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SF Signal Reader Challenge #3 – SF Books You Haven’t Read

Yes, yet another post where we ask you, the loyal SF Signal reader, to post your thoughts on various subjects. This time, taking a cue from the earlier Movies You Haven’t Seen post, we’re going to talk about books. There are a ton of SF books out there so there’s a very good chance that you have read something that most other people haven’t read. If you have a book that you liked that others probably haven’t read, list it here. In about a week or so, I’ll collate this list into one giant post. In the interest of generating less work for me, please list up to 3 books and say why you like them.

And now, my list:

  • Evening’s Empire by David Herter – A contemporary fantasy (yes, fantasy, without the elves) set in Evening, Oregon. It’s got atmosphere, a 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea opera, strange goings-on, buried ancient cities, and cheese. What more could you want? Even a rushed ending doesn’t completely mar the the rest of the book.
  • The Alacrity Fitzhugh and Hobart Floyt trilogy by Brian Daley – Published in the 80’s and comprises Requiem For A Ruler Of Worlds, Jinx On A Terran Inheritance, and Fall Of The White Ship Avatar. These are good old-fashioned space adventure/comedy stories. Think a buddy movie in space, as Earth-bound and sheltered Hobart Floyt must pair up with lazy, general breakabout Alacrity Fitzhugh. Many adventures ensue. Heck, just about anyone can read these books, as they are generally rated G, but they are a lot of fun, with lots of humor, adventure and a neatly realized far-future. Its too bad Daley passed away because he hints at something big lurking about the galaxy in the last book. Still, well worth a read if you can find them.
  • The Book Of Ash by Mary Gentle – Comprised of A Secret History, Carthage Ascendant, The Wild Machines and Lost Burgundy. Takes place in 15th century Europe and tells the story of Ash, the female commander of a mercenary group who hears voices that help her with her battle tactics. Is it alternate history? Time travel? Or something else? A well done story, if a bit long. The ultimate resolution if very SFnal.
  • Celestial Matters by Richard Garfinkle – Read our review. A hard SF novel set in an alternate historical setting where the Greek view of the universe is the ‘correct’ view. Garfinkle has done a great job thinking through the ramifications of the Greek world-view and has created a story about a war between the Greeks and the Orient. It has spaceships and weapons made from the Sun’s plasma. Extremely cool.

I could list more, but in the interest of time I’ll stop and turn it over to you. Post away!

About JP Frantz (2322 Articles)
Has nothing interesting to say so in the interest of time, will get on with not saying it.

25 Comments on SF Signal Reader Challenge #3 – SF Books You Haven’t Read

  1. Well, it looks like I’ll be digging through the databases for books that influenced me and that are obscure. I’m sure I’ll come up with a few possibilities. And, if we concentrate on the folks who respond to the “Eragon” posting with clockwork like regularity, I’m sure I could come up with a few wheelbarrowloads of books they’ve never heard of!


  2. On the other hand…damn. Only three? Why these artificial limits? Curse my metal body!


  3. Odd…when I count the number of books suggested here…I count…one…two…three…four!


    So how about upping the limits from three for the rest of us poor souls?

  4. I’m sorry Dave, I can’t do that. It’s do as I say not as I do here at SFSignal. Since I am the schmuck that will collate everything, it’s 3 books for you!

  5. Tell ya what Fred, you send me your other selections and I will simply post them as my own and thereby propagate my image as being incredibly lazy… Now I have to think about books that I have read that you folks may not have – darned it – I h8 you JP :-@

  6. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (the manga not the anime) by Hayao Miyazaki … an SF fantasy of unsurpassed depth

  7. Anonymous // August 9, 2006 at 3:57 am //

    Were you serious when you defined contemporary fantasy as fantasy without the elves (thus implying that the rest of fantasy is fantasy with elves)?

  8. Requiem For A Ruler Of Worlds has sequels? Hmm, looks like it does indeed.

    Well, you did post 4 items, compared to the limit of 3 imposed on the rest of us, so I think it’s only fair I could show someone did read one (or a third, anyway, as the item was a trilogy) of them.

