What has happened to all of the good Science FICTION writers?

Alastair Reynolds, Charles Stross, Ken MacLeod, Peter F Hamilton, Paul McAuley, John Meaney, Iain M Banks, Justina Robson, Ian McDonald, Adam Roberts, Stephen Baxter, Gwyneth Jones, Tricia Sullivan, Neal Asher, Simon Morden, Gareth L Powell, Pat Cadigan, Liz Williams, Gary Gibson, Michael Cobley and Eric Brown. Apologies to those I've missed out or haven't read yet.

Great list. Thank you!

Of these, which authors are best in terms of writing strong characters ... or in terms of forefronting characters as much as they would other aspects (such as science)?

Could any of them compete with the likes of the best fantasy authors (e.g., GRRM or Guy Gavriel Kay) in terms of writing characters ... or indeed, in terms of their writing?

Of the above, I've enjoyed Alastair Reynolds, finding his settings very good indeed, and his characters often good too. I own several Peter F. Hamilton books, but something (maybe mixed reviews, or the size of the books) has stopped me taking the plunge.

Coragem.
 
Could any of them compete with the likes of the best fantasy authors (e.g., GRRM or Guy Gavriel Kay) in terms of writing characters ... or indeed, in terms of their writing?

Coragem.

I think these are two seperate questions. Sci-fi and fantasy are different, even though the two are often said in one breath. Sci-fi is about the ideas, the possibilities of the future, in a way fantasy isn't, and is often less character based. But, there are fantastic characters in sci-fi, too; Paul Atreides is a classic, character is a magnificently detailed world. Ender in Ender's game is another classic character based sci fi book.

You mention GRRM and, on the basis of some of the stuff written on the threads, I picked his stuff up and found the number of characters too much for me, the sheer scale of them daunting, and they got in the way of the plot for me. I'll stick with it a little longer, though.

Which then comes to the second point. I find his writing very good, excellent, I wish I could string two words together even as quarter as well. :eek: But his writing is no better than good sci-fi writer (including many in the list below),just different in terms of what he's describing, the way he describes.
 
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Great list. Thank you!

Of these, which authors are best in terms of writing strong characters ... or in terms of forefronting characters as much as they would other aspects (such as science)?

Could any of them compete with the likes of the best fantasy authors (e.g., GRRM or Guy Gavriel Kay) in terms of writing characters ... or indeed, in terms of their writing?

Of the above, I've enjoyed Alastair Reynolds, finding his settings very good indeed, and his characters often good too. I own several Peter F. Hamilton books, but something (maybe mixed reviews, or the size of the books) has stopped me taking the plunge.

Coragem.

Based on my own reading, I’ve skipped those I haven't read enough of to comment on. Some of these guys have written a variety of stuff in different styles so these are "in general".

Alastair Reynolds - Tends towards "hard" Sci-fi, does epic plotting well, characters ok - good but not the central focus.

Charles Stross - Tends towards "hard" sci-fi but has written a lot of other sub-genre. Extrapolates convincingly from a core idea, writes "tight", shorter books. Characters are generally good for the usually small number of the core cast.

Ken MacLeod - Tends towards reasonably "hard" sci-fi, often with a strong political element. Writes shorter novels (i.e. 200,000 words or so); plot and characters fit the "idea".

Peter F Hamilton - Writes epic fantasy sized multi-book space opera / science fantasy. With a few exceptions they fast moving and highly engaging, especially considering the size. Characterisation and world building sometimes feels more fantasy like than sci-fi.

Paul McAuley - Writes hard and often near-future sci-fi with a bit of a "thriller" feel. Intricacies of plot tend to come before character.

John Meaney – Writes space opera / science fantasy or the plain weird – generally idea rich with a lot of plot pace.

Iain M Banks – Writes space opera / science fantasy – has a good claim to have revived the form after it fell out of fashion in the “new wave” of the 60’s and 70’s. Early books are exuberantly full of ideas and action – most memorable characters tend to be AIs.

