Ian MacDonald is another good one. My favourite of his is The Dervish House, but his others are definitely worth reading.
Charles Stross is good. Didn't get on with Accelerando, but his Laundry books are a fun mix of HP Lovecraft/Len Deighton/IT Crowd. Halting State and Rule 34 are good explorations of pervasive augmented reality and intelligent algorithms. Also Glasshouse as an exploration of post-singularity society. Never managed to finish a Cory Doctorow book though.
I found William Gibson's Bigend trilogy a slog, but I really enjoyed The Peripheral - it's a fun read.
Enders Game and Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card are fantastic, but the remaining books suffer from diminishing returns (with the possible exception of Ender's Shadow). There are a lot of books in the series, but basically, the series finishes wherever you get bored reading it.
Anything by China Mieville is well worth your time.
Oh, I also really enjoyed Elizabeth Bear's Jacobs Ladder trilogy, set on a generation ship where the inhabitants have forgotten who they are and where they're going.
For some older stuff:
The Stars my Destination by Alfred Bester – I was surprised at how good it is and how well it stands up. I couldn't believe it was written nearly 50 years ago.
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein - possibly my favourite of his. I want to start a lunar revolution with a sentient mainframe...
I'm currently working my way through all the Hugo Award winners, from 1953 up, and there's some real gems there.
So dune is a great book but it is 90% fantasy, there is only a little bit of research done by the author on desert ecosystems.
My favourite real science fiction author is Arthur C clarke. some good books by him...
the fountains of paradise
islands in the sky
the sands of mars
songs of distant earth
Also would recommend accelerando by Charles Stross and the mars series by Kim Stanley Robinson
But in SF it is sometimes hard to distinct magic from plausible albeit far fetched science. Is FTL possible given the science of tomorrow, or magic?
If you want to have (imho) really, really good SF, chec out Ted Chiang. Very low production, but he takes science in SF very seriosly. His collection of short stories is some of the best I've ever read:
Somebody else mentioned Anathem. And if one want deep mathematics mixed with wild ideas, language theory I strongly recommend it. It is hard to get going (at least it was for me). But very rewarding. Probably the best read the last year.
Finally, if one really wants to go the "no magic" route. I strongly recommend Netptunes Brood by Charles stross. The book is based on the idea that FTL is not possible, and as a consequence how the economics behind interstellar migration and stable exchange currencies works. Bitcoing and slow money. Just that somebody actually has been considering the finance structure behind generation ships makes it worth reading.
I'd interpret the thing you dislike about fantasy as a violation of Sanderson's first law: "The author's ability to resolve conflicts in a satisfying way with magic is directly proportional to how the reader understands said magic."
I really enjoyed Karl Schroeders Ventus where the population saw technology as magic:
Nuttails Suffiently Advanced Technology is also a good example:
The "opposite", i.e. what you refer to as re-skinned fantasy, often falls into the "space opera" subgenre (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_opera). For instance, "Star Wars" is often referred to as being space opera.
I don't think all science must be true (otherways old books would lose sci-fi status as we discover things contradicting them), but it must be consistent with the assumptions, and the assumptions should be "elegant".
And if you have technology, that can trivialy be abused for infinite power after 5 minutes of thinking - people in the story should be abusing it too, or there should be reasonable explanation why it doesn't happen.
a) I now think of scifi as any work intended to do more than tell a story or explore a world. Focussing on just hard scifi causes great works of social and sociology fiction like The Dispossessed to be left without a clear pigeonhole. Which is a great pity, IMO.
Perhaps the biggest chunk that gets miscategorized is cyberpunk; works like Snow Crash and Hardwired are clearly about more than whether the ending is happy or sad, or whether the hero gets the girl. Doesn't seem right to categorize them as fantasy. Better to narrow Arthur C Clarke into the sub-category of hard scifi. Loosening my uptight definition caused me to better appreciate Snow Crash in particular on a second reading a decade later. It's aged wonderfully.
You could even imagine a book with fantasy 'props' that feels scifi-like. I haven't seen it yet, but I have no doubt it can be done. (Any recommendations from others?)
b) Not even everything Arthur C Clarke wrote was hard. Rama series, c'mon! Kim Stanley Robinson is a great author, but I fail to see how he's 'more hard' than Asimov or Heinlein. Somebody described the Red Mars series to me as a reality show with dune buggies, and that seems about right. You certainly couldn't call it 'more hard' than Anathem.
