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  • Definitive sci fi and fantasy book list
  • zilog6128
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    @Malvern Rider, yeah I’d always thought it was Frankenstein, however a quick google suggests something else that may substantially predate it…

    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.

    I will give you props for a unique argument, but that is probably the least correct thing I have ever read 😂 unless you have just worded what you meant VERY badly 😃

    Malvern Rider
    Free Member

    ^ zilog6128 you beat me to it! I just googled ‘first sci-fi’ and found same article. Fascinating stuff. That’s some reading sorted for tonight. Let’s see if it’s not Thomas Moore’s ‘Utopia‘ (1516)?

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    Oh, nearly forgot, don’t think he’s been mentioned yet, but Stanislaw Lemm wrote some good stuff…

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    With Lem, I wonder if some are put off by Solaris, which is frequently cited as his best. He wrote a lot of different stuff, some quite silly yet still worth reading.

    Any contenders for the first sci-fi book?

    Rig Veda maybe? – something like 1500 BCE.

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    And we were doing so well.

    Tbh I’d far prefer to read a discussion about SF, and why people think that book X is worth reading, rather than ‘what’s the best SF book I’ve read that I picked up in Tesco, which is where I get all my books’. (That’s proper snobbery, btw, not whatever was suggested earlier. 😁 )

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    Any contenders for the first sci-fi book?

    Bible innit?



    The definition of science fiction is a notoriously awkward area. Definitions tend not to cover everything, or to cover things you don’t actually want them to, and it all becomes very awkward. But one I rather like is the definition given by Brian Aldiss in his critical history of science fiction called Billion Year Spree (which was updated as Trillion Year Spree, and there are persistent rumours that he’s going to do a new version called Zillion Year Spree, which he denies).

    He defines science fiction in the following terms. He says:

    Science fiction is the search for a definition of mankind and his status in the universe which will stand in our advanced but confused state of knowledge (science), and is characteristically cast in the Gothic or post-Gothic mode.1
    Now, if I can ‘unpack that’ a bit, as we Greenbelt speakers say, you’ll notice – well, for a start you’ll probably notice the exclusive language: ‘mankind and his status in the universe’. And you can probably ignore the bit about ‘cast in the Gothic or post-Gothic mode,’ because, while that is true of some science fiction, it seems to me largely a historical accident of the way science fiction started.

    But I want to focus in on the ‘definition of mankind and his status in the universe’, which is about humanity and the rôle humanity takes in God’s creation, because it does seem to me that that is an intrinsic and vital element of most science fiction, and certainly of the best science fiction. And it seems to me that those two poles of the definition, of the universe and of humanity, foreground the ‘science’ and the ‘fiction’ aspects of science fiction respectively. Science is all about finding out about the universe, finding out the reasons for it, finding out the way things work within it; whereas fiction is all about human beings, and the way they interact, and their relationships. So you have the universe and humanity, science and fiction, and I rather like the way that brings out that contrast.

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    I will give you props for a unique argument, but…

    Yes, there is that.

    I felt a bit bad about dropping a grenade and running off like that, so thought at least some sort of follow up was in order.

    The reason i prefaced it with ‘i probably shouldn’t say this’ was more that i’m not particularly au fait with the genre, though that in itself is because it’s not something that floats my boat. But i’m not that sort of person that thinks that if i don’t like it, it is therefore completely worthless, because, well, why would anyone think like that?

    The writers i admire take the real world and make you look at it anew – it’s everywhere now but look at Tolstoy taking you through multiple ‘views’ of the same scene through different perspectives; same with Bronte taking you into the story 2/3rds in, bringing you up to speed then taking you home.

    These are books ‘populated’ with people who look just like you.

    They, Catherine, Anna, Atticus, seem like real people, dealing with real things, that you, the reader (i married him), have to really deal with.

    When someone creates a world that bends to their will, populated with fantastical beings, yes they are being inventive, but is it as imaginative?

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    That was an actual question by the way, i’m not standing on solid ground here.

