Obscure/Difficult but worthwhile SFF

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Obscure/Difficult but worthwhile SFF

Postby Hammer » Sun Jul 15, 2007 9:41 pm UTC

Everytime one of these suggestion threads comes up, I see the same books getting recommended. I don't disagree, especially for the context, but I'm not a SFF neophyte and neither are many of us.

What are your "risky" favorites? Books that aren't necessarily popular or likely to appeal to everyone, but you think they are really good if your taste run in a particular direction.

The one that comes to mind for me is the Gormenghast series by Mervyn Peake. Especially the first one. Dense, gothic, complicated, dangerous world.
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Postby George Orr » Sun Jul 15, 2007 10:06 pm UTC

Hm, what about Earth Abides by George Stewart? It's received a fair amount of critical recognition, but not many people have read it. Also, Cordwainer Smith's "The Rediscovery of Man" is quite good, and almost nobody has heard of it.

Here are a few that are not terribly well known, and may not be enjoyed by everybody, but I consider them among the best books ever:

The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester
The Demolished Man, by Alfred Bester
Stand on Zanzibar, by John Brunner
Babel-17, by Samuel Delaney
The Dream Master, by Roger Zelazny
Lord of Light, by Roger Zelazny
The Fifth Head of Cerberus, by Gene Wolfe
Last and First men & Starmaker, by Olaf Stapledon (from the 19th Century!)
Timescape, by Gregory Benford
More than Human, by Theodore Sturgeon
A Case of Conscience, by James Blish
Non-Stop, By Brian Aldiss
Pavane, by Keith Roberts
The Child Garden, by Geoff Ryman
Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, by Kate Wilhelm
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Postby Bakemaster » Sun Jul 15, 2007 10:16 pm UTC

If Roger Zelazny counts as obscure, it's a crime. All his stuff is fantastic. I even liked Donnerjack despite the fact that someone else finished the second half of it.
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Postby Jesse » Sun Jul 15, 2007 10:16 pm UTC

The same one I reccommend every time. Katharine Kerr's Deverry Cycle, it takes a special mindset to get into them and understand them, but if you do they will become your favourite books ever.

I would say the more philosophical of Orson Scott Card's Ender series as well (Speaker For The Dead, Xenocide etc.)

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Postby Bakemaster » Sun Jul 15, 2007 10:17 pm UTC

I like Card's short stories and Worthing Saga more that any of the Ender or Bean books, to be honest. The latter are entertaining but less and less relevant as I get older.
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Postby George Orr » Sun Jul 15, 2007 10:29 pm UTC

Bakemaster wrote:If Roger Zelazny counts as obscure, it's a crime. All his stuff is fantastic. I even liked Donnerjack despite the fact that someone else finished the second half of it.

I agree wholeheartedly. I'm just basing it off of the number of people I know who have read his books. I've only met one other person in my entire life who's read anything by Zelazny, and although I've recommended Lord of Light to several people, they've returned it without reading it.

I also really liked some of his more obscure stuff, such as Eye of Cat, Today We Change Faces, and Roadmarks, among others.
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Postby Mighty Jalapeno » Mon Jul 16, 2007 12:05 am UTC

The Prince of Nothing series of fantasy books.... EXCELLENT world, EXCELLENT action, EXCELLENT writing skill... and if you don't mind the fact that EVERY character is gay, it's an epic series.

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Postby placeholder » Mon Jul 16, 2007 1:04 am UTC

I disagree with your assessment, Jalapeno - A Prince of Nothing is excellent in every regard, but not all of the characters are gay. Most of them, maybe, but not all.

Major Spoilers ahead!:



Khellus is probably bi, but really it's rather hard to tell. Esmenet appears to be pretty much heterosexual, Achamian is probably heterosexual (in love with Esmenet) though there were some inconclusive hints he may have done stuff with earlier students. Xerius is a mother****er, and is therefore heterosexual. Moenghus and Cnaiur are both gay. Conphas is ... er ... in love with himself (narcisstic?) and could therefore be counted as gay.

Major Spoilers end!




