My blood ran cold when I first read those Peter F Hamilton alien descriptions. Hamilton also writes hugely long trilogies. Even if you’re a quick reader getting through one of his three-book stories takes a long time, but it’s a brilliant page-turning ride. For about a month of my life I thought I was reading fantasy before he explained what was going on with science. Quite brilliant if not stunningly hard or original.
I’ll add another vote to Iain M Banks. When he includes the M in his name he’s doing sci-fi. Otherwise you be reading something odd.
All Bujold’s Vorkosigan books are available free here, except for Memory. Baen released them on a CD that came with Cryoburn. The books are in anthologies, and I can’t quite remember what order they should be read in chronologically. It starts with Cordelia’s Honor and then Young Miles, but after that my memory fails me. It’s either Miles Errant or Miles, Mystery, and Mayhem. Cryoburn is the last one, though, and Memory comes before Miles in Love.
Bujold recently finished a new book about Ivan, too. It’s called Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance and is being published in November of this year.
They are amazing. Everyone should read them.
madmonk28, you might like The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. I found the aliens in that pretty unsettling, and the science is more sociology, anthropology and linguistics than physics.
Thanks again, I’ll bookmark this page and start chipping away at the list.
If I could ask a couple of questions:
Does Heinlein hold up over the years? I always thought he was kind of right wing and mysogynistic (but I’ve never read him).
I thought Niven was fantasy? (but never read him)
If I could refine my interest even more:
How about humans first contacting an alien species, or interacting with a truly alien species (ala Solaris)?
2.What about space explorers instead of space soldiers? What I mean is something akin to Lewis and Clark’s expedition but in space. (that looks really cheesy once it’s written down).
Which of the books listed above have plausible space combat (not car chases in space swerving around asteroids)?
So everyone stop everything they’re doing to answer my questions so that I can be entertained in the most precise way possible.
Some of it. RAH is definitely not to everybody’s tastes. Mysogynistic? Heavens no. Just the opposite. But he also respects competency over everything else, and it shows in his characters.
Niven writes some fantasy, but he is best known as a solid hard-SF author.
1a. Lots of the recommended books have that. Footfall, for example, deals with the Earth being invaded by elephants with prehensile trunks and disco shoes.
2a. You want exploring? Try Ringworld.
3a. Space combat? Again, Footfall. Orion vs Dumbo in a free-fall cage match. Or any of David Weber’s Honor Harrington books. Or his The Apocalypse Troll.
I loved *Firestar *- it made me feel like I feel when I watch The Right Stuff. I also love Flynn’s novel Eifelheim, which has a first-contact scenario that takes place in a 14th-century German village.
For another first contact novel there’s Blindsight, by Peter Watts. The characterization left me a bit cold, but it has interesting aliens and some fascinating intellectual arguments. The book is largely concerned with how easily our brain is fooled into seeing/hearing/feeling what doesn’t exist, and ignoring what does. You can download it for free here: http://www.rifters.com/real/Blindsight.htm.
Its been mentioned in passing but let me suggest Rendezvous with Rama as probably exactly what you want, an enormous object is entering the solar system and some near future astronauts are sent to investigate. The science on Earth’s end is very hard and its a very unusual story, exploration instead of any real conflict.
I would venture Niven is best known for “hard” SF; in fact I wasn’t even aware he’d done any fantasy until I took a look at his Wikipage. (He actually addressed errors pointed out to him by readers in his Ringworld novel in the sequel, The Ringworld Engineers.)
Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game series addresses first contact with alien species; it begins as space battle, but the later books in the series deal more directly with alien intelligence (they also get more preachy as the series goes on, though).
Plausible space combat? I’d say both Haldeman’s Forever War and Scalzi’s Old Man’s War are attempts to be realistic about future battle, including the effects of relativistic space travel. I’ve only read the first installment of the aforementioned Lost Fleet series (Dauntless), but that one takes a very realistic view of space battles, where the relativistic effects on the ships involved in battle are actually factored into strategy by the ships’ captains.
Heinlein does hold up to some extent; the thing about reading Heinlein is that you’d have a massive hole in your science fiction reading if you never read his books. He’s one of the Grand Masters for very good reasons.
The Imago series has very alien aliens - they have three sexes!
The Hamilton books would be my first choice, I think they are all pretty brilliant. And he generally has really good strong female characters.
Another favorite of mine that is seldom mentioned in these discussions is Kevin J Anderson’s “Saga of the Seven Suns” It’s a expansive ( 7 volume ) space opera, easier reading than Peter Hamilton or Ian Banks and it’s a really enjoyable story …it has totally alien elemental aliens as well as evil robots and space gypsies and major political intrigue.
Given these two particular interest you pretty much HAVE to read “The Sparrow.” Not only is it an amazingly well written book, but it’s dead on to your interest of civillian space travel and first contact stories. Also “Player of Games” by Ian M. Banks, in particular of the Culture novels already listed.
A completely cheesy, bad novel that I yet remember fondly, is Prostho Plus, by cheesemeister extraordinaire Piers Anthony; the adventures of a hapless Earth prosthodontist, who travels the galaxy bravely solving alien dental problems. I wouldn’t pay good money for it but if you can find a copy cheap its good for some lulz.
Heinlein is and always will be Heinleinish; he has some odd ideas about women that aren’t precisely mysogynistic, he actually has lots of strong female characters, it’s more his ideas about sex that creepily intrude where they aren’t needed. Him and Piers Anthony are pretty much the Lolita Twins when it comes to obsessing about nubile preteen girls who are just starving for cock, and Heinlein also regularly treats incest approvingly. That doesn’t mean that ALL Heinlein’s work contains these messages or should be dismissed for having them, but caveat emptor when wandering afield from the Juveniles and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (genuinely one of the classic SF novels ever written).
Niven in my opinion is better at coming up with ideas than writing books. He does put forth some interesting ideas. It just depends if you’re keen on them being encased in a good novel (which they generally aren’t, IMHO). I think he’s better, often brilliant, in the short story format. YMMV.
Yeah, I loved this book when I read it in college. Definitely one of my favorites as well. I also enjoyed Starship Troopers on your list. I never really got much out of The Forever War by Joe Haldeman, though I know a lot of 'dopers really liked it. It just didn’t do much for me.