David Louis Edelman David Louis Edelman

Introductory Science Fiction Books for Literary Readers

In my post a while back about bad Infoquake reviews, I mentioned how I’ve given William Gibson’s Neuromancer and Frank Herbert’s Dune to a few friends as a way to introduce them to quality science fiction, only to hear later that these friends didn’t care for them. Some of the commenters in the aforementioned blog article didn’t care much for Neuromancer or Dune either.

So my question today is: what are some quality SF books you can hand off to literate non-SF readers as an introduction to the genre?

Let’s say your readers in question are already discerning connoisseurs of quality literature. They’re not typically readers of so-called pulp novels or airport thrillers. They would think nothing of bundling down with a Philip Roth or a Don DeLillo or a Barbara Kingsolver or something that The New York Times Book Review would approve of. They know who Michiko Kakutani is, and they were reading Cormac McCarthy years before Oprah ever heard of him. But as soon as you mention the words “science fiction,” they picture Klingons with light sabers jumping off spaceships with big-breasted ninja assassins in tow and bug-eyed monsters in hot pursuit while a supernova goes off in the background.

What do you hand to these people to convince them that there’s a lot of intelligent literary science fiction that’s worth reading? (I’m just going to stick to science fiction here — however loosely defined that term is — and maybe we can talk about fantasy another time.) I should emphasize that inclusion on either my do/do not lists are not indicators of the quality of the books themselves.

My main criteria for inclusion is that the book has to generally be filed in the “Science Fiction” section of your local bookstore. Which means no George Orwell, Jorge Luis Borges, or Italo Calvino, however much we believe their works should be filed in our camp. We’ve got to tempt these people into the rows with the Dragonlance books and the life-size cutout of Darth Vader, folks.

(Yes, people have posted a zillion “great works in science fiction” on the web… but I haven’t seen many that specifically focus on the quote-unquote literary. Perhaps it’s pointless and elitist to call these people quote-unquote literary readers. But you all know who I’m talking about. Come up with a better name if you want.)

Some of my nominees:

  • Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. This book’s strong right-wing bent might turn some people totally off science fiction. But it’s hard to argue that this is a tremendously thoughtful book. It might also open some people’s eyes to the fact that the science fiction you see in the movies has very little resemblance to the science fiction you see on the bookshelves.
  • Robert Charles Wilson’s Spin. Some SF types were turned off by this Hugo Award winner because it was too hoity-toity and thinky-thinky. But for literary types, the languid pace and abundance of Big Ideas makes for a good read.
  • Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. Hey, science fiction can do feminism too! And not just feminism, but pangenderism and transgenderism and everything else genderismic. In fact, Le Guin and many others like her tackle these issues with much more daring than many of their non-SF contemporaries.
  • Ian McDonald’s River of Gods. So immersed is this novel in Indian culture and so masterful is Mr. McDonald’s prose that it’s hard to imagine anyone putting down this book as one of little substance.
  • John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War. Yes, there are space cadets and bug-eyed aliens in this one, and the covers wouldn’t necessarily inspire much confidence for the non-SF reader. But there’s also plenty of humor, sex, politics, and social commentary crammed in there, enough to convince many an SF skeptic.
  • Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001. Hoity-toity artsy types are likely to give this book a fair shot because of the Stanley Kubrick film. Which, in case you were wondering, is one of the greatest films ever made (though a little difficult to follow unless you’ve read the book).
  • William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition. Hardly science fictional at all, but Gibson is such a master stylist and such a keen thinker on matters of business and technology that reading this book just might suck you into his more futuristic stuff.
  • Vernor Vinge’s A Deepness in the Sky. The intellectual heft of this book isn’t quite so apparent at first blush, and the spider people might roll some eyeballs. But the man can write, and his discussions of individuality-versus-groupthink are both powerful and subtle.

Some great books that, on careful reflection, are probably not great books to give to a non-SF reader right out of the gate:

  • William Gibson’s Neuromancer. Gibson has the habit of throwing out technical terms that are integral to the plot, and then not explaining them for another 10 to 20 pages. Add to that the moody, noirish atmosphere, and the unexperienced reader might suspect they’re reading some cheap knock-off of Blade Runner.
  • Most later Heinlein. All that kinky sex and incest stuff might creep them out, and many of the later books are so full of inside jokes that they’re difficult to penetrate. I don’t think I’d recommend Time Enough for Love to anyone, except my wife, who stubbornly insists this is his best novel.
  • Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. As excellent as this novel is — it’s one of my all-time faves, and served as inspiration for a couple of chapters in my Infoquake — stylistically the book’s a little sensationalistic. I’d say you’d be better off starting (and ending) with Speaker for the Dead.
  • Isaac Asimov’s Foundation. Literary readers are suckers for style. And say what you will about Asimov’s ideas — most of us agree they were pretty frickin’ fantastic — but his prose is pretty clunky and juvenile.
  • Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles. Ditto.
  • Anything by Philip K. Dick. In my own personal experience, you don’t begin to understand what PKD is doing until you’ve read four or five of his books. They just read like bad pulp SF novels. Which they are. Which is why they’re so totally fucking brilliant.
  • Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz. This happens to be one of my favorite books ever ever, but on first reading the opening 50 pages come across like some sort of pretentious Twilight Zone episode. It’s so much more than that, but readers might not have the patience.
  • Frank Herbert’s Dune. Again, one of my favorite novels. But the opening quarter of the book is a little too pulpish and full of funny names and mythologies for the uninitiated. It takes some patience for this one to open up to you.
  • Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. A great, great book, but too fanboyish and flippant for the uninitiated.
  • Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s Slaughterhouse-Five. Astute readers will point out to you that this is not really a SFnal novel about a man who’s come unstuck in time, but a poignant novel about a man who’s been driven insane by the horrors of war. (Besides which, few venues file this one with the science fiction.)
  • Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep. One whiff of the talking wheeled plant people, and your average Anne Tyler reader is outta there. A Deepness in the Sky is a better bet.

So what am I missing? I know these lists skew heavily towards the obvious, but then again I’m not as well-read in SF as some of you out there. Clue me in on what I’m missing.

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  1. semanticdrifter on June 26, 2007 at 11:29 am  Chain link

    How about some Octavia Butler? Maybe Kindred? While it wasn’t totally my cup of tea, I think it was sufficiently dense and well-crafted to be seen as literary. It also tackled some serious subject matter, and did so with passion and intensity.

  2. Paul Raven on June 26, 2007 at 1:30 pm  Chain link

    Recommend Geoff Ryman’s Air, perhaps. A brilliant book, and literary as all hell.

  3. Greg on June 26, 2007 at 2:20 pm  Chain link

    I would say that Stephen Baxter’s Evolution is thought provoking enough to interest most astute readers.

  4. King Rat on June 26, 2007 at 3:07 pm  Chain link

    Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451
    Russell’s The Sparrow
    Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon
    Haldeman’s Forever War

    I would also throw in Lethem’s Gun With Occasional Music, but B&N files his stuff under general fiction.

  5. David Louis Edelman on June 26, 2007 at 3:14 pm  Chain link

    I think Flowers for Algernon is generally filed in the general fiction section too.

  6. Lou Anders on June 26, 2007 at 5:15 pm  Chain link

    Theodore Sturgeon’s More Than Human. I defy anyone to read the first three pages (right to the first section break) and not come away with the impressin that this prose is as elegant as any piece of “literary” fiction.

    I second the nomination of The Sparrow too. And we could probably add Silverberg’s Dying Inside, though Tom O’Bedlam is a personal favorite of mine.

    RE: Asimov – I feel it would be a service to the genre if he went out of print. I meet so many people who tell me they “read some science fiction once” and didn’t like it. They go to the bookstore, they start at the A’s, they recognize the name, and they read something that is 50 years old and wonder why it doesn’t speak to them. Asimov should be the province of the historian, the critic and the beginning writer – like latin for linguists. But he shouldn’t be out there tripping up the beginning reader. A friend of mine’s daughter was assigned Fahrenheit 451. I told her, “You poor girl. That book will bore you silly.” And then recommended Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies trilogy to her. And I was right – saw them last week and learned she hated the Bradbury but is now a Westerfeld fan.

    It’s like that scene in Crocodile Dundee when he sees the tv, says “I saw one of them once,” then turns on I LOVE LUCY and says, “Yeah, that’s what I saw” and turns it back off.

    Schools that teach Fahrenheit 451 are doing us no favors. They should teach Un Lun Dun and Mortal Engines instead.

    Also, every book is NOT for every person. I generally ask someone – not what they read because nobody ever really answers this with more than “everything” – but what movies they particularly liked recently. I get five or ten films they liked, then zero in on a book that will speak to them for some of the same reasons.

    Oh, and the “average reader” is as afraid of literature as they are of SF. I tried to turn a lawyer-friend of mine onto Pattern Recognition. He read the first page, and backed away like I’d handed him a viper, hollering “that’s literature!” So I led him over to the stack of Da Vinci Codes instead and said, “Here, I think this is what you are really looking for.”

  7. christopher on June 26, 2007 at 5:46 pm  Chain link

    well im no literature snob, but damn pattern-recognition just put me to sleep. i really tried, but i only got a little over half-way through it. and it’s certainly NOT sci-fi. don’t ever give that book to someone in order to get them into sci-fi.

    Give them the Ender’s Game short story. I thought the novel was good too, but that short story is amazing. I’ve never had a miss with that one.

