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Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Best Stand Alone Sci-Fi Book That is Technically Part of a Series (Book Reccomendations)

What is the best Science Fiction Book that COULD stand alone, but is part of a series.

Maybe it's part of a trilogy, but the other books are absolutely lackluster. Maybe there are companion novels written in the same world and with overlapping characters, but just were not up to the One Book™. Maybe the author wrote a sequel or a prequel years later but it is their foundational work that really gets attention. Maybe you've never even HEARD of the other books, but they do exist. 

We're going "off script" for our next book recommendation conversation since so many folks offered up books already (for our last conversation) that turned out to be part of a series or have a sequel or something.

Remember, we shifted things up about six months ago. Instead of trying to figure out what more people think is the BEST (which usually turns into which book has the coolest movie adaptation anyway), we're just going to have a nice chat about good books and all come away with some suggestions for our To Be Read Pile™. We'll still have the system of seconds (and "thirds" and "fourths"), but all that will really determine is which goes to the top of the list when I post the results. You can go HERE to see what the results will look like when all is said and done. And I'll link out the original nomination post for folks who want to go see what people are actually saying about the book. Eventually these posts listing the results will be compiled in a massive "book recommendation" post.

Today we're doing "stand alone" science fiction that isn't ACTUALLY stand alone. But to be clear, we're talking about books that COULD stand alone, not just "the exceptionally good first book in a trilogy" or something.

However this does mean we have a small list already ready to go! But do notice there's no copyright year limitation, so the book can have been published before 1980, unlike our last poll. 

The Sparrow by M. D. Russell
Emergence_ by David R. Palmer
This Alien Shore, C. S. Friedman 
Who Fears Death, N. Okorafor 
Oryx and Crake, M. Atwood 
Hyperion, D. Simmons 
Crescent City by Sarah J. Maas. 

The Rules

  1. Make two recommendations. Obviously, I can't stop anyone from making fifteen, but nothing beyond the first two will make it onto the master list. Because I am a meanie meanhead.
  2. TELL US ALL A LITTLE ABOUT WHY YOU LIKE THE BOOK (or short story) although obviously do so without spoilers! If you just drop a title name and it gets all the seconds, I'm still going to list it, of course, but the whole point of this is to have a "conversation" and gush a little about the books you think are great, exciting, well written, or unforgettable and a little (spoiler-free) squee about why.
  3. For each recommendation, let us know if you're nominating it more as a BEST book in the genre or an UNDERSUNG HERO in the genre. Basically "undersung hero" is for books you think are great, tragically overlooked, NEED to be read by everyone (like…yesterday), but are maybe not necessarily the besty bestest best. They'll all end up in the list I compile, but I'll put them in different places.
  4. As always, I leave the niggling over the definition of genres to your best judgement because I'd rather be inclusive. If you want to nominate The Many Colored Land as science fiction (even though it's probably better placed as fantasy), you should show your work if you desire those sweet, sweet seconds (or thirds....or fourths) and there might be a discussion thread after your comment with a lot of people writing out the "If I may…"
  5. Your book must be part of a series or more than tangentially related to a fictional universe. It must have a sequel, prequel, be part of a series, or be part of a massive world (like Discworld). If it makes little more a reference to another book like once or twice is clearly taking place in the world of another book without being a sequel, prequel, or a grand unified series, it wouldn't count for this poll. (Sometimes Stephen King books have a small allusion to one of his earlier works. This wouldn't count as there are only a few S.K. books that are really sequels.) 
  6. You get to mention two (2) books. That's it. Two. You can do one BEST and one UNDERSUNG HERO. Or you can do two BESTS. Or you can do two UNDERSUNG HEROES. But two is the total. If you nominate three or more, I will, with unimaginable cruelty, simply ignore the third and any subsequent books. I'm sorry that I'm a stickler on this, but it's just lil ol' me compiling this list by myself and it's a pain when people drop a spinosaurus list of every single book they can remember in the entire genre. However, you list more than two books and your third or later choice gets a second, I'll consider everything. (Even though that matters a lot less than it did when I was counting seconds to see which titles made the poll––see below.)
  7. Did I mention two?
  8. You may (and absolutely should) give a second shout out to AS MANY nominations of others as you wish. There is no more poll, so this will not be a cutthroat competition to see who makes it to the semifinals. It will simply dictate which titles I list first, and it may influence which books someone considers a good recommendation. ("This one got six seconds, and that one only got two, so I think I'll start with this one.")
  9. Put your nominations HERE. I will take nominations only as comments and only on this post. (No comments on FB posts or G+ will be considered nominations.) If you can't comment for some reason because of Blogger, send me an email (chris.brecheen@gmail.com) stating exactly that and what your nomination is, and I will personally put your comment up. I am not likely to see a comment on social media even if it says you were unable to leave a comment here. 
  10. You are nominating WRITTEN fiction, not their A/V portrayals. If you thought The Martian was a great movie, but never really could get through Weir's written version, please nominate something else. (I love film, but it's a different medium.) 
  11. Have a conversation, but check the typical internet assholery at the door. If someone likes something you think is terrible, it's okay to let them enjoy it. And if someone has one tight and polite bit of criticism about your recommendation ("I was not a fan of the X plot arc or the way that author writes women."), it's okay that they didn't care for it and there's no need to defend it like they have impugned you honor for seven generations.  I **WILL** delete shitty comments, and I absolutely know that's highly subjective, so better to err on the side of nice. 
  12. TWO!


