Looking for recent Fantasy/SF

So, if you’re reading this you probably know I’m a fantasy fan… sort of. Because the truth is, I haven’t actively been reading new fantasy novels since the early part of the last decade. Since then, I’ve been mostly re-reading books, following a couple of my favourite authors (Hobb, Martin, Pratchett have lasted the longest), and now and then catching up on something I might have read as a kid but never actually did [plus trying to catch up on some classic SF, and even some non-genre works].

And I’m not going to suddenly go back to being a huge pulp fantasy reader. Don’t have the time or the energy.

But there’s been a meme this week, ‘which popular series have you secretly not read?’ or the like… and I look at people’s answers, and not only have I not read any of these popular series, I haven’t even heard of most of them! And this has pushed me to a crisis (er… in the technical sense, not the melodramatic sense!) that I’ve been heading toward for a while now.

I need to go at least a little way toward actually catching up on some of what everybody else has been reading the last decade.

But since I’ve not been reading it, I don’t know what it is.

So. I’m going to buy some books. Does anybody have any suggestions as to what I should buy?

– should mostly be fantasy, or maybe approachable SF
– should have been written in the last 15 years or so
– not necessarily THE biggest series, but should be fairly well known (unless it’s really fantastic, of course!)- I’m not hugely interested in grimdark for the sake of grimdark, although I don’t mind some mature content in a good cause
– I’m not really interested in political screeds and gimmicky pointscoring, whether it’s from the ‘Left’ or from the ‘Right’. I don’t mind sincere ideological content under the skin of a book, but if its main attraction is it being politically ‘right on’ for some readers, it’ll probably irritate me.
– I like intellectual, artistic, unique books. On the other hand, I can also appreciate big dumb fun books. [what tends to irritate me is books that pretend to be intellectual, artistic and unique, while actually being commercial and simplistic]
– I can really love huge tomes. I love Hobb’s giant books, I really quite liked Martin’s latest even gianter book. I can love big series. On the other hand, I don’t have has much time or energy for this as I used to have, so a huge long book or a massive series is going to have to be really good to get me to stick with it. And ideally it should get good very quickly if it wants to hook me.
– In terms of subgenre, I’d really like to discover some new epic fantasy to get into. But I have eclectic tastes, and I’m will to try pretty much anything, even romance (I actually really like romance stories in theory… I just almost always find them infuriatingly awful in practice; by ‘awful’, I mostly mean too much inauthentic and overly-cliché angsting).
– oh, and at present I only read actual, physical books. Feel free to mention things only available digitally, since I do intend to move with the times eventually, but I’m mostly looking for actual paper things I can buy.


Three things NOT to recommend to me: Seraphina, which I’ve read (liked it, I’ll buy the sequel, but I didn’t love it); Gail Carriger and Joe Abercrombie – I’ve got copies of books by both of them, which I do intend to read, but haven’t gotten around to yet.


So, anyone got some good ideas for me? [Many thanks in advance for your help!]

13 thoughts on “Looking for recent Fantasy/SF

  1. Hans says:

    Do you include Urban Fantasy? Then try Ben Aaronovich, starting with “Rivers of London”. A mix of the Classic Detective novel with the fantastical. Nothing too original, but nice light reading.

  2. Bartimaeus says:

    Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark (pub. 2004) – delightful combo of social comedy cum fairytale/folklore cum dark fantasy (but def. not grimdark) set in alt-universe 1800s England. Probably falls into the “intellectual, artistic, unique” category (and it won a roomful of awards) but also quite popular (>100k Goodreads ratings). Strengths – prose, characters, humor, setting. Possible weakness that people seem to have encountered – pacing – but I found myself pulled in right from the beginning.

  3. Simen says:

    Have you read anything by China Mieville? The first two books in his Bas-Lag universe (Perdido Street Station and especially The Scar) are excellent. I haven’t read the third book (The Council I believe it’s called), although I hear it gets a little more political. The language is pretentious at times, but the payoff is worth it.

    Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation triology, published last year, is the best speculative fiction I’ve read in years. It’s billed as science fiction, but could easily go under the category of “fantasy set in the real world.” At least the two first books, I haven’t gotten to the third one yet.