Anyways, for hard scifi readers the top author today is probably Greg Egan. That I think everybody can agree on. I have other recommendations elsewhere on this thread.
If you look at it this way, it CAN be done in fantasy. Check out Brandon Sanderson's Warbreaker (a great one-off), or the Mistborn series. (There are quite a few similarities between them.)
Or Max Brooks' World War Z was great in this way, I think. Although it's been quite a while since I read that.
(I know this is an older thread, so I hope you'll find this comment. Made a HN account for this. :D )
"I can point to two writers who stand outside, who aren't like anyone before them, and whom nobody has really tried to write like since: Cordwainer Smith and R.A. Lafferty. And of the two, Lafferty is the more sui generis ... Lafferty's approach to the universe was somewhat skewed and very much his own. He looked at things in a new, fresh way, and caused his readers to do the same (and often walk away scratching their heads)."
Related writers: http://www.ralafferty.org/related/
It occurs to me that the opposite category is also quite interesting. Books like Hammerfall and Snow Queen by Joan Vinge are fantasy with scifi elements that are hard to dismiss.
By the way, I got the chance to have tea with Sir. Arthur C. Clarke at his home in Colombo, Sri Lanka when I was only 18 years old... He gave me a copy of his article in which he uses physics to show that telecommunication by satellite is possible. It was a great experience.
So my current favourite is Fiasco by Lem. The physics at least sounds convincing and the characters are all too human.
One the other hand the same reviewer described the aliens in the novel as being Californian surfers....
To me, Dune is some new-age mumbo jumbo. It's fanatasy in space. Or it is contemporary social criticism (the whole thing is a metaphor for the oil industry, no?), but it's definitely not sci-fi.
By the way, I loved the first half of the book. The world building is fantastic, the characters are interesting (and the villains are really villain-y) but after the Duke dies, the whole book goes down the toilet and becomes a series of random adventure-in-the-desert encounters that couldn't be more shallow and predictable.
That being said, I'm probably too young to get it's larger impact on the "genre" (I heard that it's something like the defining space opera?).
the whole thing is a metaphor for the oil industry, no?
No, not really, or at least I think not deliberately; it's much more Lawrence of Arabia in space.
Frederik Pohl (Gateway, the Space Merchants)
Ursula K. Le Guin (The Dispossessed, Left Hand of Darkness)
Iain M. Banks (Culture novels)
You will find many Sci-Fi treasures by just going through http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SF_Masterworks
Stanisław Lem "Cyberiad", "Solaris", "Futurologists' convent"
Greg Egan "Permutation City"
Jacek Dukaj "Black Oceans"
Iain M. Banks "Algebraist" (I read some books from culture series, but IMHO culture is just too overpowered to make an interesting story possible - you basicaly read to see at which point they will show their full superiority, and it doesn't work for me)
I think Surface Detail is my favourite Culture novel. Many Iain Banks books (regular fiction as well as sci-fi) are really just wish-fulfillment stories, but they're so stylish and fun to read that I love them (plus there's usually at least one very insightful rant by a minor character to be found in nearly every book)
The Cyberiad is a trove of beauty, ridiculous, sublime, educational - touching on things as far apart as philosophy and maxwell's demon. Amazing that they're not even in English given the wonderous translation.
At any rate, I would say:
Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Heinlein
The Dispossessed, Le Guin
The Stars My Destination, Bester
Childhood's End, Clarke
Stand out as some of my favorites. I'm pretty terrible at making top-5 lists, but those stand out as ones that I would read again in a heartbeat if there weren't already 50 books on the floor next to my bed waiting for me :)
I've been reading his stuff since 1986 and he can be as innovative and experimental as Philip K Dick, JG Ballard, or Thomas Pynchon while still being fun and readable.
* Foundation Series / Robot Series / Empire Series
* The Gods Themselves
Anything by Vernor S. Vinge especially "Zones of Thought" series.
"Daemon", "Freedom(tm)", "Kill Decision" and "Influx" by Daniel Suarez.
