Post requesting introductory-SF suggestions got deleted

My post requesting introductory-SF suggestions got accidentally deleted due to a WordPress interface feature I didn’t quite understand and momentary inattention.

Never fear, I had already digested most of the suggestions and am working on the result.

37 thoughts on “Post requesting introductory-SF suggestions got deleted

  1. Backups? Maybe post and comments are there, just unreferenced?

    That’s good that you are working on the list, and that not all was lost… nevertheless it’s a pity that 300+ comments gone down the drain.

  2. The post can be found via RSS (archives?), comments… not so much.

    Crowdsourcing request – SF books for newbies
    ==================================

    Armed and Dangerous by esr May 27

    I’ve had a request recently that I put together a list of good books to get people started towards becoming knowledgeable readers of SF.

    I know the inner logic, conventions, and history of SF extremely well – I trust that this is manifest in the reviews I write. I believe I’m excellently qualified to curate such a list and explain why each entry belongs in it.

    What I am not sure of is that, through over-familiarity with the field, I won’t miss obvious candidates. So I’m going to crowdsource the nominations. Please leave title/author info in a comment; optionally, add a sentence or two about why you think it belongs. More than one suggestion per comment is OK.

    Here are some guidelines:

    * Do not propose books simply because you think they are matchless classics: many matchless classics are advanced material not suitable for newbies. (This might be another list)

    * Do not propose books simply because they are historically important; much historically important SF is a harder-than-necessary slog for the new reader. (This too might be another list.)

    * Not interested in fantasy unless it’s the sort of hard fantasy that appeals to SF fans. If you don’t understand this category, don’t try recommending fantasy at all.

    * Must be in print. Best if it’s available as a low-cost e-book, to reduce barriers to entry.

    * Juvenile and YA fiction is not excluded but examples worthy of this list should be rewarding for adults as well.

    Let the mayhem begin.

  3. Paraphrasing:

    There are two kinds of people: those who do regular backups and those who never had a hard drive failure^W^W^W data los incident.

    • >Also, the final list seems to be missing. It should be at http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=5798, but that gives a 404 error.

      There is no final list yet. I accidentally posted a draft, then later deleted it. This was part of the chain iof errors that led to the requesr being deleted.

    • >If you want the actual page HTML for easier reading, I can send that to you too.

      Hm. Try posting that page as a comment on this rescue thread, please. That way we’ll have at least an approximation of the thread content visible on the site.

  4. I found out the post was deleted because trying to comment bounced.

    So here’s the comment, although it’s probably too late for your list:

    A *wee* bit long, but you could add “Worm” to the list – it’s a million+ words of fairly accessible SF.

    http://parahumans.wordpress.com/2011/06/11/1-1/

    I want to second the recommendation above for Lee/Miller’s _Agent of Change_ – it’s a good standalone book, and it starts off a great series. As a plus, if the reader likes _AoC_, then _Carpe Diem_ takes up the action immediately afterwards so they can just keep going (although it introduces characters from _Conflict of Honors_, so it might be worth reading that between the 2). The 5 early books in the series are available as a bundle from Baen: http://www.baenebooks.com/p-599-korvals-legacy-collection.aspx

  5. That pastebin appears to have everything from the beginning except for markup and links. The only comments it’s missing were two at the end, according to my email records:

    Greg wrote: “I adored Cryptonomicon but it may be too much of an enforced history lesson- it’s much more historical fiction than sf fans probably want. But I enjoy historical fiction as well. Certain things like the u-boat night surface ops I thought were fantastic. Stephenson researches obsessively, and it shows. But of course YMMV. (If you liked that sort of thing, you’ll LOVE the encounter with Edward Teach in Massachusetts Bay in Quicksilver.)”

    K Welch wrote: “On “datedness”: I have a hunch that the mythical sf “newbie” would find anything written before, say, 1999 as old fashioned and dated.”

    That may be all. Again, the only other content I think was missing was links. Any links I posted should be detectible from context, however, and could be reproduced by a websearch easily enough.

  6. Incidentally, I agree that Cryptonomicon is more historical fiction, even though I really like it and also consider it “hard” even though it’s not strictly SF.

    Theme-wise, again, hard SF could be set in the past. Even the distant past, and without time travel. (I wonder if there’s any stories out there about someone long ago doing something that would have been hard SF if that time were the present. If you know what I mean. As in, someone in ancient Greece figuring out gunpowder-based explosives and the implications therefrom.)

  7. There are two kinds of people: those who do regular backups and those who never had a hard drive failure^W^W^W data los incident.

    No, there isn’t.

    There are only the kind of people who make backups and lose small amounts of data, and those who do not make backups and lose more.

    How often do you practice recovering your backups? Are you SURE it’s all there? What happens to data deleted because you’ve got it stored elsewhere, only to find out–after the next full backup that no, it wasn’t Over There. etc. etc.

