Best SF Books of this century?

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In summary, the authors listed enjoyed some of the books more than others, but all agreed that the series was the best of this century. The writing is so engaging using pov and switching between characters to get a fuller picture of what is happening. Some of the author's favorites include Neal Stephenson, Peter Hamilton, and Iain M. Banks.
  • #1

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Trolling for more reading material, my list:

Alastair Reynolds: Pushing Ice, House of Suns
Neal Stephenson: Seveneves
Peter Hamilton: Commonwealth Saga
Cixin Liu: Three Body Problem
 
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  • #2
How about the Expanse novels? The series has to be the best of this century. The writing is so engaging using pov and switching between characters to get a fuller picture of what is happening.
 
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  • #3
BWV said:
Trolling for more reading material, my list:
It's sooo subjective, @BWV, I enjoyed Pushing Ice (read it again recently), but found House of Suns turgid trash. Likewise, did not feel Seveneves is Stephenson's best, and Three Body Problem was an utter fail for me.

That aside, I'd add most of Richard Morgan's work, though some early novels like Market Forces have been overtaken by time. And I wish I could write like Peter Watts, his Rifters Trilogy is in your face sci-fi that lands punches like you're in a barroom brawl!

And if you enjoy Hamilton, then Iain M. Banks is worth adding to the list. (Most of his Iain Banks novels are also worth reading, not sci fi, but he was such a terrific story teller.)

And if you enjoy Reynolds, then Neal Asher's early novels are also worth adding (I felt he's become repetitive and derivative of his own work recently, they feel very 'meh').

Less known books could include Lotus Blue by Cat Sparks and Gary Gibson's Shoal Sequence.

This list could get very extensive 🤣
 
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  • #4
jedishrfu said:
How about the Expanse novels? The series has to be the best of this century. The writing is so engaging using pov and switching between characters to get a fuller picture of what is happening.
Enjoyed them, POV switching is nothing special though and the series petered out for me after the reveal on the protomolecule
 
  • #5
What book was the reveal in so as not to spoil it for anyone new to the series?
 
  • #6
jedishrfu said:
What book was the reveal in so as not to spoil it for anyone new to the series?
Third I think, but its been awhile
 
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  • #7
Okay, thanks but each book evolves the protomolecule giving it new and unexpected properties. I guess that's why I kept reading up to book 6 and stopped waiting for the others in paperback format.
 
  • #8
Novels or short stories only? In my opinion some of the very best are shorts. I've even read that they're harder to write. No Deux Machina to the rescue. Some author have somewhat of a bad habit there. *cough* Peter Hamilton *cough*. But then again with what he gets himself into I can't really blame him. T+His stories are truly epic.

Incidentally, I really like one of his short stories: "Blessed by an Angel."

Neal Asher's "Dark Intelligence" is worth reading just for his description of a fully automated warship factory.

Excerpt here BTW:

https://www.tor.com/2015/01/29/dark-intelligence-excerpt-neal-asher/
 
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  • #9
Melbourne Guy said:
Pushing Ice
Great Story. Loved it. I too have run out of sci-fi. I prefer near-ish future, spaceship-y, or first contact stuff - those are logical ORs, not ANDs. Far future, fantastical and military lose my interest.

Fan of KS Robinson, Andy Weir, Stephen Baxter, Robert J Sawyer, (Larry Niven, of course)...

Not a fan of Frank Herbert, Ursula K. LeGuin.I am so desperate, I've picked up the first Pern book of McCaffrey's. Not cuttin' it.
 
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  • #10
DaveC426913 said:
I am so desperate, I've picked up the first Pern book of McCaffrey's. Not cuttin' it.
Have you tried any of Peter Watt's novels, @DaveC426913? His Rifters Trilogy is epic, near future sci-fi that I found hard to put down.
 
