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Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Best Stand Alone Modern Sci-Fi (Book Recs)

What is the best stand alone Science Fiction Book (or short story) written after 1980?

It's time to start a new conversation (remember we are not doing polls anymore). And remember to take your recommendations to the blog if you want them counted (not as replies to their posts on FB.)

For those still getting used to our Book Rec Conversations, or who remember the years and years of more traditional polls we ran here, there are still rules (below). But 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 good 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 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. Those books that are not part of a trilogy, a series, or massive world building universe, but nonetheless are outstanding examples of science fiction. And because the further back you go, the more books are stand alone, we're going to have to break this up into two separate conversations. Today we'll be doing everything written since 1980. 

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.
  2. NO BOOK WITH A COPYRIGHT BEFORE 1980 WILL BE ACCEPTED. We'll do those in another conversation.
  3. 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. 
  4. 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.
  5. 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…"
  6. Your book must not be part of a series or more than tangentially related to a fictional universe. If it makes 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, that's fine, but if it takes place in Discworld, that's not "stand alone." (Nothing wrong with those kinds of massive universes, but let's get them their own conversation.)
  7. 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.)
  8. Did I mention two?
  9. 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.")
  10. 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. 
  11. 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.) 
  12. 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. 
  13. TWO!


  1. BEST: _Earth_ by David Brin
    Set 50 years after the time of writing (2038), it is impressive what is spot on. And it's a darn fine story with many humorous elements.

    UNDERSUNG HERO: _Emergence_ by David R. Palmer...wait. He wrote a sequel 30 years later?!? Dangit.

    OK, __This Alien Shore_ by Celia S. Friedman...A sequel? Released in November 2020?!? Arghglghglghgh.

    Uh, this is hard. I guess just _Earth_ then.

    1. I confess I haven't been able to get through C.S. Friedman's sequel to This Alien Shore, much as I adored the first one... I'm re-reading it to attempt to make sense of the sequel, but I'm now struggling to get through that first one! Have I become a worse reader?!

    2. I'll second Earth. It's amazingly prescient; to the point you have to google to see if those things actually existed when he wrote the book (they didn't). The basic human interactions might get a big complicated, but it all works out in the end.

    3. I’ll second This Alien Shore. The original was released in 1998 and the second one in 2020 more than 20 years later. I never thought there would be a second one and the first one more than stands on its own. And didn’t realize there was one until Amazon told me when I was looking for the book link yesterday. Wikipedia still lists it as stand alone novel. It’s an amazing book which has everything of a good science fiction novel glittering diverse civilizations, a galaxy spanning space guild, and throughout it all neurodiversity for a staggering array of cases and the costs and and joys of those gifts.

  2. _Who Fears Death_ by Nnedi Okorafor is AMAZING. So atmospheric, intense and emotionally powerful but not emotionally written (maybe that's why?!). Story of self, strength, family, in a post-apocalyptic Earth. Could be classified as fantasy, I suppose, but I think post-apoc. = science fiction...Yeah, we'll go with that.

    _Snow Crash_ by Neal Stephenson - I can't skip over this one. He's a bit of a tool in my view, but this book... blew my mind back in the day, and I've read it probably 6 times, so I guess I enjoyed it :) Definitely sung, rather than unsung, but the corporate-run, fragmented world of science and capitalism gone mad is just so compelling.

    Okay, "stand alone" is really, really hard! Murderbot! Octavia Butler! So many more! But they all have sequels +. Are people even allowed to publish stand-alones any more?!

  3. That's a tough one since there are so many series of varying lengths.

    Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1985) by Samuel R. Delany. A sweeping epic that also feels intimate and personal, spanning several planets and societies, full of pain and heartache, but also hope and redemption. A messiah story for the modern (and future) age.

    China Moutain Zhang (1992) by Maureen F. McHugh. One of the best first novels I've ever read. A young American born Chinese/Puerto Rican man travels across the world, leaving an economically diminished United States, up the eastern seaboard into the Arctic, into his ancestral home that is now the world's leading nation. He's an outsider no matter where he goes, but he gains insights from others along the way. A travelogue through the future, featuring its new trends and fads, revolutions and reformations. Prose and dialogue that is so clear and precise it is easy to visualize everything.

  4. Undersung: Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty is one of my favorite sci-fi mysteries. I’m a sucker for a good clone story and the mystery aspect was the cherry on top.

    Another undersung: The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch is one of the most uncomfortable sci-fi mysteries I’ve read, but I love its take on time travel.

  5. House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer. Amazing book

  6. Silently and Very Fast by Cathrynne M Valente

    Sudden, Broken, and Unexpected by Steven Popkes

    1. Silently and Very Fast takes a deep look at the internal evolution of AI as it relates to human culture and the concept of the monomyth.

      Similarly, Sudden, Broken, and Unexpected looks at AI through a lens of music and creative spark with a fun little pop twist.

  7. I guess I'd nominate Atwood's "Oryx and Crake", Asimov and Silverberg's "The Positronic Man". Atwood tends to claim that she doesn't write science fiction, but really she writes the best sort (the sort that's not trying to be ABOUT technology or futurism so much as using technology or futurism as a backdrop to tell a good "what if" story about people). I'll grant that she wrote sequels to Oryx and Crake, but it works well as a standalone story that isn't really trying to build an expansive universe. Asimov's "The Bicentennial Man", expanded into the novel "The Positronic Man", is an excellent story that explores what personhood means.

  8. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. In the near future, earth hears a broadcast of sentient aliens nearby (as space goes). Everyone Freaks out and while the UN hosts discussions about who to send and what they should say, the Jesuit order of Catholic priests realizes that nobody owns Space and just... goes.

    This is the story of the lone survivor of that expedition.

    It's a beautiful story of discovery and what faith means to different people. It has interesting characters seeking out aliens in a very grounded, relatable story. (it's lite, hard sci-fi that takes place in space for the same reason Snowpiercer takes place on a train - that's what the story needs! Jesuits have always been on the cutting edge of exploration and seeking out the many faces of God rather than being strictly focused on evangelization. Everywhere on earth has been found though, so this is the next great leap of places they want to go see & find out who lives there to learn about them.)

    1. ditto to this nom as BEST -- THE SPARROW by Mary Doria Russell - a still timely take on the price of cultural assumption and assimilation.


  9. Crescent City by Sarah J. Maas. It's the first book in a while that I could very clearly see the entire time as if it was a movie playing in my head. And the climax was epic (no pun intended, but I felt totally exhausted afterward nonetheless)

  10. Replies
    1. It's the first in a trilogy, but an amazing book, even as a standalone.

  11. "Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang for BEST. It was also adapted into a movie that I like, but the book has a special place in my heart.

    The playing with linguistic theory is so cool, the premise is so touching, and when all the pieces come together, it's a big !!!!!!!!!!!!! moment. Highly recommend.