Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

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Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby Phasma Felis » Fri Mar 13, 2015 6:53 pm UTC

I am feeling pretty rough lately, and I need some escapism that won't kick me in the teeth.

It's historically difficult for me to explain what I'm looking for without sounding like I demand Saturday-morning-cartoon pap. I don't mind characters with some darkness to them, but I don't want to be made to sympathize with a monster. I don't mind if torture or oppression or atrocity occur as setting events, but I don't want mountains of agonizing detail. I don't mind major characters dying, but I don't want their deaths to be for nothing. I don't want to read endless accounts of helpless, hopeless human misery, because that's what I'm trying to escape from. I want to read about people who are basically trying to do the right thing, and who generally have the agency to do so, and who may encounter real setbacks but not soul-rending awfulness.

All of Terry Pratchett is great, and I include his (relatively) darker works like Night Watch. Most of Lois McMaster Bujold is great. (Except that I've read them all already, of course.) China Mieville and George R.R. Martin are examplars of what I'm trying to avoid; they're fine authors, but I can't deal with them right now. Patrick Rothfuss and Scott Lynch are...still a bit more than I can handle at the moment.

Overt comedy like Pratchett is fine but not required. Stuff that's available in a cheap ebook is preferred but not required. YA stuff is fine if it meets the requirements.

Relatedly, I always like to read about people finding warm welcome in unexpected places.

Any questions? Any suggestions?

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Re: Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby Whizbang » Fri Mar 13, 2015 7:01 pm UTC


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Re: Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby Angua » Fri Mar 13, 2015 7:03 pm UTC

Try Code of the Lifemaker by James P Hogan. Voyage to yesteryear (or something like that)was also pretty good (same author, he does satirical scifi). Alan Dean Foster is pretty great - Nor crystal tears in my favourite by him, but really, any of his books.

Fantasywise - the Dragon and the George by Gordon RDickson and the rest of his Dragon Knight series are pretty awesome.
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Re: Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby Whizbang » Fri Mar 13, 2015 7:06 pm UTC

A great lighthearted fantasy book is Grunts

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Re: Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby douglasm » Fri Mar 13, 2015 10:20 pm UTC

Phasma Felis wrote:It's historically difficult for me to explain what I'm looking for without sounding like I demand Saturday-morning-cartoon pap. I don't mind characters with some darkness to them, but I don't want to be made to sympathize with a monster. I don't mind if torture or oppression or atrocity occur as setting events, but I don't want mountains of agonizing detail. I don't mind major characters dying, but I don't want their deaths to be for nothing. I don't want to read endless accounts of helpless, hopeless human misery, because that's what I'm trying to escape from. I want to read about people who are basically trying to do the right thing, and who generally have the agency to do so, and who may encounter real setbacks but not soul-rending awfulness.

This sounds like a pretty good description of most of what I like. So here's a list of some of my favorite authors (other than Bujold), all of whom I think should generally fit:
Brandon Sanderson
Robert Jordan (be prepared for a really really long story with this one)
Mercedes Lackey
Elizabeth Moon
Isaac Asimov
Anne McCaffrey
David Weber

Phasma Felis wrote:Relatedly, I always like to read about people finding warm welcome in unexpected places.

Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey. The main character (a young adolescent girl) starts the book in an utterly wretched home where she is frequently abused, and promptly gets rescued by a magic horse who carries her off (confused but willing) to the beginning of her new career as an official national hero-in-training, complete with friendly fellow heroes and their extensive government-sponsored support network.

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Re: Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby Zohar » Fri Mar 13, 2015 11:06 pm UTC

Have you read any Asimov? For a wonderful but quick read, read The Last Question (you can find it online, it's a short story). Robin Hobb has good characters in a fantasy setting but they have pretty terrible stuff happen to them, so probably not her. Diana Wynn Jones is generally wonderful and uplifting.
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Re: Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby PAstrychef » Sat Mar 14, 2015 1:43 am UTC

