Reading science fiction for the first time

Issa Rae Snl GIF by Saturday Night Live


I certainly don’t disagree with anything you’ve said - both have their low points! I was talking in the general, not making accusations. :slight_smile:

Oh yes. A lot of older stories are products of their time in many different ways. Even authors that we think of as inventive are constrained by the views of their time.

I was just saying to a friend last week that Hollywood would probably love to try to adapt H. G. Wells’ “When The Sleeper Wakes”, were it not for the incredibly racist parts. And if they did adapt it, they’d probably cock it up. Most likely by simply taking the idea of brutal, savage and uncivilised African[1] legions being used to pacify the civilised and intelligent European cities when they revolt against the ruling class, and swapping them for something best described as either an alien-washing or a robot-washing of the actual issue.
The story is an interesting and swashbuckling one, with plenty of commentary on society and the human condition. But it has a fundamentally racist component, so makes for more difficult reading today.

[1] African is not the word that they use to describe these legions. I’m pretty sure everyone can guess what the word was, because I am NOT going to use it here.


They managed to do it with Lovecraft…


You’ll get no argument from me on that front.

Again, the issue here is not that we build on prior things, but that it’s very difficult NOT to… And even more difficult to build anew in a way that is easy to read…


And I’d argue that the best sci-fi writers aren’t attempting to build something “novel” but are aware that culture works best when built on what went before. What makes Foundation great is that it’s intelligible because of its grounding in something familiar, just like fantasy works like Tolkien.


There are some absolutely excellent SF and Fantasy writers out there, and there is some utter dreck. They both comprise the most imaginative attempts at rethinking core concepts I’ve ever found.

Sometimes even an horribly written book will have an astounding core idea, though I rarely make it through the first 3 chapters of bad books anymore.


Sure. What makes a “good” book is complicated and often subjective, too. Let’s not forget that.

But I’d also say that sci-fi and fantasy are the two most relevant literary genres of the modern era, which helps explain why they are being found all over TV and films and being taken seriously as such.


A Clockwork Orange anyone?

That has to be the most first-page-shocker of them all given it’s written in its own unique language?

Edit for typo.


Tolkien didn’t “steal” anything, anymore than Chuck Jones and Michael Maltese did for “What’s Opera, Doc.” It’s what artists do. The influences, borrowing, and repurposing are right there in the open. The names of the dwarves (and others) in The Hobbit are straight out of Snorri Sturluson, for example. From The Prose Edda:

Then sought the gods | their assembly-seats,
The holy ones, | and council held,
To find who should raise | the race of dwarfs
Out of Brimir’s blood | and the legs of Blain.

There was Motsognir | the mightiest made
Of all the dwarfs, | and Durin next;
Many a likeness | of men they made,
The dwarfs in the earth, | as Durin said.

Nyi and Nithi, | Northri and Suthri,
Austri and Vestri, | Althjof, Dvalin,
Nar and Nain, | Niping, Dain,
Bifur, Bofur, | Bombur, Nori,
An and Onar, | Ai, Mjothvitnir.

Vigg and Gandalf | Vindalf, Thrain,
Thekk and Thorin, | Thror, Vit and Lit,
Nyr and Nyrath,— | now have I told–
Regin and Rathsvith— | the list aright.

Fili, Kili, | Fundin, Nali,
Heptifili, | Hannar, Sviur,
Frar, Hornbori, | Fræg and Loni,
Aurvang, Jari, | Eikinskjaldi.

The race of the dwarfs | in Dvalin’s throng
Down to Lofar | the list must I tell;
The rocks they left, | and through wet lands
They sought a home | in the fields of sand.

There were Draupnir | and Dolgthrasir,
Hor, Haugspori, | Hlevang, Gloin,
Dori, Ori, | Duf, Andvari,
Skirfir, Virfir, | Skafith, Ai.

Alf and Yngvi, | Eikinskjaldi,
Fjalar and Frosti, | Fith and Ginnar;
So for all time | shall the tale be known,
The list of all | the forbears of Lofar.

