a fall sci-fi reading list

I am mightily inspired by Mark to start reading some sci-fi again. I want to catch up on the big titles of the past decade that I have pretty much missed out on – it’s been a long time since I’ve read anything other than short stories, and even my usual source for those (the annual Best Of collection by Dozois) has dried up.

Here are some of the books on my to-read list (I really should put this info into Goodreads, while I am at it – I see others are also availing themselves of the service, and it strikes me as more useful for looking ahead than trying to enter all the stuff I’ve already read).

Small Gods by Terry Pratchett- seems a good place to get acquainted with the Discworld universe, recommended to me repeatedly, but most recently by Dustin.

The Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson – Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World. Recommended by pretty much everyone though Mark’s Stephenson-exuberance is a major factor (and Snow Crash is probably in my top ten of all time). The numbering of this series is confusing – each Volume has multiple Books, so its really a 8-part series rather than a 3-part one, but i’ll read it in “trilogy” format.

Manifold: Time by Stephen Baxter. I’ve read a smatttering of Baxter’s short-story work before and he’s been involved with various collaborative stuff, so it’s worth checking out his longer solo work. I call him one of the Big Bs of sci-fi along with Bear, Brin, and Benford. If I like it I’ll go for the rest of the Manifold Trilogy.

Anathem – also by Stephenson, and from Mark’s initial review (which I only skimmed due to spoilers) seems like it might be better to do first before the Baroque Cycle. This article at Wired also got me interested in the book, too.

The Inheritance Series by Christopher Paolini: Eragon, Eldest, and Brisingr. – this actually came to my attention from the movie version of the first book, which was not exactly LOTR quality but had a strange Star Wars feel to it, and I assume much was diluted out from the book to the screen. I havent seen an original take on dragon-human relationships since McCaffrey’s Pern series (which was satisfyingly science fiction, rather than fantasy, for a change).

Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon – been on my to-do list for a long time, out of a sense of obligation, like reading Catch-22 or Slaughterhouse-Five.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace – I dunno if I actually want to read this or not, but the mere fact that there’s an entire summer read-a-thon being organized around it makes me want to at least check out the back cover.

I’m gonna try to get these the old-fashioned way – the library 🙂 But I’d really appreciate more recommendations, these sorts of lists are always in flux. What am I missing?

18 thoughts on “a fall sci-fi reading list”

  1. What, no Neil Gaiman on your list? American Gods or Stardust are both good choices.

    Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair is quirky, but highly entertaining.

    Storm Front by Jim Butcher is a good one as well. Not quite a classic, but worth the read.

  2. Why isn’t Orson Scott Card on the list?

    Add these to the list in this order.

    1. Ender’s Game
    2. Ender’s Shadow
    3. Shadow of the Hegemon
    4. Shadow Puppets
    5. Shadow of the Giant
    6. Speaker for the Dead
    7. Xenocide

    Best seven books you’ll ever read.

  3. ah, Neil Gaiman indeed – ok, I’m adding American Gods.

    I’ve actually read the first few books in the Ender series already through to Xenocide (and found them to decrease in quality exponentially). Is Shadow the retelling from Bean’s perspective? If so then maybe I need to re-read Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow together. To be honest for personal reasons I’m not inclined to read much more of Card’s work beyond that because his political views are enormously offensive to me. (and no, I dont want to discuss that further here).

  4. Have you read Cryptonomicon? If not, I highly recommend reading that before The Baroque Cycle (which is a lot dryer and longer than Crypto, and it’s basically a prequel to Crytpo). Also, Quicksilver is a bit of a slog, but the series gets progressively better as you go along. And yes, I’d recommend Anathem before The Baroque Cycle, but again, if you haven’t read Cryptonomicon, I recommend starting there.

    Gravity’s Rainbow is a brutal read. It took me over a year of off-and-on reading to get through it, but I’m glad I went through the effort, if only because I like to be able to say I’ve read it:p Infinite Jest has been a slow go for me, but it’s nowhere near as punishing as Gravity’s Rainbow. At the same time, the subject matter isn’t quite tuned to my tastes the way, say, Stephenson’s novels are.

    I’m actually very intrigued by Pynchon’s latest novel, Inherent Vice, which I’ve seen described as a “relatively breezy” detective genre novel. I have no idea if that’s true or not, but having Pynchon’s brilliant prose mixed with a coherent plot would be awesome.

    Speaking of breezy, if you’re looking for a good vacation or travel read (a lot of the books on your list are rather heavy, if not difficult to read in areas with a lot of distractions), I like John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War and The Android’s Dream. Both are very easy, fun and relatively short reads, but also have a lot of interesting ideas that get my mind running…

  5. I did read Cryptonomicon a long time ago and found it generally a fun read, but it didn’t enamour me the way it did others (notably Shamus – I loved your cross-blog convo about the book btw). I think I was much more blown away by Snow Crash and would in all honesty rate that more highly. I’m aware that the Baroque Cycle might not be my cup of tea if loving Crypto is a prereq, but I am hoping it isnt. Thats teh advantage of libraries – no commitment 🙂

    Scalzi – that name sounds very familiar, outside of a scifi context. will have to look into that, I think I have heard of Android’ Dream.

    Razib, I appreciate the fantasy tip. Looking at the wiki page, i see that a novella excerpt won a Hugo, I’ll check that out first.

