So Damien G. Walter asked on Twitter for recommendations of fantastika (later narrowed to “SF” I believe) for those who are new to the genre (which I missed when it initially came out). Paul Weimer responded with a nice list, and I thought I would chime in with some quick suggestions of my own:
1) Megan Lindholm: Wizard of the Pigeons. Yes, I know, way out of print, but such a fine book. It has a fair amount of subtlety and a lot of character. The story is about trauma and redemption; it resonated with me as a teenager and still does three decades later. The fantasy elements work to intensify the protagonist’s journey and enriches the experience you share with him as the reader.
2) Ben Aaronovitch: Midnight Riot (aka Rivers of London). Paul had recommended Jim Butcher, but for my money, Aaronvitch provides some of the same strengths as Butcher with superior writing and a firmer grasp of characters. There is more diversity in the characters and more sexual tension between them. Plus, the world that Aaronovitch creates is more grounded, magical but very satisfying. The novel is accessible in terms of reading and in how it uses fantasy tropes.
3) Lois McMaster Bujold: Paladin of Souls. Paul selected the first Miles Vorkosigan novel from Bujold, and I agree that it is a good primer for standard SF. I would also recommend this fantasy work by Bujold because it is a lovely character study and the fantasy elements are mostly background to the story of a woman finding new purpose in life after middle age. I think that this is one of her best written books, and it showcases her strengths as a writer while also demonstrating the potential for fantasy to accentuate character development.
4) Kim Stanley Robinson, The Wild Shore. It’s hard for me to not recommend this, one of my favorite books, to a new reader. But it is also an excellent entry point into SF, for some of the same reasons listed for the Lindholm and Bujold books. The SFnal aspects lie mostly in the background; they shape the setting but are not the primary focus. The coming-of-age of the protagonist in this strange, sort-of post-apocalyptic world is the heart of the story, and Robinson’s prose is lean but evocative as he unfolds the narrative. It’s an enjoyable and sometimes profound reading experience.
5) N. K. Jemisin, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. There’s a lot to enjoy in this book, but what makes it a good one to hand to a new genre reader is how it wrecks havoc on fantasy conventions and refashions them in the name of revitalization fantastic fiction. It blends romance, politics, and a little mystery with a fascinating fantasy world that is replete with cool, strange details. It is secondary-world fantasy with grit and flawed, interesting characters.