My therapist left voicemail for me today. When I saw it was from her, I assumed it was to reschedule my next appointment; however, the Google Voice transcription of her message revealed something else in the works:
Voicemail from: [REDACTED] at 5:17 PM
Jim Hi. This is [REDACTED], I have a M of eating question for you. I’m looking for a column sci-fi book or a series of books for somebody who’s read most of the usual. I was under thing, and I wondered if you had. You know I remember you like sci-fi a lot and I wondered if you had any recommendations that something just. So mainstream that you think would be really interesting, you can text me if you if you can call me or text me in. With the either and yes you know something. Or or even with the info or there’s no you don’t. Hey, anything right off the top of it. I would appreciate it. Thank you so much, [REDACTED]. Bye.
Obviously, Google Voice’s transcript didn’t exactly capture the gist of her request, so I called her. It turns out she had a request for recommendations of (reasonably) current science fiction for someone who’d been reading a lot of Asimov, Clarke, and Herbert. In other words, someone 40 years out of date. Here was my email response:
About this list
Here are some scifi or science fiction and fantasy books I think are excellent, grouped by stand-alones vs. series. These are not in any particular order except I put Iain M. Banks first because I am most fond of his work.
Iain M. Banks wrote a number of amazing books in the universe of The Culture. If I could move to any fictional universe, this would be this one. You can read the books in any order but one would be better off starting with “Consider Phlebas”, “Excession”, or “The Player of Games”. A particular favorite of mine is “Use of Weapons”. Be aware that Banks also wrote mainstream fiction under the name Iain Banks (without the “M”). Those books are good but will disappoint someone looking for scifi.
I love, love, love Max Barry’s “Jennifer Government”, which takes place in a near future where corporations run everything to such an extent that people’s surnames are taken from their employer. For example, my name would be Kim [REDACTED] and my wife would be [REDACTED]. Great fun and very well written.
Philip K. Dick wrote a number of books and short stories that later were made into significant movies. His “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” became the film “Blade Runner”, for example. One of his best is “A Scanner Darkly”.
I recently finished Paulo Bacigalupi’s “The Windup Girl” and can recommend it most highly.
William Gibson has written a number of modern classics in the genre, most famously “Neuromancer”.
Neil Stephenson has written some brilliant stuff like “Snow Crash”, “The Diamond Age”, and “Anathem” but he has also written some of the worst examples of logorrhea I have ever encountered, like his Baroque Trilogy, which begins with the 1000+ page brick called “Cryptonomicon”. Stick with the first three.
I think Dan Simmons’ four-volume Hyperion series should be taught in university. It’s that good. The first one is “Hyperion”, unsurprisingly, followed by “The Fall of Hyperion”, “Endymion”, and “The Rise of Endymion”. Brilliant work.
Justina Robson’s Quantum Gravity series is a mashup of scifi and fantasy. She has a ton of fun screwing up the usual, predictable tropes and turning them inside-out. The first book is called “Keeping it Real”.
Charles Stross has done both stand-alones and series. I’d start with either “Accelerando” or “Singularity Sky”, which both start series but can be read by themselves.
Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space series is brilliant, and that’s the name of the first book, too. Big themes, very much hard scifi, events that take epochs to unfold. Wonderful work.
Robert Charles Wilson has written series and stand-alones. His most recent excellent series begins with the book “Spin”, but I can also recommend the stand-alones “Gypsies” and “Bios”.
China Mieville has written a number of deeply strange books that take place in and around New Crobuzon, on the planet Bas-Lag. They can be read in any order, I think. The first is “Perdido Street Station” but my favorite in the series is “The Scar”.
I have not read John Scalzi’s “Old Man’s War”, but I’ve read enough about it that I’m confident in recommending. He’s the closest thing we’ve got to a modern Heinlein.
Hope this helps.
P.S. Yes, I have been rather stuck on the SCP series of creepypasta of late. I’m midway through the 700s at this point.