Jane Lindskold
Elizabeth Willey The Price Of Blood And Honor and A Well Favored Man and A Sorcerer and a Gentleman
Much of Patricia Mckillip, esp. Fool's Run.
And you could try some of Nora Robert's romances. She has written several fantastical based series, and she writes quite well. Before you scoff, a nice romance has a lot going for it as reading in times of stress and trouble:
You know there's a happy ending.
The structure of the story means you don't have to worry if you find yourself skimming.
The bad guys are always vanquished, and the good in people wins out.
Roberts also has a very long series going as J.D. Robb, and all of the titles end with the phrase "in death", but the protagonist is a cop, and she solves the crime every time.
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Re: Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby Eseell » Sat Mar 14, 2015 3:03 am UTC

Lots of good recommendations in this thread, and I'll add the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik, which starts with His Majesty's Dragon. It's an alternative history series about dragons and their riders in the Napoleonic era. There's some pretty heavy stuff in there, but I don't think you'll get gut-punched.
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Re: Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby Zohar » Sat Mar 14, 2015 1:03 pm UTC

Another good series - The Otori tales - just read the original trilogy, not the sequel and prequel, starting with the first book - Across the Nightingale Floor. It's light-fantasy (not full-on magic) in a Feudal Japan setting. So if you're into that, go for it? It's a bit bitter-sweet, not perfectly happy and great. But still good.

The Neverending Story is amazing and if you've never read it you really really should.

His Dark Materials (starting with The Golden Compass) is excellent but can get really sad at times.
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Re: Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby Quercus » Sat Mar 14, 2015 2:54 pm UTC

Anathem by Neal Stephenson. Most of Neal's writing is darker than you probably want at the moment, but the major vibes I got from Anathem were hope and curiosity. It's post-apocalyptic, but the bad stuff all happened thousands of years ago. There are deaths, but they are all meaningful, and acknowledged as such by the characters in the book.

I've read it several times and I found exactly the comforting sort of escapism that you seem to be looking for. Oh, and the "warm welcome in unexpected places" thing - that happens, in a big way, but I can't say more without revealing the plot.

Edit: It's currently $1.51 on kindle, so it ticks the cheap ebook box too.


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Re: Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby Whizbang » Sat Mar 14, 2015 8:34 pm UTC

Mighty Jalapeno wrote:Bill The Galactic Hero

... Alex Cox made a film version of it that premiered four months ago?! HOW DID I NOT KNOW THIS?!?!?!?!?!



Whaaaaa!?

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Re: Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby Zohar » Sun Mar 15, 2015 2:57 am UTC

Oh, Off to Be the Wizard was pretty funny, as was its sequel. Very light "sci-fi"-ish, from the guy who writes the webcomic Basic Instructions. It's also super cheap on Amazon so that might be good.
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Re: Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby Zohar » Sun Mar 15, 2015 2:57 am UTC

Oh, Off to Be the Wizard was pretty funny, as was its sequel. Very light "sci-fi"-ish, from the guy who writes the webcomic Basic Instructions. It's also super cheap on Amazon so that might be good.
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Re: Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby EdgarJPublius » Sun Mar 15, 2015 3:48 am UTC

Douglas Adams? The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy books seem right up your alley if you haven't read them yet. (maybe skip Mostly Harmless though) As well as Dirk Gently's Hollistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul.
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Re: Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby Mighty Jalapeno » Sun Mar 15, 2015 4:19 am UTC

I LOVE BASIC INSTRUCTIONS! Hmmm, I might have to look into that!

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Re: Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby Zohar » Sun Mar 15, 2015 2:07 pm UTC

Mighty Jalapeno wrote:I LOVE BASIC INSTRUCTIONS! Hmmm, I might have to look into that!

They're not great amazing books, but they're fun to read and not particularly annoying, and they have a few fun concepts in them.
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Re: Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby eSOANEM » Mon Mar 16, 2015 12:27 pm UTC

I really like Alastair Reynolds. They're not generally particularly cheerful but he's very far from GGRM in that respect; he's not depressing but he isn't cheerful either.

His revelation space series is his classic one (it's a trilogy: revelation space, redemption arc, absolution gap; with a few one-shots in the same universe. I'd recommend starting with chasm city). Alternatively, he's started a new series quite recently which is actually relatively cheerful. The two books published so far in it are Blue Remembered Earth and On the Steel Breeze.

Both series are relatively hard sci-fi (he does a combination of one-big lie and avoid an explanation rather than bullshit methods for avoiding annoyingly soft SF).