  1. "Callahan's Crosstime Saloon" by Spider Robinson
    "The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet" by Becky Chambers
    Both of these are undersung heroes. Character-driven stories that don't rely on snazzy tech to sell the tale, although there's some amazing tech included in "...Planet". The Callahan stories take place at a bar whose clientele includes humans, aliens, time-travelers, mythical beings, and a talking dog. "...Planet" focuses on a group of various species who live and work together on a spaceship.

    1. oh oh Small Angry Planet!!! So amazing!

    2. I came here to nominate Callahan's, so happily seconding.

  2. This may be controversial, because it requires a separation of art/artist, but the first book in the Enders Game series is an excellent, complete story that I have always enjoyed.

    Pity that the author has so many opinions that upset me.

    1. I hear that. His books affected me so deeply, made me think so much at the time. Learning more about the man himself was really depressing.

    2. I second Ender's Game! It's such a shame to learn about Orson Scott Card's views. :( But as for the book itself, I did enjoy the plot, character development, and themes very much!

    3. Second Ender's Game, and add my voice to the pile that's disappointed with OSC. It boggles my mind that such a seminal treatise on empathy was written by /that guy/. I feel like I know a lot of people who were deeply affected by the book, who are radically dedicated to goodness and compassion, and who are absolutely targets of his politics. The disconnect is jarring to be sure

  3. Startide Rising by David Brin. Though part of the wonderful Uplift series, Startide Rising tells a complete story (I suspect many people don't realize it's part of a series). I love it because it presents humanity as nice (though flawed) and puts us in a larger universe with others from our planet. It defines intelligent earthlings as something more than just human kind.

  4. Excession by Iain M Banks. Thrilling set pieces and tonnes of imagination. Might be classed as space opera but whatever, it's just brilliant. Second choice would be Consider Phlebas by the same author, which has some of the best set pieces of any novel I've read in any genre.

  5. My two would be 1) Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card. From the initial concept, through the storyline, to the characters and plot development, this is just a brilliant read. Second would be Heroes Die, by Matthew Woodring Stover. This is a gritty, disturbing, dystopian read that on the surface has a great storyline and narrative, while underneath is a heavy social commentary. Both of these are high on my "must read" list.

  6. The Forever War, Joe Haldeman. It's about the consequences of space travel to military soldiers, but it's also about the consequences and experiences of the Vietnam War to participating US soldiers. It's great, and can be read both ways (but works best when you're aware of both the in-universe reasons and meta-narrative. Best book. It has a few sequel-ish things, but they're not that good and this book is self-contained.

    1. Yes!

      I had the pleasure of meeting Joe and his lovely wife/literary inspiration Gay about ten years ago (he lives up the road apiece from me); he told me that Ridley Scott had optioned The Forever War. Oh, I was a giddy lad...and then Prometheus/Blade Runner 2049 happened.

  7. Dune by Frank Herbert. Among the best in the genre, with such a massive influence on science fiction that it extended into pop culture as a whole. It's so unfortunate that the rest of the series doesn't even come close to the genius of the first novel.

  8. The first of the Murderbot Diaries, _All Systems Red_, by Martha Wells. An amazing, laugh-out-loud, unconfortable in the very best sense, and deeply insightful story about a robot/cyborg/AI who overrides its programming to have free will. The later books are also fantastic, but this first one really stands on its own.

    Also _The Fifth Season_ by N.K. Jemisin, about a futuristic world devastated by environmental catastrophe and peopled by outcasts with amazing powers. The next books are good, but this one hit the hardest and said the most to me.