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  • #11
I admit to finding those few modern SF novels I've read/dipped into during these last few years tough going as a whole. Maybe it's due to becoming fixed in one's ways. I did make a determined attempt on Stephen Baxter's 'Galaxias' just a few weeks back; but in the end (well, okay, about a quarter of the way through) I found my eyes skidding off the page once too often. I simply couldn't swallow the story's premise. The suspension of disbelief simply didn't happen for me, sorry to relate. I did enjoy 'Pushing Ice', though felt at the time that it would have benefited from a haircut in places. Still, Reynolds, if the above story is anything to go by, is clearly good on suspense, and that's what kept this reader going through to the final page. I quite liked 'Foundation and Chaos' by Greg Bear too. Would I read both novels again, though? Not sure. Otherwise, I look at the book titles in my local library's SF section and I'm completely lost. I would, therefore, appreciate it if someone could recommend a well-constructed, preferably richly imagined (even convincingly realized?) SF novel published during the last two decades or thereabouts - hard SF being the sub-genre of choice here. Thanks a lot.

PS. My apologies for being such a sourpuss.
PPS. I have jotted down those unfamiliar titles and authors cited in this thread. Next stop, Goodreads. . .
 
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  • #12
I'll try some of the books recommended here. I also am desperate. I too liked Pushing Ice. I find in general that a good number of the 800 or 1,000 page tomes are superficial, showy and boring. Stephenson has never caught my interest... go figure. I liked Reynolds for two books or so then found him also boring. I will recommend Blake Crouch, and will not even give a title because I have found everything I have read by him quite good.

The Three Body Problem is hampered by a dry, cold, mechanical style that may be a result of the translation... or not. The concepts are pretty interesting, though. Especially the one presented in the second book of the trilogy, The Dark Forest, which is a local sector of space where every civilization stays quiet under the assumption that if a second civilization becomes aware of it, it will then be wiped out in proactive self-defense by the second civilization. That is why the forest is quiet. An idea that has evidently not occurred to NASA which trumpets and advertises us everywhere it can. Tell me, NASA, what makes you think any civilization we encounter will not be selfish, nasty, greedy, violent and genocidal when the only civilization we know of is like that?

I have tried another Chinese author also, I forget her name, and was also put off by a very cold, mechanical style. Though I had plowed thru the Three Body trilogy and found it worth the slog, I was not willing to do so again. Likewise with another one of Liu Cixin's books.
 
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  • #13
Dr Wu said:
SF novel published during the last two decades or thereabouts - hard SF being the sub-genre of choice here.
Oof. These days, there's a wisp of a line between "Hard SF" and "Military SF"...
 
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  • #14
Some books I found worth reading over the last little while include:

There Is No Antimemetics Division by qntm.​
And Shall Machines Surrender by Benjanun Sriduangkaew​
Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald​
3zekiel (First Contact) by Peter Cawdron​
The Spiral Wars series by Joel Shepherd​
Ninth City Burning by J. Patrick Black​
By Dawn's Early Light by Jason Fuesting​
The Quantum Magician by Derek Künsken​
Emergence by Ray Hammond​
Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer​

I'm pretty eclectic with regards style, it's more about the story and the characters than being fixated on "military sci-fi" or whatever, and I do tend to hard sci-fi, so you won't find much fantasy in my reading list (Jim Butcher's Dresden Files are a notable exception).
 
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  • #15
chaszz said:
I'll try some of the books recommended here. I also am desperate. I too liked Pushing Ice. I find in general that a good number of the 800 or 1,000 page tomes are superficial, showy and boring. Stephenson has never caught my interest... go figure. I liked Reynolds for two books or so then found him also boring. I will recommend Blake Crouch, and will not even give a title because I have found everything I have read by him quite good.

The Three Body Problem is hampered by a dry, cold, mechanical style that may be a result of the translation... or not. The concepts are pretty interesting, though. Especially the one presented in the second book of the trilogy, The Dark Forest, which is a local sector of space where every civilization stays quiet under the assumption that if a second civilization becomes aware of it, it will then be wiped out in proactive self-defense by the second civilization. That is why the forest is quiet. An idea that has evidently not occurred to NASA which trumpets and advertises us everywhere it can. Tell me, NASA, what makes you think any civilization we encounter will not be selfish, nasty, greedy, violent and genocidal when the only civilization we know of is like that?

