Fiction Recommendations

Further to yesterday’s discussion, a question from urbando:

Do you read any fiction for pleasure? I figured you were probably firmly on the side of non-fiction in your reading habits but thought I’d ask. Since I don’t have TV or cable or Netflix the screen in my den stays dark and I entertain myself via youtube vids and reading fiction.

If you have any recommendations I’d be most interested; I’m always looking for good fiction to read.

I thought it best to turn this one over to the rest of the Dirty Two Dozen, as a lot of you seem to be avid fiction readers, and some are even fiction writers! (good on ya). That’s one reason, anyway….

…the other, shameful one is: I don’t read much of anything these days. For whatever reason — work, personal life, just generally being in the doldrums (as happens to all of us) — these days I have the attention span of a concussed hamster. I can’t really sink into a good novel anymore, and when I try nonfiction, I sink back into old grad school habits.* I’d say “I haven’t finished more than a few books since [date],” but I really don’t want to know.

So have at it, gang — help a brother out.

*”Sink or skim,” as the phrase is. Graduate school, being a product of a medieval tradition “updated” by the Prussians, has insane work requirements, which is why no one can, should, or does follow them to the letter. Much like “comprehensive exams,” which really did cover everything back when it was possible to read everything in a sustained course of study, the grad syllabus assumes there are a handful of books other than Summa Theologiae in the world, and that one can therefore read one or two books a week. For four or five classes. Which can’t really be done in modern life, so you skim it. That’s where the formulas of academic prose really help btw — you can easily skim, because everything’s written in that same puffy style and it’s easy to cut the fat.

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49 thoughts on “Fiction Recommendations

  1. AvatarPickle Rick

    The last fiction I read was the Song of Ice and Fire series, simply because yes, I watched and enjoyed Game of Thrones early seasons, so after they ran out of source material to adapt in the show and it became increasingly clear the only good stuff was in the books, I turned to them. Nothing spectacular, but a decent time waster.

    The last fiction I’d actually recommend is Stephen Pressfield’s “Gates of Fire” about Thermopylae. It goes to show you how utterly retarded Hollywood is when they had the option to pick up “GoF” to adapt to film, and chose “300” instead.

    1. Avatarurbando

      Yep, read the Martin series about 15 years ago; the dude was actually still writing them. GoF was very good.

  2. AvatarWOPR

    I fall in the sci-fi camp and pretty much avoid fantasy, horror, and general fiction. My recommendations are:

    Military Sci-Fi: Galaxy’s Edge series. Well written. Avoids the strong wahmen crud. It is PG and right leaning. You don’t want to read in chronological order in the book timeline. Read Galaxy’s Edge first and follow that series to conclusion. Starts a little slow so hang in through the first couple of books. (Yes, it does mimic a certain sci-fi franchise now owned by an evil mouse.)

    Regular Sci-Fi: My opinion is you can’t go wrong with Heinlein. Asimov and Clarke feel far more dated than Heinlein. Of course, you can’t go wrong with Heinlein once you get into his later years. Everything after “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” should be avoided. Pournelle is good. The only book of Orson Card’s I’ve really liked is “Ender’s Game” which I whole heartedly recommend. The first three books of the Dune series. “The Martian” is actually good. “Wool” isn’t okay. “The Expanse” I’ve only read the first book. I should like it, but it didn’t really do much for me. Another older author is H. Beam Piper. His stories are interesting.

    Sadly, I find most sci-fi from the last 25-30 years to be trash.

    1. AvatarDirk Diggler

      Lucifers Hammer by Niven and Pour Ellen is one of my all time favorites. I have a new, never opened copy in a ziploc bag in one of my caches along with a bunch of Heinlein and Asimov. Paper copies still work if the lights go out…

    2. Avatarprm

      *Sadly, I find most sci-fi from the last 25-30 years to be trash.*

      Yes, got infected with SJW sadly. If you fancy some decent SF you can do well by reading Hugo winners to about the 90s; after that it’s increasingly woke. The Sad Puppies malarky lanced that boil and the Hugos have now gone by the wayside as anything serious. I think blackity woman of color has won it the last three times in a row, which pretty much tells you wheat the priorities are now.

  3. AvatarVizzini

    That’s where the formulas of academic prose really help btw — you can easily skim, because everything’s written in that same puffy style and it’s easy to cut the fat.

    Or you could just say what you mean in plain language and end up with a book 1/10th the length.