Ian McDonald – Tends towards intelligent, near future, extrapolation based SF. Recent works are very character based, yet still manage to invoke a plausible and fully realised future setting. Can’t recommend highly enough – If I had to pick one of these guys to go “head to head” with the best fantasy writers Ian would be my choice.

Adam Roberts – “Idea” writer, no series. There is often strong scientific basis for the idea even if the application is *cough* implausible. Characterisation is good but rarely of sympathetic individuals.


Neal Asher – Space opera / science fantasy – often involving odd biology or ecosystems. Characterisation and writing can be a bit hit or miss but the pace of action usually sweeps you past that.


P.S. Just adding the fact that for the majority of this list I own most/all of their works (quite a lot in HC) so anything that looks negative is intended more as a guide to what the new reader can expect
 
Okay, I looked up Science Fantasy to get as better grip on the term, but I would still like your opinion on what is Science Fiction and what Science Fantasy.:)

At the minute, I have to agree with Timba, Connavar and ainsales. There is plenty of Science Fiction still being written. Geoffrey A Landis, Greg Egan, Paul McAuley, Alastair Reynolds, just to name a few authors. I'm sure there are others, newcomers, to the field as well.


My trouble is that there is so many SF authors that sound good to me that it takes time to find the ones that is good and fit your taste. I dont care if you are great SF but write dull subgenre of SF like Space Opera books big as brick....

Maybe 2012 promise: Try 10 new SF authors ;)
 
For non-UK authors, there's often Robert Reed, Allen Steele, maybe Cory Doctorow (I haven't read much of him and don't like all of what I have, but he seems to at least not be fantasy), Geoffrey Landis.

I'm not the biggest fan of Nancy Kress all the time and she has written fantasy-like stuff and generally writes biology/chemistry centered stuff more than physics, but has done a bit of everything and does her SF generally as actual SF.

Cherryh's an interesting case - she writes her occasional fantasy and even science-fantasy and is never very scientifically focused but, in her SF, she usually studiously avoids anything fantasy-like.

Not a big fan of Benford for some inexplicable reason, but he's definitely a major true SF writer. I haven't read any Bear I've liked in a long time, but I imagine he's still capable of it and did in the not-too-distant past. Joe Haldeman's still doing excellent work.

Bruce Sterling's Zeitgeist kinda blew my mind by being fuzzy metafiction but he usually writes excellent true SF. Vernor Vinge doesn't let the laws of physics stop him all the time, but he's always cognizant of them and often stays in the realm of hard SF. And the master of hard SF these days is Australia's Greg Egan.

There must be many many more I don't know - hopefully others like (both Canadian, I think) Robert Charles Wilson and Peter Watts - maybe even Karl Schroeder is harder than I think. I've only read one Schroeder and it felt very soft and fantasy-like but turned out to have some genuinely sfnal thought behind it. I have books-in-waiting of the others.

Overall, I will agree that there's not much true hard SF and nowhere near enough. But this has always been true - your Clements and your Forwards have always been exceptions to the rule. And there are exceptions to the rule still today.
 
My trouble is that there is so many SF authors that sound good to me that it takes time to find the ones that is good and fit your taste. I dont care if you are great SF but write dull subgenre of SF like Space Opera books big as brick....

;)

Sorry, I've been away for a few days. What do you mean by your comments about space opera...
 
I think you are looking in the wrong places, monty. You mention fairly mundane every day places here in the US, where you are not really likely to find anything beyond stuff that will move in bulk, and that really does include easy genres like "stuff like that Twilight books" and "stuff with swords and things on the cover."

I wouldn't expect your local grocery store to carry Science Fiction, not due to the lack of good writers, just because it's not a "move in bulk" category for the casual shopper. Barnes and Noble and Books A Million and their like still exist here in the U.S. and you'll find SF in there, but hey, even I struggle to find Iain Banks or a lot of Philip K. Dick, so you know those stores are still narrowing the range of product you are presented with via the "how much does it sell" classification, so I suggest you move away from something that has limited shelf space and head online to do your searching.