  8. Ah, yes:

    “Real men don’t backup their data. They put them on an FTP-Server and let people mirror them.”
    – Linus Torvalds

  9. I’ve had three of my WordPress blog posts vanish without notice after I, to the best of my ability, made sure they had gone online. I’ve abandoned my WordPress blog for this reason and this reason alone (i.e. other than this one problem, it really seems like the best blog out there.) If I could get some clues as to what the [blue streak of unprintable expletives] is going wrong, you’ll have my eternal gratitude.

  10. @ dtsund on 2014-05-31 at 19:13:27

    Thanks for the downloadable ! Now I can read and consult at my leisure (like years from now !)

  11. ESR — if you’re still considering titles, I’d like to put forward a vote for one of my “gateway drugs” from the last millenium: “The Zero Stone” by Andre Norton.

  12. The book that introduced me to science fiction, about 20 years ago, was The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume 1, edited by Robert Silverberg. It had some classic short stories, including Nightfall by Isaac Asimov, The Cold Equations by Tom Godwin, Mimsy Were the Borogoves by Lewis Padgett, and Surface Tension by James Blish. It was enough to get me to want to read more, and from there I read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, and other classics.

    The Far Time Incident by Neve Maslakovic is more recent, and would be a good gateway book for mystery readers, I think. It is a time-travel mystery novel, with a realistic depiction of academia, and clearer rules than in Connie Willis’ time travel books. I liked the audiobook version of it.

    Robert Sawyer’s books seem to have some appeal to the literary crowd, at least in Canada. I think good entry points would be Illegal Alien, Calculating God, or Mindscan, but others would likely work too.

    The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon features an autistic main character, and has some similarities to Flowers For Algernon. I really liked it, and I think it would be another good entry point for the literary crowd.

    For someone who likes watching Star Trek, but hasn’t yet read some science fiction books, I would suggest Expendable by James Alan Gardner. It features starships and expendable crew members.

    For someone who likes exploring gender issues, I would recommend Commitment Hour by James Alan Gardner, in which a village changes sex each year until the age of 20, and the short story collection The Birthday Of The World and Other Stories, by Ursula Leguin, featuring some stories on the world of O, where marriages involve 4 people and both heterosexual and homosexual relationships.

    For someone who likes The Davinci Code, I would recommend Dante’s Equation by Jane Jensen. It is a science fictional look at what would happen if the Kabbalah described alternate worlds to which people could physically travel.

    For someone who likes romance, I would recommend Cordelia’s Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold (an omnibus of two books: Shards of Honor, and Barrayar.)

    For people who have to drive long distances, and want something to listen to, I would recommend the Serrano-Suiza series or the Vatta’s War series by Elizabeth Moon, in full cast audio, by Graphic Audio. I suspect some truckers are getting introduced to science fiction this way, since the company sells their audiobooks at truck stops as well as online.

  13. So I was all set to write comment a couple of days ago but irritating things like having to do some work and get on a plane intervened. Then the thread disappeared.

    I had some recommendations apart from a general “take a look at the Baen Free Library” one

    What I think you need to do is break it up by common trope/theme and pick a book in each one

    1) Classic Space Opera
    – The various Lee & Miller liad books starting of course with Agent of Change
    – Weber’s Honor Harrington, starting with A Short Victorious War
    – Bujold’s Vorkosigan series – not sure where to start though
    2) Stuck in the solar system libertarian-ish
    – Darkship Thieves by Sarah Hoyt
    3) Aliens (try to) conquer earth
    – The Course of Empire by Eric Flint and K. D. Wentworth
    – Live Free or Die by John Ringo
    4) First contact outside solar system
    – Slow Train to Arcturus by Eric Flint and Dave Freer (also slower than light travel)
    5) Near future stuck on earth
    – Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon
    6) Multiverses
    – The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov

    One trope I want to think of a good book for but can’t is time travel

    Someone mentioned somewhere that they wanted a Iain Banks Culture book. There’s really only one suitable IMO – Player of Games. All the rest tend to be hard going in spots, not to mention depressing.

    If you want classics then I think Heinleins “Moon is a Harsh Mistress” is probably the best to start with if you don’t like the Asimov multiverse one

  14. For the suggestion list:

    The Murray Leinster MedShip series, in fact you have mentioned them before IIRC.

    Also a story that I can’t remember the title, or the author (thought it was Phillip K. Dick but no). It is set in a post collapse interstellar civilization starting on an out of the way planet with a highly eliptical orbit that was formerly a research station. The inhabitants have adaptions to handle the extreme seasonal shifts in environment, and during the winter train and compete in a massive series of games with very broad scope.

    In the story the “Winner” of the most recent championship is recruited to help deal with a problem on an ancient mining world where (as discovered in the story) some of the evolved humans have a symbiote in their brains removing many of the higher brain functions.

    Worth reading if only for the words distinguishing mutually beneficial symbiosis vs. parasitical symbiosis, which I naturally can’t remember right now either.