    1. AvatarSeverian

      There’s that. Generally, academic prose is shitty for three reasons, mix and match to taste:

      1) as you note, the author really doesn’t have that much to say and is padding the page count. Often the author actually weakens his case this way — it would’ve been a great article, but by trying to stretch it to book length for tenure purposes, the author ends up overreaching and including a lot of weak, marginally relevant stuff.

      2) the really esoteric language was initially meant to keep out the hoi polloi — the “esotericism of knowledge,” as I think Foucault put it, and for once that freak was exactly right. After a while, though, it becomes its own closed system even to the initiates. Since the jargon only makes sense in terms of other jargon, even the attacks on a given “argument” are expressed in terms of its jargon.

      3) Deliberate obfuscation. This looks like a subset of 2), but there are fields, e.g. linguistics and philosophy, that can be all but incomprehensible to outsiders, but are nonetheless real fields in which real work is done. But mostly its the Angry Studies that are most guilty of this — as Jonah Goldberg of all people pointed out way back in the days, if someone like Judith Butler said what she meant in plain language, we’d all quickly realize that her ideas run from “boringly unoriginal” to “sand-poundingly stupid.” She only writes like that because she thinks it makes her sound smart.

      1. AvatarGanderson

        I know Jonah is not popular in these precincts- but I’ll always have a soft spot for him- I taught him in high school, and even then he was what I would call annoyingly clever. He wrote a great Senior paper on Vlasov’s army, and it was my interaction with him that set me on the road to “our thing”- I was a typical commie History teacher back then.

        On another tack, Sev, do you think there is still anyplace in academia for the guy who is a great lecturer/teacher, but hasn’t done much in the way of original research. I had a few of those guys in my undergrad days at Northernmost Big Ten University- learned a lot from them. It’d be a shame to have not place for those kind of guys, just to get more books on the role of female soldiers in Operation Market Garden.

        And, while I’m at it, did any of you all read the Masters of Rome series by Colleen McCollough? Much in our current predicament reminds me of the last 75 years of the Roman Republic, at least the way ‘Col’ tells it.

        1. Avatarkaralan

          “anyplace in academia for the guy who is a great lecturer/teacher, but hasn’t done much in the way of original research”
          Asia. Go east, young man.

  4. AvatarRecusant

    Read fiction that was first published over fifty years ago and is still in print. You wont go far wrong: staying power is a good enough marker for quality.

    1. AvatarNikolai Vladivostok

      Generally agree. If you want to read something new, avoid mainstream publishers as they only do coming of age black trans stories these days. Instead, try social media recommendations for self-published or alt-publisher books. I can’t promise a masterpiece but at least it will be interesting. Creativity, boldness and honesty are no longer allowed in the major publishing houses.

  5. AvatarVizzini

    I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy. Anymore, I’d generally say stick with the classics. As a result of browsing around Amazon recommendations, I’ve read a lot of newer stuff, but my standards and expectations are really low — if it doesn’t annoy me and gives me a few hours of mind candy it’s not a complete failure. I’m seeing very little in modern stuff that compares with older work.

    Steven Brust has been working on a very long fantasy series, his Vlad Taltos series, beginning with Jhereg in 1983 when I was still a teenager, and continuing to the present. It’s not a series that is simply running for the bucks, but it seems as if it is Brust’s life’s work. There are currently 15 novels with 19 planned. There are also a few other novels outside the main series but set in the same world — they take place far in the world’s past, though feature some similar locations and have cameos by some characters from the Taltos series and he does the dialog for them in a highly formalized style that’s kind of a humorous wink-and-nod to Alexander Dumas’ style in his musketeer novels.

    He’s about 65 now, so he might make it, though the most recent one came out in 2017.

    Sadly from what I just read in his blog, , he’s not “one of us.”

    He approaches each novel from a slightly different perspective. Each one is teasing something out about the nature of the character and the nature of life. He has a very distinctive voice and the books are a hell of a lot of fun, deep messages aside. The main character has evolved greatly over the 24 years from 1983-2017, as has the author and as have I — its as if we’ve grown up together.

    I believe Sev mentioned that he didn’t really get into Larry Correia’s writing, but he has one trilogy, his “Grimnoir Chronicles” starting with Hard Magic that I think stands out from the rest. It’s an alternate history/noir/magic tale and I love the 1940s flavor of it. It’s one of the few pieces of pop fiction I’ve read in the last decade that I thought was seriously worthy of telling people about.