Then you will find Science Fiction authors a-plenty. BTW I don't require my SF to have plausible science in with its fiction, just something that's self-consistent. I find it fun to have "laser guns" and "light swords" and "faster than light travel" and "teleporters" even though those are as currently impossible as a talking plant - and if you argue that one day technology might get far enough to make a laser pistol, well, biology might get far enough to make a talking plant. Or maybe on another planet, with alternative evolution, talking plants are already out there. And planning to invade. I sense a story coming on (but is it Science Fiction or is it Fantasy, hmm....)

PS - in other words, don't get bogged down in genre. Like what you like and who cares what someone classes it as! I even read mainstream fiction :O
 
Sorry, I've been away for a few days. What do you mean by your comments about space opera...

He means Hamilton is destroying space opera. :) No, I'll let him speak for himself but for myself, while I like a lot of it, the depressing 1000 page epics of the New New Wave of UK space opera does have something deeply wrong-headed about it at the same time that it's putting the phrase back in common currency. Space operas are supposed to be concise and extroverted and take their power from their imaginative scale rather than being on a huge page count scale and often being kind of defeatist before time and space (though the current examples are also very imaginative). Hamilton tends to clock in around 900+ pages and I haven't read his core work but it sounds a little mixed up. Reynolds tends to be about 600+ pages and sometimes shows humanity putting up the good fight (or at least a fight of some kind) but can hardly be said to be triumphant. As great as Baxter is, he still averages probably over 400 pages and is similarly lacking in triumph. Asher's probably a bit different in that he seems to like taking names and kicking butt but I haven't read enough. And I suspect your McAuleys and whatnot are in the depressing camp like many. MacLeod seems different (shorter, more constructive (in intent, at least)) but I'm one of those US people who got screwed up by an insane American publisher putting out The Cassini Division first and still haven't gotten around to reading The Star Fraction. But, while MacLeod seems to have a space component to his fictional universe, I wouldn't call his work strictly "space opera". And I also haven't read enough McDonald but I'm amazed something like "The Tear" didn't win a major award. It seems like a very Nebula kind of thing.

Anyway, there seems to be this attitude that maturity == death and we should all be mature which, again, is kind of the antithesis of space opera, some of which is for the young and all of which was for the young at heart.

And it's important to note that space opera is not usually true hard SF, though it usually feels much more like real SF than a lot of limited earth-based character studies.

And this is sort of a tongue-in-cheek rant based on not-enough reading and I won't try to defend it as a reasoned thesis. It's just a symbol of some of what I feel. ;) (And I still do like a lot of this stuff, like I say.)
 
Does it matter? I love sci-fi, but I don't have a science head. I don't care how the space ship flies, just that it does. It's like any other story; either we buy into it and suspend our disbelief or we don't get immersed in the world.

I'm desperately hoping for at least one reply of it doesn't matter, because my space ships just fly from here to there. It's not what the stories about; how they fly, its a human story which happens to be set in the future. So, I don't get too het up about it, although I am in awe of Vertigo's calculator and looking at it and saying I love that, I just have no idea how far apart my planets are. ( a couple of days flight is my general answer.)

then again, I'm referring to mine as kitchen sink Sci-fi, a whole new genre! where it all just happens in the future and is often boringly domestic; I'm obsessed about what they eat, where, how they cook it. More than the space ships, frankly.

And if I read a sci fi book, and it was good, and the story fun I'd feel the same way, provided it was consistent.
 
OK guys, I see most of you are in my second-favorite country (UK), and I'm in the States. I can go to any bookstore, grocery-store kiosk, etc, and find ROWS of fantasy books, but, if I'm lucky, only one or two science-fiction books.

The traditional bookstore has become less and less useful for me as my tastes in SF have evolved. It's like for every new fantasy/romance that gets churned out it removes from the shelf a less popular SF book I might consider buying. Except for Powell's in Portland and a couple in Seattle most just have very few books I'm interested in.

