Tuesday, April 28, 2009

SF/F Reading List for the 2000s

Now that I'm 'back in the genre,' I decided to ask a question from someone I respect. Lou Anders is the Editorial Director at Pyr books, an imprint of Prometheus Books. I have followed Anders' interviews throughout the SF/F blogosphere in places such as his own blog, the Pyr blog, and the brilliant but, sadly, discontinued Adventures in SciFi Publishing podcast.

A couple of weekends back, I contacted Mr. Anders via his blog. Here was my question.
I read SF/F growing up but, somewhere along the line, stopped reading it, instead focusing on crime fiction. I’m now working on a book with fun SF elements in it and I realized I’m woefully under-read when it comes to modern SF/F. I’ve started to rectify that deficiency (reading/about to read Martian General’s Daughter; City Without End; Brasyl; Blood of Ambrose) but I know I’m just scratching the surface. My library has both Fast Forward anthologies and I’ll probably get to them later this summer. Thus, my question: what are some of the must-read titles out in this decade that someone like me should read to get back up-to-speed with modern SF/F? I ask as a reader but also as a writer: I don’t want to copy something unknowingly in my new book that’s already been done.
Here, reprinted with permission from Mr. Anders, is his response.
As to a reading list, it would be only partially disenginuous to say "well, everything Pyr publishes." But I'll try to be broader minded than that. I'd say in SF right now, you haven't read contemporary science fiction if you've not read both John Scalzi and Charles Stross. Two very different writers, but they are the two to have made the biggest splash in the past decade. For Scalzi, you read Old Man's War. For Stross, anything really but maybe Acclerando and/or Halting State. I see you have Brasyl in the list, and I think, immodestly, that McDonald "owns" the global-SF space. He's less well-known than Scalzi or Stross, though he enjoys greater critical success than either outside the field (Time magazine, etc...), and is coming to be known as the most literary of all our contemporary writers (great honor to publish him). So I think that should definitely be in the mix. I'm biased, too, but I'd recommend John Meaney's Nulapeiron Sequence of Paradox, Context and Resolution. The Times called him "the first important SF writer of the 21st century" and Stross himself proclaimed Meaney, "the crowning jewel of the new British space opera." I have never read Peter F Hamilton but as someone who can move X number of books in hardcover, he's worth checking out certainly. And S M Stirling's new alt history series in which the Edgar Rice Burrough's view of the universe (Venus and Mars inhabited but during a Cold War era) is something I'd love to be reading if I had time to read outside my list. For short fiction, you can't beat Michael Swanwick, so I'd pick up a collection or two of his. And I would highly recommend David Louis Edelman's trilogy of Infoquake, MultiReal and the forthcoming Geosynchron for some of the best world-building you'll ever see. If you read all these, plus the books you mentioned (You realize City Without End is book 3 right? You need Bright of the Sky and A World Too Near first), you would certainly have a good picture of contemporary SF.

For fantasy, if you are a fan of Scott Lynch, then definitely read the James Enge, as well as Joe Abercrombie and Greg Keyes (the Kingdom of Thorn and Bone series, my litmus test for fantasy before I acquired Abercrombie). Personally, I am a fan of the "new, gritty, politically-aware, morally ambiguous" fantasy, which is what "Pyr fantasy" is coming to define itself as, so I'd point you towards our Tom Lloyd and forthcoming Joel Shepherd books as well. I've not read George RR Martin, but he's the 800 lb gorilla in the room of new fantasy. And of course China Mieville, who is a genius, but also, I think one of a kind and not someone to try to emulate.

And by all means read FF1 & 2, as those will be rapid introductions to the state of contemporary short fiction. And short fiction is still the best way to get attention/break in to the science fiction field. I assume you are familiar with Locus magazine, but you should have a subscription if you don't already, and study the "books sold" column every week.

And I recommend tracking down Michael Swanwick's The Post-modern Archipelago, a capbook published by Tachyon press that is actually two very insightful essays, one on SF and one on Fantasy that I found very informative in defining my own tastes/opinions a decade ago (hope it holds up, haven't gone back to it).

