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  1. #1
    Registered User livens's Avatar
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    Well written science fiction, nevermind the story...

    I've been thinking about this for awhile now, ever since I read a book that really changed my view of what good writing is. It was A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr..

    I don't consider myself well versed on writing styles by any means, science fiction and a little fantasy is as far as I have gotten in life. So me saying this is the "best" writing might not hold water for others. But I find myself comparing the writing from that book to everything else I read now. He could have been writing about humans finding pink stripped ponies on Saturn and I would still have enjoyed it.

    Are there any other sci-fi books that are so beautifully written that it hardly matters what they are about?

  2. #2
    Registered User ian_sales's Avatar
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    Anything by Gwyneth Jones, Paul Park, David Herter, DG Compton, Lucius Shepard, Lewis Shiner, John Crowley... they're among the best genre prose stylists I've come across.

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    Quote Originally Posted by livens View Post
    I
    Are there any other sci-fi books that are so beautifully written that it hardly matters what they are about?
    why bound yourself to sf or sff if "it hardly matters what they are about"?

    personally i read sff for its content, if I want "beautiful" literature I read mainstream stuff

    Edit: and actually to add something concrete, the only sff writer of today that I feel the same as you, ie , what he writes about does not matter as his books will always be of interest due to his writing style is Adam Roberts; even when he does the "grad-lit student in the pub after a few beers" discussion about love, life and everything (stuff that usually annoys me to no end) like in New Model Army and he is funny enough to make it readable; at his best, he is just awesome
    Last edited by suciul; July 13th, 2012 at 09:27 AM.

  4. #4
    Live Long & Suffer psikeyhackr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by livens View Post
    Are there any other sci-fi books that are so beautifully written that it hardly matters what they are about?
    Quote Originally Posted by suciul View Post
    why bound yourself to sf or sff if "it hardly matters what they are about"?

    personally i read sff for its content, if I want "beautiful" literature I read mainstream stuff
    I just reread Canticle for Liebowitz a few months ago. I believe I first read it in grade school. But I attended a Catholic school. I think it was a mistake to read it at that age. It had too much of an impact and it is a kind of depressing story.

    But if the sci-fi plot is good I don't pay much attention to the writing. If the story is bad I don't care how good the writing is. If the story is good but the writing is poor I may notice but read it anyway. That is the trouble with Mack Reynolds. I prefer him to Andre Norton though her writing may be better.

    psik

  5. #5
    Member of the Month™ Ropie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by livens View Post
    I've been thinking about this for awhile now, ever since I read a book that really changed my view of what good writing is. It was A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr..
    I'm with you on this one, Livens, and from the same book (though I'd already been very impressed with Ursula Le Guin and Gene Wolfe for similar reasons). I'm more likely to enjoy and remember a SF book if I thought it was very well written.

    Quote Originally Posted by suciul View Post
    actually to add something concrete, the only sff writer of today that I feel the same as you, ie , what he writes about does not matter as his books will always be of interest due to his writing style is Adam Roberts
    I'm a recent convert to Adam Roberts, and I agree with you - the guy is a talent. In a literary sense he's a cross between Nabokov, Gene Wolfe and Kurt Vonnegut, as far as I can tell. I'd strongly recommend Yellow Blue Tibia.

    Others that come to mind as being 'beautifully written' (and still SF):

    To Say Nothing of the Dog - Connie Willis
    The Fifth Head of Cerberus - Gene Wolfe
    The Left Hand of Darkness - Ursula Le Guin
    Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang - Kate Wilhelm
    The Rediscovery of Man (collection) - Cordwainer Smith

    and for me the best of the best..
    The Martian Chronicles - Ray Bradbury

    I think the Americans have it nailed when it comes to producing fine literary SF writing - no one else to my knowledge really comes close. I could probably argue for The Cyberiad - Stanislaw Lem (in translation), or maybe The Islanders by Christopher Priest, but they're not quite in the same league.