I'm not going to bother trying to figure out which authors fit perfectly into which genres but there are plenty of novels from a variety of authors that clearly fit into what I'd consider SF. Instead of trying to find something you'd like at the bookstore use the Internet. Amazon, Locus (especially the recommended reading lists), Tor, Fantastic Fiction (see what authors you like are recommending at the bottom of their own pages), this forum and others like it have been far more useful in finding new authors to read than any bookstore.

If you're open to short fiction the opportunity to read a wide range of SF authors for free has only gotten better - and a lot better at that. Sources for free short fiction like SCI-FICTION, Escape Pod, Starship Sofa, Clarkesworld, Subterranean, Strange Horizons, The Drabblecast and anthologies from editors like Gardner Dozois, David G. Hartwell and Johathan Strahan have also been a good way to find new authors for me.
 
Does it matter? I love sci-fi, but I don't have a science head. I don't care how the space ship flies, just that it does. It's like any other story; either we buy into it and suspend our disbelief or we don't get immersed in the world.

I'm desperately hoping for at least one reply of it doesn't matter, because my space ships just fly from here to there. It's not what the stories about; how they fly, its a human story which happens to be set in the future.
Asimov was on record as saying that the most important part of any story should be the human element, the interactions between characters. He cited his own use of FTL drives as devices to move the plot along, not as part of the plot.

If the main character is an engineer, then the physics behind the propulsion would probably have a bearing on the story. If not, the Conway Pulse Drive(tm) may only need to exist, not be explained.


If you're open to short fiction the opportunity to read a wide range of SF authors for free has only gotten better - and a lot better at that. Sources for free short fiction like SCI-FICTION, Escape Pod, Starship Sofa, Clarkesworld, Subterranean, Strange Horizons, The Drabblecast and anthologies from editors like Gardner Dozois, David G. Hartwell and Johathan Strahan have also been a good way to find new authors for me.
I'm finding quite a few new authors this way, especially through online magazines, and some of them are good.

(Sorry, still to master the multi-quote function. It's obvious I'm not a tech-head when it comes to computers:eek:)
 
I am a little lost here. What the devil is Sci-Fan? If a story has a Fantasy element in it, it is Fantasy. (In other words, we accept that it can't happen. It is outside the realm of possibility). Science Fiction does not have to be believable merely not impossible under the conditions of the story. The Science doesn't even have to be our Science. I would not guarantee that everything we "know" today will be considered "knowledge in 100 years. As long as a story is explained as Science rather than magic, it's Science Fiction. Somebody mentioned plants that talk. Maybe that "ology" has not been discovered yet. As far as where the good writers went, maybe we've just his a period of where the great writers don't like Science and the Science Fiction writers aren't that great.

While this has been a bone of contention for as long as I can remember, given that a fair number of writers, editors, and critics of the genres have come to the conclusion that there is such a thing as Science Fantasy, and I've seen plenty of things which I would say fall into that category rather than either of the other two... I'm rather of the opinion that there is such a thing; yet another example of how healthy types of literature continue to cross-pollinate and grow....
 
(Sorry, still to master the multi-quote function. It's obvious I'm not a tech-head when it comes to computers:eek:)


Thanks for this, if I'm in the compnay of Asimov, that's reassuring.

The multiquote; i had a whole evening on this over in the last post thread but it was ages ago, so unless you want to undergo pages of babbling nonsense...

Beside the quote option there is another box which has, if you look carefully an "" and + sign in it, you highlight this for each message you want to quote; the icon turns orange, then hit quote for the last message selected and that should be it.
 
He means Hamilton is destroying space opera. :) No, I'll let him speak for himself but for myself, while I like a lot of it, the depressing 1000 page epics of the New New Wave of UK space opera does have something deeply wrong-headed about it at the same time that it's putting the phrase back in common currency. Space operas are supposed to be concise and extroverted and take their power from their imaginative scale rather than being on a huge page count scale and often being kind of defeatist before time and space (though the current examples are also very imaginative). Hamilton tends to clock in around 900+ pages and I haven't read his core work but it sounds a little mixed up. Reynolds tends to be about 600+ pages and sometimes shows humanity putting up the good fight (or at least a fight of some kind) but can hardly be said to be triumphant.