    Very fun book, by the way. I’ll add the sequels to my hunting list.

    Let’s see now… Good books which for some reason I expect not too many people have read… Oh, well, here goes:

    1. Wringland by Sally Spedding. A ‘Fantasy Without the Elves’ (You should really trademark this definition, it has a good ring to it) novel. But we do get ghosts and evil instead. A dark and suspenseful urban fantasy with good and convincing characters. And a refreshing (i.e. rare) not-very-happy ending. Lots of atmosphere, but no sword-fights or magic, so YMMV depending on what you like.

    2. Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber. Yes, yet another FWtE. The old adage that behind every great man stands a woman is the background story of this book, except that it’s a woman and her magic. Brought to life on the background of inner struggles for position and tenure in a university, where the protagonist, one of the male professors, discovers what the other wives are doing behind everyone’s back. And tries his own hand at it, from a logical and mathematical perspective, since his well intentioned wife isn’t really up to par.

    3. Harry Potter and the… OK, ok, kidding. Pawn’s Dream by Eric S Nylund. Still in the fine tradition (??) of FWtE novels. The protagonist discovers that he is one of a select few who actually live in two words at the same time, awake in one while they’re sleeping in the other (Well, to be honest, I don’t remember if everyone does that but only a few are aware, or if only a few do it anyway, and only some of them are aware). The other world being a classical fantasy one of monsters and magic (though, of course, no Elves). Surprisingly enough (we need plot) some of the lead players are bad and scheming people who want him dead, so he has to survive, figure out what is going on, and take them out instead. Fun book, plenty of action, and an interesting world.

  9. To Mr. Anonymous, who asked if I was serious about defining contemporary fantasy as FWtW (thanks Yaron!) and the implications that go with that.

    Short answer: I didn’t make myself clear. By saying ‘Yes, fantasy, without the elves’, I was really defending my reading of a fantasy book because I am not a huge fan of the genre, due to the fact of the enormous amounts of derivitive, Tolkein knock-offs filled with elves. Elves, in this case, being stand-ins for all the tired, high epic fantasy tropes (elves, trolls, orcs, prophecies, etc). EE doesn’t have any of that, and no magic either, so I gave it a shot.

  10. My three:

    THE WORM OROBOROUS by E.R. Eddison. This, gentlemen, is fantasy without the elves, but it does have Witches, Demons, Pixies, Goblins, and Imps, albeit none of these words mean what you think they mean. This was what fantasy was meant to be: brave deeds of men and arms, women of unsurpassed beauty, phantasms and phasmagorica, the conjuring that shivers the Iron Tower of Carce, a magician that imperils his immortal soul, seafights and swordfights, and climbing an unclimbed mountain, defeating the ghastly mantachores, in order to rescue a brother from the lands of the dead.

    THE NIGHT LAND by William Hope Hodgson. Undeservedly obscure. Humanity lives in a pyramid, called the Last Redoubt, of metal seven miles high overlooking a world where the sun died millions of years ago: and mankind is besieged by the Five Great Watching Things, the Silent Ones, abhuman men, and Powers both visible and invisible. A man who lost his True Love in uncounted eons of previous incarnations ago hears her voice through the Night Hearing, and learns that there is another Lesser Redoubt lost somewhere in the darkness of the sunless world.

    VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS by David Lindsany. Maskull, a modern Prometheus, is spirited in a crystal cylinder to the giant planet Tormance circling the double star. He roams the world seeking the fire called Muspel, which will shatter the illusion of pleasure and pain that tortures both the creatures of that world and of this. The world is torn between two deceiving gods, who may or may not be one and the same. If you want to find out what two new primary colors not found on earth look like, or how the primordial humans who have a third sex which we lack here, or discover what the new sense organs of breves and magn and poign report to the soul, or learn why the creatures of Matterplay seem to appear out of nothing when the life-atoms of the spirit-river are trapped in material, or what the musician Earthrid plays on his instrument Irontick, or why his songs kill those who hear them, or whose mocking and vulgar grin it is that mars the faces of all the dead of this far world, you must read this wild, hallucinogenic, strange, lovely, ugly, incomprehensible, vivid, enigmatic book.

