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Old 06-27-2008, 08:23 AM
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SF/Fantasy Book Recommendations: Lost Civilizations


I'm a sucker for stories with mysterious lost civilizations as the focus of the story, or the backdrop. Can't get enough of 'em. I know that's a pretty general requirement and that it's kind of a SF/Fantasy cliché at this point, but what are people's favorite books that deal with lost civs?

For instance, I love Richard Morgan's Takeshi Kovacs novels with the Martian technology strewn around all over the place. (Although am frustrated that we never find out more than we do about the Martians.)

Elantris was an interesting idea that, ultimately, fizzled to me.

Love the LOTR's deep history and, yes, have read the Silmarillion and love it as well.

So, Dopers, any suggestions?
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Old 06-27-2008, 08:33 AM
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Here's rather obscure, but good one: Fata Morgana, by Leo Frankowski. Features a lost civilization derived from Medieval Europe, on . . . wait for it . . . a floating island!
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Old 06-27-2008, 08:33 AM
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Just how lost are you talking about? Are there still living representatives, or do you just find the artifacts?




In the former case, you can find plenty of African examples in the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs (His Africa is simply filled with Ancient Lost Civilizations, kingdoms of medieval knights, countries of tiny men, and the like) or H. Rider Haggard (She, The People of the Mist). Pierre Benoit's l'Atlantide has a lost Atlantis stuck in the Sahara desert. These are all old examples from the 19th and early 20th century.
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Old 06-27-2008, 08:39 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CalMeacham
Just how lost are you talking about? Are there still living representatives, or do you just find the artifacts?




In the former case, you can find plenty of African examples in the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs (His Africa is simply filled with Ancient Lost Civilizations, kingdoms of medieval knights, countries of tiny men, and the like) or H. Rider Haggard (She, The People of the Mist). Pierre Benoit's l'Atlantide has a lost Atlantis stuck in the Sahara desert. These are all old examples from the 19th and early 20th century.
Interesting question. I meant lost as in dead and long-gone, but I'm open to the other interpretation as well, I suppose. Thanks for the suggestions.
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Old 06-27-2008, 08:41 AM
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In the 6th grade, I read a story about a Danish boy who gets lost in Greenland and stumbles on a lost Icelandic colony dating back to Eric the Red. Can't recall the author or title. The people are going to kill him to preserve the secret of their existence (can't recall why they want to remain hidden), until he demonstrates his ability to read (the last scholar who could read their tribe's history chronicles having died in an accident the previous year). There's a scene where they come across a party of Danes mapping the coast, so the setting would have to be some time in the 19th Century.
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Old 06-27-2008, 09:25 AM
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How about the Heechee series, by Frederik Pohl? When humans began exploring space they found advanced technology that was abandoned by a mysterious alien race. They're able to use some of it without really understanding how it works.

In the first novel, Gateway, there's an asteroid full of alien spaceships docked and ready to go, but the nobody can figure out exactly how to program them. So there are "Prospectors" who will stock up on supplies, climb in a ship, fiddle a few knobs, and take off. They don't know where the ship will go or how long the journey will last. Sometimes the ships don't come back at all, and sometimes they come back with a dead crew. But once in a while they'll come back with "treasure": more alien artifacts that are worth a fortune.
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Old 06-27-2008, 09:29 AM
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H. Rider Haggard is your man. He practically invented this category of fiction.

A 19th century writer it is true, but very, very readable today. Read King Solomon's Mines and She for a start.
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Old 06-27-2008, 09:45 AM
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I came in to recommend Pohl's Gateway as well.
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Old 06-27-2008, 09:53 AM
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Much of H.P. Lovecraft's horror fiction features lost civilizations, human and non-. Notable examples:

At the Mountains of Madness

"The Call of Cthulhu"

"The Nameless City"

"The Shadow Out of Time"

You can read those and many others here if you can handle white type on a black screen.