  6. Avatardave b

    The aeries of novels by Alan Furst about ordinary people fighting back against the Nazis in the interwar years and during the war itself. Spy novels of a very different sort. The author spend years living in Paris and talking to survivors and tracking down diaries of people who lived through those days.

    The Phillip Kerr novels about a German policeman, from the 1920s to his eventual postwar life in Argentina and France.

  7. AvatarSome Guy

    I also haven’t read for fun in a long time, present company excluded. However, I would recommend anything by Harry Turtledove. The Guns of the South is a fun one-off where time travelling South Africans give the confederates AK 47s and howitzers. Then there is a whole 9 book series about how the south won at gettysburg and follows up through the end of ww2.

  8. AvatarEric Brown

    I’ve been enjoying the “Circles in Hell” series by Mark Cain. Very light, very heterodox; don’t come here expecting theological consistency, but it it is very funny.

    I’ve also enjoyed the “Saint Tommy, NYPD” series by Declan Finn. Much more orthodox, and still a cracking good read.

  9. AvatarWuhan Luke

    Robert Charles Wilson has been consistent in form and genre, a sci-fi that is closer to home than expected. Grab most anything he published in the past ten years and you won’t be dissapointed:
    Last Year; Julian Comstock; Burning Paradise; A Bridge of Years; The Affinities…
    Most relate to near parallel universes or planes intersecting with ours, with much personal effects to the characters portrayed. Very well written in pace and plot.
    For goofy fun rivaling Terry Pratchett, try something from A. Lee. Martinez. Pre-present-and post Catfancy Germany, as through the eyes (and mouth) of a film nior detective can be enjoyed with most of the late Phillip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series. Don’t bother with the last in that series though, it reads like it was written by committee while on his deathbed and it shows horribly ( just like Pratchett’s last novel).
    And for other WWII spy genre, you can’t beat Alan Furst – I particularly liked “The Polish Officer”.
    One more- Iain M. Banks’ sci-fi. He really makes other worlds and civilizations new again regardless he’s been dead a long time. Try his “Player Of Games” to see if it’s your thing.

  10. AvatarHorthans

    Best of the things I’ve read fairly recently (I do not vouch for or care to know the politics of these authors).

    A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.
    Night Watch by Terry Pratchett.
    The Siege by Arturo Perez-Reverte.
    Six Expressions of Death by Mojo Mori.
    Whiskey River by Loren Estleman.
    The Missionaries by Owen Stanley.
    Son of the Black Sword by Larry Correia.

    Your mileage may vary.

  11. AvatarRangifer

    Love sci-fi and alternate history, though the Discworld series is something special. There’s always the standard of Heinlein, Asimov, Adams, etc, but most everyone’s read those already so here’s a few others, both new and old.

    Terry Pratchett – Discworld series (Nightwatch & Going Postal are best) (fantasy)
    Larry Correia – Monster Hunters series (sci-fi, supernatural)
    Adam Lane Smith – Gideon Ira series (sci-fi)
    Owen Stanley – The Missionaries & The Promethean
    Peter Clines – 14 (sci-fi, Lovecraftian)
    Martha Wells – Murderbot series (sci-fi)
    L Neil Smith – The Probability Broach, The Venus Belt (sci-fi, alternative US History)
    SK Dunstall – Linesman (sci-fi)
    Leo Frankowski – Cross Time Engineer (sci-fi)

  12. AvatarEvil Sandmich

    To list ones not already listed:
    Roadside Picnic – This book was recommended by a buddy and is probably my favorite sci-fi novel and one of very, very few books I’ve read more than once. The afterword written by the author where he talks about publishing under the Soviet system is a good read in and of itself. (Also here I’ll list The Doomed City by the same authors and Metro 2033).

    Not sure if he still does it, but years ago Vox was pumping some not-left sci-fi and I picked up Awake in the Nightland by John C. Wright. The book to which it is sort of a sequel to, The Night Land by William Hodgson, is in the public domain.

    Most of Philip K. Dick’s stuff can be infuriating (apart from the short stories), but The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch is pretty good. I’d read it once and didn’t care for it, but I’d read it again, and well, like a lot of PKD stuff it’s not strictly speaking a sci-fi.

    For something different there is the Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu. The middle book is kind-of crap (like a lot of middle products in a trilogy it suffers from the “I had to write something” issue), but the first book (a sly critique of death-cult fanaticism) and the last book (a critique of putting women in charge of anything) are pretty good.

    Outside of sci-fi, Brandon Sanderson’s fantasy novels are pretty good.