  8. Nancy Jane Moore on June 26, 2007 at 6:02 pm  Chain link

    How about something by Carol Emshwiller — The Mount or Carmen Dog. Beautiful writing, definitely literary, wonderfully strange, and full of complex ideas.
    Or Stan Robinson’s 40 Signs of Rain. Not as literary, but very accessible to the non-SF reader.
    Something by Karen Joy Fowler, perhaps the collection Black Glass (her novels are closer to fantasy). “The View From Venus” is a wonderful story and would probably appeal to a lot of non-SF readers. Also “the Faithful Companion at Forty.” You could even cheat and let the person read The Jane Austen Book Club first — which isn’t SF, but which will charm any Janeites among your acquaintance — and then try them on her SF.
    I’ve heard that a lot of readers are put off by the fact that lots of SF books start out by throwing out terms and situations that don’t make sense until you’ve read a few chapters. I happen to like that, but it probably means books that use this format aren’t good choices for newbies.
    On those grounds, I wouldn’t try Starship Troopers — besides, it’s full of clunky writing and carries a bad rep from the movie. (I liked it, but I allowed for certain things in reading it.) I’m not sure I’d do The Left Hand of Darkness, either — or at least, I’d let them read some Earthsea first.
    Pattern Recognition strikes me as a good choice for introduction to Gibson — I’d think any thriller reader would like it, though maybe (given Lou’s post above) it’s only for those thriller readers who like LeCarre.

  9. Cindy Blank-Edelman on June 26, 2007 at 7:03 pm  Chain link

    Wow, great to get all these recommendations for my own reading list! How about….

    The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
    The Gap series by Steven Donaldson (recommended to me by you, Dave, I think)

    I also really liked The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffeneger.

    And I must disagree with the anti-recommendations of Asimov. I think the Foundation series is brilliant and fabulous and a great intro to SF in general. Although I would suggest starting, perhaps, with the books in the series he wrote later, which I thought were better written than the first three.

    I’m currently reading Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson. Not done with it yet, but am enjoying it so far and thinking it’s very well written.

  10. David Louis Edelman on June 26, 2007 at 7:59 pm  Chain link

    Wow, lots and lots of things to add to my reading list too. Remember, folks, I’m specifically looking for books to appeal to someone with quote-unquote literary tastes.

    I think you’re right in one sense, Lou, that Asimov, Clarke, Bradbury, et al don’t represent what’s going on in SF now. But I also think many people will recognize they’re reading a “classic” and not a contemporary, if only by the copyright date. Just as if I traipse into the Mystery section and pick up Agatha Christie, I’ll expect something much different than Michael Connelly.

    Yes, Cindy, I think I did recommend Donaldson’s Gap series to you. Probably the one thing I’ve recommended to you that you liked. :-)

  11. King Rat on June 26, 2007 at 8:02 pm  Chain link

    Handmaid’s Tale is almost never filed under S.F., except by S.F. bookstores.

    I second The Mount, though that’s really only for a “literature” person who could use some S.F., not for a light reading person who could use some accessible S.F.

  12. MattD on June 26, 2007 at 9:58 pm  Chain link

    Zivkovic’s [i]The Fourth Circle[/i]
    Chapman’s [i]The Troika[/i]
    Marusek’s [i]Getting to Know You[/i]
    Harrison’s [i]Nova Swing[/i]

  13. MattD on June 26, 2007 at 10:11 pm  Chain link

    Drat — why must every system use different tags? (Looks embarrassed.)

    Also some classics: Gene Wolfe; Douglas Adams; Bester; possibly Zelazny.

  14. Jack William Bell on June 26, 2007 at 11:58 pm  Chain link

    I agree with most of your list. But, for pure literary merit, I have a few favorites. (I have other favorites that are less literary, but eminently readable.)

    I would suggest almost anything by Ian M. Banks (who writes mainstream literature as Ian — no ‘M.’ — Banks.)

    Now, if you want to bend it a little from straight Science Fiction I would recommend John Crowley, who’s books end up on the literature shelves of some bookstores and in the SF ghetto on others. I particularly recommend his post-apocalyptic-sort-of-SF novel ‘Engine Summer’.

    Finally, Bruce Sterling gets a nod from me on the basis of just being so good.

  15. Jack William Bell on June 27, 2007 at 12:06 am  Chain link

    Oh, and I am seconding recommendations for Geoff Ryman and Ian McDonald. (I am currently reading McDonald’s ‘Ares Express’.)

  16. Ed Minchau on June 27, 2007 at 12:31 am  Chain link

    I’d recommend The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester, The Difference Engine by Gibson, Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey, or maybe Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (yes, it is science fiction, really. Take away one piece of technology – Galt’s engine – and the whole story falls apart).

  17. Derek on June 27, 2007 at 1:03 am  Chain link

    I’ll ‘third’ Mary Doria Russell’s ‘The Sparrow’. I’ve given it to a number of non-SF readers who have enjoyed it very much. I then move them on to ‘Ender’s Game’ and ‘Speaker for the Dead’. After that it’s some early Anne McCaffrey (‘Restoree’) and Banks and then try them out on ‘Dune’.

  18. General X on June 27, 2007 at 2:38 am  Chain link

    I would say a lot of the new age movement might be suited for your friends with its wealth of images and weight of ideas.
    William S. Burroughs’s Terminal Beach is one recommendation.

  19. bloginhood on June 27, 2007 at 2:57 am  Chain link

    Anything by Dan Simmons would be an excellent addition: the Hyperion books, Ilium & Olympos, or more recently, The Terror.

    And Cory Doctorow’s Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town would be a nice way to get them to accept deeply strange elements in a recognizable reality.

    Kim Stanley Robinson’s already been mentioned, I think, but let’s add his book The Years of Rice and Salt.

    And just to push the boundaries a bit, what about Minister Faust’s From The Notebooks of Dr. Brain? Sure there are enough superheros to satisfy any issue of the X-Men or episode of The Tick, but it’s a smart look at the modern self-help industry and it takes a big bite out of politics.

  20. owen on June 27, 2007 at 3:19 am  Chain link

    So I guess i am a literary SF type, i read the odd trash space opera as a guilty pleasure but i like the more discursive stuff, which sadly still makes up a small fraction of the SF market.

    I disagree with a bunch of these. I mean, most literary folk won’t get past the gung-ho of starship troopers (incidentally the first sf book i read!).

    From some other comments, Stephen Donaldson, really? I read the gap series and thought they were fairly trashy to be honest, and not very well written either.

    2001, again, basically a poor book for me, Clarke has ideas in spades but his writing is terrible (rama series anyone?).

    Left hand of Darkness on the other hand is a much better idea as it is so obviously thoughtful from page one you might hold some interest.

    Hyperion and Olympos by Dan Simmons might work if you sell the former as a frame story and the latter as a reworking of Homer. Just don’t let them read the Endymion books!

    I’d always try The Stars My Destination as well, tell them its a Jacobean revenge drama. I am biassed though as i think this is the best single SF book ever written. Also, let them get a way in before you tell them what year it was written!

    PS – i now boycott Orson Scott Card on the basis of some of his well-publicized views. Liked his novels as a youngster but couldn’t recommend them any more.

    PS- just came across this blog, may give Infoquake a go, seems interesting.

  21. Chris Johnston on June 27, 2007 at 5:55 am  Chain link

    I second Theodore Sturgeon’s More Than Human: First SF title that put me in tears.

    Heinlein’s Stranger In A Strange Land was the next one to do that.

    My first William Gibson was Virtual Light, and that got me pumped for Neuromancer. Funny thing, I just recently realized that I’d never finished Count Zero, when I tried to start on Mona Lisa Overdrive. I’d read Idoru and All Tomorrow’s Parties, and enjoyed them immensely, but Pattern Recognition irritated me to no end, so that prompted me to go back and finish the original Sprawl Trilogy.

    Lucifer’s Hammer by Niven/Pournelle was my intro to Larry Niven, which led me to Ringworld, but The Mote in God’s Eye or Footfall might be a better choice.

    I’d also recommend Robert J. Sawyer’s Hominids & Mindscan.

    I’d start somebody on PKD with The Philip K. Dick Reader.

  22. David Louis Edelman on June 27, 2007 at 7:14 am  Chain link

    Wow. a ton of great suggestions here, including many I’ve never heard of or haven’t picked up yet.

    MattD: Sorry for the confusion. You’ve inspired me to go in and add the line above the Comments box stating which HTML tags are allowed.

    Owen: I admit I haven’t read 2001 or Starship Troopers in years; I might look differently on them now. I can understand the boycotting of Card, though personally I’m a sucker for a principled iconoclast, even if his principles are really stupid. Hope you do give Infoquake a try and keep reading the blog. :-)

  23. Nancy Lebovitz on June 27, 2007 at 7:23 am  Chain link

    The prose is absolutely crucial for a book to count as literary. No matter how big or good the ideas are, they can’t outweigh prose which is ordinary or worse.

    I don’t know if I can explain the prose thing–it doesn’t have to be fancy (Butler isn’t). Part of it is that the sound contributes to the emotional effect.

    _Spin_ might be the winner there–it was the best I’ve ever seen at integrating a literary novel (with emphasis on character) with big idea science fiction.

    Le Guin would be another good choice.