    I’m also a fan of short fiction. Steven Millhauser has a lot of recognition in mainstream literary circles, former Pulitzer winner but most of his fiction is full of the fantastical, although ostensibly set in the real world. A bit of magical realism, which I consider a subgenre of fantasy anyway. Not the kind where magical stuff isn’t the main attraction, it’s very much so. Although maybe you only wanted novels? Ted Chiang is also worth looking into for novellas/short stories, winner of a bunch of Hugo, Nebula etc awards. You can find a lot of his stuff online, including “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate”, which is a time travel story set in an Arabian Nights-style setting. But his writing is also available in print. There’s a collection, Stories of Your Life and Others, which just gets into your timeframe (published 2002).

    You’ll probably be interested in the title novella, Story of Your Life. It’s kind of an aliens-meets-Sapir-Whorf mashup, with a linguist in the main role. It’s apparently being adapted into a film to come out next year.

  4. Nathan says:

    You strike me as someone who can dig into the massive hidden subtext of R Scott Bakker’s Prince of Nothing series. But since you used to visit Westeros a lot I should probably assume you already know of it.

    And to the poster above the third Bas Lag book is Iron Council. Also a series worth reading.

    For something more popcorn but willing to get more serious as it goes I really like Rachael Aaron’s Eli Monpress series.

  5. jshupac says:

    If you haven’t read these already, I would check out Till We Have Faces by CS Lewis, The Worm Ouroboros by ER Eddison, or The Wild Things by Dave Eggers.

  6. Many thanks, guys!

    jshupac: rather older than I’m looking for right now! But yes, I’ll get around to them eventually.

    China Mieville: got about a third of the way into PSS, didn’t hate it, didn’t really see the point, got distracted. All seemed very conventional, like a planescape rulebook or something. But I know I didn’t read enough to judge it fairly, and I do intend to go back to it.

    Yeah, I know of Bakker, though he’d slipped my mind. I’ve only seen a few pages of text, but it seemed rather pretentious and heavy. Still, I do intend to read it at some point, so thanks for reminding me about it…

    chiang: i do badly at reading short story collections! I do actually have Chiang’s, and I read a couple of the stories many years ago, liked them I think but don’t remember them, never got around to reading the others… maybe I should dig it out of wherever I put it…

    Millhauser: never heard of him! But I have now. I won’t be looking into his stories right now, because I actually already have a bunch of short stories I ought to read (I’ve got collections by LeGuin and Wolfe to get through, and one that’s more modern), but I’ll remember the name.

    Vandermeer: I instinctly loathe Vandermeer for his geek-hate, fantasy-bashing and general philosophy of literature, so I’m not sure I could bring myself to actually read his fiction. But I must admit, I have seen plenty of other praise for this series.

    Strange and Norell: I’ve just watched the TV series and was very impressed, so i will read this. Not sure I want to read it just yet, though – I may decide to let my memories of the TV version fade a bit before I try the book.

    Eli Monpress: I recognise this name, but know nothing beyond that. I should look into it…

  7. Oh, wait, no, it’s M John Harrison I loathe. I loathe Vandermeer only by association, and by never being able to remember which is which…

  8. Bartimaeus says:

    Adding a few more suggestions (all big, popular authors).

    Scott Lynch – Known for The Lies of Locke Lamora, a witty heist novel, but you could also start with A Year and a Day in Old Theradane, a novella. It’s in the anthology “Rogues”, edited by GRRM & Gardner Dozois.

    Pat Rothfuss – Again I suggest starting with a novella, The Lightning Tree. This is also in the Rogues anthology. People tend to praise his prose (although some find it a bit too purple), and subtle plotting (sort of like a light version of Gene Wolfe).

    Brandon Sanderson – The Emperor’s Soul, a novella. Known for his systemic magic; people generally agree that this is his best work. (And it won a Hugo).

    You mentioned reading Le Guin – check out her Annals of the Western Shore (pub. 2004) trilogy. It was marketed as YA fantasy but I think that’s a bit of a hard sell. It’s a trio of quiet, introspective, character-driven stories (and each book is practically a standalone).

  9. Dewrad says:

    I’m going to suggest K J Parker’s novels: “Sharps” is a stand-alone and a good starting point, and the worldbuilding feels reassuring fleshed-out. And I like Byzantium references. Interesting author as well: for a long time there was speculation about her identity (the consensus seemed to be that Parker was a woman), until Parker was recently outed as actually being Tom Holt.