  13. AvatarPickle Rick

    What’s the consensus on Ian Fleming’s original 007? Even though I’m a fan of the Connery Bond films (and yes, the Daniel Craig Casino Royale With Cheese) I’ve never cracked open the source material.

    1. AvatarP_Ang

      I seem to recall they were “meh”. I read several of them, including Casino Royale, in high school. The movies were far more enjoyable.

    2. AvatarSome Guy

      Hilariously racist. For an example in one scene, Goldfinger rewards Odd Job by giving him a cat to eat.

  14. AvatarP_Ang

    So I’ve been a “homeless” vet for about four years. (I put homeless in quotes, I’ve been living with family most of that time…probably could afford my own rental now but still paying off the second degree). Unfortunately my books were either sold for nothing or in storage, so I have to rely on my rather rotten memory.

    The Game of Thrones books were great, although fantasy…definitely agree with Pickle Rick on that.
    Really enjoyed William Gibsons “Neuromancer”.
    “Relic” by Preston & Child was fantastic, the rest of the 900 Pendergast books become successively dumber and more communist, don’t bother reading anymore.
    LoTR and Hobbit were great reads, all of mine are dog-eared. Silmarillion not so much. Again, fantasy.

    I’ve read almost entirely non-fiction the last ten years or so. My favorite non-fiction I recently read is “Prentice Mulford’s Story.” Never heard of him in college and I have a BA in Eng. Lit. Really good, very Mark Twain-ish and he was even friends with Twain.

  15. AvatarninjaTED

    Besides a lot of the above suggestions;

    Watership Down, Richard Adams

    The complete Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams.

  16. Avatarop_sec

    Cannot believe nobody has mentioned Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun. Three volumes follow our hero after he is kicked out of the Seekers for Truth and Penitence (torturer’s guild) for letting a noblewoman kill herself instead of torturing her to death. I’m midway through one and at a minimum it is compelling world building.

    Our humble hero is named… Severian.

  17. AvatarTypoist

    These are definitely on the light end of the spectrum: Michael Pearce – I think his two Dmitri books have the most interesting setting; Gillian Bradshaw’s ‘Island of Ghost’ and ‘Dark North’; Randall Wallace’s ‘Love and Honour’ (sloppy beginning and end but the central part is good); L Sprague de Camp’s ‘Lest Darkness Fall’; John Dickson Carr’s ‘Fire, Burn’; Charles Sheffield’s ‘Erasmus Magister’; Graham Shelby – especially ‘The Villains of the Piece’; Gavin Scott’s ‘Flight of Lies’; Timothy Zahn’s ‘Triplet’. And I think you’ll like Kurt Schlichter’s Kelly Turnbull books.

    I love Robert van Gulik. He does airbrush Tang China a little, but makes great reading.

  18. AvatarBrit in London

    Brandon Sanderson’s work is the best modern fantasy going.

    Wheel of Time also very good. Best read it before the TV series comes out as that looks like it’ll get the woke treatment (e.g. a small village that has been isolated from the world for 1000 years has been cast to have next door neighbours who are completely different races)

  19. AvatarCutter

    I think I’ve seen him mentioned on here before, but the YouTuber who goes by Critical Drinker has a series of thriller novels under his real name. The Ryan Drake series by Will Jordan is solid; I don’t like thrillers but I’m flying through his books.

  20. Avatarwixwaxer

    Seems like ‘our thing’ is heavily into sf/fantasy… when I was in high school, that was pretty much all I read. These days, I have a series of novels that I re-read on a 3-5 year rotation; surprised that none of them (or their authors) have been mentioned above. In no particular order:

    Gravity’s Rainbow – Pynchon
    The Baroque Cycle – Neal Stephenson
    A Soldier of the Great War – Mark Helprin
    The Snopes Trilogy – Faulkner
    London Fields – Martin Amis

    1. AvatarGanderson

      One of my favorite episodes of Rockford featured a writer (Anthony Zerbe) who wrote a Gravity’s Rainbow type book, “Free Fall to Ecstasy”- whenever anyone was asked about it they all said “great book didn’t quite finish it though…”

  21. Avatarurbando

    I want to thank everyone for their many suggestions. Quite a few of these are books I’ve read or still own. Others are unknown to me and I will have to develop a spreadsheet to sort through them all, heh.