  6. #6
    Registered User ian_sales's Avatar
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    I disagree. The US has some fine sf writers, but it also has a huge number of really bad ones. UK sf writers tend to be on average slightly better than their American equivalents, though numbers are definitely on the US's side.

    On this side of the Atlantic, we have Gwyneth Jones, DG Compton, JG Ballard, Keith Roberts, Iain M Banks, Justina Robson, M John Harrison, Christopher Evans... And I'd say there was only a small handful of sf writers in the US as good as or better than those.

    (Plus, of course, the previously-mentioned Adam Roberts and Christopher Priest...)

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    Live Long & Suffer psikeyhackr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ropie View Post
    and for me the best of the best..
    The Martian Chronicles - Ray Bradbury
    I read it long ago. I liked it long ago. But to me even then it was more fantasy than science fiction.

    His There Will Come Soft Rains could more clearly be regarded as science fiction. That is my favorite.

    psik

  8. #8
    Member of the Month™ Ropie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ian_sales View Post
    On this side of the Atlantic, we have Gwyneth Jones, DG Compton, JG Ballard, Keith Roberts, Iain M Banks, Justina Robson, M John Harrison, Christopher Evans...
    From what I've read and for my money, none of those writers have produced anything that comes close - in a literary sense - to the books I listed. Great writers, but not great literature, although Ballard is not bad (although I find his work hazy and confused).

  9. #9
    Registered User ian_sales's Avatar
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    No? Kairos by Gwyneth Jones is a beautifully written novel, and far better than anything written by Connie Wills. DG Compton's Synthajoy is perhaps the most literary sf novel of the 1970s. M John Harrison's Light is the most literary sf novel of the first decade of this century.

    Gene Wolfe has written some excellent novels, and some pretty poor ones. And his short fiction is dire. Connie Willis is no prose stylist. The Left Hand of Darkness by no means contains Le Guin's best writing, though it is an excellent novel.

  10. #10
    It never entered my mind algernoninc's Avatar
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    Roger Zelazny impressed my with the mix of lyrical prose and scientific speculation in Lord of Light. Also Samuel R. Delany with Babel-17 and Dhalgren : two of my recently discovered favorites.

  11. #11
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    Iain M banks is a fantastic writer. His stories are all over the place from one book to the next, but his writing (prose, character, diction ..etc.) is always top notch.

    I haven't read any Gene Wolfe yet, but I consistently hear him mentioned as one of the best writers alive. I think his Book of the New Sun is a good starting point, but I could be wrong.

  12. #12
    Member of the Month™ Ropie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ian_sales View Post
    No? Kairos by Gwyneth Jones is a beautifully written novel, and far better than anything written by Connie Wills. DG Compton's Synthajoy is perhaps the most literary sf novel of the 1970s. M John Harrison's Light is the most literary sf novel of the first decade of this century.
    I'll look out for Kairos and will give it a try. Connie Willis can be patchy but TSNOTD is a masterpiece, and Doomsday Book, both in terms of the treatment of the subject matters and the atmosphere she brings out in her language. I read Light a few years back and was almost totally unmoved by it.

    Ursula le Guin is particular - of the three I've read by her I'd say Left Hand of Darkness comes out on top in all areas by a long way: The Lathe of Heaven to me is a mess and only really a slightly better written Philip K Dick (and that's not saying much, although Dick created much more interest in the madness of a messy situation than Le Guin can), and The Dispossessed is a less boring version of Stranger in a Strange Land (albeit, I quite liked the style of SIASL).

    There's a caveat in these recommendations too: great literature does not always equal great SF. I recently read The Rose by Charles Harness, which was a beautifully written piece, and a rare genus of a tale (in any genre) featuring a physically disabled and disfigured main character. It was as solid and heavy handed in its plotting as anything I've read, with achingly pompous new-wave waffle accounting for most of the dialogue. A real trial.

    edit - thanks for the recommendation of DG Compton BTW - looks very interesting and I'd never heard of him before although I see he's mentioned in the same lists as Barrington Bayley, who is a favourite. Wouldn't call Bayley a great literary writer by any means, although Soul of a Robot has its moments. Great writer of ideas though; one of the best in fact
    Last edited by Ropie; July 13th, 2012 at 07:08 PM.