I have tried another Chinese author also, I forget her name, and was also put off by a very cold, mechanical style. Though I had plowed thru the Three Body trilogy and found it worth the slog, I was not willing to do so again. Likewise with another one of Liu Cixin's books.
P.S. I'd like to recommend a 20th century book many might have missed. It's one of my all-time favorites.
The Mote in God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. Niven's novels sometimes have various problems you kind of have to ignore while reading. Not this one -- superb all the way.
 
  • #16
chaszz, I've been meaning to read The Three Body Problem for quite sometime now; but its "dry, cold, mechanical style," as you describe it, has now taken the shine off my expectations somewhat. Military SF is a new genre on me! Not sure what to make of it. . . I guess it's far removed from Niven & Pournelle's The Mote in God's Eye, which was the last vaguely militaristic SF novel I do recall reading with some pleasure many moons ago.

Melbourne Guy, I've taken the liberty of copying your reading list. The next step will be to see if our county library can provide some assist here, or failing that ebay. Thanks for that!
 
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  • #17
The Mote in God's Eye is a classic, @chaszz, I always wonder if it influenced Peter F. Hamilton's aggressive aliens in Pandora's Star. But, @Dr Wu, if you have a hankering for military sci-fi, I can also recommend Frank Chadwick's Chain of Command, it's a cracker of a novel 👍

Oh, and I second @chaszz's opinion on The Three Body Problem. It was hard to read and just not as good as all the positive reviews made out.
 
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  • #18
I would recommend here Kazuo Ishiguro (2017 Nobel of Literature): "Klara and the Sun." It is a very well put together and quite beautiful and quietly moving story of a solar-powered android designed to take care of sickly children. For her, being the direct source of the energy that keeps her conscious and mobile, the Sun is a kind, loving and generous kind of god.
At the very end, when the girl she has been taking care gets cured, thanks largely to her, and grows up enough to go to university, Klara's purpose complete, she is sent to spend her now declining days in a sort of nice junkyard, where she tells a visitor she is putting her memories together. And the result is the story in the book.

I am curious about "Pushing Ice."
I wholeheartedly agree that "Pandora Star" and "Judas Unchained", by Peter Hamilton, are great works of the "space opera" variety.

Something else I would recommend is, well, all of Niel Stephenson's books. But to be practical, I'll mention just two recent ones: "Seveneves" and "Fall, or Dodge in Hell."

The first is about the destruction of much of life, including most of humanity, by the mysterious breaking up of the Moon, that first form a Saturn-like ring of debris, but the ring is unstable and the pieces, big and small of the Moon forming it fall as a deadly rain on Earth. Humanity survive, just, and the story is in two parts, separated by the 5000 years that take for the Moon debris to stop falling and people to start to crawl out of their refuges in deep caves on Earth as well as in outer space and build a new civilization, on Earth and in space, that is truly unlike anything I've read in science fiction until now.

The second book is about a Tech billionaire (a character from an earlier book, not that this matters) that dies, has his mind uploaded to the servers of an ever growing computer network, to keep up with an ever increasig need for a more detailed simulation, as he gradually regains conscience and with it, without even thinking, builds an ever larger and more complex simulated world where others, including close relatives, friends as well as less sympathetic charaters, join him when their bodies also die. Underlying this, much as in Phillip Pullman's "Its Dark Materials" trilogy, there is an idea borrowed from Milton's "Paradise Lost", with Dodge as the "Fallen One."
Warning: if books of 900 plus pages, full of ideas each explained at some length is not your thing, keep away from these two books.
 
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  • #19
chaszz said:
P.S. I'd like to recommend a 20th century book many might have missed. It's one of my all-time favorites.
The Mote in God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. Niven's novels sometimes have various problems you kind of have to ignore while reading. Not this one -- superb all the way.
I am new here and not sure of how its posting software works, so I hope this reply to the related comments made by chazz and Dr Wu ends up in the right place: "The Third Body Problem", besides the problems already mentioned by them, I would add also that a strong dose of over-dramatic purple prose does not help.
Hmm, I see. Not quite on target.