    Delany might be good, but I’m not sure which book to recommend. I’m very fond of _Nova_ (pro-cyberpunk! without the noir!), but _Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand_ is more ambitious. On the other hand, it might be too weird and ambitious and the other half will never get written. Everyone else seems to like _The Einstein Intersection_ much better than I do.

    No Simmons. No Heinlein. No Donaldson. No Card.

    After all that, I’m still tempted to recommend Egan’s _Diaspora_, but it might get points for sfnal ambition rather than literary quality.

  24. Dominic on June 27, 2007 at 8:05 am  Chain link

    You’d probably have to give some literary context when handing over the books, but I’d recommend:

    1) Handmaid’s Tale and/or Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
    2) Stranger in a Strange Land by Heinlein (mention its influence on Manson)
    3) Anthem by Ayn Rand
    4) Darwin’s Radio and Darwin’s Children by Greg Bear
    5) The Snow Queen by Joan Vinge
    6) Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow

  25. Diane on June 27, 2007 at 8:30 am  Chain link

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned Sheri Tepper, who always forces me to find the dictionary at least once per book. Specifically, I would point someone to “Gate to Women’s Country” or “Grass”. “Family Tree” would be my favorite, but some might be put off by a surprise turn in the middle of the book.

    I would also second Robinson’s “The Years of Rice and Salt” for solid prose and thought provoking connections.

  26. JP on June 27, 2007 at 9:09 am  Chain link

    What about Gene Wolfe’s Book Of The New Sun series? I’d even go so far as to add his Book Of The Long Sun and, possibly, Book Of The Short Sun (though I haven’t read these yet). Literate, challenging and interesting. Plus, the first series is SF masquerading as fantasy.

    I’d also second the Hyperion and Grass recommendations, though those books might be pushing things a bit for someone not steeped in SF.

    For something more recent, I think Mainspring by Jay Lake could work.

  27. DeWayne Williams on June 27, 2007 at 9:11 am  Chain link

    I would agree with Nancy about Delany. My choices from his work would be Dhalgren and Triton. I know that Dhalgren is controversial to some degree but I continue to find new reasons to admire it each time I reread it–and yes I really do reread the thing frequently. Also Jack Vance, you could make a case that he is almost all style. The recent Vance anthology by Jonathan Strahan is a great introduction to some of his best work. I know that his plots are pure pulp but who cares with all that great irony and wit to carry you along!

  28. owen on June 27, 2007 at 9:20 am  Chain link

    Thanks David! Nice ot get a reply, will be looking for infoquake in the English Language shops (am in Geneva, CH), and welcome to my RSS feed list.

    A few extra random and unconnected notes:

    I like some of the things here but wouldn’t call them literary SF. For instance I remember enjoying a Sherri Tepper book but classing it as medium-trashy fantasy (has been years though). Starship Troopers remains a fave for me but have rarely managed to get other to read it, though these days remember the movie will colour it for people. In fact i wouldn’t use any Heinlein at all, it just isn’t that literary to me, however it was interpreted later. I mean all the Lazarus Long stuff is thinly disguised RAH wish fulfillment and Lazarus speaks with RAH’s voice. Again, Dragonflight? I own it and enjoy it but it is hardly literary for me. The balance is something that uses the SF ideas and systems but is in its own right literary. This all depends on your definition of literary of course!

    I wrote a paper in college on SF as a genre which was a lot of fun, and LeGuin remained the best example i could find of using the tropes or freedoms of SF to explore new areas, rather than the ray guns and starships style SF. With her it’s because LHoD and the Dispossessed are almost straight sociological discussion papers.

    To Diane, for me, literary doesn’t mean using a dictionary, try the awesome Raymond Carver, simple words and stories, no plot to speak of but immensely rich prose and themes.

    Another book came to me though, Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami. Its is surreal/sf/pulp/private eye and well worth a read, also as is one of the best starting places for Murakami, one of Japan’s most famous modern authors. For me he did what Atwood fails to do – understand SF. I tried to get into Oryx and Crake but i found it ok ideas in a poor SF wrapper. rarely for me i ditched it a 1/3 of the way in.

    That’s enough rambling for now, and in case you hadn’t all noticed, I am indeed an opinionated and irritating type!

  29. David Louis Edelman on June 27, 2007 at 9:34 am  Chain link

    Dominic: I thought of suggesting the Cory Doctorow, that’s a good one. But the Atwood and the Rand would almost certainly be filed in general fiction.

    Nancy: I agree with you wholeheartedly about the importance of quality prose. There are a lot of SF writers with fabulous ideas who are constrained by their lack of linguistic chops.

    Owen: Opinionated and irritating types welcome! Stir up some trouble, I like that. (Oh, and good luck finding Infoquake in Geneva… You’d have a hard enough time finding it in Geneva, New York, alas. Probably the only way you’re going to find a copy is to special order it.)

  30. Joyce Reynolds-Ward on June 27, 2007 at 10:47 am  Chain link

    I’d add Louise Marley to the list as well, and second the choice of Grass. I think most of the later Marley would work (titles are not coming to mind, alas). A collection of Cordwainer Smith short stories would be a good choice as well.

  31. Josh English on June 27, 2007 at 12:57 pm  Chain link

    Speaking of Asimov, the Robot Series, especially Caves of Steel, can be a good link for any mystery lover.

  32. mareklamo on June 27, 2007 at 1:41 pm  Chain link

    The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner – Tell them it’s about the environment.

    I second the recommendation for Flowers for Algernon. (But stay away from the movie.)

  33. Jetse on June 27, 2007 at 2:06 pm  Chain link

    I didn’t keep count, so let me second, or third, Ursula LeGuin, Geoff Ryman, Mary Doria Russel’s The Sparrow, Mike John Harrison (Light, because I haven’t read Nova Swing yet), Bruce Sterling (I’d say Holy Fire), Theodore Sturgeon, Kim Stanley Robinson, and — of course — Ian McDonald (personally I discovered him with NecrovilleTerminal Café in the US, but you can’t go wrong with River of Gods either, and indeed I still need to get Brasyl).

    I’d add to that:

    Christopher PriestThe Separation
    John BrunnerThe Sheep Look Up or Stand on Zanzibar
    Walter MosleyFutureland
    David ZindellNeverness
    Michael SwanwickJack Faust

    Possibly more if I think of them.

  34. Ashley on June 27, 2007 at 2:28 pm  Chain link

    Neal Stephenson – Diamond Age
    Michael Swanwick – Stations of the Tide
    Iain Banks – Use of Weapons
    Alexander Jablokov – River of Dust, also many of his short stories
    Roger Zelazny – Doorways in the Sand
    Samuel Delany – Nova, also short stories
    Ursula LeGuin – Lathe of Heaven
    Robert Heinlein – I never found his novels particularly literary, but he wrote some wonderful short stories

  35. Lou Anders on June 27, 2007 at 4:00 pm  Chain link

    I’ll second The Diamond Age. That was one of my favorite books of the decade the decade it came out. And, though it may strike some as an odd choice for a “literary” recommendation, Mike Resnick’s collected Kirinyaga tales are in my Top Ten list for introductory SF. The pseudo-Kenyan setting & parable nature of the tales therein shouldn’t present problems for newbies either.

  36. mitchell on June 27, 2007 at 6:07 pm  Chain link

    i don’t know why one would want to convince “connoisseurs of quality literature” (whatever that might be — kingsolver? hmm) that there might be “intelligent literary science fiction that’s worth reading”. i mean, it’s hard enough to convince a dedicated reader of balzac that stendhal is worth reading. and there are indeed readers of “quality literature” who consider — or at least considered — both of them trash. is it really important, other than maybe commercially, that non-science fiction readers be convinced that science fiction is worth reading? yes, it would be nice if writers of science fiction and fantasy and all the other works in the continuum got the credit and recognition they deserve — but they do: from readers of science fiction, etc. who cares what michiko kakutani thinks? WE love it, WE read it, WE talk about it and support it (as much as ever, if i understand the publication and sales data correctly). isn’t it better that, for example (and i choose completely at random with made up numbers for the sake of argument), elizabeth bear’s novels sell a million copies and are read by a million people, than that william gass’s novel “the tunnel” (talk about quality literature) sells 5000 copies but is read by only 2500? [there’s more, but i’ll end here. as usual, i may have missed the point.] okay, my suggestions: how about michael moorcock’s “dancers at the end of time” books, mary gentle’s “ash” books, ursula leguin’s “changing planes”, just for starters.

  37. Jack William Bell on June 27, 2007 at 10:47 pm  Chain link

    Wow. I can’t believe I forgot Michael Swanwick. I especially like ‘Vacuum Flowers’ for his Science Fiction. For his Fantasy? ‘The Iron Dragon’s Daughter’.

    And he has a ton of short stories collected in various places and all wonderful.

  38. David Louis Edelman on June 27, 2007 at 11:15 pm  Chain link

    Mitchell: Interesting questions there. I think that literary respectability for SF would lead to much more exposure and a much richer field in the long run. It’s like that old saying about the Velvet Underground: they only had 100 fans when they were together, but every damn one of those fans went on to start an influential band of their own. By the same token, a stellar review by Michiko Kakutani might only be read by a relatively small group of people, but those people are the ones who sign the checks in our society.

    I think you’re overestimating the commercial impact of SF literature. I don’t know Elizabeth Bear’s sales figures, but I seriously doubt she’s anywhere close to a million copies sold. The most wildly successful (contemporary) novels in the field probably don’t sell more than a couple hundred thousand copies at best.