(I'm excluding things like "The Doom that Came to Sarnath," which are set in an alternate fantasy-world or dreamland.)

Last edited by BrainGlutton; 06-27-2008 at 09:54 AM.
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Old 06-27-2008, 10:07 AM
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Larry Niven's Known Space series features many indistinguishable-from-magic artifacts left over, preserved in "stasis boxes," from the long-extinct Thrintun or Slaver Empire. An actual Thrint shows up in World of Ptavvs.

And, of course, the Ringworld was built by a lost civilization.
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Old 06-27-2008, 10:09 AM
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Jack McDevitt has written a series of novels about space exploration where lost alien civilizations are occasionally found. One of the nice things about the books is that it reflects the universe -- few planets are habitable, and any signs of civilization are rare (though there's a reason for this that's explained early on).

His latest, Cauldron, solves one of the main mysteries of the series.
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Old 06-27-2008, 10:15 AM
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Not a book, of course (although you can still find W.J. Stuart's novelization of it), but one of the best SF "lost civilization" movies is Forbidden Planet.


The "we-shall-know-them-by-their-=artifacts" school of Sf has a lot on entries, including, atrguably Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama. Ignore the sequels. Then there's Greg Bear's Eon (which I hated, but a lot of other people like).

Hal Clement had a short story about space explorers finding an alien starship and trying to figure it out. I can't recall the title, but it's in The Best of Hal Clement and, I think, Natives of Space.

George O. Smith had one in "Lost Art" , which you can find in Venus Equilateral and A Treasury of Great Science Fiction.

Fohl's Heechee stiff has been mentioned.


Virtually all stories about Mars written before 1950 seem to feature lost or almost lost civilizations. Read Burroughs or Leigh Brackett's stories or novels (see The Best of Leigh Brackett or The Sword of Rhiannon or something from here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leigh_Brackett )
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Old 06-27-2008, 10:54 AM
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There's Glen Cook's Black Company series. The Black Company (a mercenary unit) is "the last of the 13 free companies of Khatovar." Except that the Company has been adventuring for so many generations that no one who's in the current Company has any idea where or what Khatovar is. In the later books in the series, you find out.
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Old 06-27-2008, 11:15 AM
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Robin Hobb's Farseer and Liveship trilogies have a lost civilization. It's not the focus of the books though -- just glimpses, but fascinating enough that I wish she'd write more about it.
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Old 06-27-2008, 11:31 AM
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Terry Pratchett parodied the lost-interstellar-civilization theme in Strata.
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Old 06-27-2008, 11:32 AM
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Some great suggestions here, peoples. Thanks and keep 'em coming!

(I've read the Ringworld and Rama books. Yes. ALL of the Rama books.)
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Old 06-27-2008, 11:35 AM
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The ur-lost-civilization story is, of course, Plato's account of Atlantis in the Timaeus and Critias.
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Old 06-27-2008, 11:40 AM
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Check out the tvtropes pages on The Precursors and Atlantis -- lotsa lost-civilization stories listed there.
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Old 06-27-2008, 11:58 AM
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Also the Lost World page.
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Old 06-27-2008, 12:01 PM
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Check out Donald Tyson's novels Necronomicon and Alhazred, about the character created by Lovecraft, with plenty of lost-even-in-the-Eighth-Century civilizations featured.
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Old 06-27-2008, 01:24 PM
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There's also Charles Sheffield's Heritage Universe series, most of which centers around people exploring huge artifacts left behind by a vanished alien race.

And I came in here to mention Jack McDevitt's books but I see that Reality Chuck beat me to it, so I'll just second his recommendation even though I haven't finished the series yet (I just discovered it and am only up to Omega). It's interstellar archaeology from the Indiana Jones school of archaeology though (lots of improbable action and adventure, not that there is anything wrong with that).
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Old 06-27-2008, 02:52 PM
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Probably half or more of the stuff written by Andre Norton involves lost civilizations at some point. The Witch World books are full of them, various races of "Forerunners" in her Free Traders books ( such as Forerunner, The Zero Stone, Exiles of the Stars and Sargasso of Space ); the Ift in Judgement on Janus, whoever made the spooky ruins in Catseye.

