Needed: Hard Sci-Fi recommendations

Need to get a gift for someone who reads a lot of sci-fi. I’m just a dabbler myself - Ender’s Game, Hyperion, that sort of thing, so, recommend for me, sci-fi that is:

#1: At least pretty good (need not be great)
#2: Kinda obscure (better chance of recipient not having read it)
#3: On the hard/intellectual side of things.

I know you folks can do it!

I’ve been enjoying Peter Hamilton’s stuff lately. His “Night’s Dawn” Trilogy was fairly entertaining, though sometimes even my eyes glazed over a bit. But when he was on task, I enjoyed it a lot.

I’m 2/3 of the way through his “Void” trilogy and enjoying that one, too. It takes place in the same Universe as “Pandora’s Star” and “Judas Unchained”, but about a millenium or so later than those novels.

And I just finished his singlet, “Fallen Dragon”, and found it very good, also.

All pretty hard SF.

My recommendation for new hard SciFi is anything by Alastair Reynolds, from his “Revelation Space” universe. His book, “Pushing Ice”, isn’t too shabby either. “Galactic North” is a collection of several novellas and short stories set in this universe and is a good start to understanding the social groups within that universe and the settings for many of his other stories. You can jump straight into Revelation Space, but he uses a lot of jargon and shorthand in passing, which can make the action difficult to follow.

The dialogue is prolix and for me, fails the “do people talk like this?” test, but still, he creates a Gothic space fantasy world that feels like a world should, where the inhabitants use nano and femto tech for extreme body modification and neural manipulation. It feels more real to me, than say, Larry Niven’s Known Space stories, which to me feel like 1960s Los Angeles, only with Puppeteer hulls and stasis fields. Reynolds’s universe is incredibly Gothic, alien and at times, quite horrifying. I love it.

Another hard SciFi author you might want to try is Charles Stross. Stross utilizes elements of hard SciFi in his work, but I think his primary purpose is to take the piss out of several literary and other genres and tropes. Which he does quite well. As very funny and well done as I think his books, “Singularity Sky”, “The Atrocity Archives”, and “The Jennifer Morgue” are, I am really waiting for some ideas of his own that don’t revolve around satirizing other peoples’ works. “Singularity Sky”, in particular, has a hilarious takedown of the “Honor Harrington” school of space opera technobabble.

Finally, though I wouldn’t call it Hard SciFi, you really owe it to yourself to check out Iain Banks’s novels about “the Culture.” Delightful Sci-Fi universe with, for a change, well written dialogue and characters deeper than cardboard.

Vernor Vinge’s “A Fire Upon The Deep” and its (IMO, lesser) prequel “A Deepness In The Sky” are two I would recommend. I didn’t like “Rainbows End” at all, but you might so I include it here.

Word of warning - don’t Wikipedia those titles, or you may as well not read them.

A friend of mine just recently self-published a hard sci-fi novel, which I finished reading a few days ago. Is that obscure enough for ya?

Exile Earth by J.P. Armond

A bit of a shameless plug for sure, but even if he wasn’t my friend, I’d still love this book; can’t wait for him to finish the rest of the series.

If you haven’t read it, get Hal Clement’s Mission of Gravity, one of the genre’s all-time great novels, from the man who created hard SF.

Thanks everyone! This is quite helpful!

go to and surf the free library of electronic books, it is a great way to cheaply see if you like the author. They also offer sample chapters of everything Baen publishes…

The first thing I thought of when I saw your title was the Night’s Dawn Trilogy Qadgop mentioned. It’s sprawling in whatever form you find it, but I enjoyed it immensely. (In fact, I bought the first four books paperback as a sophomore in highschool and had to wait several years for the last two to come out. That was a looooong wait.) I’ve enjoyed several of his other books and would recommend A Second Chance at Eden, a collection of short stories.

Tony Daniel is possibly a bit more obscure, so your receiver may enjoy Metaplanetary or Superluminal. Superluminal, though, didn’t receive rave reviews on Amazon. Personally, I fell in love with his short stories, “A Dry, Quiet War” and “The Robot’s Twilight Companion” through a best-of anthology and they have become two of my all-time favorites, regardless of genre.

A Fall of Moondust by Arthur C Clarke

Hard SF, obscure, not very intellectual although it does touch on themes still common today.

George R.R. Martin’s Tuf Voyaging is a wonderful collection of short stories about the misanthropic, sarcastic captain of a massive starship with very impressive ecological engineering and cloning capabilities. Great tales that tackle some interesting issues, including absolute power, overpopulation and militarism. I’ve often recommended the book here on the boards, and without exception everyone who’s read it has raved about it. Hope you like it, too.

Clarke’s The Fountains of Paradise is a very interesting look at building a space elevator or “beanstalk.”

John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War is the first book in a series, with humanity fighting a number of hostile alien races. It’s right up there with Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and Haldeman’s The Forever War for hard, page-turner military sf. Good, good stuff.

Niven and Pournelle’s The Mote in God’s Eye is one of the best-ever alien first contact stories, IMHO, set in the distant future when humanity is a starfaring empire climbing back up after a long fall.

I would recommend Iain M Banks Culture books .

This was my first thought, but I worry if it is sufficiently obscure. A little discreet questioning may be worthwhile. If the OP’s friend hasn’t read Banks, he’d be at the top of my list.

Because of repeated recommendations in threads like these, I picked up Peter Hamilton’s Fallen Dragon, and I’ve enjoyed it so much that I picked up three more of his books yesterday, without finishing the first.

Vernor Vinge is very, very hard SF. Possibly the hardest SF written today. I love him, and if you can find some of his older works, especially anthologies, they might be good. I’d avoid Tatja Grimm’s World, though. I found that book hard to read, and really not that interesting.

You might consider Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land in the expanded version. This is sufficiently different from the originally published version that it’s interesting to read. Similarly, his original version of Podkayne of Mars came out. He had to rewrite the ending to get it published originally, and his preferred ending is much darker, but is much more realistic and artistically satisfying.

If you can find some of H. Beam Piper’s old books, those are very hard, and not terribly common.

Fredrick Pohl is an old favorite. Platinum Pohl is a good collection of stories and novellas.

Stephen Baxter is a hard scifi author who is very good of making intelligent use of advanced topics in physics, especially the Xeelee Sequence novels and stories (Ring, Raft, Timelike Infinity, Vacuum Diagrams).


A. E. Van Vogt has sort of fallen by the wayside, but I’d read anything by that guy. Gregory Benford and Greg Bear are another couple of authors that I have enjoyed.

Frederick Pohl is one of my favourite authors, too, along with Clifford D. Simak. Simak maybe wasn’t hard sci fi, but he’s solid.

Here’s a thread I started asking for recommendations of newer science fiction books:

I suppose he’d be less likely to have read newer works.

Bruce Sterling, Kim Stanley Robinson - great writers IMO. Bruce Sterling is the best idea man in SF, but he also writes realistic characters.

Cordwainer Smith - when he’s good he’s fantastic. He will blow your mind. When he’s not so good, he’s still pretty good.

I liked Hominids, the first book of Robert J. Sawyer’s Neanderthal Parallax, despite its flaws. I was not as thrilled with the second book and I haven’t read the third.

Does your friend have Larry Niven’s Known Space stories?

Must get back to work …

I recommend Gateway.

Footfall by Niven and Pournelle is the definitive alien invasion of Earth novel. Lucifer’s Hammer is the definitive end of the world novel. For a while, they were trying to write the definitive novel for each major SF sub-genre (or cliche, if you will). I think mostly they succeeded.