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Fantasy and SF Recommendations: Stand-Alone Books

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#1 Datepalm


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Posted 20 May 2009 - 02:41 PM

A thread for good books that you think others will enjoy, that aren't part of series. Entire series that have been published as omnibuses, technically standalone books with recurring characters or setting, such as Bas-Lag or Discworld or split novels like "Blackout/All Clear" are a grey area. Use your judgment.

To keep it useful and relevant for people trying to find a book to read, I ask that when posting in this thread, you stick to a few points:

- Posts need to contain the name of the book, the name of the author, and a sentence or two of description or opinion.

- Praise and criticism should try to be helpful to someone trying to make their mind what to read, and not context-free subjective opinion: "I thought it had strong characterization, but somewhat unoriginal worldbuilding," is useful. Simply saying "I totally loved it, everyone should read it," - not so much.

- Feel free to post a rec even if someone already has, so long as you're not repeating them word for word. An accumulation of opinion can be useful.

- Differing opinions on books that have been brought up is fine, but don't be the first to post a book you don't recommend at all. We have "worst book" threads for that.

- Rec separate books in separate posts. This will help to eventually consolidate different recs for the same book together.

- Keep things short. Anything longer than a paragraph - find/start a thread for it.

- This is not the place to discuss peoples recs. If someone recs Goodkind, its on their conscience. But go ahead and post a negative opinion, if you like.

- Please don't ask for recommendations in this thread. If it doesn't deliver what you're looking for, have a look in the "What to do before starting a thread asking for recommendations" thread, and then - start a thread.

To keep the thread accessible and clutter free, note that all posts that aren't useful recommendations will be deleted with considerable zeal.

Edited by Datepalm, 04 July 2011 - 07:31 PM.

#2 Samalander


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Posted 28 February 2011 - 03:00 AM

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes. Contemporary Africa with a fantastical twist (namely, murderers get a permanent animal familiar which gives them magical abilities, but also makes their lives and health dependant on familiar's survival and proximity). This book is mix of Urban Fantasy and Film Noir with some political commentary thrown in.

Do obscure Fantasy stand alones belong in this thread or the other one?

#3 Lyanna Stark

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Posted 28 February 2011 - 05:04 AM

China Mieville The Scar - Unusual pirate drama set in the Bas-Lag universe on an island of ships. On average seen as Mieville's best novel to date, and it deserves the praise it gets. If you prefer quest stories where the obvious bad guy dies and the maiden gets the prince, expect the unexpected with The Scar.

Gay Gavriel Kay The Lions of Al-Rassan - Novel inspired by medieval Spain and the fighting between Christians and Muslims. I loved the almost lyrical writing style. The novel, despite being far from brick format, manages to emcompass themes of friendship, intolerance, politics, death, war and revenge. It also sometimes surprised me with being really gruesome and gritty.

Ursula K LeGuin The Left Hand of Darkness - LeGuin's brilliant SciFi novel featuring our preconceptions of gender, and what this does to the way we interact, think of people and how difficult it is when gender as we know it doesn't apply. Very clever and beautifully written, plus on top of this a very entertaining novel with a solid plot.

Neil Gaiman Coraline - Yes, it's YA, but still a jolly great read. Coraline is surprisingly scary for a kids' book and holds up surprisingly well even for adult readers. We all know the stories set in scary old houses in the countryside, don't we? Well this is Gaiman's own take on what's behind that door.

Paula Volsky The Gates of Twilight - A novel/author that really should get more readers. Explores themes of racism, culture clashes and colonialism in a fantasy world inspired by colonised India. The story itself isn't too complicated, but is pretty entertaining and manages to show the reader around different environments. It differs from most fantasy novels in that the story isn't set in a pretty land far, far away, but in a world not far removed from out own, filled with oppression, racism and religious fanatism.

Since I am a Mieville fangirl, I'll add another novel of his:

China Mieville The City & The City - China goes noir with a SciFi themed detective novel set in an alternative version of Eastern Europe. Everyday drabness mixed with otherworldly excitement in this fast paced and, for Mieville, really tight narrative dealing with a murder mystery in a, in strange and mysterious ways, divided city.

Edited by Lyanna Stark, 02 March 2011 - 06:24 AM.

#4 snoweel



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Posted 01 March 2011 - 11:40 AM

Second on the Kay, or any of his books.

War of the Flowers, by Tad Williams. Interesting fairy world with social classes and social change and technology and magic. TW really can make fantasy races seem alien.