  13. #13
    Webmaster, Great SF&F owlcroft's Avatar
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    From Lists 'R' Us Central:

    This is a rather long laundry list, but everything on it is, in my opinion, well-written and literate. They are not, of course, of equal quality: some are just "good", while others are classics for the ages.

    I include them all because, to many readers, a lot of these authors and works will be little-known, if known at all, and that is a shame. In a few case, I have marked an author or work "borderline fantasy"; most of those are something like "science fantasy", but none are actual fantasy in the sense of having working magic in them.
    • Ackroyd, Peter *
      • First Light

    • Adams, Douglas ***
      • The Hitchhiker "Trilogy":
        • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
        • The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
        • Life, the Universe and Everything
        • So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish
        • Mostly Harmless

    • Ajvaz, Michal [borderline fantasy]
      • The Other City
      • The Golden Age

    • Aldiss, Brian W.
      • Report on Probability A

    • Arnason, Eleanor
      • To the Resurrection Station

    • Attanasio, A. A.
      • The Radix Tetrad:
        • Radix
        • In Other Worlds
        • Arc of the Dream
        • The Last Legends of Earth

    • Auster, Paul
      • In the Country of Last Things

    • Banks, Iain M.
      • The Bridge [borderline fantasy]
      • The "Culture" Books:
        • Consider Phlebas
        • The Player of Games
        • The State of the Art (stories)
        • Use of Weapons
        • Excession
        • Inversions
        • Look to Windward
        • Surface Detail
      • Against a Dark Background
      • Feersum Endjinn
      • The Algebraist

    • Barrett, Neal
      • The Aldair Tetralogy:
        • Aldair in Albion
        • Aldair, Across the Misty Sea
        • Aldair, Master of Ships
        • Aldair: The Legion of Beasts

    • Bester, Alfred
      • The Demolished Man

    • Billias, Stephen
      • The American Book of the Dead [borderline fantasy]

    • Bisson, Terry
      • Wyrldmaker

    • Blaylock, James
      • The Langdon St. Ives Books:
        • Homunculus
        • Lord Kelvin's Machine
        • The Adventures of Langdon St. Ives
        • The Ebb Tide
        • The Chalk Cliffs
      • The Digging Leviathan

    • Bradbury, Ray
      • far too many to list here
    • Bryant, Edward
      • Cinnabar

    • Calvino, Italo
      • The Complete Cosmicomics

    • Carr, Terry
      • Cirque

    • Carter, Angela [borderline fantasy]
      • The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman aka The War of Dreams
      • Nights at the Circus

    • Chapman, Stepan
      • The Troika

    • Cherryh, C. J.
      • Wave Without a Shore
      • Voyager in Night
      • The Morgaine Quartet [science fantasy]:
        • Gate of Ivrel
        • Well of Shiuan
        • Fires of Azeroth
        • Exile's Gate

    • Compton, D. G.
      • Chronocules

    • Conway, Gerard F.
      • The Midnight Dancers
      • Mindship

    • Cook, Glen
      • The Dragon Never Sleeps

    • Cover, Arthur Byron
      • Autumn Angels:
        • Autumn Angels
        • An East Wind Coming
        • The Sound of Winter
    • Crowley, John
      • The Deep
      • Engine Summer

    • Disch, Thomas M.
      • Camp Concentration

    • Dowling, Terry
      • Rynosseros

    • Dorsey, Candas Jane
      • A Paradigm of Earth

    • Duncan, Dave
      • The Great Game Trilogy:
        • Past Imperative
        • Present Tense
        • Future Indefinite
    • Effinger, George Alec
      • What Entropy Means to Me

    • Finney, Charles G.
      • The Unholy City

    • Finney, Jack *
      • Time and Again
      • From Time to Time
      • About Time *