Anyway: "The More in God's Eye" is really good, in my opinion.
I wonder if anyone here has read anything from Robert L. Forward, who was a physicist and engineer, for example his series of books starting with "Dragon's Egg" about interstellar travel using laser propulsion and the discovery of a doble planet, one covered with an ocean full of interesting and intelligente marine life.
According to the entry about him in Wikipedia, he "was an American physicist and science fiction writer. His literary work was noted for its scientific credibility and use of ideas developed from his career as an aerospace engineer. He also made important contributions to gravitational wave detection research."
 
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  • #20
Disagree, mote in gods eye is flawed by Jerry Pournelles hack right wing writing style and near unreadable unless you can swallow the idea that the USSR survives to become an interstellar power. If you want a better book with the same basic first contact with evil aliens premise, check out Peter Hamilton’s Pandora’s Star

the first three body book (have not read the rest) has some truly poignant backstory in the Cultural Revolution and a truly original protagonist alien species. Did not find the style dry, just literate. The characters remain memorable to me a year+ after I read it.
 
  • #21
Jerry Pournelle and Niven wrote "The Mote in God's Eye" in 1974: a long-ago and quite different world in reality, not just in fiction style and politics. The War in Vietnam was still on, Nixon was still President, if already struggling. And there was no serious expectation of the Soviet Union going away ever; it took another sixteen years for that to happen, or a good part of another generation, and then it happened too abruptly to be historically predictable. Yes, Pournelle was a man of the right, but so were Ray Bradbury, Heinlein and many other well-liked and prominent science fiction writers of the day, certainly in the USA.
Things have changed ... but considering what is going on these days, it seems that it might be apt to say, once more, that "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose."

As to "purple prose", well, one of the places where I've seen it most clearly, is in the part you give as an example of what you liked about "The Three Body Problem" ... So we just better let this be.
 
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  • #22
What about Neutron Star & Ringworld stories?

Larry Niven did great job developing his Known Space tales with a lot of interesting characters like the Kzin and the Puppeteers.

Ringworld in particular spawned a whole lot of academic interest in building such a world to the point where Larry amended his story to improve its physics and engineering of the world.

I guess these are from a prior century and so of less interest to modern SF readers
 
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  • #23
Again on the idea that the Soviet Union survived to become an interstellar power: This is not that surprising, given the fact that the "Mote in God's Eye" was published in 1974. At the time no one could have predicted that the USSR was going to peacefully disappear by disbanding itself sixteen years later.

No just Niven and Pournelle in that book, but also Greg Bear in his 1985 novel "Eon" had, in the then distant future, Soviet and American forces fighting for the control of a huge hollowed out asteroid with cities inside built by unknown and perhaps alien beings (they turned out to be human),

Arthur C. Clark in the second of the "Space Odyssey" novels, written in the early 80's and then made in the corresponding second of those movies, had a joint Soviet and American expedition going to Jupiter in 2010, to find the famous Black Monolith in orbit round the giant planet. Those stories with some form of joint participation of Soviets and Americans in a then far away future were not uncommon for the time when they were written, in a rather different world, in many ways, from what is ours now days.
 
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  • #24
OscarCP said:
Something else I would recommend is, well, all of Niel Stephenson's books. But to be practical, I'll mention just two recent ones: "Seveneves" and "Fall, or Dodge in Hell."
Truly, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I found Seveneves unexpectedly boring, especially the second part. Stephenson typically gives us thick, dense novels. But that doesn't mean all those words are necessarily required!
 
  • #25
I fully endorse the comments aired about Klara and the Sun. The bitter-sweet conclusion I found deeply moving. The comic touches at the start of the story also worked for me.

Clunky writing style aside (and it really does clunk in places) Dragon's Egg is another favourite, in part due to Forward's imaginative solutions that enable his human characters to get up close and personal to a neutron star. Gravitational assists don't even begin to describe these workarounds! Yet it is the cheela themselves who really steal the show. The "close encounter" between Clear-Thinker and the human crew aboard Dragon Slayer is for me one of the great moments in SF.
 