Well, I did plow through The Commonwealth Saga and enjoyed it for the most part. But the prodigious size of his other works, as well as what I would consider to be unnecessary detail, put an end to my beginning traversal of The Night's Dawn books. Life is too short.

OTOH, I find Reynolds' books to be quite accessible and, due to his background in astronomy, somewhat believable. His insistance on FTL travel not being mastered in any of his stories lends an element of reality. The "good fight" that humanity puts up tends to usually be against itself, i.e., the Demarchists and the Conjoiners. Another example of art imitating life in that we don't seem to be able to get along with one another either. Hey, more reality!

I don't think I've done any kind of proper job of parsing out the differences between the two authors, but I do find one much more worthwhile than the other. Grist for the mill, I suppose.

Now if you really want concise and uncomplicated space opera, I'd suggest giving some of Andre Norton's earlier works a try, e.g., the Central Control books or the Solar Queen tales. A different era. Simpler times. Impossible to replicate in today's milieu.
 
Asimov was on record as saying that the most important part of any story should be the human element, the interactions between characters. He cited his own use of FTL drives as devices to move the plot along, not as part of the plot.

I don't recall that but I do recall that he had a good conversation with Norman Spinrad in IAsfm beginning with an essay called "The Little Tin God of Characterization". "I, however, am anxious to illuminate the human condition in a different way--not through characters, but through ideas. You've heard it said, perhaps, that "Science fiction is a literature of ideas"? Well, I believe it....in science fiction, the ideas are of prime importance and (in my opinion) should not be sacrificed to the welfare of any other aspect of the story." He then goes on to describe how many things writers have to juggle to write SF and how hard it is (he much preferred banging out non-fiction) and says, "Well, then, if someone is going to take the trouble to write science fiction, why should he feel he must bow down to the little tin god of characterization? If he is so anxious to create characters, why not write something that is a lot easier to write than science fiction is, so that he can concentrate all the more effectively on characterization?" But he keeps balance throughout the essay. He continues, "No, I am not saying that, as a matter of principle, you should forget all about characterization if you are writing science fiction. If you can stick some in [I love that] and make your characters interesting and even unforgettable, great. Why not? but that is not what you should be concentrating on. That is not the thing to which you must sacrifice everything else." That last line and the next paragraphs are the core:

You must instead ask yourself this: Having chosen something that is particularly difficult to write, what can I do with it that I can't do with any other type of literature?

Only locating that unique something will suffice to compensate you for your folly in plunging into the morass of science fiction.

And the one thing that science fiction offers the writer, the one thing that no other branch of literature will offer, is its use as a unique vehicle for presenting ideas.

He then goes on a historical survey of some of the great works of SF and the ideas that made them great and concludes, "I do it when I can, but I've got my limits, and if I have to settle for less than 100 percent, I just make sure I remember where the science fictional bottom line is. Not characterization, not style, not poetic metaphor--but idea. Anything else, I will skimp on if I have to. Not idea."

Interestingly, Spinrad took, as one tack towards refuting him, the angle that Asimov's own Hari Seldons, Susan Calvins, Daneel Olivaws, and the like were unforgettable characters. And, indeed, as famous as the Three Laws are, Calvin and Olivaw are nearly as famous.

I will say that, certainly, all forms of literature can present ideas but it is (a) true that SF is the form of literature that has it directly as its raison d'etre and (b) it's the kind of ideas that are unique and important in SF. This is naturally centered on ideas of science, technology, change, and the future. For me, it absolutely matters. To get all "literary" and talk about "texts" (which drives me up a wall like fingernails on chalkboards - SF has stories, books, works, whatever - Joyce may have "texts") if readers approach a science fictional text such that the science doesn't matter, that is a valid approach (based on what the reader is looking for in literature in general) but then it's just a technofantasy to the reader and all the science fictional efforts of the author go for naught. Then authors have to have spiffy characters or a neat plot or something or some secondary quality or the reader's not going to like it because the essence is being ignored. But that's a fundamental miscommunication between the author and reader and that reader isn't the author's (primary) intended audience.