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    I) most SF ( please folks not sci fi) has human as well as non human characters. Indeed many are mainly or totally human
    2) to invent a universe that has no internal contradictions and appears believable is difficult and creative – more so that just using our world.

    Creating a good alien species that acts and thinks differently to humans is a really difficult task. In poor quality SF they are bug eyed monsters – but their motivations are human. In good quality SF they are not humans in disguise, they think differently. Take Nivens puppeteers. They are herbivores. Being herbivores leads them to act in different ways to humans ( omnivores) and Kzinti ( carnivores) to make this seem true it has to be done with no logical contradictions – again a tricky task in writing. Or Iain M Banks Dwellers. Giant creatures that live in gas giant clouds who live for millennia and thus think and act very differently to humans. To create a race of aliens that think and act differently to humans but to keep them logically coherent is a very difficult trick to do and one that IMO shows great creativity.

    On universe building. Nivens Ringworld as an example. In it there are materials that do not exist in our universe and again these have to be used in such a way as to be logically coherent and believable. The material that makes up the actual ring of ringworld acts differently to any materials we have – but all the ramifications of having this material need to be considered, SF readers have some real geeks among them and any logical inconsistencies will be seen, discussed and picked to bits.

    Or take interstellar travel. You have to decide the parameters of your drive. How does it work and what are its limitations. the limitations you build into your stare drive will create situations. again this all needs to be logical and coherent ( once you accept the basics) so if you have an instantaneous drive it will create a very different society to one where interstellar travel is limited in some way. Its again the need to avoid internal contradictions and inconsistencies that means huge creativity is needed.

    Don’t base your ideas on SF on the poor quality crap on TV. Star trek is wagon train in space. Star wars is cowboys and indians. Both use incredibly simple universes and plot lines. Something like the algebraist by Ian M Banks would be pretty much unfilmable – as any film that covered any significant amount of the plot would be 20 or 30 hours long.

    Johnny Mnemonic (Gibson) which is a decentish SF film is based round a fairly short short story. Trying to Film Gibsons masterpiece ( IMO) which is a trilogy and needs all three books to make a whole story would simply be impossible as it would be so many hours of film. tiny details in the first book that are an aside to the main story become incredibly important in later books – no detail can be missed out

    so basically I reject your premise and suggest you read some quality SF

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    yes they are being inventive, but is it as imaginative?

    Surely invention comes from imagination.

    The writers i admire take the real world and make you look at it anew

    … but, writing human characters in non-SF is hard enough – writing non-humans with alien ideas, experiences, environments, &c., seems to me as if it would require exceptional creativity and imagination. Hats off to those who do it well.

    tj – excellent post.

    Malvern Rider
    Free Member

    Mileages will always vary. People enjoy different stuff.

    Taking ‘Frankenstein’ (again) as an example and analogy. Four (imagined) contrasted readings:

    Reader 1: Cool book about a mad scientist who makes a monster called (sic) ‘Frankenstein‘. The monster gets mad, wreaks havoc, then kills it’s creator. Props to Mary Shelley for inventing such funny movies before their time!

    Reader 2: I’ve heard of it, but really? What use is such a far-fetched romance? It’s the very epitome of a failed imagination. Man makes monster? Monster kills man? My five year old daughter could have dreamed that up while destroying her Lego castle.

    Reader 3: Yes, I read it at school. Did you know that Mary Shelley began writing it as a teenager? I had a few questions about it at school but read it again when older as it had stuck in my mind. It (The novel) had raised some questions.

    Firstly, is doctor Frankenstein a martyr or a miscreant? Ask this because

    He ignores his “beloved” family for years. He shows no care for the creature?
    He allows the creature to become other people’s problem?
    He offers lame excuses for failing to save Justine from execution?
    He focuses on his own emotions rather than the harm he has caused?
    He often blames fate or “the angel of his destruction.”?
    When his family is in jeopardy, he spends time on the lake or in the Alps?

    But then it made me think about ‘ Are monsters made, or born?’??

    I liked the way Shelley connects all the complex elements of characterization. The similarities between the creature and the doctor are especially striking.