But I wouldn't worry too much about treading on others toes. What is the saying, "It's not who you take from, it's where you take it to." A better way of putting it, perhaps, is that - moreso than any other genre - science fiction is a dialogue between the practicioners. An idea is offered to the community, then other writers react to it, either in opposition or building on it. Vernor Vinge concieved of the "Singularity" and wrote the first Singularity SF, but Charles Stross popularized it (to the point of killing it?). After you read Brasyl, read Chris Roberson's End of the Century. Both are tri-fold stories, both involve swords that are honed to a molecule thickness, both have multiple realities and strange goings on at the end of time. And both are utterly different books. They were writing them both at the same time, in ignorance of each other, and I, their editor, was amazed at the commonalities. Just the zeitgeist at the time, I guess. So, read absolutely. Read everything and learn, but then go and do what you are lead to do and don't worry so much about reinventing the wheel.
Well, there you have it. I thank Mr. Anders for taking the time to answer my question in detail.

Which, of course, leads to a question for you: What are some of the books I should add to my reading list?


  1. Here I write science fiction and dark fantasy and rarely read it. Books in the fantasy element would be Elizabeth Haydon's Rhapsody series, Naomi Novik's Temeraire series, Jack Whyte has an excellent series on King Arthur and now one on the Templars, S M Stirling and Harry Turtledove for their speculative fiction in alternative universes, G P Taylor writes YA dark fantasy: Shadowmancer and Wormwood, gave me chills when I read the latter two.

    To get new scientific concepts into my work I read non-fiction science books on quantum theory, black holes, string theory, etc.

    I feel a writer's best work comes from what they like to read.

  2. Great idea for a blog. I've got it on my reader.
    I'm the type who browses the SF section at the store but rarely buys anything because I'm so uninformed on current authors. Also-Congrats on the short story. I haven't read it yet but will soon.

  3. Barbara - I know Turtledove's work and have a few here with me. I appreciate his attention to detail especially in his The Guns of the South where he listed the election results for both the US and CS elections post Civil War. I heard about Novik's stories only after interviewing her husband, Charles Ardai. The rest I don't know...but will.

    Matthew - Glad you joined me on the adventure. It's not a solo expedition. All are free to join. Oh, and thanks for the praise on the story.

    BTW - Somehow my template has carried with it some remnants of an earlier template I was trying out. Apologies for that. I'm working on creating my own template and will launch that as soon as I get it ready.

  4. I would also suggest S.M. Stirling. I have almost everything he has written and never been disappointed. I have read most of what Scalzi has written as well and enjoyed it. I haven't gotten around to Stross yet, but he is on my list.

    PS, I like the new direction

  5. Neal Stephenson, M. John Harrison, Midwinter by Matthew Sturges (an interesting different take on elves).

  6. I should have included Justina Robson.

  7. For short stories, I can recommend Robert Reed. For novels --not a new author--but I've been enjoying Jack McDevitt.

  8. The new Neal Stephenson certainly - Anathem - and I'd second Jack McDevitt, I loved A Talent for War almost as much as my two favourite SF novels ever - The Player of Games and Excession by Iain M Banks. For fantasy novels, I'd add Steven Erikson's Malazan series which is a must-read along with George Martin. For something a bit different, Mike Carey's Felix Castor novels are great supernatural noir

  9. Doug - Your suggestions are noted. And I'm glad you like the new direction. Now, we'll be talking the same books.

    CES - Midwinter is on my immediate TBR pile. It's available via Audible. I've read Stephenson's Snow Crash awhile back, perhaps one of the last SF books I've read until now. I'll look up Harrison.

    Lou - Robson is now on the list.

    Richard - I know Reed's name but that's about it. And I've heard many good things about McDevitt.

    Tom - A Talent for War is the very book I've been told about. Don't know your other two favorites. Nor do I know the Malazan series. GRRM's a name big enough to transcend the genre so I'm going to read his major series (Fire and Ice, right?). And I'll add the Castor books, too. BTW, I checked out The Stormcaller and it's on my list as well. Gorgeous cover, BTW. Thanks for stopping by.

  10. Well the other two are a bit older, but brilliant all the same and the best ones books by an amazing writer. The Malazan series, in my opinion, has a greater scope and vision than any other series of any sort ever written, whatever the genre. It's hard work at times because there's so much to keep up with, but a stunning achievement.

    Glad you're going to check out Stormcaller too, I do love the covers they've used!


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