At any rate, stuff which is awesome if your tastes align with it well, but may be loathed otherwise:

1) Pretty much anything by Steven Brust, especially his Khaavren Romances. He writes awesome fantasy, but some, especially the aforementioned 'romances', are rather odd stylistically - the Khaavren Romances are a Dumas pastiche.
2) Johnathon Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. Some parts of this are actually dull, especially the beginning, and the writing style is odd, but the book is quirky and awesome. The reader must be able to tolerate some really long digressions.
3) Some of Neal Stephenson's stuff, especially the Baroque Cycle. His Baroque Cycle is definitely not for everyone, especially compared to his far more accessible Snow Crash, Diamond Age, and Zodiac.
4) Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea's The Illuminatus! Trilogy. Totally bizarre, but awesome nonetheless. Really, really surreal, and can be difficult to read, but awesome, especially for those interested intellectually in conspiracy theories.
5) Varley's futuristic science fiction, especially The Golden Globe and Steel Beach, but some others within the same continuum. I don't know why, but I haven't seen anyone recommend these hardly ever. They're awesome, if a bit 'adult' in theme in that they have some sexually explicit stuff.
6) Neil Gaiman's short story/poetry compilations are awesome, and get no press compared to his novels/comics. They're really dark, bizarre, occasionally humerous, and are well worth reading.

Please note that I'm trying to avoid recommending stuff I have read lots of recommendations for elsewhere on the 'net, i.e. MBotF, ASOIAF, Heinlein, Simmons, or Dune.
Last edited by placeholder on Mon Jul 16, 2007 1:22 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby Mighty Jalapeno » Mon Jul 16, 2007 1:11 am UTC

placeholder wrote:I disagree with your assessment, Jalapeno - A Prince of Nothing is excellent in every regard, but not all of the characters are gay. Most of them, maybe, but not all.

Ok, there was a lot.... significantly more than I expected in any book, ever.

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Postby Alisto » Mon Jul 16, 2007 4:25 am UTC

Temeraire series. It's Napoleonic Wars with dragon-based aerial-warfare. Great books.
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Postby pollywog » Mon Jul 16, 2007 5:10 am UTC

Alisto wrote:Temeraire series. It's Napoleonic Wars with dragon-based aerial-warfare. Great books.


I looked at the first book of this in the library, but it was new so it cost a dollar to hire. I ain't paying for books.
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Postby Zohar » Mon Jul 16, 2007 11:27 am UTC

I read three of Greg Egan's books (Diaspora, Permutation City and Teranesia) and they're all pretty good and pretty heavy on the science (I think all three have dictionaries at the end).

Also, Arthur C. Clarke can get pretty heavy on the sci-fi sometimes. Asimov is probably much easier to read at first.
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Postby Narsil » Tue Jul 17, 2007 3:53 am UTC

Well this is pretty mainstream, but I would say Frank Herbert's Dune. Definitely a very difficult book to read, but very rewarding in the end. One of the few series whose (official!) sequels do the original justice.
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Postby Nyarlathotep » Tue Jul 17, 2007 5:17 am UTC

Narsil wrote:Well this is pretty mainstream, but I would say Frank Herbert's Dune. Definitely a very difficult book to read, but very rewarding in the end. One of the few series whose (official!) sequels do the original justice.


Ehh... they get worse and worse as they go on, I think. I mean they're not the worst sequels evar, but...

And that which is by Brian Herbert shall nae be spoken of again.
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Postby George Orr » Tue Jul 17, 2007 5:32 am UTC

Nyarlathotep wrote:
Narsil wrote:Well this is pretty mainstream, but I would say Frank Herbert's Dune. Definitely a very difficult book to read, but very rewarding in the end. One of the few series whose (official!) sequels do the original justice.


Ehh... they get worse and worse as they go on, I think. I mean they're not the worst sequels evar, but...

And that which is by Brian Herbert shall nae be spoken of again.

Br...B..Bria...Br...Nope, I just can't do it, you're right. I read all of the sequels by Frank Herbert, and enjoyed them to a greater or lesser extent, but after reading the first two "prequels" by his son, I lost all hope, and haven't touched his books since. Even if he has published the "final" conclusion to the series, it's not worth sitting through his terrible writing to get some of Frank's ideas.
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Postby Darcey » Tue Jul 17, 2007 6:21 am UTC

I am a huge fan of John Norman's Gor series (although I'm only on the sixth or seventh book). It's erotica but that's less of what I read it for, and more just because it's very interesting science fiction. (It's.. very extreme, but it helps to look at it as a reaction to things the author disliked in /our/ world.) It takes place on an alternate world and he gives the most in-depth descriptions of fictional cultures that I've ever read, which personally I find really fascinating. Also, there are neat bits about aliens which are just as interesting. Definitely not for everyone though.

*hides in embarrassment at having mentioned this*

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Postby pollywog » Tue Jul 17, 2007 8:40 am UTC

You should never be embarrassed. At least you *can* read.

