that cannot be expected to really come up with much insight or depth of feeling.

    But you can shift that argument over and apply it to the novel in general. If real life is so deep and frightening (it is), then aren’t all novels just nursery rhymes at heart and we should all just read about World War II or a biography of Stalin for a real imaginative experience?

    Clearly that’s not right and there’s a happy medium. Some of the best stuff IMO is found in so-called low fantasy, books with fantastical elements in everyday setting, so stuff that lacks the superficial imaginative effort that goes into world-building but is far harder to write well. Is there a better post-war fantasy novel than 100 years of Solitude?

    nickc
    Full Member

    My little sister liked One Direction. Did I tell her they were ‘utter dross’ and what she ought to be listening to instead?

    BTW, 1D; both objectively and subjectively a really great band, so clearly you’re the one with issues, I’d say…

    Cougar
    Full Member

    And we were doing so well.

    Malvern Rider
    Free Member

    Any contenders for the first sci-fi book?

    I’m going to throw in ‘Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus’ (1818)

    Chose to read it when a teenager because I was into ‘horror’. Turned out it was by far the deepest, most insightful and prescient work of ‘science-fiction‘ I think I’ve ever read. It transcends time and genre/s. It becomes more prescient. I struggle to think of a book that more perfectly describes where we are today.

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