"The Martian" by Andy Weir.
Anything by Neal Stephenson, especially "Reamde: A Novel" and "Cryptonomicon".
Anything by Hannu Rajaniemi, especially "The Fractal Prince".
Consider Phlebas starts great, but loses a lot during the rest of the book.
The Player of Games is okay, but by far not as good as people told me.
Use of Weapons is excellent. I'll have to re-read it in a few months.
My key to the novel: it's all about the nature of identity. The very first line is something of deep personal significance, but he's forgotten why. He steals identities. It ends with the mind taking his name.
It's a keeper.
Iain M Banks, Use of Weapons
Greg Egan, Diaspora and Permutation City
Frank Herbert, Dune
Kim Stanley Robinson, the Mars trilogy
Vernon Vinge: A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky
[Note to Hollywood: can we please have a Culture movie?]
The only one I can think of where they might be able to stay more or less true to the source is Consider Phlebas, wherein the 'hero' fights for a monotheistic alien race against a bunch of godless communists.
Plus I would dearly love to see the Clear Air Turbulence's escape from the depths of that GSV rendered on the big screen.
Edit: On the subject of Banks movies - one scene I would love to see (in addition to the CAT escaping from The Ends of Invention) is the scene with the Ethnarch and Zakalwe in UoW, might make a splendid cold open.
"I," said the man, "am called Cheradine Zakalwe." He leveled the gun at Ethnarch's nose. "You are called dead."
I just realised how carefully worded that is...
Inception doesn't make any sense (sense in terms of being sci fi, it's good entertainment).
Nor do the climactic action scenes in the Batman movies: a mega powerful microwave device that only affects the water inside of far away pipes and a portable, self sustaining fusion reactor that blows up when its battery dies.
The Joker's speed with setting up explosives is also a little bit ridiculous, but that's less of an offense against possibility than the above.
The Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson.
The Culture books from Iain Banks.
The Rama series from Clarke although it got tiresome after a while.
The Sparrow and Children of God from Mary Doria Russell.
Contact by Sagan which by the way is one of the very few sci-fi books that were successfully depicted in movies.
Brave new world from Huxley. Old one but still highly relevant.
The first ones from Gibson.
The Enter series by Orson Scott Card.
Bradbury's Farhenheit 451. This one is a classic.
Revelation Space from Alaistair Reynolds who writes the most hardcore sci-fi I've ever come across.
Also, while I have no use whatsoever for Stross's "Singularity" stuff, his Laundry Files series excels, especially for an inveterate old Lovecraft fan such as myself. If you want a taste, there are some shorts available online -- "Overtime" and "Funny Farm" are good places to start; "Equoid" is the most recent, but it's not representative, and it's also the weakest entry in the series as a whole due to its poor characterization and reliance on shock and gruesomeness rather than the more insidious sort of horror in which the rest of the series specializes.
I'm sort of surprised to see that no one has yet mentioned Heinlein; I know he's a politically divisive figure in the fandom, to say the least, but he's also the great granddaddy of the modern field, and such prominence deserves recognition. (Hell, he was pushing the Rapture of the Nerds before any of its modern adherents was even born!) Granted that his later works tend to bog down in self-referentiality and author tracts on the evils of Communism and the benefits of casual nudism; in his prime, though, he was an author and storyteller practically beyond compare.
In particular, his The Moon is a Harsh Mistress remains a classic among classics; The Puppet Masters even more so, to the extent of spawning practically a whole subgenre of second-rate imitations; and, for a lighter entry, his oft-overlooked The Door into Summer is a sweet story in which all's well that ends well and the importance of feline companionship in a well-rounded life is not overlooked.
In what way does Echopraxia fail to live up to its predecessor? I'm eventually going to get around to it, but if it's going to disappoint me, I'd like to know ahead of time so that I can go into it with my expectations better calibrated.
Iain M. Banks - all his Culture books are fantastic, but I'll single out 'Excession' since you seek titles.
Neal Stephenson's 'Anathem'
Stephen Donaldson (most famous for the Thomas Covenant tri-trilogy) wrote a 5-book 'Gap Series'. I have very fond memories of it, though it's been two decades since I read it.