    It’s a depressing fact, but more people went to see Dude, Where’s My Car? on opening weekend than will ever read the work of most SF writers. So I say, let’s make each one of those readers count.

  39. Gregory Benford on June 27, 2007 at 11:32 pm  Chain link

    I can’t avoid noticing that you and your readers think literary content means little scientific content. So little hard sf gets mentioned, though its intellectualstandards are high. Too bad for the literary!


  40. Marleen S. Barr on June 28, 2007 at 12:38 am  Chain link

    I suggest that you include Joanna Russ and Samuel Delany.

  41. Robin on June 28, 2007 at 1:25 am  Chain link

    I would strongly suggest that you include “The Book of the New Sun” by Gene Wolfe. The prose is absolutely beautiful, and is chock full of symbol, metaphor, and all sorts of literary goodies. Check out a few fan sites and you will see that those who esteem it, while not the largest fan base in science fiction, are among the most dedicated and evangelical. Other books of literary merit that I have had some success with non-sci-fi fans are: “The Golden Age” by John C. Wright, “Starfish” by Peter Watts, “Neverness” by David Zindell, “Evolution’s Shore” bu Ian MacDonald, and anything by Jack Vance.

  42. Michael Penn on June 28, 2007 at 2:23 am  Chain link

    I’ve only briefly glanced at the list but a book I see nowhere and a writer whose name I may have missed in my examination-it’s late and I just found this site off of Locus after a 6 hour trip to Vegas and back-
    is DANGEROUS VISIONS, or even his second volume and perhaps, one day, the apocalyptic LAST DANGEROUS VISIONS and the writer is, of course, Harlan Ellison. His collection Strange Wine is a book I give to anyone wanting to taste the “strange fruit” I have loved all my life.
    Card is another writer, his Alvin Maker series grabs fantasy lovers and history students.
    Heinlien has such a smooth style and intricate plotting he grabs the reader immediately.
    Appreciate the listings though, I’ve found several “new” writers, to me, I want to grab and read now.

  43. owen on June 28, 2007 at 3:07 am  Chain link

    Gregory –

    I think the issues is that literary types are looking for something other than hard SF, they care less about scientific rigour than emotional/social discussion. Sad to say, but true I think.

    I am beginning to wonder if taking the approach we are discussing here would get anyone into SF or whether it would just get them into other SF or whether they’d just stick with the sort of half-sf i think they’d get into.

    The issue is perhaps that SF is a broad church, not say as formulaic as the western which implies not only the setting but a lot of the story. SF basically means being able to be something other than real, whether it is technological, social or even just weird. While you may get literary types into essentially literary novels told through an SF lens i doubt you’ll get them into the shops full of dragonlance cutouts someone mentioned earlier.

    Oh, by the way, I won an auction for a 1st ed of Heart of the Comet signed by David Brin that was sold to help fund the Clarion workshop, one of my more precious possessions and a hell of a book, thanks!

  44. A.R.Yngve on June 28, 2007 at 7:05 am  Chain link

    SF for the literati? How about:

    1. Geoff Ryman: AIR

    2. Michael Moorcock: BEHOLD THE MAN
    (just to show that SF has its own Salman Rushdie)

    3. Stanislaw Lem: THE CYBERIAD
    (just to show that SF can be funny)

    (just to show that SF can be funny and shit-scary at the same time)

  45. tommyspoon on June 28, 2007 at 7:14 am  Chain link

    My only suggestion is one of Clarke’s smaller novels, Childhood’s End. Whether you are into SciFi or not, the possibility of meeting intelligent life from another world is a story most folks are willing to take a chance on. True, Clarke lays on the symbolism a bit thick, but it’s a short read and he uses a lighter touch here than he does in any of his other books.

  46. gary gibson on June 28, 2007 at 7:16 am  Chain link

    I don’t know if anyone’s mentioned this one yet, but one book I’ve always thought I’d pass on to ‘literary’ readers in the respect being discussed here is ‘Book of Skulls’ by Robert Silverberg. Even if they’re not the type to have any interest in matters even vaguely related to technology and science – god knows there’s plenty of them – it might at least assuage the notion there isn’t anything they would like in the sf section. I’d also thorougly agree with the recommendation of Harlan Ellison.

    I hadn’t thought of ‘Spin’ – it’s a good recommendation. There’s also Christopher Priest’s The Prestige – not only a touch literary in tone, but features (when you think about it) a mad scientist who builds a steampunk matter transporter.

  47. John C. Snider on June 28, 2007 at 7:18 am  Chain link

    I’m not sure if it’s filed in the SF section at the bookstore, but “The Time Traveler’s Wife” blew my stack. I’m a sucker for the love story.

    Other possibilities, thinking off the top:

    Dan Simmons’ “Hyperion”
    China Mieville’s “Perdido Street Station”
    Anything by Adam Roberts (“Salt”, “Stone”, “Polystom” come to mind)
    This goes waaay back, but H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds” or “Island of Dr. Moreau”

    Oops…gotta get back to work.

  48. Lou Anders on June 28, 2007 at 8:01 am  Chain link

    I think one thing that needs to be pointed out is that true “literary” fiction of the contemporary variety (as opposed to the established classics that are perennial sellers) is actually a much smaller niche than SF. What we’re really talking about is not SF for navel gazers, but SF that would appeal to readers of general fiction who think that SF is all bug eyed monsters carrying off women in metal bikinis.

    That being said, in response to Gregory Benford’s point, I think Neal Stephenson’s Diamond Age satisfies both literary and hard science criteria, as does much of his output, and I’d include certain works by Greg Egan as well.

  49. Paul Cornell on June 28, 2007 at 8:23 am  Chain link

    David, you know I love you, but ‘ditto’ about *Bradbury*?! That’s not clunky and juvenile, that’s simple and highly crafted! Okay, sometimes Bradbury’s high flown prose is a little over the top, but I think you were indicating too little (as, indeed, with Asimov) rather than too much. Yes, Ryman, Priest, Le Guin (oh hugely Le Guin, any day now she will be taken from us and removed to those other racks), but absolutely Bradbury, who will surely join Stephen King as a Great American Writer And Not SF Or Oh My God Horror as soon as he’s safely dead. (Oddly, because of M.R. James, it’s a bit easier for Oh My God Horror writers to ascend this way.) I don’t think Neal Stephenson is actually writing SF now, so, hey, literary readers may think that too.

  50. C.E. Petit on June 28, 2007 at 8:26 am  Chain link

    Just a few thoughts —

    * Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow definitely belongs on any list. So do Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, Dan Simmons’ Hyperion novels (or at least the first two!), and surely something by Gene Wolfe.

    * A few more-obscure choices might include Elizabeth Moon’s The Speed of Dark, which is in many ways a fascinating counterpoint (albeit probably not intentionally so) to Updikish-Rabbitish stuff; Kristine Smith’s “technothrillerish” Code of Conduct and its successors, which ask fairly deep questions about what it means to be “human” without getting preachy about it (or providing very clear answers); and Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, which shows real understanding of matching “style” to “content” in a way foreign to many of the more-celebrated current literati.

    * And now, to throw a dragon egg in with the chicken eggs: I find it somewhat surprising that (unless I’ve missed something above) nobody has mentioned collections of short fiction. After all, much of the very best work in the field is less than book length! I means “collections,” too, with a single author’s works, and almost never a “best of…”. I would point a literary-taste reader toward two collections in particular: Harlan Ellison’s The Deathbird Stories, and Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Compass Rose (which includes a work also included in a Norton Anthology!). There are certainly others out there, but it seems to me that the sheer range of inventiveness in those collections would best accomplish the goal of getting a literary-taste reader to ignore the rocket ship (or dragon) on the cover.

  51. Styx on June 28, 2007 at 8:55 am  Chain link

    The problem with a lot of the SF I love, including Gene Wolfe’s Briah Cycle and Swanwick’s Stations of the Tide amongst others, is that it takes a lifetime of reading SF to decipher the tropes.

    Brian Aldiss’ Greybeard or Hellconia Trilogy
    John Calvin Batchelor The Birth and Death of the Peoples Republic of Antartica
    James Blish’s A Case of Conscience
    John Brunner’s The Dystopian Quartet (Stand on Zanzibar; The Jagged Orbit; The Sheep Look Up; The Shockwave Rider)
    Thomas M Disch 334 or The Genocides or Camp Concentration
    Keith Roberts Pavane
    Clifford Simak’s The Way Station
    George Turner’s The Sea and Summer (aka The Drowning Towers)
    Connie Willis’ Doomsday Book
    Roger Zelazny The Dream Master

  52. David Louis Edelman on June 28, 2007 at 9:11 am  Chain link

    Gregory: I second Lou’s point re Neal Stephenson and Greg Egan covering both the hard SF and the literary bases. But I’m not sure I’d give either The Diamond Age or Permutation City to an SF beginner.

    Paul: It’s been a loooooong time since I read any Bradbury. Maybe 15 years. I’m willing to give him another look before I judge his prose so harshly. If only to stay in your good graces. :-)

  53. Pete Warden on June 28, 2007 at 10:36 am  Chain link

    I have to second the choice of Cordwainer Smith that’s mentioned in comment 30. I would recommend Norstrilia, his only novel, though his short stories (usually published as The Rediscovery of Man) are also excellent.