The conflation of SF and fantasy is a combination of factors - that science as a rigorous method rises out of a fuzzier more intuitive approach rather than following a parallel track; that pushing SF too far results in fantasy or being conservative in your fantasy can almost look like SF; that both are marketed together as literary ghettos where we all hang out together on the corner where they meet. But SF and fantasy are actually quite distinct and, in ways, SF is more nearly allied with mainstream fiction than fantasy, in the sense that is supposed to be mimetic - to be reflective of the world as it is, could be, will be. Fantasy operates naturally at a more symbolic level than either SF or "prosaic" fiction, where it kind of has to be shoehorned in to be properly literary and not "easy" "trash".

And this post is just like my other one. Just an ironically unscientific gut feeling that it's hard to find words for.

Life is too short.

Exactly.

Now if you really want concise and uncomplicated space opera, I'd suggest giving some of Andre Norton's earlier works a try, e.g., the Central Control books or the Solar Queen tales. A different era. Simpler times. Impossible to replicate in today's milieu.

I may do that - ironically, I avoided juveniles as a kid and only started reading them as an adult. For instance, I read almost all of Heinlein's non-juveniles but no juveniles aside from Starman Jones - despite loving Starman Jones. But now I've read them all. And I knew/know Norton wrote non-juvenile works but ignored her as a basically juvenile author. And, unfortunately, my first attempt was with a Witch World book which I didn't like. But I should definitely give her another try.
 
I agree that the science is of great importance in Science Fiction - it's part of the very name, and I personally much prefer the harder science fiction to space opera. My (poorly explained) point was mainly that there is a difference between the story and plot devices, and that not all plot devices need to be rigourously viable and/or explained.

Unfortunately, I've lost the original piece where I read the Prof's comments. A few years ago, I suffered the loss of sixty per cent of my books (including 90% of my SF collection) along with a music collection, some of which went back to my grandfather. Needless to say, it was devastating. However, I retained some of my library and, in IAsfm (July 1989, p.17), Asimov made similar remarks in answer to a reader's letter.

And while I can't speak for others, I can tell you that I use hyperspace not out of intellectual laziness, but because that's not the point of my novels. Hyperspace is just a technique for keeping the story going. The points I deal with invariably involve people.

- Isaac Asimov
 
If I was writing a story based now I wouldn't describe how the car works (not that I could anyhow), just that it got me from here to here in the story. Most of the stuff in my book has a basis in possible science, I just don't explain it all the time. My spaceships are a little dodgy, though, I accept that, but it's also an accepted convention of sci fi that ships fly. also, with the whole E=mc2 debate up in the air at the mo, who knows what it possible, eventually?
 
Just to expand (a lot) on a point I made earlier.

Science Fiction gives the impression of largely originating in physics and astronomy, and those are the ideas being explored. (With or without gripping characters :D).
Latterly there has been some biology based science fiction - I think it was a Charles Stross one where there was exploration of a new planet with extremely aggressive bacteria and ecology.

JD Worthington put in a link to Wikipedia regarding mundane science fiction, and one part of this article was that current science fiction could be misleading in terms of our future, and has the desire that we should not give ourselves (the human race) the idea that we can safely trash this planet as we will one day move on to another one.

One area I would like to see explored a lot more is improvements of human behaviour and society. The science of behaviour, of emotional intelligence, is still in its infancy. It is dealt with to a greater or lesser extent by some authors, for example John Barnes and Lois McMaster Bujold (Beta colony in particular). I don't mean Stepford Wives type brain washing, but ways in which we can all behave more rationally and productively. (Problem with this may be it is less dramatic and not such a good story. :))
Maybe this is a new thread.

In summary, my premise is, I would like to see changes to human behaviour given the same type of rigorous study in science fiction, that is currently expected with regard to physics and astronomy based ideas.
 
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