Philip K. Dick wrote a tonne of good stuff (and a bit of meh) but my two favourite are Clans of the Alphane Moon (the first Dick I read), and Valis (a bit more conventional to have on the favourite list)
Ursula Le Guin also has a huge body of excellent work - Left Hand of Darkness, and The Dispossessed are my favourites.
I really loved Roger Zelazny's Lord Of Light, though I understand it's not conventionally considered his best work.
You can get it at project Gutemberg, so no excuse not to read it.
Any book by French author Barjavel are also worth reading in my opinion, especially "La Nuit des Temps" / "The Ice People" ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ice_People_%28Barjavel_nov... ) and "Ravage" / "Ashes, Ashes" ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ravage_%28novel%29 )
William Gibson's Sprawl trilogy
Frank Herbert's Dune series
Isaac Asimov's Foundation series
Frederik Pohl's "Gateway"
Robert Heinlein's "The Moon is a harsh Mistress"
E.E. Doc Smith's Lensman series
David Brin's Uplift series
Peter F. Hamilton's Greg Mandel trilogy and The Night's
Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Game"
George R. Dickson's "Dorsai!"
If you like SF, mathematics and deep ideas, this might be a book for you.
That sort of sloppy thinking would get you killed as a pilot. :-)
Also, autocorrect really doesn't want to let me type Neverness.
Neverness is a fabulous book though. RfHS also worthwhile, but does sprawl a bit for my taste.
The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett
The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
Among Others by Jo Walton
Feed by Mira Grant
The Hunger Games!
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
Grass by Sheri S Tepper
Gate of Ivrael and Downbelow Station by CJ Cherryh
And the fabulous space opera:
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
Also, mentioning Mira Grant and Hunger Games on this thread strikes me as blasphemous.
There's a reason most of the things listed here are basically adventure stories...
As a kid I was absolutely stunned by The Tripods. I highly recommend these books (trilogy) for your kids (10-13 yo).
David Brin's Uplift series is brilliantly written, and personifies non-human characters wonderfully.
Heinlein has been a favorite of mine since I was a kid, and his writing always makes me giddy.
Arthur C. Clarke: Rendezvous with Rama
Pierce Anthony and Robert E. Margroff: The Ring
Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle and Steven Barnes: The Legacy of Heorot
Stanislaw Lem: The Invincible
Isaac Asimov: The Foundation Trilogy
Julie Czerneda's Species Imperative Trilogy:
Survival, Migration, and Regeneration.
Maragaret Atwood, anything, but recently the MaddAddam trilogy:
Oryx and Crake, Year of the Flood, and Maddaddam.
Nancy Kress' Sleepless series:
Beggars in Spain, Beggars and Choosers, and Beggars Ride.
It also includes non-printed media.
Somewhat more recent: pretty-much anything by David Brin.
For my taste, a lot of recent sci-fi seems to be a little too focused on politics and society vs. the exhileration of a good technical solution. But do enjoy Charles Stross and John Scalzi.
At the moment I'm a lot into short stories, and that'd mean Ted Chiang of course, and Greg Evan, as well as some of Vinge Vernor.
Recommendations here that I consider over-rated: Ramez Naam, Daniel Suarez, Reamde. I also couldn't get through Three-body Problem. I might try again, though.
Also, A Fire Upon the Deep / A Deepness in the Sky.
It is well written and a good story. Its kind of a strange story of revenge with a AI as the protagonist.
There's something mystical and very powerful about this book and the theme of conquering fear. It also reads surprisingly well considering how dense some of the political and technical descriptions are.
Very smart, noir sci-fi with a lot of heady concept play -- some consider it to be genre-defining.
2. 2001 Space Odyssey - I sit down with Arthur for Tea at his home in Colombo, Sri Lanka - He gave me a copy of his article in which he first described telecommunication via satellites
3. Snow Crash
Some more good ones:
Ilium/Olympos - Dan Simmons
Centuries - A. A. Attanasio
Callahan's Crosstime Saloon - Spider Robinson
Signal to Noise - Eric Nylund
both by Vernor Vinge
Peter Watts - Blindsight
Michael Moorcock, An Alien Heat & Behold the Man.
Use of Weapons
Pandora's Star / Judas Unchained