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  • #26
Melbourne Guy said:
Truly, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I found Seveneves unexpectedly boring, especially the second part. Stephenson typically gives us thick, dense novels. But that doesn't mean all those words are necessarily required!
I agree that some editing to shorten the text somewhat would be an improvement, but I was not recommending "Seveneves" for its beauty, but for the ideas Stephenson introduces in it, in the grand tradition of science fiction as a literature of ideas (e.g. Olaf Stapledon "Star Maker" is not meant to be read for thrills and spills, but as a philosophical enquiry into the future of the Universe and of life in it).

For example, in "Seveneves" the necklace of habitats in geostationary orbit is, I think, a new science-fictional idea of actual importance, if one assumes that there would ever be a need for very large numbers of people to live in space habitats:

As they are in geostationary orbits they can be built one habitat at the time, from metals and other materials mined from asteroids, with other habitats added as needed: new links in a progressively lengthening chain around the Earth, following the equator, until fully surrounding it. The details of how that would work in practice and how the ring of habitats would communicate with, and send people and goods down to and up from the ground, where there will be once more, eventually, cities and millions of residents, is all properly thought out and carefully explained. The reason for its existence also comes up naturally in the overall context of the precarious situation humanity was in, because it was one way to finally live, multiply and prosper with considerable personal freedom for those who took to outer space to survive and wait out the disastrous effect of the break up of the Moon, once this subsided enough to be possible to put people in orbit near the Earth without a major danger of them being struck by the infalling lunar debris.
This is, in my opinion, serious stuff deserving of reading and thinking about, interspersed with the adventures of several interesting characters. But the book is not a page turner and was not intended as such by its author, I suspect. Thus my warning, at the end of my comment recommending this novel.
 
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  • #27
Dr Wu said:
Clunky writing style aside (and it really does clunk in places) Dragon's Egg is another favourite, in part due to Forward's imaginative solutions that enable his human characters to get up close and personal to a neutron star. Gravitational assists don't even begin to describe these workarounds! Yet it is the cheela themselves who really steal the show. The "close encounter" between Clear-Thinker and the human crew aboard Dragon Slayer is for me one of the great moments in SF.
Oops! I confused the world, a neutron star, where the members of a space mission arrive at in "Dragon's Egg" with the binary one circling Bernard's star in "Rocheworld", another good series of books by Forward and his wife and second daugther, starting with the novel by that name. One more by this author: "Timemaster", where one can learn all the things that can be done with an artificial wormhole, and how Richard Hawkins' chronology protection conjecture can work to prevent time travel paradoxes.
 
  • #28
OscarCP said:
would recommend here Kazuo Ishiguro (2017 Nobel of Literature): "Klara and the Sun."
Have not yet read this story but thoroughly enjoyed Ishiguro's "The Buried Giant".

Though described as a fantasy novel, the vague mental processes of the elderly protagonists produce an ethereal narration reminiscent of the finest 'travel' SF stories.
 
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  • #29
Klystron said:
Have not yet read this story but thoroughly enjoyed Ishiguro's "The Buried Giant".

Though described as a fantasy novel, the vague mental processes of the elderly protagonists produce an ethereal narration reminiscent of the finest 'travel' SF stories.
Thanks for the recommendation. There is another novel by Ishiguro: "Never Let Me Go." A movie was made based on it, some years ago. I have not read this novel, although I have a general idea of what it is about.
Has anybody here read it?

Since I am here, I would like to recommend John Scalzi's "Lock In", and the follow on novel "Head On", both written from 2014 on, so they are "from this century." These are police procedurals where a detective officer (the same in both) investigating some inexplicable murder is also a man with a special and famous family who has a severe disability: being completely paralyzed as the result of a virus epidemic that left many in the same condition. And with a police female partner and superior in the force (he is new) that has plenty of attitude and some personal issues.
The survivors of the epidemic have adapted and gone on with their lives, doing normal things, having social lives and keeping regular jobs, by using mechanical avatars they communicate with to control their movements and see what the avatars can "see" and "hear" with their electronic sensors, by means of two-way radio implants while their paralyzed bodies lie in bed at home and are taken care of by specialized nurses or, sometimes, relatives or friends. To be able to do this, they have been having help from a government agency created to do so by a law that, at the time the story begins, has just been repealed after a change of government following a recent election.
As it is characteristic of the work of this author, the story is often quite amusing, with a sharp and witty dialog, well-crafted plots and subplots, few signs of "rubber science" (except, perhaps, for those implants, that actually are not beyond what is thought to be possible human/machine interface future developments) and a real mystery.