    1. A hearty seconding for all the Murderbot stories!

  9. Neuromancer!
    It's not that I didn't like the other books in the series, but I didn't find them memorable or impactful. I read Neuromancer once or twice a year -- I love it just as much, every time. I read it for the first time back in grade school, and it really left a mark on me. Notwithstanding John Shirley, Gibson invented a whole new genre when he wrote Neuromancer (he himself had met, and had been inspired by, Shirley), and all of cyberpunk owes him a debt.

  10. So many good nominations so far!

    For me, you already called out Dune, but, yeah, totally Dune.

    Also Annihilation, by Vandermeer. The Area X trilogy is great, but Annihilation is fine on its own.

    1. I second Annihilation. Such an amazing book, so well written and such different ideas.

  11. Two unsung heroes:

    That Irresistible Poison by Alessandra Hazard. It's mainly a gay male romance and has some fantasy elements, such as telepathy. But it's also in a sci-fi, futuristic setting, on a different planet, with technologies such as teleporters, genetic modification for babies, and artificial wombs for same-sex couples. I chose That Irresistible Poison because the romance is so intense, touching, and has a happy ending. The character development was awesome too, where you get a lot of insight into why the characters act the way we do; I loved the secondary characters as well! This is Book 2 of the Calluvia's Royalty series, but can be read as a stand-alone.

    My second recommendation is Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee. Similar to the above, this is a gay romance, but this is between two girls rather than two guys. It also has fantasy elements, as it's basically about superheroes and supervillains. However, it has a strong sci-fi setting as well, with future technology, holographic communication and storage devices, holographic keyboards (!), genetic mutations affecting the strength and duration of the superpower, etc. The author clearly cares about environmental preservation too, as you see all the renewable energy resources in their world. I adored Not Your Sidekick because the romance was compelling and exciting, and both girls were very likable. The MC from whose perspective we read from, is very relatable and sympathetic too. In addition, the MC is Vietnamese-Chinese, and the author, C.B. Lee, is a Vietnamese-Chinese bisexual woman. This was great because I don't see enough good representation of Asian characters these days, especially queer Asian characters. (I'm a queer Asian myself.) The support cast of characters were delightful to read too; they make you feel that good, sincere people truly do exist. Not Your Sidekick is part of the Sidekick Squad series, but the book can be enjoyed on its own.

    P.S. I second Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood! It's my favorite Atwood book, as I find it so touching and absorbing.

    The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison

    In many ways, that first book set the sci-fi-specific template for the lovable rogue rife with self-contradictions. (Lookin' at you, Han Solo/George Lucas.) There's interesting societal commentary sprinkled throughout but it never gets preachy.

    The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin

    I put this up there with anything by Arthur C. Clarke or Larry Niven in terms of concept, world-building, and execution. Yes, you'll want to read subsequent novels if for no other reason than to find out what other ways Liu Cixin will blow your mind but it can also work as a standalone. For me, it was one of those books were the reader just has to dive in and be OK with not understanding what is going on for a bit because when it does *click*...I literally gasped out loud when I "got it".

    1. Seconding Stainless Steel Rat, with the proviso that benign sexism is *rampant* in the entire series, and the dialogue is about as unrealistic as it comes. But damn they're fun reads

  13. Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett. Part of the Discworld setting but geographically and chronologically removed from the rest of the series by a good bit so it stands alone nicely. Late enough into the series that Pratchett had properly found his voice, and with the insight and scathing wit to be expected from his take on religion. Doesn't hurt that the opening passage is one of the greatest openers of all time in this geek's opinion

    Second recommendation and dang I'm surprised I haven't seen it yet, the original Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy

  14. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. Technically part of a trilogy but is a good read by itself.

  15. So, the fact that I can only pick two hurts my poor brain, but here goes ...

    == The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi ==
    There are no words to describe how amazing and complex this novel is. Rajaniemi threw every crazy idea at this story, and they all fell together into a complex and wonderful story about a quantum reality in which time is currency and a men can live fractured lives on a city that walks across the Martian soil on giant, never-tiring legs.

    == Vurt by Jeff Noon ==
    The only novel that I ever finished, closed the book, smiled to myself, and then started reading immediately again from page one. This is a world as consensual hallucination in an alternate future Manchester, England. Vurt, a street drug that is also a virtual reality video game that is also a fundamental part of the mechanics of society serves as the both the curse and the salvation for young Scribble, who seeks to exchange a lump of flesh called The Thing From Outer Space for his sister, Desdemona, who was lost in a dangerously illegal feather called Curious Yellow ... and that's just the beginning of this glorious story...