Kim Newman's anno dracula series (starting with anno dracula) are good fun. Anno Dracula itself's vaguely whodunnitish (except the audience knows the answer from the off). It's mostly fantasy-ish with bits of horror. It's set after Bram Stoker's Dracula except with Dracula defeating Van Helsing at the end, going to London and actually completing his plan of taking over the country (by marrying queen Victoria and using her as a puppet monarch). It's kind of cool.
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Re: Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby Quercus » Mon Mar 16, 2015 1:02 pm UTC

I'm not sure about Revelation Space from a "non-depressing" standpoint - the melding plague is moderately disturbing (and described in a great deal of detail), and there's definitely a bit of monsters-as-protagonists stuff going on . His Poseidon's Children series (the one with Blue Remembered Earth in it) is probably better from that point of view.

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Re: Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby rmsgrey » Mon Mar 16, 2015 2:38 pm UTC

C J Cherryh isn't exactly warm and fuzzy, but isn't particularly nasty either - she's very good at genuinely alien aliens which are still relatable - they're not monstrous, but they are different. At bottom, she's fundamentally optimistic - her characters don't always have nice things happen, but things generally turn out better than they started, and even the strangest of people usually (but not always) find a way to get along - the outright bad guys are rare and generally obvious.

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Re: Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby Whizbang » Mon Mar 16, 2015 3:32 pm UTC

The Princess Bride should definitely be on your To Read list.

The Xanth series by Piers Anthony is a great lighthearted series, and the best part is you can start with any book in the series.

The Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage is also good and lighthearted, though targeted at younger readers. I've read them as an adult and enjoyed them, however.

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Re: Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby Mighty Jalapeno » Mon Mar 16, 2015 3:34 pm UTC

Whizbang wrote:The Xanth series by Piers Anthony is a great lighthearted series, and the best part is you can start with any book in the series as long as you don't go past about book twelve or thirteen.

Fixed that for you. :)

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Re: Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby eSOANEM » Mon Mar 16, 2015 3:41 pm UTC

Quercus wrote:I'm not sure about Revelation Space from a "non-depressing" standpoint - the melding plague is moderately disturbing (and described in a great deal of detail), and there's definitely a bit of monsters-as-protagonists stuff going on . His Poseidon's Children series (the one with Blue Remembered Earth in it) is probably better from that point of view.


Yeah, that's what I meant by it not being cheerful. IMO it's more slightly disturbing bits but not depressing, but your mileage may vary. Poseidon's Children is generally more optimistic and definitely a lot less disturbing or depressing.
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Re: Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby Angua » Mon Mar 16, 2015 8:50 pm UTC

Piers Anthony is depressingly sexist though.
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Re: Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby Whizbang » Mon Mar 16, 2015 8:51 pm UTC

I haven't read any of the books since I was in my late teens, when I was probably depressingly sexist, so I can't comment on that. I just remember laughing a lot.

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Re: Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby Mighty Jalapeno » Mon Mar 16, 2015 8:57 pm UTC

If anything, I'd say he was more immature than sexist, but yeah, re-reading a few of those as a grownup was pretty weird. (Also, if he's just as sexist towards men/males, does it balance out?)

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Re: Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby Angua » Mon Mar 16, 2015 9:04 pm UTC

Not really? I mean, all his women are sex objects (or, ugly so not sex objects) and all the men are barely able to hold themselves back from having sex with them.

Iused to just ignore that and not really think about it too hard when I was younger, but going back and reading his stuff now is just painful. Even if he does manage a lot of puns.
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Re: Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby O Choco » Fri Mar 20, 2015 5:31 am UTC

Dragonriders of Pern! Seriously, I don't know how more people haven't read these books. Anne McCaffrey was the first woman to ever win a Hugo for the original trilogy! This is the series that got me into both Sci-Fi and Fantasy, and if you like them both it is definitely worth checking out. If you like the original trilogy there are 40 years worth of writings in the universe.
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Re: Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby Whizbang » Fri Mar 20, 2015 12:18 pm UTC

O Choco wrote:Dragonriders of Pern! Seriously, I don't know how more people haven't read these books. Anne McCaffrey was the first woman to ever win a Hugo for the original trilogy! This is the series that got me into both Sci-Fi and Fantasy, and if you like them both it is definitely worth checking out. If you like the original trilogy there are 40 years worth of writings in the universe.