  11. Actually he posted six items, since “one” was “three” (a trilogy). Hmmmm…three trilogies…I’ll beat this system, yet, Solo!


  12. Three great choices by Mr. Wright, but I might have gone with Hodgson’s “Carnacki, The Ghost-Breaker”, myself. Hodgson wrote some great stuff.

  13. Hey, JP, that’s FWtE, not FWtW… Unless you want to branch out for Fantasy Without the Witches? πŸ˜‰

    Personally I’m fine with Elves (well, most of them. Some do tend to be annoying), but really don’t like another thing you mentioned, prophecies.

    Not that I won’t read a decent book with a prophecy, but I don’t like them. With exceptions for when the prophecy is done intelligently and isn’t “real”, as in the active interventions in Asimov’s Foundation series by the second foundation.

    And yes, I’m well aware that the Foundation series is much more SF than fantasy. The problem with fantasy is that prophecies are usually taken seriously there.

    Fred, why stop at trilogies? If he had used omnibuses, that’s one thing. Hard to find Omnibuses of more than 4-5 novels. But just using a trilogy opens the way for series in general. If you have a 10 books series you like, well, sounds like fair game.

    Just no cheating and picking a mediocre, or well known, one simply because it’s Xanth length.

  14. Tetrasomy Two by Oscar Rossiter: Back in the mid-70’s Bantam had Fred Pohl select some books for publication under the banner – Frederick Pohl Presents – and Rossiter’s mind-bending take on biological sci-fi was a very prescient selection (the most famous of the Pohl Presents was Delany’s Dhalgren).

    The Purple Book by Philip Jose Farmer: A collection of stories with featuring the word purple in the title. Nothing short of genius. Riders of the Purple Wage is worth the price of admission alone.

    Dinner at Deviant’s Palace by Tim Powers: Though I’m sure many here are familiar with Powers, this little post-apocalypse gem always seems to slip through the cracks. An absorbing, tightly plotted thriller.

  15. Eclipse: KA Bedford (available from Amazon)

    Evoguia: Steve Jordan – selfpublished ebook available

    Gradisil: Adam Roberts – available in UK only (can be ordered without postage charges to the US at, 2007 PYR USA


  16. OK, try these for size:

    Neverness‘, David Zindell. Far-future space-opera weirdness, replete with heavy mathematical imagery and enough Illuminati references to make a conspiracist wet themselves. Also a damn fine read.

    Vurt‘, Jeff Noon. Peculiarly British magic-realist/sf story with drugs, viral advertising, and drugs that are viral advertising. Add inter-species sex, a hefty dose of UK rave culture and a unique writing style, and shake well. You’ll love it or loathe it. (Note: Noon is one of those authors who, now more successful, claims he never wrote sf.)

    Noir‘, K. W. Jeter. The title says it all. If you think you’ve read some miserable dystopian cyberpunk, this book will reset the bar for you. Some great throwaway ideas, and a comprehensively nasty potential future. With violence.

  17. O.K., my three:

    Choice One: The Planet Strappers, Raymond Z. Gallun. You would be hard pressed to find a fan of SF today who would know who Gallun was. And that’s a crying shame, because he produced many short gems. And even if that fan knew who Gallun was, you’d be hard pressed to find somebody who read this rather obscure book.

    Written in 1961, it depicts a grimmer solar system and grimmer space program than much of what was being written at the time. It also probably depicts a solar system that was closer to what we eventually found in reality once we started exploring ourselves than what most professional astronomers believed.