The Golden Key, by Melanie Rawn, Kate Elliot, and Jennifer Roberson (hope I remembered that right). 3-part single volume story, renaissance-esque setting, interesting system of magic (and legal documents) via paintings. Lots of intrigue, interesting villain.

#5 SkynJay


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Posted 02 March 2011 - 08:53 AM

This is where I add Martin Millar to the list. Completely unappreciated, and I've been plugging him a lot lately. The Good Fairies of New York, and Lonely Werewolf Girl. Both modern fantasy, half whimsical, but each have a darker back story running throughout.

Id also like to add The Icarus Hunt by Timothy Zahn. A good space chase, and a lot of fun.

Edited by SkynJay, 03 March 2011 - 07:12 AM.

#6 Astra


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Posted 07 March 2011 - 05:53 AM

Thanks for creating the thread. It is very helpful.

Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson
Stand alone fantasy as for today. I have heard that Sanderson plans to write another book in the same world, maybe with some of the protagonists from Warbreaker.
It is one of his early works. Nonetheless, good one. Very interesting magic system. Likeable protagonists. Interesting story.

Edited by Astra, 07 March 2011 - 05:54 AM.

#7 Glotka's cane

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Posted 08 March 2011 - 11:56 AM

hey gang, my first post on this forum. i'm currently reading Joe Abercrombie's Best Served Cold. it relates to events that occurred in his First Law Trilogy but its standalone. if you like your fantasy raw and real and your characters unsavory, then i definitely recommend it!

#8 Ahimsa


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Posted 10 March 2011 - 03:16 PM

I haven't read them for a while, but Louise Cooper's Time Master series was great--with Moorcockian elements but a style all her own.

#9 Nearly Headless Ned

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Posted 12 March 2011 - 06:32 AM

The Folding Knife by KJ Parker. Clever and funny. How many books about reckless economics are this accesible?

#10 Suttree


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Posted 14 March 2011 - 03:32 AM

Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner. Not sure how obscure it is but it was new to me. Book is ace, in my mind somewhat of a precursor to "gritty" fantasy with the slums of Riverside highlighted in all of its Dickensian glory. Far different from most of what I have read Swordspoint has a lean narrative that is still richly detailed. It's a pretty quick read and what that I have enjoyed a few times over.

#11 Eyelesbarrow


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Posted 18 March 2011 - 09:54 PM

I read recently Jeff Collignon's Her Monster, a sort of re-telling of the Beauty and the Beast tale set in contemporary time. There were some bumps in the middle part, when he shifts the POV. But I thought it was a solid and well-written book.

#12 SkynJay


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Posted 02 April 2011 - 09:44 PM

The Circus of Dr. Lao - Charles G. Finney

Found it in the basement of my wife's grandparents, read it in a day. Honestly, it held up great(fantasy from 1935). A small town struck by a crazy day. Honestly, Gaimon could have passed it off as one of his shorts and i would have believed it.

Edited by SkynJay, 04 August 2011 - 09:36 AM.

#13 Huan



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Posted 14 April 2011 - 12:30 AM

The Riddle-Master trilogy by Patricia McKillip. Perhaps not very obscure... but if you like shape-changing, this is for you.

#14 zachcrowgod



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Posted 26 June 2011 - 01:21 PM

jesse bullington's The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart

historical fantasy, grim, and pretty dang funny...
to me its like martin meets the coen brothers

first time on ANY message board/long time fan of ASOIAF!!!!

Hello to All

#15 Ashalia



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Posted 27 June 2011 - 12:18 AM

The Redemption of Althalus
A story about a thief who goes to the edge of the world to steal a book and ends up helping a talking cat to collect a colourful bunch of comrades to aid them in a war against a certain god who thinks he can do better.

Not an Eddings fan, but this was, by far, the most entertaining stand-alone book by them.

Since there's been mention of sci-fi stuff in this one (though the title of this thread is fantasy), I'll include one more.

The Margarets by Sherri S. Tepper
Yea, you have your usual save the world stuff. But this is a story of a girl named Margaret who has imaginary friends; a queen, a warrior, and a few others. And for every choice she made in her life, a part of her splits off in the opposite direction to fulfill the other destiny that lies in the choice not taken.

While that is its story, I can't help but think of the possibilities of our unmade choices. This book explores that. :)

#16 Momo



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Posted 01 July 2011 - 10:28 AM

I was told that Neal Stephenson books are all very similar to one another. As in, different books, same story.

Is it true?

So I haven't read all of NS's books. I've read:

Snow Crash, post-cyberpunk, fun ride of a book; very playful.

Zodiac, a modern-day eco-thriller

The Diamond Age, maybe set in the same universe as Snow Crash and has some of the same feel, but is concerned with social classes, consequences of nanotechnology and other themes.