    His style is unique, more like Chinese storytelling than any other form I’ve read, and its restraint seems to amplify his emotional power.

    For a taster, here’s one of his stories online:

  54. spencer on June 28, 2007 at 10:38 am  Chain link

    Anything by Lucius Shepard or Elizabeth Hand.

  55. Christina Keller on June 28, 2007 at 11:17 am  Chain link

    I would suggest Ted Chiang’s collection- “Story of Your Life and Others” and maybe some Neil Gaiman like “American Gods”. SF, but not too overpowering. I also second Dan Simmon’s “Hyperion” series. If they’re real lit. snobs, they’ll really enjoy all the Keats references.

  56. gary gibson on June 28, 2007 at 11:27 am  Chain link

    Lucius Shepard! Shit, I forgot that one. Definitely for the pile.

  57. philip on June 28, 2007 at 1:26 pm  Chain link

    i think this (all that has been said) is a good list of sf classics or even sf favorites, but not precisely literary. i see too much enthusiasm and too much love, but that’s not enough.
    i must second the inclusion of ‘the left hand of darkness’, and must say also that in this case is better no heinlein at all, and the same for a lot of others. perhaps the best philip k. dick’s option is ‘man in the high-castle’, which has something to be deceptive enough to fool a ‘literary reader’. i definitely would not give a non-sf reader something like ‘the book of the new sun’, considering how difficult it is even for sf readers.
    i would avoid all allusions to space, though this way something like delany’s ‘nova’ will be excluded, alas, and, one way or the other, to far future.
    i will recommend robert sheckley, always reminding them that he was very admired by people such as raymond williams and umberto eco, that’s the kind of thing that works, i guess.
    and, where is ballard in all this mess? general x mentioned ‘terminal beach’, but that’s ballard’s not burroughs’. i would add ‘drowned world’ and ‘atrocity exhibiton’.

  58. Luke Jackson on June 28, 2007 at 2:10 pm  Chain link

    If you’re talking about someone that wouldn’t mind sitting down to read Don DeLillo, it sounds like you’re talking about someone with enough of a literary bent to take on works that are somewhat challenging, not someone who is overly concerned about accessibility! I’d say the following works are very literary (but not necessarily accessible):

    Random Acts of Senseless Violence, Jack Womack
    The Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, Nova, Samuel Delany
    The Dispossessed, Ursula K. LeGuin
    Confessions of a Crap Artist, A Scanner Darkly by Philip K Dick (hey, they’re shelved in the SF section)
    The zines– Electric Velocipede, LCRW, the SCIFICTION archives, etc.

  59. Damian Kilby on June 28, 2007 at 2:30 pm  Chain link

    I thought Greg Benford made a good point about lack of hard SF. His own Timescape would be a perfect intro book for the literary reader originally described in this post.

    I think Greg Bear’s Bloodmusic also makes a nice intro to the “literary” SF novice, in the hard Sf vein.

    For this Philip Roth reading, New York Times centric literary reader (as opposed to readers of mainstream popular fiction) a certrain restrained quality and pacing, central focus on character and elegance of voice is what seems to be required.


    Gene Wolfe’s Fifth head of Cerebus
    Karen Joy Fowler’s Artificial Things
    Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Wild Shore
    Robert Silverberg’s Tower of Glass
    Ian MacDonald River of Gods
    Adam Robert’s Stone

  60. Allan Lappin on June 28, 2007 at 3:08 pm  Chain link

    David Brin’s Kiln People for multiple points of view by the same peson.
    Anything by Donald Kingsbury.
    Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

  61. Allan Lappin on June 28, 2007 at 3:16 pm  Chain link

    Robert J. Sawyer’s Neanderthal Parallax trilogy.
    Jack Williamson’s Humanoids
    Anything by Cordwainer Smith…

  62. Henning on June 28, 2007 at 3:25 pm  Chain link

    I don’t think the best way to introduce the literate-minded to SF is to give them “literary SF”.
    (Who would want to be seduced to reading literary novels by being given books with a little fantasy content, to ease the transition?)
    Dazzle them with Story!

    Give them:
    The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester
    Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, James Tiptree, Jr.
    Titan, John Varley (or any of his collections)
    Overclocked, Cory Doctorow
    Gateway, Frederik Pohl
    Why not Ringworld?

  63. Larry on June 28, 2007 at 3:38 pm  Chain link

    Hrmm…a lot of names that I would have said (Wolfe, Delany, Russell in particular) have already been said, but I’m going to add one that not only is worth considering for the “literary fiction” readers, but even more so for those who are curious about gender/multicultural issues:

    Nalo Hopkinson. About any of her works would do, although I’m partial to her story collection, Skin Folk.

    Has Jack Vance been mentioned yet? I would imagine many of the themes that he covers in his stories ought to appeal to many of the literary mindset.

    Jeffrey Ford is another that comes to mind. Although I’m more partial to his short stories, novels like Girl in the Glass ought to be appealing to many.

    And lastly, although it’s not usually in the SF section, I think it certainly wouldn’t hurt to introduce someone to Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Wizard of the Crow. I have Jeff VanderMeer to thank for mentioning that in a Locus Best of/Overlooked article.

  64. Dave Hutchinson on June 28, 2007 at 5:28 pm  Chain link

    Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle.
    Keith Roberts’s Pavane.
    Gene Wolfe’s The Book Of The New Sun.
    John Crowley’s Little, Big.
    Arthur C Clarke’s The Fountains of Paradise.
    Pretty much anything by Connie Willis.

  65. Nora on June 28, 2007 at 5:32 pm  Chain link

    I’ve loved many of the books listed above. Sci-fi I think is the literature of the 20th centure, just as the ‘social commentary’ novels written by Zola, Balzac, Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Hardy, Tolstoy, etc., were the literature of the 19th century.

    I’d add to the list:

    – Gameplayers of Zan (M.A. Foster)
    – Uplift series of books (David Brin)
    – The Broken God (David Zindell)
    – The Gate to Women’s Country (Sherri Tepper)
    – Courtship Rite (Donald Kingsbury)
    – Child of the River (Paul McAuley)

    And many more that just don’t spring to mind at this very moment.

  66. Greg L Johnson on June 28, 2007 at 5:36 pm  Chain link

    Cyteen. I’ve kind of skimmed through the comments, and if C.J. Cherryh’s been mentioned, I missed it. For some reason, she seems to often get over-looked in these kinds of dicussions. And if you don’t think Cherryh’s work counts as literature, there’s an article by Burton Raffel from the spring 2001 Literary Review argueing that it most certainly does right here: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2078/is_3_44/ai_75563771.

  67. Bruce Chrumka on June 28, 2007 at 5:57 pm  Chain link

    The Shadow of the Torturer: Gene Wolfe
    The Ends of the Earth: Lucius Shepard
    Magic for Beginners: Kelly Link
    The Summer Isles: Ian R. MacLeod
    The Empire of Ice Cream: Jeffrey Ford

    Not a bad start, if I don’t say so myself. Missing key works by Swanwick, Lanagan, Powers, Morrow and lots more Wolfe, Shepard, Ford and MacLeod.

  68. Nora on June 28, 2007 at 6:30 pm  Chain link

    Oh yeah, I’d also add Masters of Solitude (Marvin Kaye and Parke Godiwin) tp the list. Great stuff, both as social commentary and as a ripping good story.

  69. punninglinguist on June 28, 2007 at 7:48 pm  Chain link

    What short stories would suggest to SF beginners? In SF, short stories are often better-written, line-by-line, than novels. They also tend to contain less intimidating science content.
    I would suggest:

    Bloodchild by Octavia Butler
    Egnaro by M. John Harrison
    Catskin by Kelly Link
    Stone Animals by Kelly Link
    Exoskeleton Town by Jeffrey Ford
    The Death of Doctor Island by Gene Wolfe
    Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death by James Tiptree, jr.
    Descending by Thomas Disch
    The Voluntary State by Christopher Rowe

    Other suggestions?

  70. john griffith on June 28, 2007 at 8:38 pm  Chain link

    I try to turn “literary” types to Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun series. One of the finest pieces of fiction to come out of the 20th century.

  71. Amy Sisson on June 28, 2007 at 8:57 pm  Chain link

    It’s been mentioned several times, but I have to lend my support — Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow and its sequel Children of God. I recommended the first to my non-genre book group several years ago; most of the members liked it so much they read the sequel without prompting.

    Also, these as not as science-fictiony, but two other genre-ish titles that worked well in that book group were Ken Grimwood’s Replay (winner of the World Fantasy Award) and Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife.

  72. John Kessel on June 28, 2007 at 9:07 pm  Chain link

    Forget about Heinlein, in particular Starship Troopers or Stranger. Likewise anything by Card or Asimov. These will go over like lead balloons, and will convince any literary reader that you don’t understand literary fiction at all. Ayn Rand? Ouch!

    Some literary readers are not going to go with you no matter what you give them. They just can’t accept a story set on Mars or involving anything beyond the here and now. That’s not sf’s problem. On the other hand, Card or Heinlein are brutally clumsy writers for anyone who likes literary fiction, no matter whether you give their ideas any credibility.