    A group of space enthusiasts gets a chance to get into space. They build and/or restore equipment including space suits that produce their own food and oxygen and inflatable ships that are powered by ion drives. (Sounds incredible? Try “googling” “Bigelow Aerospace” and see what is happening in orbit now!). Once they make it into orbit, the group breaks up, some going to the Moon, some to Mars, some to the far reaches of the system. There are mysteries a plenty and even some tried and true plot devices (asteroid mining and space pirates) that are dusted off and seem fresh. Published only once that I know of, by Pyramid in 1961 I’ve managed to score a dozen copies. I pass them out to good friends.

    Choice Two: The Enemy Stars, Poul Anderson. Once you get past the three giants that I read the most in my misbegotten youth (Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein), you move into folks like Andre Norton, Alan E. Nourse and Poul Anderson. Of the authors that I discovered after the Big Three, Anderson is probably the one that influenced me the most. And this book, in a list of rated books that sparkles with “10’s”, is the one that affected me the most.

    They called her the Southern Cross and launched her. Ships need to travel slower than light to bring the matter transmitters to new planets. The Southern Cross wasn’t destined to go to a planet, but for a scientific mission that lasted generations. Year after year she was crewed, as civilizations rose and fell and governments changed. Now she’s nearing her destination. However, things go horribly wrong.

    Expanded from a story called “We Have Fed Our Sea”, you’ll get a hint of what the story is about if you parse the meaning of that phrase. Science may have gone past what Anderson knew, but most practioners of science fiction are not fit to carry Anderson’s pencil case when it comes to plot, character, use of literary motifs and care in writing.

    My two copies are a Berkley edition (paperback) from 1965 and a hardcover published by Lippincott in 1958. I don’t think the book is currently in print; like much of Anderson’s works, the publishing world has let it go out of print. What a shame!

    Choice Three: The Legion of Space, Jack Williamson. I could be snarky and put down an omnibus of John W. Campbell, Jr. tales or the entire Lensman or Skylark series by E.E. “Doc” Smith. However, I chose this single slime book to represent the sub-genre of Hard SF that I have returned to again and again, especially whenever it is “revitalized” by subsequent generations of science fiction authors.

    Thrills! Chills! Nasty aliens! Journeys across interstellar space! A journey on foot across an alien planet loaded with nasty creatures to make any “naturalist” from the Animal Planet or Discovery channels faint dead away. A female character that is no shrinking violet. Characters with hearts of gold. Amazing technology.

    I’ve got a Fantasy Press edition from 1947, a Pocket edition of the original trilogy from 1980 and a SFBC omnibus from 1980 as well. I don’t know if it is still in print, but it is worth seeking out either solo or with the other two novels. They are fun, but not as good. A fourth was later written, The Queen of the Legion, that I’ve yet to get to.

    Only three choices. It was tough, but they are all solid, I think.

  18. Fred wins the award for the response that rivals that of John C. Wright’s in length. πŸ™‚

    This question is a different spin on our old What’s The Most Underrated Science Fiction Novel? post. Back then I recommended Dead Heat by Del Stone, Jr. Here’s why. I’m not so sure I have anything more to add to that list. I’m still trying to catch up on the stuff I should have read (as in, stuff that everyone else has already read) so there’s not much time to explore the less popular titles. Someone else can take my two picks. [Although, I’m tempted to cite two short fiction anthologies: The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Vol. 1 edited by Robert Silverberg and Down These Dark Spaceways edited by Mike Resnick. Both of these offered stories that were consistently better than most anthologies. I just doubt that these are as unread as some of the other titles mentioned in this post, so I hesitate to add them.]

    Also note that old post cites some of the same titles as this one: Fred again recommended The Planet Strappers by Raymond Z. Gallun – in fact this was the post that “forced” me to buy the book. Thanks, Fred. To this day it awaits my eager hands while being buried in some box or other.

    Also back then, John C. Wright recommended Wreck of the River Stars by Michael Flynn, Harvest of Stars by Poul Anderson, Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon and again The Night Land and The Worm Ouroboros.

    Check out some of the other suggestions, too!

  19. I posted my response at my site. Guess what. Within a few moments a reader looked up and ordered “The Planet Strappers” and posted a comment about it.

    Ah, I’ve done some good, for once.


