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  1. #1
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    Philosophical sci fi?

    I'm looking to dip my toe into science fiction a bit, but need a few good recommendations from people who have a wider reading experience. Basically, I'm used to reading philosophy and some classic type fiction... My favorites being Dostoevsky, Mann, Hesse, Nietzsche and random stuff in religious studies, phenomenology, etc. I like stories about psychological change and rebirth, outcasts who challenge the norms of society, and themes such as regret and the tragedy of unfulfillment... Depressing stuff basically.

    I tend to gravitate toward certain writing styles and idiosyncratic authors. What I don't want to read is the Michael Crichton type stuff where the writing style just strikes me as pedestrian even if suspenseful. I don't want to sound pretentious but I really get bored and frustrated easily when the narration style is too outward or empirically focused... Seems like an Anglo Saxon kind of thing maybe... I consider myself a relatively slow reader when it comes to fiction so I'm not in the market to plow through 20 books just to find one that's decent. I appreciate shorter works over longer, bloated ones.

    I started a few like neuromancer (Gibson), stranger in a strange land, childhood's end... But couldn't get into them for some reason. Gibson in particular struck me as shallow in a slight of hand type way. I remember once reading part of Time Enough for Love and being sort of intrigued.

    I would like to read sci fi because it seems fun... But I like to be challenged by writers who attempt to see deeply into some aspect of reality... I don't want a straightforward story about future technologies or random space wars.

    I appreciate any suggestions...

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jon_Alex View Post
    I'm looking to dip my toe into science fiction a bit, but need a few good recommendations from people who have a wider reading experience. Basically, I'm used to reading philosophy and some classic type fiction... My favorites being Dostoevsky, Mann, Hesse, Nietzsche and random stuff in religious studies, phenomenology, etc. I like stories about psychological change and rebirth, outcasts who challenge the norms of society, and themes such as regret and the tragedy of unfulfillment... Depressing stuff basically...
    I'm not nearly as well read as some here, but hopefully I can at least offer a few starting points. I can't recall having read too much SF that I'd consider philosophical, but most of these do deal heavily with the psychology of their characters:

    Robert Silverberg - Nightwings and Downward to the Earth. I read both of these very recently and enjoyed them immensely. They're concisely told, and similarly themed (despite having vastly different stories to tell). (See also, Dying Inside & Book of Skulls)

    Ursula LeGuin - The Left Hand of Darkness (Plus The Dispossessed, Lathe of Heaven). I think most people would call this a genre classic. LeGuin has an anthropological background and often deals with gender, religion, ethnography, and environmental themes.

    Fredrik Pohl - Gateway. Occasionally shows its age, but it does what it sets out to do very effectively. Ultimately a tale of desperation, dread, uncertainty, and regret.

    Neal Stephenson - The Diamond Age. Wasn't sure whether to include this. Neal Stephenson is not for everyone and his books are long, but this is one of the most interesting coming of age tales I've ever read. Deals with education, class & privilege, and the nature of intelligence. Or maybe you'd like Anathem? It's really hard to say, he is very popular but also very love/hate.

    Alfred Bester - The Stars My Destination. Another classic. Absolutely singular, and extraordinarily ahead of its time. It almost reads like proto-cyberpunk, 30 years early.

    Anyway that's all I've got for now... maybe someone else will come along and point you toward Mieville (Perdidio Street Station), or Dan Simmons (Hyperion), or Stephen R. Donaldson (Gap Cycle), or Ian M. Banks, Tepper, Cherryh, Simak, Zelazny, or any number of other authors. I hope you find something you enjoy though, because SF does have a lot more to offer than just alien wars and space elevators!
    Last edited by Jussslic; July 3rd, 2014 at 04:15 AM.

  3. #3
    Live Long & Suffer psikeyhackr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jon_Alex View Post
    Gibson in particular struck me as shallow in a slight of hand type way.
    LOL

    I finished Neuromancer when it first came out and was not impressed but then tried reading it later after it became a big thing and could not finish it. I still don't understand why it is a big deal.

    I consider Rite of Passage by Alexei Panshin to be a somewhat thought provoking story though an aspect of the ending is a bit over the top. The issue is who owns knowledge and that is an issue in our society though it is hardly discussed that way. It belongs to whoever can pay for the expensive schools when much of it is just sitting in books. I find the fact of not having a National Recommended Reading List so peculiar.

    http://www.tor.com/blogs/2009/08/gro...ite-of-passage

    psik

  4. #4
    But I like to be challenged by writers who attempt to see deeply into some aspect of reality... I don't want a straightforward story about future technologies or random space wars.
    If you're interested in novels that explore the untold meanders of the human psyche, I'd recommend Philip K. Dick. Starting with one of his lesser-known works: Clans of the Alphane Moon. It's offbeat, unsettling and forces the reader to reconsider what we usually view as normal/sane individuals, and if there's even such a thing.

  5. #5
    Man of Ways and Means kennychaffin's Avatar
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    How about some James Morrow - James Morrow (born March 17, 1947) is a fiction author. A self-described "scientific humanist", his work satirises organized religion and elements of humanism and atheism.

    Not sure how philosophical it is, but my all time favorite book SF or otherwise is Dhalgren by Samuel Delaney and it was just released as an ebook this year.