And everyone’s read Sturluson, so no surprises.


I’m not sure treating these two as separate things is valid. They both encompass innumerable sub-genres and many that straddle both (Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffery and Safehold by David Weber come to mind.)


I am going to derail your conversation by asking a silly question:

What book or series should I start next to distract myself from… basically everything?

I am still waiting for Jasper Fforde publishing the promised Shades of Grey sequels and don’t think that Jack Spratt will return, I ran out material of the St. Mary’s cosmos by Jodi Taylor, finished Genevieve Cogman’s Invisible Library series, got only the comics left from Ben Aronovitch’s Rivers of London series (which I refuse to read on an e-ink display, and that’s basically the only way I can read books in bed these days), I read both Penumbra books by Robin Sloane, finished The Midnight Library by Matt Haig, and the final book of the Hell’s Library series by A.J. Hackwith isn’t available in my region, yet.

So, any suggestions on eye candy?

The next one may or may not have a first sentence in gobbledygook, but it has to be at least intelligently entertaining.


I’m not the original poster, but breaks new ground… happens to be all about earthquakes…


Oh, derp.


If you don’t mind that it is nominally Young Adult, I would recommend Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea.


Clearly your English is excellent, so I’m not going to use that as a filter. Also, this is IMHO, de gustibus non est disputandum

Susannah Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is excellent. (Set during the Napoleonic Wars, in a world where magic exists, but has been forgotten as a practical discipline until very recently.)

Tom Holt’s works, especially the earlier ones, can be entertaining: they’re comedy fantasy, but really reward the readers deeper and broader erudition. I have a special place for Who’s Afraid of Beowulf?, Flying Dutch, and Faust Among Equals.

ETA: Charlie Stross. Whether the sci-fi stuff like Halting State and Accelerando, or The Laundry Files, which are spy novels in a universe where Lovecraftian eldritch horrors are very very real.

Sergey Lukyanenko’s The Night Watch and sequels. Originally in Russian, but the English translations I’ve found were excellently done, and I’m sure there are German translations as well.


If you enjoyed the Rivers of London series, I’d recommend the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher. While I haven’t read anything by Aronovich (yet), I’ve seen the two series compared fairly often on fan boards. The series revolves around Harry Dresden, a private investigator and wizard, who solves supernatural mysteries (with a certain amount of noir flavoring.) Between novels, short stories and comic books, there’s a ton of material, and the general consensus is that the quality holds up throughout the series.

If you’re more into urban fantasy/horror, I highly recommend Lilith Saintcrow. I prefer her Jill Kismet series over the Dante Valentine saga, but both are very good (and completed.) Jill and Dante are both strong, supernaturally-talented women who fight both monsters and the darker parts of their pasts. If you prefer a more traditional fantasy style, the Steelflower novels are a good choice, though I’m not sure if/when the next one’s coming out.

I thoroughly enjoyed Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao, which has been described as “young adult Pacific Rim meets ancient Chinese history.” After suffering a lifetime of her culture’s misogyny, Wu Zetian wants revenge, and there’s little she won’t do to get it. She decides to kill the mecha pilot who murdered her sister, and finds herself trapped in a web of politics and intrigue. Her answer: burn it all down. (Fair warning: the next book doesn’t have a release date yet.)


I thought you were intentionally making a pun.


Exactly. As I understand it, Tolkien was deliberately trying to tie together the various regional mythologies into a coherent pan-European myth which otherwise didn’t exist, so the similarity of various elements of his stories to existing mythologies is entirely the point. (Source: Tolkien: Author of the Century, read twenty years ago, so I could be misremembering.)


Might I suggest looking at Rebecca Roanhorse? She has started two series so far; one post-apocalyptic with strong Navajo strains (first one is Trail of Lightning), and another not-truly-prehistoric Mesoamerican (first one is Black Sun). Very readable and worldbuilding from an uncommon perspective.


I was not, and now I’m ashamed that I did not… you however…

Alex Trebek Yes GIF by Jeopardy!