Definitely two page-turners, particularly indicated for those who have just managed to finish one of my recommended 900+ pages-long Niel Stephenson novels and are in urgent need of some literary SF R&R.
 
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  • #30
Back in the last century: I've always thought David Brin's Uplift series had some pretty unique stuff. Unfortunately, I never caught the end of the series (when we find out if Humanity is really a one-off or had some help).
 
  • #31
I cannot comment on these books, as I have not read much by Brin, but in case this is of interest:
The six books of the "Uplift" are not all out of print. For example, the novels are available from Amazon, four new ("in stock"), the other two used, the complete collection from someone selling it through Amazon. I imagine the books would be available from other places as well.
 
  • #32
I am struggling through Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves. A good exciting idea, but I find the reams and endless reams of descriptions of hardware, spacecraft , orbital mechanics, and docking maneuvers very boring. The interaction among the characters is also boring. am skipping far more than I’m reading. Male writers who create female characters — of course everybody has to write with women leads now, it’s de rigueur — usually create goody-goody smart women who do all the right things and are proper bores, and Ida and Dinah are just that. Ugh. And it is like reading the telephone book when he starts on his endless inventories of hardware in the medium and small craft and his long classical physics lectures. I also recently started and abandoned The Forge of God out of boredom. In between I read Jonathan Franzen’s Crossroads and loved it. Maybe I need to finally give up SF already and just read regular fiction. This is not working,
 
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  • #33
Been reading more literary fiction as well, this year discovered Gerald Murnane (The Plains)- sort of an Aussie Borges, Zama by Argentine writer Antonio de Benedetto, and All For Nothing by Walter Kempowski - all excellent. Currently about halfway through 2666 by Roberto Bolano

Thomas Pynchon is a good writer for SF fans, read the underrated Vinland again last year
 
  • #34
BWV said:
Been reading more literary fiction as well, this year discovered Gerald Murnane (The Plains)- sort of an Aussie Borges, Zama by Argentine writer Antonio de Benedetto, and All For Nothing by Walter Kempowski - all excellent. Currently about halfway through 2666 by Roberto Bolano

Thomas Pynchon is a good writer for SF fans, read the underrated Vinland again last year
Aussie Borges, eh? That is an amazingly high praise to bestow on any writer of fiction. But why not?
There is nothing in the air or water to make extraordinary, one-in-any-century writers to be invariably from Argentina. A citizen of the later and born in the former and living in the USA, I am interested in god books coming from any of these countries. A few snippets of his work I've come across remind me of Borges, but also of Poe.

According to Wikipedia:
"Gerald Murnane is an Australian writer, perhaps best known for his novel The Plains. The New York Times, in a big feature published on 27 March 2018, called him "the greatest living English-language writer most people have never heard of" "

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerald_Murnane

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2...-review-an-elegiac-but-cantankerous-swan-song
 
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  • #35
chaszz said:
I am struggling through Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves. A good exciting idea, but I find the reams and endless reams of descriptions of hardware, spacecraft , orbital mechanics, and docking maneuvers very boring. The interaction among the characters is also boring. am skipping far more than I’m reading. Male writers who create female characters — of course everybody has to write with women leads now, it’s de rigueur — usually create goody-goody smart women who do all the right things and are proper bores, and Ida and Dinah are just that. Ugh. And it is like reading the telephone book when he starts on his endless inventories of hardware in the medium and small craft and his long classical physics lectures. I also recently started and abandoned The Forge of God out of boredom. In between I read Jonathan Franzen’s Crossroads and loved it. Maybe I need to finally give up SF already and just read regular fiction. This is not working,
Not every writer is for everyone. If you find Stephenson boring, have you read anything by John Scalzi? That is definitely not boring, or with ideas explained at great length. Another possibility would be Robert Sawyer. Or the Polish author Stanislaw Lem. And Poe and Wells, of course.
 

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