And I really like a lot of Maurice Gee. The Halfmen of O is pretty cool.
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Postby b.i.o » Fri Jul 27, 2007 5:19 pm UTC

George Orr wrote:Br...B..Bria...Br...Nope, I just can't do it, you're right. I read all of the sequels by Frank Herbert, and enjoyed them to a greater or lesser extent, but after reading the first two "prequels" by his son, I lost all hope, and haven't touched his books since. Even if he has published the "final" conclusion to the series, it's not worth sitting through his terrible writing to get some of Frank's ideas.


In addition to the entire Dune series, I really enjoyed and recommend Frank Herbert's Whipping Star and The Dosadi Experiment, although they're definitely not for everyone.

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Postby UmbrageOfSnow » Fri Jul 27, 2007 6:49 pm UTC

Gregory Benford's Galactic Center series are AMAZING. The first book, In the Ocean of Night is a bit slow but they improve a lot. Doesn't seem to be nearly as many people who've read them as should, which is why I'm mentioning it here. Also for obscure but may appeal to the right taste, Robin Hobb's various fantasy trilogies. Especially the Farseer books and the Liveship books. Has anyone heard of these.

And another set of less-known-than-they-should-be books: Joan D. Vinge, the Snow Queen won a Nebula and Hugo I think, but still not enough people have read it, and pretty much all her other novels are great too, the snow queen sequels and the "Cat" books particularly.
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Postby Bakemaster » Sun Jul 29, 2007 4:28 pm UTC

I also enjoy Gregory Benford but he's not obscure; rather, he's one of the biggest names in hard SF over the past thirty-ish years.
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Postby OpenGLFan » Sun Jul 29, 2007 8:04 pm UTC

Darcey wrote:*hides in embarrassment at having mentioned this*

Speaking of embarrassment...not to threadjack, but I'm always a bit ashamed of my fondness for the inverse: "popcorn" sci-fi. I'm a big Greg Egan and Gregory Benford fan, and I love Heinlein, but Space Opera, naked and unashamed, empty calories for the mind -- it's irresistible.

David Weber's my current favorite practitioner. His "March to the Stars" series: a Prince with a sniper rifle, guarded by a platoon of Space Marines, riding a dinosaur. You can't get much cooler than that.

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Postby Hammer » Mon Jul 30, 2007 7:07 pm UTC

The Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser books by Fritz Leiber
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Re: Obscure/Difficult but worthwhile SFF

Postby Ended » Tue Aug 21, 2007 5:16 pm UTC

Hammer wrote:The one that comes to mind for me is the Gormenghast series by Mervyn Peake. Especially the first one. Dense, gothic, complicated, dangerous world.

Yes! It's an excellent series, although I agree that the first one, Titus Groan, is probably the best. Very underrated and, for some reason, not nearly as widely read as its contemporary LOTR (which it far surpasses in terms of quality of writing and atmosphere).
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Postby AKAnotu » Tue Aug 21, 2007 8:52 pm UTC

the fifth ring, and all the books in the trilogy, by Mitchell Graham
ignore the obvious LOTR parallels, and read them, they're pretty good.
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Postby Malice » Wed Aug 22, 2007 6:09 am UTC

placeholder wrote:2) Johnathon Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. Some parts of this are actually dull, especially the beginning, and the writing style is odd, but the book is quirky and awesome. The reader must be able to tolerate some really long digressions.


There is a certain kind of (Norrellish?) reader who does not just tolerate digressions and footnotes, but who loves them. (One series which does this a lot, and which is held in exceedingly high regard, is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.) They add a tremendous amount of depth to a story which otherwise could not be there. There are many points in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell which describe, as a footnote or an aside, stories and ideas about fairies which serve to characterise the whole race--and show that the main fairie character is acting according to fairie nature and not simply out of his own personality.

Also, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that stories within stories kick ass.

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Postby McLurker » Mon Sep 10, 2007 6:00 pm UTC

Malice wrote:
There is a certain kind of (Norrellish?) reader who does not just tolerate digressions and footnotes, but who loves them. (One series which does this a lot, and which is held in exceedingly high regard, is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.) They add a tremendous amount of depth to a story which otherwise could not be there.


I love footnotes. I have a footnote fetish!

Needless to say, i'm a fan of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. But the best footnotes are those in Terry Pratchett books.

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Postby Victorkm » Mon Sep 10, 2007 7:14 pm UTC

I've read Catseye and Catspaw by Joan D Vinge and I totally agree, they were good Sci Fi.

I'd recommend the Vorkosigan Saga by Lois Mcmaster Bujold. A series of books about pretty much the entire life story of a man who was born disfigured on a planet that valued genetic purity so high that they in the past would kill offspring with genetic mutations. Luckily, Miles Vorkosigan's problems aren't genetic, they were caused by his mother breathing in a poison gas in the last war. The books follow Miles from the years before he was born(a book(or two) about his mother) until beyond his 30th birthday and even later.