Cryptonomicon - historical fiction and thriller. Has 2 major stories told in alternating chapters. One story takes place present day and the other takes place during WWII. There is a lot of talk of technology/encryption/military in both time periods. The characters in both stories are related to each other and some characters overlap the 2 time periods.

Anathem - set on a different world, filled with philosophical and mathematical discussions, lots of quantum mechanics, meditates on the relationship between words, thought and meaning, is just a novel unique unto itself. It took a while for me to get into but it turned out to be fascinating and satisfying.

In all of these works I don't find the same story, different book scenario to pan out. However, there may be some underlying theme that I'm not catching that your friend/person who gave you advice on these books saw. Consequences of technology is one that I see, but .... Or maybe it has something to do with the Baroque Cycle, which I haven't read.

#17 MattD


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Posted 08 July 2011 - 06:05 PM

Some more good SF&F stand-alones published in the past 6-12 months or so, in no particular order other than how quickly they come to mind:

Gene Wolfe, Home Fires -- kind of like what might happen after The Forever War: a loving couple try to reconnect after time-dillation from interstellar travels has separated them.

Catherynne Valente, Deathless -- feminist retelling of Koschei the Deathless folktale set in Stalinist Russia.

Tea Obreht, The Tiger's Wife -- a look at the past and present in Central/Eastern Europe, how stories and memories entwine, with some fantastic/magical realist sensibiities.

China Mieville, Embassytown -- Mieville does spaceships and aliens; also, colonization and language.

Patricia McKillip, Bards of Bone Plain -- archaelogically-themed adventure fantasy.

Jean-Christophe Valtat, Aurorarama -- steampunk? icepunk?

Graham Joyce, The Silent Land -- a loving couple is buried in an avalanche, then emerges into a lonely and silent world...are they dead?

Karen Russell, Swamplandia! -- quirky concoction, a southern gothic ghost story set amongst Florida amusement parks.

Claude Lalumière, The Door to Lost Pages -- weird contemporay fantasy set in and around a bookshop.

Tricia Sullivan, Lightborn -- mental augmentation goes awry, leaving a town in quarrantine and two young residents looking for answers.

Ian McDonald, The Dervish House -- exploration of what Turkey's near future might look like.

Brent Hayward, The Fecund's Melancholy Daughter -- grotesque fantasy city, for fans of Perdido Street Station and Thunderer.

Karen Lord, Redemption in Indigo -- mature fable about a woman who rids herself of an unwanted husband.

David Moles, Seven Cities of Gold -- alternate history reworking of Heart of Darkness in which Islam is acendant and North America is the cultural backwater being penetrated.

Jo Walton, Among Others -- boarding school diary entries of a girl who likes to read SF&F, sees fairies.

Reza Negarestani, Cyclonopedia -- weird, indescribable, a War on Terror in a land of sentient oil.

Michael Cisco, The Great Lover -- another weird city book, full of prose poetry and shifts in register, surreal imagery, dreams, and The Prosthetic Libido.

Julia Holmes, Meeks -- dystopia in which failing to secure a wife has dire consequences.

Charles Yu, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe -- thoughtful metafiction about time, memory, and family

Gary Shteyngart, Super Sad True Love Story -- love in a wacky commercialized near-future

Greg Egan, Zendegi -- near-future story of games, artificial intelligence, and the Middle East

Edited by MattD, 08 July 2011 - 06:39 PM.

#18 Datepalm


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Posted 08 July 2011 - 09:52 PM

Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti - By Genevieve Valentine

A semi-surreal, haunting, steampunk-but-not-really story about a down at the heels travelling circus in a post apocalyptic world. Dark and melancholy, but also quite fast paced and very readable.

Shades of Milk and Honey - Mary Robinette Kowal

A kind of Jane Austen with magic story, it feels flimsy at first - the plot is mostly victorian soap - but theres an unerring integrity and grace to the characterization, worldbuilding and prose that builds it up to something more than the sum of its parts.

#19 Errant Bard

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Posted 09 July 2011 - 01:22 AM

Nick Harkaway, The Gone-Away World: a post and pre-apocalyptic novel, written in an ornate, upbeat, fun style. A lot hinges on the dialogues, but the worldbuilding is still good, as is the characterisation. The pacing is excellent, even though the plot is rather simple. Very anti-corporatist, but I can live with that. Also has ninjas. Ridiculously fun to read, though not necessarily always funny.

Michael Swanwick, The Iron Dragon's Daughter: A strange romp into a fractured magical cyberpunk land. Strong setting, the first chapters pull you right in. Characterisation is so-so, but it actually makes sense for it to be like that.