    • Ford, Jeffrey
      • The Well-Built-City Trilogy [borderline fantasy]:
        • The Physiognomy
        • Memoranda
        • The Beyond

    • Ford, John M. *
      • The Princes of the Air

    • Foster, M. A.
      • Waves
      • The Transformer Trilogy:
        • The Morphodite
        • Transformer
        • Preserver
      • The Book of the Ler:
        • The Gameplayers of Zan
        • The Warriors of Dawn
        • The Day of the Klesh
    • Gentle, Mary
      • Ash

    • Geston, Mark S.
      • The Day Star

    • Grant, Richard
      • Saraband of Lost Time
      • Rumors of Spring
      • Through the Heart

    • Harrison, M. John
      • The Committed Men
      • The Centauri Device
      • The Viriconium Quartet [sf moving into fantasy:
        • The Pastel City
        • A Storm of Wings
        • In Viriconium aka The Floating Gods
        • Viriconium Nights
      • The Course of the Heart [borderline fantasy]
      • Signs of Life
      • The Kefahuchi Tract trilogy:
        • Light
        • Nova Swing
        • Empty Space
      • Things That Never Happen (stories)

    • Holdstock, Robert **
      • The Ryhope Wood Books [borderline fantasy]:
        • Mythago Wood
        • Lavondyss
        • The Bone Forest *
        • The Hollowing
        • Merlin's Wood *
        • Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn
        • Avilon
      • Ancient Echoes
      • Where Time Winds Blow

    • Hunt, Samantha
      • The Invention of Everything Else

    • Jeter, K. W.
      • Infernal Devices
      • Farewell Horizontal

    • Knight, Damon
      • The World and Thorinn

    • Laumer, Keith
      • Knight of Delusions

    • Le Guin, Ursula K.
      • The Left Hand of Darkness

    • Lee, Tanith
      • Days of Grass

    • Leiber, Fritz
      • The Big Time

    • Lieberman, Herbert
      • Sandman, Sleep

    • Lightman, Alan
      • Einstein's Dreams

    • Lindsay, David
      • A Voyage to Arcturus [borderline fantasy]

    • Mark, Jan
      • The Ennead

    • McDonald, Ian
      • Desolation Road
      • Empire Dreams (stories)
      • Ares Express
      • Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone

    • McIntyre, Vonda N.
      • Dreamsnake

    • Miéville, China
      • The City and the City
      • Embassytown

    • Millet, Lydia
      • Oh Pure and Radiant Heart [borderline fantasy]

    • Mills, Magnus
      • The Scheme For Full Employment ["economic sf" one critic called it]

    • Modesitt, L. E.
      • The Hammer of Darkness

    • Norwood, Warren
      • The Windhover Tapes Tetralogy:
        • An Image of Voices
        • Fize of the Gabriel Ratchets
        • Planet of Flowers
        • Flexing the Warp
    • Ore, Rebecca
      • Becoming Alien

    • Palmer, Thomas
      • Dream Science

    • Panshin, Alexei
      • The Anthony Villiers cycle:
        • Star Well
        • The Thurb Revolution
        • Masque World

    • Park, Paul
      • The Starbridge Chronicles Trilogy:
        • Soldiers of Paradise
        • Sugar Rain
        • The Cult of Loving Kindness

    • Percy, Walker
      • Love in the Ruins

    • Piserchia, Doris
      • Mr. Justice
      • Star Rider
      • A Billion Days of Earth
      • Earth Child
      • Doomtime
      • Spaceling
      • Earth in Twilight
      • The Deadly Sky
      • The Dimensioneers
      • The Fluger

    • Pratchett, Terry
      • Strata
      • The Bromeliad Trilogy [YA]:
        • Truckers
        • Diggers
        • Wings
      • The Johnny Maxwell Trio [YA]:
        • Only You Can Save Mankind
        • Johnny and the Dead
        • Johnny and the Bomb
    • Priest, Christopher
      • Indoctrinaire
      • The Prestige