The Trillium books by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Julian May and Andre Norton have a lost civilization as a backdrop ( and source of high-tech/magic goodies ) to a fantasy style culture.

Tanith Lee's Birthgrave has a main character who is the amnesiac lone survivor of a dead civilization, woken from a sleep of centuries.

A lost civilization is a major plot point of Barbara Hambly's The Darwath Trilogy, and a different ( nonhuman ) one in one of the sequels, The Mother of Winter.

Last edited by Der Trihs; 06-27-2008 at 02:57 PM.
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Old 06-27-2008, 03:12 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by muzzynyc
Elantris was an interesting idea that, ultimately, fizzled to me.
I don't think that was really the same sort of thing... the civilization was only "lost" ten years before.
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Old 06-27-2008, 03:31 PM
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Originally Posted by Helena
I don't think that was really the same sort of thing... the civilization was only "lost" ten years before.
I can see your point, but it was very much about understanding a fallen civilization and their technology/magic.
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Old 06-27-2008, 03:52 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Der Trihs
Probably half or more of the stuff written by Andre Norton involves lost civilizations at some point. The Witch World books are full of them, various races of "Forerunners" in her Free Traders books ( such as Forerunner, The Zero Stone, Exiles of the Stars and Sargasso of Space ); the Ift in Judgement on Janus, whoever made the spooky ruins in Catseye.
Also Galactic Derelict and The Defiant Agents. (Juveniles, really.)
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Old 06-27-2008, 04:22 PM
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Quote:
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Elantris was an interesting idea that, ultimately, fizzled to me.
Ditto. The premise was pretty cool, but the writing was uninspired. I tried to give it 50 pages but couldn't.
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Old 06-27-2008, 09:46 PM
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Another excellent series was the "Giants" series by James. P. Hogan. The first book in the series, "Inherit the Stars" starts with the discovery of a 40,000 year old corpse in a spacesuit on the Moon. I'll let you read the rest for yourself.
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Old 06-28-2008, 02:39 AM
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Pauline Gedge: Egyptian culture
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Old 06-28-2008, 08:27 AM
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The Last Camel Died At Noon by Elizabeth Peters. Lost village/city of Ancient Egyptians.
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Old 06-29-2008, 01:39 PM
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One of the sub-plots of Poul Anderson's Fire Time involves creatures who may or may not be descendants of a lost civilization, and one of the artifacts of that civilization.
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Old 06-29-2008, 07:56 PM
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Quote:
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And I came in here to mention Jack McDevitt's books but I see that Reality Chuck beat me to it, so I'll just second his recommendation...
Ditto, so I'll "third" that. McDevitt has two different series of books (the "Academy / Priscilla "Hutch" Hutchins" series and the "Alex Benedict" series) which both deal with xeno-archaeology and far future archaeology.

Since McDevitt seem's well represented I'll add a nomination for some of the works of Mike Resnick. A couple of his books that I've enjoyed, and that fit the OP are (lifting from his wiki page): The Dark Lady (an alien art dealer investigates a mysterious woman who appears in paintings created thousands of years apart), and Ivory (the search for a pair of tusks that covers thousands of years and dozens of worlds).
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Old 06-30-2008, 08:52 PM
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Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn books, starting with The Dragonbone Chair features several lost or declining civilizations, the main one being that of the Sithi who were mostly driven out of the lands where the main character, Simon, lived at the beginning of the book. Like Tolkein's Middle Earth, there's a sense of history and age to the world. Besides inevitable parallels to be drawn with Tolkein, Williams manages to work in medieval literature references (like Prester John) and history, and includes many cultures that are a lot different from your standard Celtic/European medieval fantasy setting.
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