Jeff Vandermeer, City of Saints and Madmen: Is it a book, or a collection of smaller works about the same fictional place? One can wonder. However, through the material given to us, the shape of a city emerges, with its dwellers, its history, its secrets, and always, the uncertainty of not knowing the truth. Worldbuilding at its best. Characterisation is excellent, in ways varying as much as the style, depending on which booklet you're at.

Felix Gilman, Thunderer: The tale of some men come to a shifting, infinite city where gods dwell. Mixing elements of the enlightenment, of Peter Pan, and of Amber, among other things. Nothing really stands out, but it all meshes together well, and you get a nice story in the end.

Richard Morgan, Altered Carbon: Takeshi Kovacs comes back in other novels, but I had to mention this, since they all read as stand-alones. This one is a noir detective novel, only toying with the concept of downloadable immortality. Good plot, good characterisation, great pacing. A classic.

Roger Zelazny, Lord of Light: Buddha fights Hindu gods on another planet. It sounds ridiculous, but it's not. Zelazny brings forward great characters, in a coherent world, and it all makes sense, even when they reenact legends.

Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, Good Omens: Chronicles of the Antichrist's advent on Earth. I don't know if I can talk of worldbuilding or characterisation for a book which features bikers of the apocalypse, but the characters are attaching and well drawn, the humour is subtle enough, and there are actual moments of drama, or at least emotional ones.

Philip K Dick, Ubik: It's PKD, everything is top-notch, but as always it's all in the service of a really twisted premise. This one explores reality of one's perceptions, and life, and death, in an horror/mystery/gore/SF/noir setting. The author is a must-read anyway.

KJ Parker, The Folding Knife: Are you tired of Epic Fantasy heroes defeating a dark lord through willpower, magic and contrived coincidences? Follow a banker in a Rome look-alike city dealing with domestic problems and conquering the world. Never before have you seen someone win a war by speculating on timber, or playing on supply routes. Nowhere else will you see someone with the best army actually win. I had heard it was cynical, atheistic, and overall a turn-off for the usual Fantasy reader, but in fact it's just about a realistic economy in a secondary world, where magic doesn't exist. Also, the main character is fun to read. Recurring theme about the shiftiness of reasons for anyone to do something.

For a repeat, as Neal Stephenson is great:

Anathem: Perhaps the novel of Stephenson departing the most from standard storytelling. This one has an actual strong, very strong core story, though simple enough, and probably better characterisation than in any of his earlier books, but the meat of the book is an history and vulgarization of science and philosophy, from Pythagoras to quantum mechanics. Strangely enough considering this, it's never boring: it all works within the narrative, and would actually incite readers to learn more about the subjects brought up. This book might take a good chunk of your time, because when you close it, you are likely to crack open real science/philosophy/history ones. Probably the best ending of any Stephenson book.

Snow Crash: An old classic. Simply explores the possibilities of internet before it existed. But delves deeper and goes over what interconnecting consciousnesses could work out. You think it's dry? Think again, it features a teenaged american skateboarding ninja, pizza mafia, glass knives, rock n' roll, and a black cyber samurai named Hiro Protagonist. yeah.

The Diamond Age: Often low-rated among Stephenson books, I still loved this one to bits. This one focuses more on the worth of society, and more, on the importance of family and otherwise deep human relationship in the raising of children and the making of society. A reflection on the limits of artificial intelligence is also embedded in the narrative. Features deliberate post-cyberpunk, and as always, girls kicking ass. Maybe a bit of a rushed ending (Stephenson is less good with endings than with the rest), but it still works very well.

Edited by Errant Bard, 09 July 2011 - 01:32 AM.

#20 Contrarius


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Posted 09 July 2011 - 01:35 AM

Roger Zelazny, Lord of Light: Buddha fights Hindu gods on another planet. It sounds ridiculous, but it's not. Zelazny brings forward great characters, in a coherent world, and it all makes sense, even when they reenact legends.

Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, Good Omens: Chronicles of the Antichrist's advent on Earth. I don't know if I can talk of worldbuilding or characterisation for a book which features bikers of the apocalypse, but the characters are attaching and well drawn, the humour is subtle enough, and there are actual moments of drama, or at least emotional ones.

I just wanted to add a second big thumbs up for both of these books. Lord of Light is great on both science fictional and mythical/fantastical levels. And Good Omens is a fun book that teaches us that the anti-Christ isn't necessarily such a bad guy after all. But seriously, it shows how powerful free will can be, even when it comes to Armageddon. :)