    The suggestions of Le Guin, Disch (334, Camp Concentration), Wolfe (The Fifth Head of Cerberus) , K.S. Robinson, Fowler (Sarah Canary works, though many lit readers can’t figure out that Sarah’s an alien). Timescape by Benford will bring in some readers, expecially as it’s cued into a realistic university environment in the present. James Morrow, Lucius Shepard. Joanna Russ and Tiptree make sense to readers of a feminist presuasion who would not otherwise touch sf. Ted Chiang. Dick’s Man in the High Castle. Some of Swanwick might work. Gibson.

    For real sf, I second the recommendation of Sterling’s Holy Fire. I also think story collections are a good idea.

    But please–not Dune, not The Foundation Trilogy, not Ringworld.

  73. philip on June 28, 2007 at 11:36 pm  Chain link

    almost totally agreeing with mr kessel. ‘fifth head’ is way better (for this purpose at least) than ‘book of the new sun’. i think that most of what has been said here comes from real sf fans, and for us it is much easier to think of some novels as masterworks, at least in our own terms, but that’s not enough. kessel’s note about ‘sarah canary’ highlights something that demands consideration.
    i’d suggest to you consulting some people already fell in disgrace, i mean, literary readers for whom an interest in sf has already manifested (didn’t find a better word, sorry).
    and once more: BALLARD!! you know, that english guy beyond psychiatric help (thanks god).

  74. Ian Sales on June 29, 2007 at 2:51 am  Chain link

    No one has mentioned Paul Park – either his Starbridge Chronicles or Coelestis. Then there’s Gwyneth Jones – anything by her. Where Time Winds Blow by Robert Holdstock, one of my favourite novels. George Turner, perhaps.

    Or how about some alternate history? Oh wait – that’s not sf anymore, is it? It’s “counterfactuals” now and “respectable”…

  75. Mike Williams on June 29, 2007 at 4:06 am  Chain link

    Geoff Ryman: The Child Garden
    Samuel R. Delaney: Dhalgren; Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand
    Jonathan Lethem: Gun, with Occasional Music; She Crawled Across the Table; Girl in Landscape
    John Brunner: Stand on Zanzibar
    Ted Chiang: The Stories of Your Life
    Brian Aldiss: Helliconia trilogy
    Karel Capek: The War with the Newts
    Andreas Eschbach: The Carpet Makers
    M. John Harrison: Light
    Stephen R. Donaldson: The Gap Series
    Michael Moorcock: Behold the Man
    Walter Miller Jr: A Canticle for Leibowitz
    Michael Marshall Smith: One of Us
    James Blish: A Case of Conscience; Cities in Flight
    China Miéville: Perdido Street Station etc

    FANTASY: Jeffrey Ford’s “The Physiognomy”, Mark Helprin’s “Winter’s Tale”

  76. Francis Fabian on June 29, 2007 at 9:14 am  Chain link

    George R. Stewart – Earth Abides

  77. Aaron Singleton on June 29, 2007 at 12:43 pm  Chain link

    My recs. are, as always, anything by Jack Vance, Gene Wolfe, Matthew Hughes, Robin Hobb, and Steven Erikson.

  78. Karen Thistle on June 29, 2007 at 1:06 pm  Chain link

    Richard Powers anyone?

    Galatea 2.2

    Plowing the Dark

    He magnificently explores the human condition in these books via artificial intelligence and virtual reality respectively. He is a literary author neither slumming nor “reinventing the wheel.”

  79. Michael Emmons on June 29, 2007 at 6:52 pm  Chain link

    I can’t think of any reason why one shouldn’t hand Neuromancer or The Man in the High Castle to an adventurous non-sf reader; the originality and power of those books is exactly why they should be a reader’s introduction to the genre.

    I want to second the recommendation of Paul Park–Celetstis is an absolute masterpiece, one that I would definitely recommend to fans of Don DeLillo or Paul Bowles. Ditto Tom Disch–334 is an extraordinary depiction of a near-future, and emotionally wrenching to boot. Perfect for a reader not used to sf.

  80. Michael Emmons on June 29, 2007 at 6:53 pm  Chain link

    Wow. I don’t remember being that crazy with the italics. Must have been something I ate.

  81. Mike Williams on June 29, 2007 at 6:56 pm  Chain link

    I’m almost embarrassed to say that I missed out any reference to Stanislaw Lem. I’ll cite “Fiasco” as an example beyond “Solaris” or “The Cyberiad”, and make a surreptitious appeal for a complete direct translation of “Solaris” in English, and a translation of all the other titles of his that have eluded English publication.

  82. Jim Stewart on June 29, 2007 at 9:44 pm  Chain link

    The problem here is that if a “literary” reader likes a book that would otherwise classify as scifi, they just file them as an exception & move them over to the literary shelves, as in Atwood, Calvino, David Foster Wallace, Richard Powers, J.G. Ballard, and countless others. Unless a peson has an interest in the topics scifi deals with, they are not going to become regular readers of the genre.

    I talk more about this here.

  83. Ellen H on June 30, 2007 at 12:38 pm  Chain link

    I would like to second Amy Sisson’s suggestion of Replay by Ken Grimwood. Giving literary reader’s some SF to read is something I do quite often, and after a number of experiments, I found that Replay had a success rate of almost 100% as first book to read. Dune or Foundation have worked as second book, but with less consistent results. Actually, after the first one, I usually ask them what kind of books they like and adapt my suggestions to their taste. The lists above will certainly help.

  84. punninglinguist on June 30, 2007 at 1:11 pm  Chain link

    LIke Ellen H, I’ve had a chance to run this experiment in a more limited way on my stepmother — a lifelong literary reader and a close friend of Annie Dillard. (It doesn’t get more literary than that.) Here are some sf/f books my stepmom could not put down:

    The Book of the New Sun — Gene Wolfe
    Latro in the Mist — Gene Wolfe
    Magic for Beginners (the whole collection) — Kelly Link
    Nekropolis — Maureen McHugh
    Mothers & Other Monsters — Maureen McHugh
    everything so far by Elizabeth Hand
    The Course of the Heart — M. John Harrison
    Stories of your Life and Others — Ted Chiang
    A Canticle for Leibowitz — Walter Miller Jr
    The Speed of Dark — Elizabeth Moon
    Fahrenheit 451 — Ray Bradbury
    The Time-Traveler’s Wife — Audrey Niffeneger

    Responding to Greg Benford, can anyone think of a hard sf novel that meets literary standards for prose construction? I mean, Arthur C Clarke’s work (to throw out a random example) may have high intellectual standards, but he simply cannot write.

    I’m not talking about a hard sf book that’s competently written (like Greg Bear’s stuff), I mean a hard sf book that’s beautifully written — in a prose style on the level of Elizabeth Hand’s or M. John Harrison’s. I might suggest Harrison’s “Light” or Delany’s “Stars in my Pocket…” but neither of those are primarily concerned with science. Other ideas?

  85. Owen on June 30, 2007 at 1:21 pm  Chain link

    This was discussed at length on Metafilter last year: http://ask.metafilter.com/37305/Pick-the-best-science-fiction-book-for-the-uninitiated

  86. Karen Thistle on June 30, 2007 at 1:48 pm  Chain link

    May I put in a word for Richard Powers? He is a literary author who often explores the human condition through the prism of science. His novels Galatea 2.2 and Plowing the Dark are certainly science fiction and without any clunky “reinventing the wheel.” His prose is exquisite.

  87. David Louis Edelman on June 30, 2007 at 3:00 pm  Chain link

    Richard Powers is one of my all-time favorite novelists ever. But I’m not sure he would fit the definition of an SF writer, considering that his books all take place in present day with real, recognizable technology. I suppose they’re more fiction about science, kind of like Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle but without that fanboy sensibility.

    Plus he’s always filed in the Snooty section.

  88. Karen Thistle on June 30, 2007 at 4:04 pm  Chain link

    Hm. Well, the proverbial line is most certainly fine. Without sliding into that hopeless conversation in which we all try to define science fiction, I would say that taking place in the present day and dealing with real, recognizable technology does not automatically eliminate a work from the genre.

    I would agree that most of the works of Richard Powers are not science fiction and no, he is not considered a science fiction writer. For my part, I will stick to my guns regarding Galatea 2.2. The title character is an artificial intelligence. My interpretation is that she is self aware and that element, at least, is still in the realm of science fiction.

    I realize you were looking for stuff that is unequivocally science fiction, traditional.

    Looking for that sense of wonder can drive one to the oddest places. Even the snooty section.

  89. Luke Jackson on June 30, 2007 at 4:08 pm  Chain link

    If we’re just talking accessibility, give em The Traveler. Or just wait for the movie.

  90. Paul Eisenberg on June 30, 2007 at 4:09 pm  Chain link

    I think Anubis Gates or Drawing of the Dark by Tim Powers are great places for anybody new to SF to start. Also, with all the hubbub over McCarthy’s “The Road,” I imagine there’s a burgeoning market for post-apocolyptic stuff getting ready to explode. Earth Abides, Canticle for Liebowitz, The Postman, and even The Day of the Triffids would be candidates.

  91. MattD on June 30, 2007 at 7:48 pm  Chain link

    Responding to Greg Benford, can anyone think of a hard sf novel that meets literary standards for prose construction?

    Peter Watts’s Blindsight, maybe? Not the equal of a Mike Harrison sentence by sentence, but the best mix of hard SF and literary construction that I’ve read recently.

    Some of David Marusek’s short stories — “The Wedding Album” and “We Were Out of Our Minds with Joy” — could also fit the bill.

