I came to SciFi fairly late. I enjoyed George Lucas and Steven Spielberg films along with everyone else as a kid in the 70s and 80s. I was introduced to Star Trek “The Next Generation” by a girlfriend, and later enjoyed the slightly crazy mashup of sci fi and pseudo history that was Stargate. For novels my tastes were closer to thriller or historical, spies and detectives; the likes of Leon Uris, James Clavell, Robert Harris, CJ Sansom, or even trashier adventures such as Desmond Bagley, Daniel Silva and Wilbur Smith (before he started hiring ghost writers).
Sci Fi seemed something best served in the cinema or on TV. I tried some of the classics such as Arthur C Clarke but was never taken by them. However I have more recently discovered that there are some great sci fi novels – well worth the effort even if they’ll never win any literary awards. So I’m sharing a few lesser known authors for anyone looking for something different.
Reynolds is a Welshman with a background in science. He is also an underrated writer in my view; sometimes quirky but always entertaining (with the exception of his Poseidens Children series, and the co-written Medusa Chronicles, which was terrible). Some of his standout books include;
Revelation Space series: A series of six books that are well worth a read. The background story which explains why we have not encountered any aliens is surprisingly plausible, even if unlikely)
Century Rain, Pushing Ice and House of Suns are my favourite of his stand alone novels. Century Rain is essentially a detective story in a typical Reynold context. Pushing Ice is a simple idea that is executed brilliantly, and could make a great film. House of Suns is one of my favourites, although you may need to be slightly nuts to enjoy it!
Her first three novels are original and may not be to everyones taste. They are not fast paced but they are well written, and there is a certain charm about them – especially the main character. They fully deserve the awards they have won. Her more recent novel Provenance is set in the same ‘universe’, but never quite gelled the way the first three did.
Hyperion is a series of four novels, or two series of two. These were well ahead of their time – a “new space opera” before there were “new space operas” in many ways. Simmons clearly has a love of literature – and the likes of John Keats’ poems are woven through the storyline.
Mary Doria Russell
The Sparrow and its follow up are at times harrowing. But they are also very good, and will stay with you long after you close the last page.
Robert Charles Wilson
Spin, Axis and Vortex are a trilogy that I really enjoyed. Original but also an engaging and authenitc adventure that left me wanting more. Some of his stand alone books are not great, but The Chronoliths and Burning Paradise are among those that are as good as the trilogy.
The Old Mans War series are perhaps Scalzi’s best known books, and I enjoyed them all. There’s nothing wildly original, but the idea of earth feeding the colonial space army with OAPs in new bodies provides an often amusing backdrop for the books. Out of his stand alones, Fuzzy nation had me laughing aloud at times. The Consuming Fire – the first of his new series – is perhaps his best book so far, and I’m looking forward to the next in the series.
The plots in Chambers books are a bit weak, but there is nonetheless enough in the characters and their adventures for them to deserve a mention.
If you can live with spiders at the centre of your story, Children of Time is worth a read.
There are of course other good sci fi writers, Ian M Banks being notable and brilliant in his own realm of SciFi. Ursula Le Guin “The Lathe of Heaven” still stands its ground through time, and certainly hasn’t aged as badly as some earlier SciFi seems destined to do. However the authors above are all less well known than they should be, and I don’t believe you need to be a fan of SciFi to enjoy them. Several could make excellent films.
I’m sure there are more out there that I’ve not yet come across. Recently I tried the well regarded Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin, but could not finish it. I’m currently struggling through Peter F Hamilton’s “Pandora’s Star”, and unless something changes soon, that too will be the last of Hamilton’s books I try (it seems to have promise but just doesn’t get anywhere…). Maybe its time to find a good spy novel, or the latest CJ Samson Shardlake novel, while I wait for Reynolds and Scalzi next release….
Update: Peter Hamilton’s “Pandora’s Star” two book series is better than I expected after the first few chapters. His style is loose and at times a tad verbose, but like a meandering river it has enough bredth to carry you along and make the journey worthwhile. Of course, its necessary to suspend disbelief in the common false assumptions of sci-fi, such that restoring memories to a clone body could result in a continuation of the same being. Its a step even further into the implausible than the Star Trek transporter, but this is of course just fiction.