    • Read, Herbert
      • The Green Child [borderline fantasy]

    • Resnick, Mike
      • Santiago

    • Roberts, Keith
      • Pavanne
      • The Chalk Giants

    • Shepard, Lucius
      • Kalimantan

    • Shinn, Sharon **
      • The Samaria Works [YA?]:
        • Archangel
        • Jovah's Angel
        • The Alleluia Files
        • Angelica
    • Silverberg, Robert
      • Nightwings
      • Son of Man
      • Star of Gypsies
      • Thebes of the Hundred Gates
      • The Majipoor Books [these only, of the lot]:
        • Lord Valentine's Castle
        • Valentine Pontifex
        • Majipoor Chronicles
    • Simak, Clifford *
      • Highway of Eternity
      • Way Station
      • Over the River and Through the Woods (stories)

    • Smith, Cordwainer (read only the NESFA editions!)
      • Norstrilia
      • The Rediscovery of Man (unified stories)

    • Spinrad, Norman
      • The Void Captain's Tale
      • Child of Fortune

    • Stableford, Brian
      • far too many to list here

    • Sucharitkul, Somtow
      • The Inquestor Tetralogy:
        • Light on the Sound
        • The Throne of Madness
        • Utopia Hunters
        • The Darkling Wind

    • Tepper, Sheri S.
      • The Awakeners Duology:
        • Northshore
        • Southshore
      • The Arbai Trilogy:
        • Grass
        • Raising the Stones
        • Sideshow

    • Vance, Jack
      • far too many to list here

    • Werfel, Franz
      • Star of the Unborn [borderline fantasy]

    • Whitehead, Colson
      • The Intuitionist

    • Williams, Tad
      • The Otherland Tetralogy:
        • City of Golden Shadow
        • River of Blue Fire
        • Mountain of Black Glass
        • Sea of Silver Light
    • Williams, Walter Jon
      • The Drake Maijstral Trio:
        • The Crown Jewels
        • House of Shards
        • Rock of Ages
    • Wolfe, Gene
      • far too much to list here

    • Wright, Austin Tappan
      • Islandia

    • Wyndham, John
      • The Kraken Wakes aka Out of the Deeps

    • Zelazny, Roger
      • Isle of the Dead
      • To Die in Italbar
      • Lord of Light
      • Creatures of Light and Darkness
      • Roadmarks

    • Zindell, David
      • The Requiem for Homo Sapiens Cycle:
        • Neverness
        • The Broken God
        • The Wild
        • War in Heaven


    Note to mods: I have included three links to pages I own, because each represents, so far as I know, the most complete or (for Stableford) only complete bibliography of that author available.

  14. #14
    Registered User ian_sales's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ropie View Post
    Connie Willis can be patchy but TSNOTD is a masterpiece, and Doomsday Book, both in terms of the treatment of the subject matters and the atmosphere she brings out in her language.
    Have you not seen Adam Roberts' review of Doomsday Book? See http://sfmistressworks.wordpress.com...connie-willis/

    Quote Originally Posted by Ropie View Post
    edit - thanks for the recommendation of DG Compton BTW - looks very interesting and I'd never heard of him before although I see he's mentioned in the same lists as Barrington Bayley, who is a favourite. Wouldn't call Bayley a great literary writer by any means, although Soul of a Robot has its moments. Great writer of ideas though; one of the best in fact
    Bayley can be a bit of hack, but a bonkers one... which lifts his prose above typical hackwork. Compton is more like Keith Roberts, Richard Cowper or Michael G Coney - all 1970s Brit writers of very literary and literate sf, and worth reading.

  15. #15
    Registered User gainespost's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by livens View Post

    Are there any other sci-fi books that are so beautifully written that it hardly matters what they are about?
    Lots, imo. Check out "Wildseed" by Octavia Butler.

    I agree, "A Canticle for Leibowitz" was a masterpiece.

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