I read them as a teenager and loved them.

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Re: Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby Mighty Jalapeno » Fri Mar 20, 2015 3:05 pm UTC

Whizbang wrote:
O Choco wrote:Dragonriders of Pern! Seriously, I don't know how more people haven't read these books. Anne McCaffrey was the first woman to ever win a Hugo for the original trilogy! This is the series that got me into both Sci-Fi and Fantasy, and if you like them both it is definitely worth checking out. If you like the original trilogy there are 40 years worth of writings in the universe.


I read them as a teenager and loved them.

I read them as a teenager and hated them.

... still, everyone else in my class who knew where the library was loved them, so maybe that's my problem.

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Re: Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby Angua » Fri Mar 20, 2015 3:08 pm UTC

Yeah I didn't recommend her because I figured most people have heard about that series already. Most people I know who've read scifi have read and loved her books.
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Re: Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby Nork » Fri Mar 20, 2015 6:54 pm UTC

douglasm wrote:This sounds like a pretty good description of most of what I like. So here's a list of some of my favorite authors (other than Bujold), all of whom I think should generally fit:
Brandon Sanderson
Robert Jordan (be prepared for a really really long story with this one)
Mercedes Lackey
Elizabeth Moon
Isaac Asimov
Anne McCaffrey
David Weber

Phasma Felis wrote:Relatedly, I always like to read about people finding warm welcome in unexpected places.

Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey. The main character (a young adolescent girl) starts the book in an utterly wretched home where she is frequently abused, and promptly gets rescued by a magic horse who carries her off (confused but willing) to the beginning of her new career as an official national hero-in-training, complete with friendly fellow heroes and their extensive government-sponsored support network.

Can I request a longer list of authors you like? My wife loves all those authors, but she's running out of things to read, so she may appreciate more ideas from someone with similar tastes.

I've read many of those authors, myself, and I heartily recommend Mercedes Lackey. I would not recommend Anne McCaffrey in this case though. The only Pern book I've experienced was one of the most depressing books I've encountered. (My wife was listening to the second Menoly book on audiobook. It felt like the book was was 25% people being nice to her and 75% her lamenting that she was a horrible person and nobody would ever like her).

Other suggestions for the OP:
- Tamora Pierce: Very similar to the Mercedes Lackey books. Multiple series about young girls who set out to become knights/guards and end up saving the kingdom a few times each. The Bekah Cooper series might be a bit darker than you're looking for, but it also has some of the best emotional rewards of any of her books.
- Diane Duane: Her "So you want to be a Wizard?" series is quite good. Although book 5 is a little depressing and book 6 has more of the "Life is sad, let's dwell on it for 10 pages" segments than I'd like. All in all, though, the series is good light reading. Book 8 is the reward for working through books 5 and 6 though. I'm a grown man and I still get a little teary-eyed (in a good way) thinking about a couple parts of that book.
- Terry's Brook's Landover series ("Magic Kingdom for Sale: Sold!") is some odd halfway point between Tolkien and Piers Anthony/Pratchett. It's been 15 years since I read them, but I enjoyed them quite a bit at the time.

These are all Young Adult books, but my general thought is that non-YA books are dark, depressing, or political (5 minutes of half-assed research on Wikipedia supports my opinion, which I believe is the current Association of Journalistic Integrity requirement before you can print something as fact, so I'll call it good enough).

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Re: Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby Quercus » Fri Mar 20, 2015 7:49 pm UTC

Nork wrote:but my general thought is that non-YA books are dark, depressing, or political (5 minutes of half-assed research on Wikipedia supports my opinion, which I believe is the current Association of Journalistic Integrity requirement before you can print something as fact, so I'll call it good enough).