  20. Neverness was good, but I found that the quality changed a lot between sections. Specifically the middle part, where they go on a long low-tech period with the local tribes to get genetic samples, didn’t match up to the rest of the book. Anyone knows if it was written in one go, or as a few separate stories?

    I read a few of Jeter’s books, Farewell Horizontal which I really liked, and The Dreamfields which was alright but not brilliant. Noir is actually sitting on my shelf for a few years, but I haven’t gotten to it yet. I think I’ll try to move it up in the evergrowing to-read list. Thanks.

    And I second Fred’s recommendation for The Enemy Stars. Good book. Though I don’t recall ever encountering the short story.

    But is The Legion of Space really books that most people haven’t read? The series is a well-known classic. I even recall reading some article, years ago, that put it on a short list of the famous early epics of future/space-exploration/etc together with Niven’s Known Space, E. E. ‘Doc’ Smith’s Lensman, and Asimov’s Robots or Foundations (been a while, I don’t which of those that article referred to specifically, and it doesn’t matter much).

    All this to say that I agree The Legion of Space is the least known, and least explored, of the bunch, but it’s still a well known classic.

    And no rush on The Queen of the Legion. It’s good, but nothing too special.

    This is becoming a very productive thread, lots of good recommendations.

  21. What I read is fairly mainstream SF, but here is a something for your list:

    The Heaven Makers by Frank Herbert

    Herbert is ofcause well known for his Dune books, but I think that this little gem of a book is well worth a reed. Very nice idea, a twist on the alien abduction theme.

    And if you like humorous SF, you should all read E.L.V and E.L.V. II – Times Square by Nick Nielsen. I don’t know how well known they are, but probably not very… They are hilarious time travel books – by an equally proficient writer as i.e. Terry Pratchett, Robert Rankin and Douglas Adams (in my humble opinion).

  22. “But is The Legion of Space really books that most people haven’t read? The series is a well-known classic.”

    Have you read it? It may be well known, but how many have read it?

    It is not currently in print, AFAIK. I was trying to (a) find three titles that I liked that have been neglected; and, (b) with this title, find one title that covers a sub-genre that I’ve probably read the most in all of SF. With “The Planet Strappers” I was covering Hard SF. With “The Enemy Stars”, I was going for a more character-driven piece.

    “And I second Fred’s recommendation for The Enemy Stars. Good book. Though I don’t recall ever encountering the short story.”

    Not a short story, just a shorter version. It appeared in Astounding SF under that title. I read that version and it is novella or novelette in length. Just as much impact.

    It was very hard to stop at three. I may post more…

  23. “but most practioners of science fiction are not fit to carry Anderson’s pencil case when it comes to plot, character, use of literary motifs and care in writing.”

    Hear! Hear!

    I almost listed HARVEST OF STARS, merely because it is not as well known as it should be. I actually think Anderson is better than the Big Three, in part because his quality did not drop toward the end of his career.

  24. I thought that “Harvest of Stars” did pretty well when it came out, along with the rest of the series (“The Stars Are Also Fire”, “Harvest the Fire”, “The Fleet of Stars” and “Genesis”). Have to do a re-read of that set one of these days.

    “Genesis” won a John W. Campbell and “The Stars Are Also Fire” won a Prometheus.

    Pretty good bookshelf he had:

  25. You may be right there, Fred, I don’t really know. I personally did read it, obviously. But I usually base my sense of what is more or less commonly read by the (highly unscientific) method of noticing what other people I know read (without getting it on loan from me), what books I just keep on seeing on the bookshelves, and what books I see mentioned in other places.

    It’s not really representative, but in the case of The Legion of Space books I have a friend who read it separately from me, I saw some of the books in at least two different second-hand bookstores, and I’ve seen it mentioned in various other locations. So in my mind it’s categorized under “well-read”.

    Whether it is, or isn’t, for real, is hard for me to be sure. It’s true that there haven’t been any reprints of it for a long long time…

    And, erm, bit of a late reply, yes, I know.

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