    I learned that Shelley based the creatures mental state largely on philosophies from John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau. It is not surprising that many mistakenly refer to the monster as Frankenstein. Shelley obviously saw the two characters to be distorted images mirroring one another. And then I thought about how foreshadowing the whole story seemed? Uncannily so. Milton, again?

    From an imaginary lab in Ingolstadt to a post-truth world on the Internet? From dividing atoms to splicing DNA. From artificial insemination to artificial intelligence. Lonely souls in lonely ‘labs’ creating ‘monsters’ from ‘meme-magic’. Putting the spark into the shooter who wanders forth and commits real acts of terror in our post-truth world?

    Mary Shelley also placed Victor in a loneliness of his own appointment. Or did he really choose his path? How ‘free’ is our will? And, so, who was the ‘monster’?

    If Victor Frankenstein was the true beast, then he was “science’s hideous prodigy,” the man behind the blood. He was to society what the monster was to him; creating a killing machine that didn’t stop until it killed him too. But that’s too simplistic?

    Yet didn’t the creature/creation have his own free will? Does being unloved and repelled automatically grant someone license to become ‘wear the hat’ just because others seem to think that it fits?

    When I say ‘someone’, I mean of course a sentient being. Shelley (by design?) didn’t give the creature’ a name? To not name something dehumanizes it and makes that thing an ‘It’– lack of identity due to no name fear of unknown.

    Yet she gives it such human characteristics by allowing the beast to talk, read, learn another language and even have the capabilities of emotions?

    Maybe sometimes the real monster is not the hideous beast standing in front of you, but rather the beast looking back at you in the mirror? Shelley related Frankenstein’s creation as the product of neglect and lack of responsibility by the creator.

    The author was obviously a young woman well-versed in the Old Testament, Paradise Lost, and “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” but it made me wonder why she chose ‘The Modern Prometheus’ as the title? Did Hesiod’s Prometheus predate the Biblical account of Genesis? I made a quick comparison between Genesis 1–11 and the poetry of Hesiod and found many interesting similarities that suggest the Bible’s authors were familiar with Hesiod’s works in the fifth century BCE.

    Interesting similarities include the decline in the quality of human existence, the distancing of God/ gods from the world, creation of the world, woman and the “fall,” divine-human offspring, the descendants of the ‘good hero’, segmented genealogies, and other themes. I discovered that parallel themes in ‘Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus’ are manifold, ie:

    Rebelling against a father figure
    Creating a new race of beings
    Upsetting the proper order (ambition)
    Horrible creations
    Absence of forethought
    Failed rebellion
    Falling from grace
    Keeping secrets
    Intense suffering
    Duality of humankind
    Forbidden knowledge
    Gifting knowledge
    Cursed gifts
    Origins of evil
    Fire (element and symbol)
    Hell (different names and forms)

    Before you think it all a bit ‘boring’, I have to defend Mary Shelley’s youthful mastery of imagery. At face-value Frankenstein’s epistolary delivery had me turning the pages quickly, yet to her credit – the imagery (and themes) of the tale lingered long past the closing of the book.

    “The world to me was a secret, which I desired to discover; to her it was a vacancy, which she sought to people with imaginations of her own.”
    ― Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein

    Reader 4. Yeah, a total load of made-up bollocks. If it had really happened it would be, like, the best story EVER!

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    The latest Abercrombie is really good, as you might expect – Lord Grimdark does not disappoint. Been laid up with a cold so inhaled it in two sittings.

    He’s so fluent with his style now that it’s prob quite easy for him to churn something out that his fans would like without really doing anything new – bit of a tightrope for him with fan-service v trying something new. He’s succeeded here IMHO – everything you’d want to see in a JA book but also some original voices and a strong story of medieval capitalism / industrial revolution.

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    Any contenders for the first sci-fi book?

    I’m going to go with the Epic of Gilgamesh

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    When someone creates a world that bends to their will, populated with fantastical beings, yes they are being inventive, but is it as imaginative?