That's a gross overgeneralization (and I suspect you know that it is!). Just off the top of my head, and mostly departing from sci-fi/fantasy for a moment, here are some non-YA fiction books that are none of those three things in the least:

  • John Crowley's Aegypt cycle (it's philosophical, esoteric and deeply strange, but it's mostly uplifting and apolitical)
  • Erlend Loe's Naive Super
  • Pretty much anything by Jerome K Jerome
  • Any of the books Brian O'Nolan published under the pen name Flann O'Brien
  • Anything by P.G. Wodehouse

And that's just the ones I've read and can recall in under 2 minutes. I will concede that a lot of non-YA fiction is dark, depressing or political, but that's far from universal.

Edit: It occurs to me that you may have been talking exlusively about sci-fi/fantasy, given that this is the topic of the thread. If so, I apologise for the misinterpretation.

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Re: Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby douglasm » Sat Mar 21, 2015 1:45 am UTC

Nork wrote:Can I request a longer list of authors you like? My wife loves all those authors, but she's running out of things to read, so she may appreciate more ideas from someone with similar tastes.

Let's see, what's on my shelves that hasn't been mentioned yet...
A small section of Star Wars books, particularly the Thrawn Trilogy and the X-Wing series. The authors there are Timothy Zahn and Michael A. Stackpole.
Douglas Adams (the Hitchhikers "trilogy")
Robert Asprin. This one has a much more comedic bent, with the Myth Adventures series and Captain Phule series.
Terry Brooks, but you mentioned that one yourself.
Orson Scott Card. I may not agree with his political views, but he writes good books.
The Northworld Trilogy by David Drake. Good, but it didn't inspire me to hunt down his other books.
Raymond E. Feist. The Riftwar Cycle starts off well, but I haven't kept up with the whole thing and from what I've heard it may have been continued farther than it really should have. The Daughter/Servant/Mistress of the Empire trilogy is really good, and sort of a side spin-off of the early portion of the Riftwar Saga. Read at least Magician (in some publications it's split into two, with subtitles Apprentice and Master, finish both) before starting Daughter of the Empire.
Robert A Heinlein.
Frank Herbert. Dune is good, the later books less so in my opinion. Brian Herbert did a decent job of filling out background history, but I'm not especially impressed with the quality of those books on their own.
Robin Hobb. Good writing, but perhaps a bit darker than most of what I read.
George R. R. Martin, with A Game of Thrones and sequels. Good writing quality, but by far the most depressing plotting of anything I've got, and I would definitely not recommend it to the OP even if he hadn't explicitly listed it as an example to avoid.
J.K. Rowling with the Harry Potter series.
Fred Saberhagen, particularly the Book of Swords and Book of Lost Swords series.
R.A. Salvatore. Mostly Drizzt books, but also the Cleric Quintet.

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Re: Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby Nork » Sat Mar 21, 2015 5:01 am UTC

Thanks for the list. I've read most of them and agree with most of your opinions (I couldn't get through Xenocide, but otherwise everything looks good). I'll pass along the list and see what she thinks.

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Re: Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby EdgarJPublius » Sat Mar 21, 2015 5:28 am UTC

douglasm wrote:A small section of Star Wars books, particularly the Thrawn Trilogy and the X-Wing series. The authors there are Timothy Zahn and Michael A. Stackpole.


Ah yea, I forgot about the X-Wing series. The Wraith Squadron books were always my favorite, definitely a great choice for non-depressing fiction.
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Re: Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby serutan » Wed Mar 25, 2015 5:04 am UTC

Poul Anderson, Tau Zero.
Roger Zelazny, Doorways In The Sand
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Re: Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby Logological » Sat Mar 28, 2015 9:16 pm UTC

If you want something other than straight-up narrative fiction, try Stanislaw Lem's The Cyberiad. It's a collection of short stories—or maybe it would be better to say fables—in a sci-fi setting. It has recurring, memorable characters, and the stories are absolutely fascinating and imaginative, much like reading a fictionalized account of one of Randall Munroe's What If columns.

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Re: Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby PAstrychef » Sun Mar 29, 2015 2:31 am UTC

If reading Lem, be sure to get the translations by Michael Kandel. The other translations I've read were crap.
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Re: Recommend some non-depressing sci-fi/fantasy

Postby Logological » Sun Mar 29, 2015 9:40 am UTC

I haven't read the other translations, but I can attest that Kandel's is very good. Lem uses a lot of wordplay and even constrained writing in his stories, and Kandel handles it marvelously.


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