    As an aside, i shoudl have mentioned this in the post, but I found that I absolutely loved Holes. Its a Newberry Award winner and while technically thus rated as children’s fiction, I wonder if there arent any other gems in the Newberry list that you all might be awaree of. Holes is only loosely science fiction but it certainly had its fantastical elements.

  6. Altered Carbon, Woken Furies, Broken Angels and Black Man/Thirteen by Richard Morgan.
    AC is going to be a movie soon, and we are living the pre-Black Man universe in America right now. Broken Angels is my favorite.
    In future-America republicans secede from the Rim States to form the Conferated States of America aka Jesusland, a kind of evangelical utopia where birthcontrol is illegal, there are no publicschools, and blacks and homosexuals are jailed and/or lynched on sight. Plus Jesusland is encircled by a Giant Fence, ostensibly to keep illegals out, but actually functioning to the Jesusland youth imprisoned in “the Heartland”.
    Plus Marstech, extreme transhumanism, Rabi’a quotes, spaceships, n-djinns, revolutionaries, wireheads, karakuri, martial arts, mercenary-assassins that work for the UN with Haag guns, sexual imprinters, virtual reality, space elevators, immortality, surfing and voodoo.
    A nearly perfect alternative metaverse.
    Anathem was good too.

  7. wow…Morgan isn’t on the Hugo list anywhere at all….but Black Man/Thirteen won the Arthur Clarke award last year…..
    Can scifi be politically incorrect?

  8. And…..Holes is the only movie ever that is as good as the book.
    The casting is absolutely perfect.

  9. Have been re-reading a few Diskworld novels recently, the Watch ones are the best IMO (Nightwatch is the single best book in the whole series)

    Haven’t read Anathem yet but I lovrd the Baroque cycle, it does take some getting into but in hugely entertaining.

    Time is ok but the Xeelee novels (Raft, Vacuum Diagrams, Flux and Ring) are Baxter’s best- though is a bit of a case of spot the Niven references!

  10. Fledgling Otaku says:

    I’ve actually read the first few books in the Ender series already through to Xenocide (and found them to decrease in quality exponentially). Is Shadow the retelling from Bean’s perspective? If so then maybe I need to re-read Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow together. To be honest for personal reasons I’m not inclined to read much more of Card’s work beyond that because his political views are enormously offensive to me. (and no, I dont want to discuss that further here).


    Personally, I agree with you on his political (and spiritual) views. But I’m constantly amazed at how such a twat could write something so good.

    In answer to your question, yes the Shadow series is the one from Bean’s POV. Because of my OCD, when I start re-reading the series each year I have to read all of them. But I read them in the order I gave because if I don’t “remember” to read Xenocide or Speaker for the Dead, then I don’t feel like I’m missing anything.

  11. if you like eragon, i strongly recommend naomi novik’s temeraire books–they’re basically a cross between eragon/pern and susanna clarke’s _jonathan Strange & mr, norrell_ (which i also recommend if you haven’t read it). they’re a fantasy alternate history series concerning the exploits of the british dragon air corps in the napoleonic wars.

  12. I read Ender when i was younger….it was good then, but i find it more YA.
    And Card bores me now….im one of those strange grrls that digs “hard” scifi, and Card is too lowtech and pedestrian for meh.

  13. Like Andy Janes I got the most out of Pratchett’s Watch series, though that may be because the crime/detective/hardboiled genres that he riffs on in the Watch books are the kind of thing I rather enjoy.

    It’s been a while since I read Small Gods, but I remember enjoying it. If I remember rightly, Pratchett commented that he received a strange set of responses to that particular book: letters from Christians surprised at how sympathetic to Christianity they found it, and letters from atheists saying how good a job he’d done of satirising Christianity and organised, monotheistic religion in general.

  14. I’m surprised no one mentioned the Foundation series prior to my remembering it this morning.

    If you haven’t already read it … you must!

  15. Oh yeah, Asimov is great. Be careful with the Foundation Series though. Some of the ones that were written later (i.e. Prelude to Foundation, Forward the Foundation and Foundation & Earth) assume you’ve read other Asimov series (namely, the Robot series). Asimov was one of my favorite authors growing up, so I read a ton of his books and he had tied together a few of his series so that they were all related. Here’s the guide he had published in Prelude to Foundation:


    The Empire series are not strictly necessary, but if you’re reading 12 books, why not read 15?

  16. agreed, i loved how he managed to tie all his stuff into the Foundation universe. Some of that was retconning, to be sure, but still 🙂

    i think no one mentioned Asimov because then this would be a “must-read scifi list”. Thats definitely a topic we shoudl do though – the greatest 100 books of sci fi. i wonder if 100 is enough.

  17. Kim Stanley Robinson! Start with the California series, then the Mars series, then read “The Years of Rice and Salt” to see how City of Brass might have been very different. 😉 Ok, then we have Greg Bear’s Darwin books and Maria Doria Russell’s “The Sparrow”. Both are heavy going but totally worth it.

    Also, I have Neal Stephenson’s entire Baroque Cycle in eReader format. Send me your GPG public key if you want those (since they require my CC number to unlock). They include bonus material and more efficient than lugging around 4 huge tomes of wood.

    Oh, and not quite sci-fi, but add “Freakonomics” to your reading list too. You’ll be surprised by the power of economics!

    Eid Mabrook! 😀

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