  15. No worries. I’ll just put in a FOIA request to my local NSA “representative”, and we’ll have a full transcript.

  16. TRX’ “10 Books for New SF Readers”

    1) “The Nagasaki Vector” by L. Neil Smith
    2) “Voice of the Whirlwind” by Walter Jon Williams
    3) “The Witches of Karres” by James Schmitz
    4) “Peeps” by Scott Westerfeld
    5) “The Atrocity Archives” by Charles Stross
    6) “In the Courts of the Crimson Kings” by S.M. Stirling
    7) “Necrom” by Mick Farren
    8) “The Eyre Affair” by Jasper Fforde
    9) “Retief of the CDT” by Keith Laumer
    10) “Century Rain” by Alastair Reynolds

    Several are parts of a series, but complete of themselves. There were a few I passed over that are parts of series that either aren’t complete or not worth much without the others.

    “Witches of Karres” and “Peeps” are YA genre, but well-written and enjoyable. “Retief of the CDT”, “The Eyre Affair”, and “The Nagasaki Vector” are ROFL funny. “The Atrocity Archives”, “In the Courts of the Crimson Kings”, and “Necrom” are good workmanlike SF. “Century Rain” and “Voice of the Whirlwind” are pretty hardcore. I debated including them, but they are novels you’ll either like a whole lot or just say “WTF?!”

  17. I’m glad you recovered; you probably don’t need it but I happened to have pasted and emailed your draft list. I popped over to the salvation army and found a copy of a 3-volume edition of Stainless Steel Rat (+returns, +saves the world), and from page 1 was thoroughly hooked, amazingly enjoyable, thanks so much for the recommendation, I can’t wait for the final list!

  18. “Theme-wise, again, hard SF could be set in the past. Even the distant past, and without time travel.”

    Of course. Arthur Clarke wrote a short story about aliens coming to Earth in the Fertile Crescent long before the rise of ancient Babylon. Asimov wrote the very creative “Nothing for Nothing” about aliens visiting Earth and contacting early Paleolithic hunters.

    “(I wonder if there’s any stories out there about someone long ago doing something that would have been hard SF if that time were the present. If you know what I mean. As in, someone in ancient Greece figuring out gunpowder-based explosives and the implications there from.)

    The short story “Da Vinci Rising” published in a fairly recent Gardner Dozois anthology would qualify. Leonardo manages to develop very crude gliders that are unreliable and highly unsafe, but still marginally good enough for military observation.

    “Robert Sawyer’s books seem to have some appeal to the literary crowd, at least in Canada.”

    He’s a good writer, but his books reek of left-wing politics. In Canada, he’s probably in the mainstream, but in the US, no. I like his writing style, but his plausibility rating is very low. His characters behave the way the left thinks they behave, but they really don’t.

    “The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume 1, edited by Robert Silverberg. It had some classic short stories, including Nightfall by Isaac Asimov, The Cold Equations by Tom Godwin, Mimsy Were the Borogoves by Lewis Padgett, and Surface Tension by James Blish.”

    That’s a terrific set — all classic stories.

  19. “”Robert Sawyer’s books seem to have some appeal to the literary crowd, at least in Canada.”

    He’s a good writer, but his books reek of left-wing politics. In Canada, he’s probably in the mainstream, but in the US, no. I like his writing style, but his plausibility rating is very low. His characters behave the way the left thinks they behave, but they really don’t.”

    That’s an interesting point. Maybe the list of which books would work well as gateway books would vary by country or culture. I suppose how well the characters are written and whether they behave plausibly is also a point to consider.

    Here is some of what I was thinking about when I recommended the books. In Illegal Alien, Robert Sawyer does a good job of explaining why prime numbers could be useful in contacting aliens. It is a good introduction to this well-known concept in science fiction. He also does a good job showing why arguments for Intelligent Design are flawed. He manages to be an atheist, and write about that topic without pissing off religious people. He once wanted to be a paleontologist, and mostly gets paleontology-related things right. The book isn’t futuristic now. Instead it is an alternate history of what might have happened if aliens had landed just after the O.J. Simpson trial.

    I like Calculating God because it has an alien spaceship landing on the Royal Ontario Museum, which is an excellent museum, and a place I have been to. I like the opening scene where that happens more than the rest of the book.

    Sawyer has a knack for making infodumps easily digestible to people who aren’t used to them. He also often writes about present day or near future settings, with just one change, which makes the books accessible to people who aren’t used to science fiction.

    My favourite of Sawyer’s characters is Afsan in Far-Seer, who more-or-less becomes the dinosaur Galileo. I don’t recall much left-wing politics in that book, but it has been years since I read it. “Cannibalistic dinosaurs on a moon orbiting a gas giant go through the Scientific Enlightenment” is a good hook for people who already like science fiction, but I suspect it wouldn’t go over that well with newcomers. So I didn’t recommend it as a gateway book.

    What other books would do similar things and also work for people who do not want to read about left-wing politics? That is, what would be good recommendations for books set in our world in present day or near future, with good explanations of concepts such as prime numbers, that explore ideas in a science fictional way, but remain accessible? Also, what SF books have paleontology in them?

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