    When you invent something new, is that not through the use of imagination? Otherwise said invention couldn’t exist, without someone having imagined it and its uses in the first place.
    And yes, you are on very shaky ground!

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    A lot of sci-fi is allegorical. It often tackles issues which would cause controversy if addressed on the nose. It’s only a few days ago that fifteen thousand people saw fit to complain about a dance act that most of them probably hadn’t even seen, FFS.

    Aliens turn up, we treat them like shit, there’s a big fight. Now cross out “extraterrestrial aliens” and put in “brown people”…

    District 9 and (the film version of) Starship Troopers are a couple of the less subtle examples off the top of my head.

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    Just wanted to say thanks to whoever it was that recommended Joe Abercrombie. I’ve just finished the last book in The First Law Trilogy and have downloaded the three stand alone novels and the first book in the new trilogy.

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    Damn, beat me to Joe abercrombie, just read his latest, I’d forgotten how good they are. Very easy to read quickly!

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    If you tend towards the post-apocalyptic, ‘Afterlight’ by Alex Scarrow is an easy read, with commentary on consumerism and notions of what constitutes community; some uncomfortable predictions in light of how segments of the population are currently behaving.

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    I don’t think anyone has mentioned this author, Charlie Jane Anders; she’s written two books that I’ve bought, ‘All The Birds In The Sky’, and ‘The City In The Middle Of The Night’.
    The first one is a mixture of fantasy and SF, being about a witch and a techno-geek trying to save the world from ecological disaster.
    The second is more SF, set on a colony planet which is tidally locked, so with permanent night and day on opposite sides, with a liveable twilight zone.
    Of course, there’s a lot more to them than that, but I don’t want to give too much away; the second book didn’t go exactly where I thought it would go, which made it more interesting.
    Very well worth checking out, I’m looking forward to what she does next.

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    Anyone mentioned Cory Doctorow? Read a few of his recently Homeland and walkaway

    Both a bit black but good reads

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    Just like to mention NK Jemison, ‘The Broken Earth’ series and ‘The Inheritance’ series.
    I really enjoyed them, found them to be well written and engaging IMHO.
    Also really enjoyed William Gibson’s ‘Blue Ant’ series probably not SF but very entertaining nonetheless.
    Some REALLY good suggestions in the list so worth digging through it.

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    After a few trips to the local charity shops and an hour in that awesome 2nd hand bookshop in Inverness, I’ve put together a little starter pack to get me going. Books

    Started off with a book written by a mate, Frequency War by Kevin J Dougan. Self published I believe and printed by amazon. Was a good place to start, quite easy going and quick to get through.

    Next up was a World out of Time by Larry Niven and currently half way through Consider Phlebas… Which I’m really enjoying.Think I’ll be heading towards more fantasy next.

    The replies have been awesome, this list should last me years!

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    Looks like a good start!
    Beware starting the Thomas Covensnt books though! It’s a long journey….hard going at times but ultimately worthwhile…

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    Joe Haldeman – Peace and War

    An excellent trilogy. A real spectrum of ideas and what’s going to happen to us.

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    a World out of Time by Larry Niven

    Love that book, read it countless times, amazed my paperback copy is still in one piece! Pretty sure I bought it in the 70’s. It’s interesting to look back at SF novels from around that time, and compare them to novels published now, which always seem to be about four times thicker.
    And that’s just Volume One…

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    I’ve been dipping in and out of this thread for a while as I’ve started reading a lot more rather than watching TV mainly to help with stress/depression etc.

    Reading Tj’s thread above about creating species and how to write about drive technology….this is one of the prime reasons I absolutely love the warhammer Horus Heresy books.

    The concept of travel through the immaterial and the darkness that dwells within which strives to corrupt mankind.

    It’s just such an amazing concept and it plays so well to the overall story.

    I spent probably 30mins waxing lyrical with the local warhammer store manager about the books as we’re on similar books. So of the stories have had me shouting out load at what happens. I’ve even come to hate mankind in these stories which is no mean feat.

    I’m on to “Mechanicum” which is all about a subset of mankind which almost sees flesh as a weakness and they replace many body parts/organs with mechanical devices.