    A number of years ago, faced with this same problem, I consulted some internet 50 Greatest Sci-Fi novels/Fantasy novels/Historical novels lists. I read a number of Sci-Fi books, trilogies, etc. but didn’t really like many of them. Same with fantasy. Of course, there is a lot of chaff mixed in with the wheat out there. I think that the 20 Readers are probably more trustworthy than such lists. So I will sample and doubtless find some gems.

    Thanks again for all of the suggestions. urbando

  22. AvatarWuhan Luke

    Here’s another great author, I don’t know how I missed this: K.J. Parker
    His books usually are set in medieval periods or early Enlightenment, though in made up countries on made up continents. They feature mad technical skills of the times coupled with machievellian plots, one supports the other. Look for his “Engineer” series or the set that starts with ” The Belly Of The Bow”.
    All the craftsmanship depicted is genuine.

  23. AvatarMajor hoopla

    Haven’t read much sci fi in a while, or even much fiction of any kind. I do recall reading the Hellconia trilogy by Brian Aldiss about 20 years ago and remember it as excellent, and a lovely read.

  24. AvatarL. Beau Macaroni

    My fiction recommendations, not including gems like “Watership Down”, which have been introduced previously in this comment thread.

    Science Fiction:
    “The Stars My Destination” by Alfred Bester (1956) – a worthwhile of “Count of Monte Cristo” type story, retold in a setting where our Solar System is being more heavily colonized.

    “Saturn’s Children” by Charles Stross (2008) – within a story that vaguely echoes Heinlein’s “Friday”, Stross plays a fun game of “spot the reference” with his readers: The orbital docking platform around Mars is named Bradbury Station. Mars has a city named Cartersville. A spacecraft carrying beautiful robot women is named Pygmalion, etc.

    Fantasy (or, Tolkein was great, but what else is out there?):
    “The Broken Sword” by Poul Anderson (1954) – an epic of trolls, elves, and humans, Anderson’s elves are as powerful as Tolkein’s, but less trustworthy.

    “The Eyes of the Overworld” by Jack Vance (1966) – the second book in Vance’s four book “Dying Earth” cycle. It introduces the anti-hero Cugel the Clever, and “Eyes” serves as a better introduction to Vance’s world of picaresque adventure than does the first book, IMHO.

    “The Worm Ouroboros” by E.R. Eddison (1922) – A story set in a world of noble heroes and wicked sorcery, it reads like an epic poem set in prose. I can think of few other 20th century works like it.

    Fritz Leiber’s “Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser” stories – sometimes tongue-in-check, but always entertaining.

    Historical Fiction:
    “Master and Commander” by Patrick O’Brian (1969) – A rousingly good adventure tale that suggests an admirable attention detail in O’Brian’s historical research. His characters Capt. Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin form the most enjoyable friendship between two fictional characters that I have ever read. If you like “Master and Commander”, there are twenty (!) books in the series. My favorite of this cycle is the third book, “H.M.S. Surprise” (1973.)

    “Dandelion Wine” by Ray Bradbury (1957) – Technically historical fiction, since this book a somewhat fictionalized memoir of Bradbury’s own boyhood in 1920’s Waukegan, IL, written in the 1950s. In the book, Waukegan itself in re-named “Green Town”, while Ray Bradbury and his real-life brother Walter become Doug and Tom Spaulding. Without this book, I would never have known how much I wanted to live in a small town in Illinois in the 1920s.


    “The Code of the Woosters” by P.G. Wodehouse (1938): My favorite book of Wodehouse’s extensive “Jeeves and Wooster” series. In this book, upper-class twit Bertie Wooster must confront the would-be dictator of Great Britain, Roderick Spode. Who will prevail in this epic conflict? Also, will Bertie be forever banned from his Aunt Dahlia’s dinner table, and therefore denied the masterful cooking of her French chef, Anatole? Will Bertie be maneuvered against his will into a marital engagement with the drippy, childish Madeline Basset? Obtain this book, dear reader, at your earliest possible convenience.

  25. Avatarurbando

    O’Brian and Tolkein, yes indeed. The Worm Ouroboros sounds like a definite purchase, likewise Wodehouse. Thank you, sir!

  26. AvatarPaul

    Sort of surprised that David Drake, David Weber or John Ringo did not get a mention. Tom Kratman is also good. They all do ‘military’ ScFi stuff but I always felt that it held up. Ringo did a great series called Empire of Man where a spoiled prince Roger has to grow up fast and fight his way across a hostile planet. The Last Centurion by Ringo is a fun read too. BAEN books (publisher) have long been a favorite resource for my reading.


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