  92. David Louis Edelman on June 30, 2007 at 10:12 pm  Chain link

    Karen: Good points. :-) In an ideal world, we wouldn’t judge a book by its cover, or by its classification in the local Barnes & Noble. You’re right, Galatea 2.2 could probably be safely filed in the SF section (although it probably sells better where it is).

  93. Lou Anders on July 1, 2007 at 2:02 pm  Chain link

    Speaking of Blindsight, if we were limiting ourselves to 2007, and looking for five works of literate hard SF, could we say Blindsight, Brasyl, Spook, Country, Thirteen (aka Black Man) and, what, Yiddish Policeman (?) as five talked-about, literate SF novels this year everyone should read?

  94. Robert G Cook on July 2, 2007 at 9:07 pm  Chain link

    Bester’s The Stars My Destination is the one that has worked the few times I’ve tried it with other people. I’ve just read Eschbach’s The Carpet Makers which would also, I think, make for an excellent intro to the genre. Wells, of course, all those wonderful short stories are a great way in. In fact, short stories are probably the best way in (I’m sure I’m not the first to have said that here) – Bester, Sturgeon, Wolfe, M John Harrison, Zelazny, Wells, Swanwick, Crowley, LeGuin…

  95. A Progressive on the Prairie » Delayed marginalia on July 3, 2007 at 12:10 pm  Chain link

    […] David Louis Edelman comes up with a list of introductory SF books for “literary readers.” […]

  96. Jeff on July 4, 2007 at 12:05 am  Chain link

    This is a wonderfully compelling topic but it seems like a classic no-win situation.

    As an English major, I would never have “come out of the closet” as a s/f fan to my peers (it helped that I regarded my peers as boorish fops and never spoke to them conversationally anyway but that’s not important right now).

    The ONLY speculative fiction I would ever hand to anyone who regarded themselves as “literary” would perhaps be Infinite Jest (which by it’s very weight alone is instantly off-putting) or, as mentioned prior, most of Vonnegut’s work. Kurt works because he has an “out,” a get out of jail free card in the form of Kilgore Trout. By self-referentially denegrating those who write s/f, he makes the form less threatening to those who use fiction as their primary Elitist Weaponry.

    I’m not a bitter English Major, no sireeee….

    Just discovered your site and your book, David, looking forward to reading it!

  97. punninglinguist on July 4, 2007 at 8:48 pm  Chain link

    Jeff: Have you tried M. John Harrison’s “Light”? I gave this to Jacques Barzun’s wife, of all people, and she got sucked in because it actually _is_ a realistic literary novel for the first 50-some-odd pages.

  98. Jeff on July 5, 2007 at 12:16 am  Chain link

    I was unfamiliar until your post. I “amazoned” the man and now look forward to reading his work! Looks like my kind of material, to be sure. Appreciate the recommendation my friend! Always seeking another brick for this fortress of books (mostly s/f) that snakes through my room like The Great Wall.

  99. dave on July 6, 2007 at 10:34 am  Chain link

    These are the books that I have lent to readers (folks who read a lot) that succeeded in getting them to try other works that fall into the SF/fantasy realm:
    Geek Love by Katherine Dunn (certainly qualifies as fantasy)
    Little, Big by John Crowley (might be my favorite book ever)
    Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis

    Also: the short stories of Wolfe, Tiptree, Ellison and especially Lafferty. As a side note, Lafferty’s Okla Hannali is the most beautifully written, heartbreaking yet funny historical novel I’ve ever read. Not remotely science fiction, but give it to people anyway.

  100. Mary Peterson on July 30, 2007 at 1:32 pm  Chain link

    I stumbled upon this blog, as a new reader of science fiction looking for recommendations. Thank you so much for all these and genuine literary commentary.

  101. Alan on January 3, 2008 at 12:10 am  Chain link

    I think George Stewart’s Earth Abides would be excellent choice.

  102. Lew Glendenning on January 4, 2008 at 8:43 pm  Chain link

    All of C.J. Cherryh’s non-fantasy stuff. Her ‘Foreigner’ series is very good writing, very serious characters.

  103. Jane Roberti on January 13, 2008 at 12:04 am  Chain link

    Thanks so much for your literary sci-fi list. I am one such literary reader: DF Wallace, DeLillo, Borges, Calvino, Melville, are some of my favorite writers. But in the past year I’ve become obsessed with literary sci-fi and horror. Some books I’ve read in this year include:
    –“Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell
    A very literary, genre-bending, difficult to follow but brillant book. It is a 19th century sea-adventure story, a detective novel, and a futurist sci-fi book. Blew my mind!
    –“Magic for Beginners” by Kelly Link
    –H.P. Lovecraft stories. Though a pulp writer he influenced ALL the great 20th c. sci-fi authors, as well as literary ones (Borges!). He’s like the E.A Poe of sci-fi.

  104. Jakob on February 16, 2008 at 7:51 pm  Chain link

    What not to list:
    Ilium and its sequel Olympos by Simmons, he’s not just political, he’s judgmental and islamophobic – something that shocked me and made me extremely disappointed seeing as he was one of my favorite writers up until that point. Apart from that, there’s not much science in Olympos, but in Hyperion, Simmons balanced that with great narrative. Olympos goes from being decent to really shitty for many reasons. Plot and story arcs that make no sense, and below it all, a view of Islam that would even make the worst religious zealots look uncomfortable, a view that I believed was long ago buried and forgotten in the minds of rational intelligent beings. The kind of view that makes countries go to war, over and over again.

    What to list:
    Hyperion, The Fall of Hyperion, Endymion, The Rise of Endymion by Simmons. At least Hyperion because it’s such a wonderful book. An imaginative fantastic journey. Many stories in one, all beautifully interwoven. Simmons’ magnus opus, or magnus cantos even! :)

    Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson. It balances Heinlein with its political stance and it also has an environmental thrust, a macro scale epic story about terraforming, politics and also quite near future.

    Mimsy Were the Borogoves by Lewis Padgett – science fiction doesn’t need space ships to work! This short story delivers essential SF with small means and a very non-speculative setting. A movie is being made.

    Flowers for Algernon – I read it when I was fourteen and it moved me. It’s still one of the best pieces of SF writing I know.

    Pushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds – maybe not his best but it never lets down the pace. Might be a bit too much space and technology to some people.

    Tau Zero – by Poul Anderson… this is one of the best SF novels I’ve ever read. It’s hard science fiction but it’s also deeply philosophical and manages to deliver a lot of SFish ideas through very few pages.

    Solaris by Stanislaw Lem. Also philosophical but in a very psychological way. A must-read for any serious SF fan. I’ve given this book to friends and they’ve loved it.

  105. A. C. Ellis on April 12, 2008 at 3:05 pm  Chain link

    What a great list! I have read every one of them.

    A. C. Ellis
    Science Fiction and Mystery/Suspense
    Send an e-mail with “newsletter” in the Subject line and receive a FREE newsletter

  106. Rick Klaw on June 14, 2008 at 9:52 am  Chain link

    I dedicated a “Geeks With Books” column complete with a book list to this very subject.

  107. Kenneth E. Ingle on January 25, 2009 at 4:38 pm  Chain link

    Take a look at SARAGOSA PRIME.
    Kenneth Ingle Author

  108. Mike Wilson on March 8, 2009 at 8:04 pm  Chain link

    What a great list this is. I second the Robert Charles Wilson “Spin” recommendation above all.

  109. David Haynes on July 27, 2009 at 11:41 am  Chain link

    Thanks for setting this up, David. I’ve just recently seen it and hope I’m not coming on board too late for adding my dimes’ worth. As a complete book addict I read it all. All genres, fiction and non. The only requirement is a certain level of quality which ends up omitting a great many of the books I glance over in the new-and-useds. Of course we all have a few pet interests. That sweet tooth that
    makes us tolerate a particular 2nd or even 3rd rate candy on occasion, like historical Rome fiction, short stories dealing with time travel. I did a Phd program in Mod Eng Lit(Pound/Joyce) and have a preference for old masters and modern. Current reading for me is Anthony Trollope’s 6 volume PALLISER series. I find today’s fascinating hard science has greatly displaced my youthful obsession with science fiction and yet I still love the genre and would never think of giving up or failing to re-read on occasion the old masters of Sci-Fi: Wells and Stapledon. And though I’ve greatly enjoyed the work of Clarke, Bradberry and LeGuin, though I’ve generally found Heinlein and Asimov etc. clumsy and heavy handed. I am always hoping to find a scifi masterpiece and plan to check out several that were new to me from your list (Wilson and McDonald)
    I absolutely love Stan Lem’s work .No one mentioned his RETURN FROM THE STARS which has to be one of the very best treatments of the subject. And I still think Walter Tevis’ MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH is subtantial literature, not to mention a great read. Many other sci-fi favorites of mine are short stories and novellas. David Hartwell’s THE SCI FI CENTURY is an excellent collection for all readers. But a “great read,” being our real concern here, is really a matter of personal taste. De gustibus non disbutandum. The comparison of “great lit”
    and SciFi and being defensive about that reminds me of late 19th cent debate over photography and painting. Art has little to do with genre and most of the work produced in any genre falls short of great art despite the over use of the words “genius” and “brilliant” by many who wouldn’t really recognize either. Great writing ,for instance, is not simply a matter of esoteric vocabulary, “flowery” language or obscure plot for it’s own sake. e.g. Gene Wolf or Jack Vance. Ever seen Johnathan Winters do fake Shakespeare? Fine literature can be
    difficult for the reader but it’s always worth the work. The difference bewteen the substantial creation and the light-weight is the “weight” that the reader learns to perceive or fails to find in an author’s work. For example it is the huge creation of a complete world,history, and language that the Lord Of The Rings stands so solidly upon and which the reader senses beneath Tolkein’s writing. His words are charged with meaning. It is the lack of this “weight” in 95% of the genre of fantasy that makes reading it impossible for me. No suspension of disbelief is possible when the work is so clearly derivative and two dimensional.