    I'll also throw out for your consideration - Vernor Vinge - A Fire Upon the Deep, Marooned in Realtime... etc...
    Last edited by kennychaffin; July 4th, 2014 at 07:49 AM.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jon_Alex View Post
    My favorites being Dostoevsky, Mann, Hesse, Nietzsche and random stuff in religious studies, phenomenology, etc. I like stories about psychological change and rebirth, outcasts who challenge the norms of society, and themes such as regret and the tragedy of unfulfillment... Depressing stuff basically.

    I tend to gravitate toward certain writing styles and idiosyncratic authors. What I don't want to read is the Michael Crichton type stuff where the writing style just strikes me as pedestrian even if suspenseful. I don't want to sound pretentious but I really get bored and frustrated easily when the narration style is too outward or empirically focused... Seems like an Anglo Saxon kind of thing maybe... I consider myself a relatively slow reader when it comes to fiction so I'm not in the market to plow through 20 books just to find one that's decent. I appreciate shorter works over longer, bloated ones.
    I would recommend the following:

    "Neverness" by David Zindell
    "Courtship Rite" (or "Geta" - I had a UK copy with this title) by Donald Kingsbury
    "Radix" by A. A. Attanasio

    Also, the tetralogy The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe, consisting of:

    1. "The Shadow of the Torturer"
    2. "The Claw of the Conciliator"
    3. "The Sword of the Lictor"
    4. "The Citadel of the Autarch"

    Check these out. You might like Gene Wolfe's writing style, in particular. And I think "Neverness" and "Radix" might fit your criteria for philosophical ramblings, including themes of psychological change/rebirth and societal outcasts. "Radix", especially, fits that last criterion. The narration style is not empirically focused in any of these novels. "Neverness" is a longer novel, though.

    I also second the Ursula K. Le Guin recommendation.

  7. #7
    JG Ballard The Drowned World, The Crystal World, Vermilion Sands, Highrise, Crash
    Michael Moorcock The Final Programme, Behold The Man, The Atrocity Exhibition, An Alien Heat
    Norman Spinrad Bug Jack Barron
    Arthur C Clarke The City and the Stars
    Ray Bradbury The Silver Locusts
    Douglas Adams The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
    Kurt Vonnegut The Sirens of Titan, Cat's Cradle, Slaughterhouse 5
    Samuel Delaney Babel 17
    Philip K Dick Do Androids Dreamof Electric Sheep?
    Michel Houellebecq Atomised

  8. #8
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Books I've read recently that might fit your bill:

    The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi
    The Wind-Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
    How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu

    Also:

    Blindsight by Peter Watts
    anything by Haruki Murakami

  9. #9
    Live Long & Suffer psikeyhackr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hitmouse View Post
    Douglas Adams The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
    42 is philosophical? It's not even prime.

    psik

  10. #10
    Man of Ways and Means kennychaffin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by psikeyhackr View Post
    42 is philosophical? It's not even prime.

    psik
    Well no, but Vogon Poetry is.

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by psikeyhackr View Post
    42 is philosophical? It's not even prime.

    psik
    42 is the 5th Catalan Number http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catalan_number and more simply it is the sum of the pips on a dice. There is a more detailed analysis at http://www.archimedes-lab.org/numbers/Num24_69.html offering details such as:

    It is the smallest perfect square that is the mean of two cubed twin primes:

    422 = (113 + 133)/2

    = 9 + 10 + 11 + 12 = 13 + 14 + 15 (2 consecutive sums of consecutive integers)
    = 0!2 + 1!2 + 2!2 + 3!2
    = 2(1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6)
    = 22 + 22 + 32 + 52 (sum of four prime squares)
    = 61 + 62 = 72 - 71 (sum and difference of successive powers of the same number)
    The reciprocal of 42 is the smallest fraction in a sum of 4 fractions to add up to 1: 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/7 + 1/42 = 1
    The expression n7 - n is divisible by 42.
    The expression xy + x + y can never equal 42.

    Of course all that is just typical for a number.

  12. #12
    Of the recommendations of others that I have read, Blindsight seems like it might fit the bill the best.

    I'll add Nexus by Ramez Naam, in that its a thoughtful exploration of the societal and moral consequences of a powerful new technology, and its restriction.

    I don't think I generally go for the type of book your looking for, so don't really have a lot of other recommendations, but Blindsight and Nexus should work.

  13. #13
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Oh and then there's M. John Harrison -- forgot about him.

  14. #14
    Live Long & Suffer psikeyhackr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mostlyharmless View Post
    42 is the 5th Catalan Number and more simply it is the sum of the pips on a dice.
    I get it, 42 is between two primes 41 and 43.

    4 + 2 = 6, 6 is between two primes. 6 times its following prime 7 equals 42. 4 + 3 = 7, √(4+3) = 5 the preceding prime. And 4 + 1 = 5.

    psik
    Last edited by psikeyhackr; July 6th, 2014 at 08:44 AM.

  15. #15
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    Thanks for all those recommendations. I'm going to start with Ursula K LeGuin's Left Hand of Darkness and go from there. I actually read Wizard of Earthsea several years ago but was underwhelmed slightly, it being for young readers perhaps having something to do with it. This one looks a bit different though. Her mother Theodora Kroeber wrote one of my favorites in non-fiction, Ishi in Two Worlds, which I think is a small masterpiece in anthropological storytelling that, despite whatever historical glosses it might contain, left me somewhat transfixed.

    I've also come across the names Samuel Delany, Olaf Stapledon, Stanislaus Lem, Boris Strugatsky. The math stuff is cool... I actually majored in math and physics, although I was never one of those sci fi "geeks" into all the odd humor, hitchhikers stuff, etc. Anyway, I'll keep poking around the forums to learn something new...

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