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    Beware starting the Thomas Covensnt books though! It’s a long journey….hard going at times but ultimately worthwhile…

    I’d say beware of starting them, because there shit, but each to their own

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    A lot of good choices above, some of which I will echo.

    Iain Banks – Use of weapons

    Aaron Dembski-Bowden – Night Lords trilogy and the First Heretic.

    Peter Watts – Blindsight

    Hannu Rajiniemi – the Quantum thief

    Paulo Balcigalupi – the Windup girl.

    Charles Stross – Iron sunrise and Glasshouse. I’d also read his shirt story collection, Wireless, which is great.

    Horus Heresy is a big investment. Some books are pretty standalone, some are essential to the sequence. In addition to the First Heretic, I’d go Betrayer also by ADB. The last 3 books from the Siege of Terra have been peerless. Saturnine is legitimate as war stories go.

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    My brain then spilled out more.

    Raft and Exultant by Steven Baxter

    If we are opening the post apocalyptic door…

    The Road – Cormac McCarthy. Stone. Cold. Terror. Can’t read now I’ve got kids.

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    I’m just reading Day Of The Triffids- in an excellent ancient Penguin edition that was printed in the 60s and cost 20p, but which I paid £2 for in a charity book sale for some reason. Anyway, it’s bloody brilliant- so far ahead of it’s time, there’s so much sheer smartness happening which looking back from 2020 at the fictional near-future he created has aged ridiculously well. But most of all it’s the way it just sets out how pretty much all zombie/apocalypse films would go in the future: Disaster happens, monsters abound, but it’s the people you need to watch for. And it’s subtle about it, like, just quietly mentions that one group of survivors has way more women than men and lets you draw your own conclusions.

    I like old scifi but it’s usually… well, old.

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    Like I said on page 1:

    Don’t forget John Wyndham

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    That was aaaaages ago though! I can deal with scifi from the 50s but not STW posts from September

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    The Patrick Rothfuss ‘Kingkiller chronicles’ are absolutely brilliant books but I no longer think he’ll ever finish them.

    Another favourite of mine is Walter Moers, particularly ‘The thirteen and a half lives of Captain Bluebear’ and ‘Rumo’ Dont make the mistake of thinking they are Kids books and remember while you read that they were written in German and Translated.

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    ‘Sci fi and fantasy’ by Matt and Dido

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    Well, this has been a rather opportune thread! I’m heading into hospital soon for a wee stay, and yesterday my lab sent me a £100 Amazon gift card as a get well soon present. I’ve downloaded a few of the above newer authors (I’m pretty well versed in classic Sci-Fi), onto my Kindle Fire, and hopefully they’ll keep me entertained.

    Might have a look for a couple of graphic novels as well. I’m thinking that if I’m feeling too poop to read, I can still look at pretty pictures. I’ve just spotted a Dune graphic novel (obviously a tie-in with the new movie), that’ll be getting bought. Any thoughts or ideas on anything else along those lines?



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    The Patrick Rothfuss ‘Kingkiller chronicles’ are absolutely brilliant books but I no longer think he’ll ever finish them.

    The second one was far from brilliant – Took the Mary Sue premise to absurd lengths IMO. If this is what he is trying to do and he does produce book 3, Kvothe turns around and says it was all a joke, then I’ll take my hat off to the guy as that would take massive balls. His fans would hunt him down with pitchforks.
    I don’t think it’s anything like that, though, and he’s just got lost with the story he wanted to tell / possibly just had the one book in him.

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    No one has mentioned Lois McMaster Bujold, an excellent author; all her novels are good but the Vorkosigan series is excellent. Start with ‘Shards of Honour’. Hard SciFi but with great human stories.

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    Been mentioned a few times already but I’ve recently come across Adrian Tchaikovsky. Children of Time was great, and I’m halfway through Children of Ruin which I ordered immediately afterwards!

    Also China Mieville is definitely worth a read- The Scar and Perdido Street Station have been mentioned already, but I thought Railsea was brilliant too.

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