Bujold does a great job of world-building(Galaxy Building?) as Miles joins the military, is barely able to pass boot camp(He is a dwarf with 1 leg shorter than the other and extremely brittle bones. At the beginning of the series he can only walk because of his Leg Braces) and ends up in intelligence where he gets the opportunity to pretty much explore the galaxy due to his advanced intelligence, quick wits, and charm.

The books can really be read in any order, as most of them are self contained. Only a few require reference back to previous novels, ie Brothers in Arms should be read before Mirror Dance and Komarr prior to A Civil Campaign and Diplomatic Immunity.

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Postby rxninja » Fri Sep 14, 2007 6:43 am UTC

My personal favorites, regardless of obscurity or not..


The Amber series, by Roger Zelazny (I'm 5 books in. It has its ups and downs, but is overall pretty worth it)
Lord of Light, by Roger Zelazny (Probably one of my favorite books ever)
The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester
The Dark Tower series, by Stephen King (in the middle of the 3rd book and still captivated)
Startide Rising, by David Brin
World War Z, by Max Brooks (borderline SciFi...)


Can't think of more off the top of my head. That's definitely a list for starters. Does anyone have anything to suggest for me based off those? I love new books =)

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Postby Khonsu » Fri Sep 14, 2007 7:53 am UTC

Mighty Jalapeno wrote:The Prince of Nothing series of fantasy books.... EXCELLENT world, EXCELLENT action, EXCELLENT writing skill... and if you don't mind the fact that EVERY character is gay, it's an epic series.
How gay? Girl gay? or Boy gay? I'm not going back into fucking yaoi/slash unless I'm kicking and screaming. Flirting with fangirls wasn't worth it.

I totally second The Baroque Cycle (beginning with Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson, if someone's feeling Google-lazy). I haven't read a book(s) in years that challenged me in any way, and being totally floored, sucked in, and unable to nitpick in an academic "how did he do this?" way is SO REFRESHING. I've not gotten to the point where I can really say it's sci-fi, though seeing how many Natural Philosophers drive the plot, it's certain Scientific Fiction. I'm not that far in, so shuuuush.

Also, Grendel by John Gardner. I love that book, and it was AP English level in high school. Seconding and thirding anything by Gaiman. What else...let's see-e-eee...

In honor of the dearly departed, Madeliene L'Engle's Time Quartet (beginning with A Wrinkle in Time) is absolutely fucking mandatory. As a kid, trying to wrap my head around a tesseract was ridiculous.

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Postby Nyarlathotep » Fri Sep 14, 2007 8:38 am UTC

Khonsu wrote:
Mighty Jalapeno wrote:The Prince of Nothing series of fantasy books.... EXCELLENT world, EXCELLENT action, EXCELLENT writing skill... and if you don't mind the fact that EVERY character is gay, it's an epic series.
How gay? Girl gay? or Boy gay? I'm not going back into fucking yaoi/slash unless I'm kicking and screaming. Flirting with fangirls wasn't worth it.
.


From what little I know, I -think- it's all guy-gay.

(and completely agree with you there. goddamn yaoi fangirls.)
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Re: Obscure/Difficult but worthwhile SFF

Postby butternut » Sun Sep 30, 2007 12:41 am UTC

Oh my, what a delicious topic. Many of my favorites have been mentioned -- yay like-minded communitas -- but I'll toss up a few others, like hrm hrm...

Feed / MT Anderson - yeah, what if everyone COULD have an interwebs brain implant??
The Anything Box and Other Stories / Zenna Henderson

There are also many treasures in the Hugo and Nebula Award annual collections. I first tasted the work of many of my now-favorite authors while reading through those.

Oh, and Ursula LeGuin is hardly obscure, but I'd like to particularly recommend the entire Earthsea series (if you've only read the original trilogy, get ye the 4th and 5th books). Decades later, she's revisited that world along feminist and humanist lines and made it deeper and richer and more real-humans-recognizable and *gakk* choking on adjectives* er... it's rilly good.