    Have you read any Guy Gavriel Kay yet? His early stuff (the Fionavar Tapestry) is so-so, but with “A Song for Arbonne”, “The Lions of Al-Rassan” and the Sarantine Mosaic he really hit his stride. “Under Heaven” and “River of Stars” are both wonderful.

    Both are popular authors, although perhaps slightly more “intellectual” than the kind of pulp fantasy we both grew up with.

  10. Dew! Good to see you here!

    Thanks for the recommendations (I’ve now got too many books to read before I can buy more (apart from the two more that I’ve just bought, that is…), but it’s only a matter of time…)

    Parker I do mean to try (the one thing that puts me off is that some have accused her (I’m just going to stick with ‘her’, damnit) of annoying continuity errors (I mean, annoying even by the weak standards of fantasy continuity).

    Kay… well, I’ve read The Silmarillion, but that probably doesn’t count. My issues with Kay are first that I’m inherently biased against ‘historical fantasy’ writers (don’t know why – not that they can’t write well, just that… I dislike the idea? Maybe I subconsciously think of it as cheating or something?), and that the reactions I’ve seen have been… hard to understand. Some adore him, some seem to hate him, and I can’t seem to work out the pattern to it. I have been tempted by ‘Tigana’, though.

  11. Looks like you’ve get a pretty healthy list of suggestions here but I’m going to go ahead and throw the Lightbringer series by Brent Weeks onto the pile – it’s an excellent fantasy saga which, while not intellectual, is well considered while also being a lot of fun.

  12. rotting ham says:

    The one which is obligatory that you read is Jasper Fforde’s Shades of Grey. It’s quality post-apocalyptic British comedy SF.

    Ricardo Pinto’s Stone Dance of the Chameleon is considered a classic of a new subgenre called “low fantasy”. The culture deliberately runs counter to contemporary values and there are dinosaur riders and stuff, but it has zero magic. You might find it a bit pretentious though.

    In alternate history, I enjoyed Michael Chabon’s Yiddish Policeman’s Union, but not everyone shares my appetite for Jewishness for its own sake.

    Regarding the more literary/surreal type works rather than straight up genre SF, I very strongly recommend Etgar Keret’s Nimrod Flipout short story collection.

    In science fiction, my all time favorites are Greg Egan’s Orthogonal trilogy and Yudkowsky’s Three Worlds Collide. The latter you’ve probably read already. The former has an undeniable tinge of politics, but what I liked was the alternate physics. I also liked Charles Stross’ Accelerando, which is available for free online. I thought Redshirts was fun, but I usually enjoy cute jokes like: http://slatestarcodex.com/2015/06/02/and-i-show-you-how-deep-the-rabbit-hole-goes/

    There’s a book called Aristoi that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone who didn’t start out by saying he hates pretentiousness. If you can bring yourself to look past some pretentiousness, then the plot hinges on the protagonist’s having a split personality.

  13. Rabindranauth says:

    For fantasy:
    1. Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. If you haven’t read it yet, at least. Really fun book that has so much subtext to it you can’t help but enjoy. Also, you’ll get why I say Gaiman’s an author that’s usually childish and innocent in an adult sort of way, but can get dark and gritty when he wants to.

    2. Caitlin R. Kiernan’s The Drowning Girl. A very unusual, topsy turvy ride. I’ve read it nearly a year now and it’s still not a book I can come down decidedly on. I won’t say you’ll enjoy it, but I can promise it’ll be an interesting experience.

    3. Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora. Very fun. Who doesn’t love to root for con men and scallywags even though we despise the ones in real life? The series dips after the first book, unfortunately, but they all seem to be standalone anyway.

    4. China Mieville’s The Scar. I know you had a crap experience with PSS, which sounds only slightly worse than the one I had. The Scar is definitely a much, much better book.

    And then for SF. I haven’t read much recent SF, so there’s really only two books I’d recommend to people:
    1. Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon. There’s a bunch of white people publishing books who’re being lauded as diverse and minority progressive and all that crap. And then there’s Nnedi in the background watching in amusement. It’s a first contact book that’s more interesting for showing how diverse literature can be than for the story it actually tells, if that makes sense?

    2. Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem. This book is a hard SF orgasm waiting to happen. The guy has so many ideas he uses, I’d love to share them with you but I won’t because I’d rather you read it and get blindly mindfucked 😀

    Hope those help! Even though I’m nearly two months late . . . .

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