  110. Thegoodman on December 16, 2009 at 1:48 pm  Chain link

    I have read no mention of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Heinlein, I think it is a terrific book and none of the ideas/situations are outlandish enough to scare off any non-scifi fans and the material is mature enough to satisfy most adult readers.

    I agree that Starship Troopers and Stranger in a Strange Land might scare off beginners.

    If you do happen to step into the Fantasy world with this discussion, I think that The Dark Tower and A Song of Ice and Fire are worth mentioning.

  111. Ignorance_Is_Strength on May 15, 2010 at 12:15 pm  Chain link

    Definitely recommend reading the classic George Orwell’s 1984 in secret because Big Brother Is Watching You. Reread it recently and DoubleThink it is applicable to current office politics. Another unmentioned book is The Science Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe

  112. Davor on June 29, 2010 at 6:38 pm  Chain link

    What about The Miles Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold? I can’t judge if it would pass for literary, because I’m not that well read and would probably fall into the ‘Da Vinci Code books stack’. But my grandfather is a literary reader and he ate through the Bujold books almost as quickly as I have. Perhaps I’m more lowbrow than I think but I found the books very interesting, well written and hard to put down. I would of course recommend starting with The Warrior’s apprentice and not the prequels, but they should be read as well.
    Funny thing is, I was attracted to the book because of it’s cover (Croatian edition) by Esad T. Ribic. I’m glad it happened. Don’t know if such a discussion already exists (I’m new to the site), but I’d like to know your thoughts on the relevance of the book’s cover to it’s success. I was attracted to Discworld by it’s covers as well (Kidby and later Kirby).

  113. Kathleen Goonan on October 3, 2010 at 1:44 pm  Chain link

    Not a new discussion, but perennially interesting; particularly interesting to writers who feel mis-drawered, as Vonnegut characterized it, in 1965:

    I have been a sore-headed occupant of a file-drawer labeled ”science- fiction” ever since [publishing PLAYER PIANO], and I would like out, particularly since so many serious critics regularly mistake the drawer for a tall white fixture in a comfort station.

    The way a person gets into this drawer, apparently, is to notice technology. The feeling persists that no one can simultaneously be a respectable writer and understand how a refrigerator works, just as no gentleman wears a brown suit in the city.

    There’s more at http://www.vonnegutweb.com/archives/arc_scifi.html. Obviously, Vonnegut got out.

    In her famous BBC inteview years ago, Atwood said that science fiction was about bug-eyed monsters and talking squids in space and that obviously, what she wrote was speculative, not science, fiction. Conveniently “SF.” She’s backed off of that position a bit now, but still prefers to keep the bit in her mouth and lead the audience this way or that, depending.

    I think that often people who read quickly simply don’t like to be slowed by the unfamiliar terms that those in the sf club absorbed years ago; it is a kind of code that keeps some readers out. Also, as Vonnegut says in his full essay, it kind of goes back to Snow’s two-culture observation, in which a wilful ignorance of All Things Technical (or, conversely, All Things Time-Wastingly Literary) seems bred into our sadly bifurcated education system.

    I did recommend The Dispossessed to a high-lit friend of mine over thirty years ago; plucked it from a college-bookstore bin in Corvallis and said, “You ought to read this.” His reply: “I don’t read science fiction.” Period. I didn’t continue the argument at that point.

    Most people are simply not very catholic readers. If you want a non-sf reader to acquire a new taste, you really do have to tread carefully.

    I do recall the exact time and date (July 4, 1980) when I plucked Crowley’s Engine Summer from my father’s pile of vacation reading and he looked up from reading Heinlein and said, “That’s really good.” It is. Wouldn’t be a bad place to start the converstion process.

  114. Michelle on January 11, 2011 at 1:14 pm  Chain link

    WE by Yevgeny Zamyatin. Excellent book. I even collect different translations of it.

  115. Farhan on April 19, 2011 at 9:45 am  Chain link

    I read a lot of science fiction but it’s very rare that I’m truly impressed by a book.

    ‘Spin’ by Robert Charles Wilson simply took my breath away.

    Ted Chiang’s short stories are meticulously crafted gems of deep-thinking genius/

    Robert J. Sawyer’s ‘Mindscan,’ ‘Rollback,’ and ‘Calculating God’ are awe-inspiring for their philosophical bent combined with good story-telling.

    Patrick Lee’s ‘The Breach’ is probably the best when it comes to combining science fiction, breathless pacing, and deft twists of the plot that would give any mystery writer a run for his/ her money.

    But, Mr. Edelman, keeping your ‘literary’ requirement in mind, I’d highly, highly recommend:

    ‘Daemon’ by Daniel Suarez to those literary snobs, or to anyone else for that matter, you included. It is just too good a book to miss. Do give it a shot, if you haven’t already.

  116. Terry Burns on May 26, 2011 at 10:50 am  Chain link

    Just found this site, as I’m doing some research on certain themes in speculative fiction. Excellent posts, folks, a cut well above the usual blogosphere blather. Only problem is I now have a whole lot more items on my “have not read yet but must do so” list. One suggestion I don’t believe anyone mentioned was Russell Hoban’s “Riddley Walker” – a stunning apocalypse-themed tour de force for anyone interested in language evolution and the making of myths. The language takes a bit of getting used to, but if you stick with it you’ll find suddenly it just begins to make sense, and it’s a terrific read. If anyone is still watching this blog, I need some help. . .recommendations specific to consciousness, sentience, telepathy, and mind/body themes in speculative fiction. Thanks!

  117. Brent on January 10, 2012 at 6:51 pm  Chain link

    I think the key is to avoid anything that is gimmicky or features a strong male protagonist in any situation that might make him seem too much like a “Great Man”. Probably also a good idea to avoid anything with a steep learning curve, like hard sci-fi.

    There’s a lot of interesting suggestions here, but I want to recommend Michael Flynn’s Eifelheim. It’s like a sci-fi Name of the Rose, only far better. Flynn’s grasp of language should take anyone’s breath away and the story is well-researched and incredibly touching. It has aliens and even a spaceship, but the story is more focused on the everyday lives of people in a medieval village, and the timeless theme of people trying to grasp the world around them.

  118. Mehul gohil on July 30, 2012 at 9:30 am  Chain link

    Stand On Zanzibar by John Brunner

  119. […] Louis Edelman is looking for some recommendations for ‘literary’ SF novels, with a focus on SF books appropriate for non-SF reading […]

  120. Alan Barker on October 24, 2012 at 7:57 am  Chain link

    Firstly, thanks to David for kicking off a discussion that has lasted more than 5 years as I write today.

    I’ve been reading SF for more than 40 years now, and have gained a lot of joy out of it over those years. I’m not sure if I’m literary, but I find going back to many old classics that I enjoyed, the Clarkes etc, just make me cringe now at the almost childlike quality of the writing. I used to like hard SF, but without credible characters and motivation, good dialog, an overall setting that allows me to “suspend my disbelief”, a twist of excitement, and some thoughtful substance, a book won’t hold me any more, and in SF that has for me become harder to find. For that reason a few years ago I reluctantly crossed the great divide and started to read some fantasy as well. Several people have mentioned Neil Gaimans’ “American Gods” which I thoroughly endorse, along with most of the rest of what he has written to date; He is maybe the Philip K Dick of urban fantasy. Patrick Rothfuss’ “The Name of the Wind” is just an awesome personal reflection and deserves wide acclaim. These two are very strong storytellers, making you feel as if you are peering into the human condition somewhat. Perhaps I’m out of place here, but I suspect little of the geeky SF is going to appeal to “literary” readers for similar reasons I had trouble accepting fantasy as an SF reader: I had trouble getting past the image of people haring around on horses waving swords at each other (except in the case of SF it’s light swords). To me there is an air of quiet desperation about a fair chunk of modern SF: a gallop towards the endpoint of bigger and bigger ideas and cleverness at the expense of good old fashioned storytelling.

    Sorry for going somewhat off topic.

  121. Gaf on March 8, 2014 at 11:31 am  Chain link

    A comment on 2001: The film came before the book, although Clark and Kubric collaborated on the screenplay.
    As others have hinted, Heinlein is far from literary. A couple of his books lean in that direction, but the cheese factor by far cancels out the depth.
    I’ve certainly not read every writer in the genre, but I would say Leguin produced the most literary science fiction I’ve ever read, excepting the Earthsea books. Everything about her writing is layered beautifully.
    Another poster mentioned Riddley Walker, which is one of my favorites. Hoban did some amazing stuff, but unfortunately, his bizarre experimental style made him obscure. I would venture that nobody mentioned the book because few have actually read it. Or maybe it doesn’t quite fit into the sci-fi category; he’s one of those writers who sort of flirts with the genre but never really goes all in.

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