Ait, enough for now.
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Re: Obscure/Difficult but worthwhile SFF

Postby no-genius » Sun Sep 30, 2007 1:39 am UTC

I guess Philip K Dick isn't obscure... but his book Valis might be. It's a very weird book - the narrator (Philip Dick) keeps reffering to another character (Horselover Fat) in the first person, and then correcting himself. That is probably the least weird thing about it. :P

Also: Brian Aldiss. I only read 'Last Orders', which is a short stories collection, but it was very good.
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Re: Obscure/Difficult but worthwhile SFF

Postby koalabäh » Mon Oct 01, 2007 5:10 pm UTC

Iain Banks writes some great "normal" SF (as Iain M. Banks), but imo his most impressive book is The Bridge. It's surreal and steampunk and definitely not the most pleasant of reads... I found it quite thought-provoking.
Also, Stanislaw Lem: Memoirs Found in a Bathtub and Solaris. He isn't really very obscure, but I thought he deserves a mention.
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Re: Obscure/Difficult but worthwhile SFF

Postby GentlemanLoser » Tue Oct 02, 2007 1:03 am UTC

Philip K. Dick's VALIS is at the top of my list. quite a deviation from PKD's typical SFF. very thought provoking, alothough somewhat scattered. the fact that much of the book was based on Dick's actual experiences. like in the scene where the nurse delivered the painkillers (i think they were darvons, which are useless) and Horselover Fat/Philip K Dick sees the jesfish pinned to her shirt and is thrown into a hallucination of a previous life...PKD claimed that this event actually happened to him.

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Re: Obscure/Difficult but worthwhile SFF

Postby no-genius » Tue Oct 02, 2007 1:13 am UTC

GentlemanLoser wrote:Philip K. Dick's VALIS is at the top of my list. quite a deviation from PKD's typical SFF. very thought provoking, alothough somewhat scattered. the fact that much of the book was based on Dick's actual experiences.
Spoiler:
like in the scene where the nurse delivered the painkillers (i think they were darvons, which are useless) and Horselover Fat/Philip K Dick sees the jesfish pinned to her shirt and is thrown into a hallucination of a previous life...PKD claimed that this event actually happened to him.


yeah, theres a short story called 'the eye of the sybil' that makes a lot of sense with this. but you shouldnt put spoilers in if people might want to read it? that can be really annoying.

Also, I recommend the Philip Dick short stories (5 volumes). the only one I haven't read is 3 (got 4&5 from the librairy, bought 1 in the islington borders, got 2 when my uncle gave me some money in soton. actually, he paid for valis. he loves books (altho he doesn't really like sci-fi), also i want his tv's babies (or maybe just his tv? his tv is awesome. and b i g.
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Re:

Postby bigglesworth » Sun Oct 07, 2007 5:26 pm UTC

George Orr wrote:Hm, what about Earth Abides by George Stewart? It's received a fair amount of critical recognition, but not many people have read it. Also, Cordwainer Smith's "The Rediscovery of Man" is quite good, and almost nobody has heard of it.


Actually, I thought that Earth Abides was terrible, and more stodgy than suet pudding. I've already read day of the triffids, and it's much better.
Generation Y. I don't remember the First Gulf War, but do remember floppy disks.

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George Orr
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Re: Re:

Postby George Orr » Sun Oct 07, 2007 7:45 pm UTC

bigglesworth wrote:
George Orr wrote:Hm, what about Earth Abides by George Stewart? It's received a fair amount of critical recognition, but not many people have read it. Also, Cordwainer Smith's "The Rediscovery of Man" is quite good, and almost nobody has heard of it.


Actually, I thought that Earth Abides was terrible, and more stodgy than suet pudding. I've already read day of the triffids, and it's much better.

Ouch. Well, I'll agree that it's slow going, and that probably means that it will strike some as boring. To each his own, I guess. I've been meaning to read The Day Of The Triffids for some time now, but have not been able to find a decent copy.

I completely agree with those who recommend VALIS. It's probably the most interesting book PKD has ever written, and that's saying something. I also liked his book Time Out Of Joint quite a bit. You should check it out if you haven't already.
Actually, If you can get them for cheap/free, I'd recommend pretty much everything PKD has written, although his themes tend to repeat themselves now and again.
Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.

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ascendingPig
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Re: Obscure/Difficult but worthwhile SFF

Postby ascendingPig » Mon Oct 08, 2007 3:16 am UTC

Does Mervyn Peake's "Gormenghast" trilogy count as SFF?

I barely remembered it from when I was six (my father had this thing about kids doing anything entertaining, so all his children ended up reading some pretty weird stuff, since he always stole and hid fantasy paperback novels, didn't have TV, etc) and then I reread it this summer, and it was totally different from how I remembered it.

The one thing that stood out most when I was a kid was actually the description of the cook's teeth as like "tombstones."
"Many facts can fill an empty head."
-- Karl Kraus

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bigglesworth
I feel like Biggles should have a title
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Re: Obscure/Difficult but worthwhile SFF

Postby bigglesworth » Mon Oct 08, 2007 3:56 pm UTC

According to Hammer, it does. You'd have to take it up with her.
Generation Y. I don't remember the First Gulf War, but do remember floppy disks.


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