Oct 28 2012 11:00am

Something Else Like... Introduction

Something Else Like... by Jo Walton. What to read next when you’re done with your favorite science fiction/fantasy authors.When you really like a writer, and you’ve read everything they’ve written, naturally you want more. You have to wait until they write more, and at worst that’s never going to happen. So you ask for recommendations for “something else like...” and people suggest things. The problem is, the things that other people like aren’t always what you like, even when you like the same thing. William Goldman says in Adventures in the Screen Trade that people learned the wrong lesson from Jaws. The public flocked to see a well-written tautly-paced story with excellent characters, and the movie moguls learned from this that people wanted more films with... sharks. I’ve found that all too often what other people see in something is the sharks.

There was once a library guide in which you could look up a writer you liked and it would tell you what other writers were similar. I found this when I was about fifteen. I eagerly looked up Anne McCaffrey, whose work I’d just raced through, and found that she was supposedly like... Ursula Le Guin and Jerry Pournelle. Oh, really? (The rest of that guide might have been excellent. I can’t say, I never touched it again.)

So I thought it would be interesting to look at some writers people love and ask what it is we love about them and make suggestions for other books that might scratch the same itches.

Now of course, I’ve read a lot of things but I haven’t read everything, so there are lots of books I don’t know. There might also be lots of things that connect to the writers I’m going to write about in ways I haven’t thought of. I hope so, because I’m hoping you’ll comment with more suggestions and how they’re similar, because that way I might get more things to read too.

I’m also perfectly capable of being somebody who only sees the sharks—if I don’t hit on the reason why you like reading a particular writer please comment! This is one of the things that I think is going to make this fun.

I’ll also take suggestions for writers you’d like me to cover—but it has to be writers I know well, or I won’t have the necessary comprehension for what they’re like.

We start with... Heinlein.

Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published two poetry collections and nine novels, most recently the Hugo and Nebula-winning Among Others. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.

Mike G.
1. Mike G.
Well, I agree that Le Guin and Pournelle aren't like McCaffrey, but I _do_ like all 3, so the guide would have worked for me at least in terms of pointing me to writers I'd like...

I'm looking forward to this series!
Shaz Taslimi
2. shaztaz
I just know I'm going to love this series. I'm always wondering about other similar authors. And, oh, heaven would indeed have more Zelazny!
Ian Rapley
3. Alfonso Baronso
I'd like to nominate Le Guin for consideration.

Also, I look forward to reading this series - I've never had a single worthwhile recommendation from either Amazon's system or, whereas the reviews on have been a goldmine. For now, at least, I'll back the human brain over technology.
Mike G.
4. Yenvious
I personally would like to find more writers like Gene Wolfe. For me, he's similar to Stephen Erikson in that written-as-if-you've-already-read-it style that doesn't explain or coddle the reader, but puts them right into the world, confusing or not.
Sean Arthur
5. wsean
Ooh, awesome!

I'd love to see Steven Brust and Lois McMaster Bujold.

For Bujold, I've found Lee & Miller's Liaden series enjoyable in a similar way to the Vorkosigan books, but I'm not sure who Brust is similar to. He's very distinctive.
Andrew Mason
6. AnotherAndrew
I eagerly looked up Anne McCaffrey, whose work I’d just raced through,
and found that she was supposedly like... Ursula Le Guin and Jerry
Pournelle. Oh, really?

Well, it depends at what level of abstraction you are thinking. All these people write science fiction, so of course they are similar!

Recently in a local bookshop I found a sign saying 'If you like Harry Potter you will love...' - works by C.S. Lewis, Eoin Colfer, Philip Pullman, Lemony Snicket and John Stephens. I don't know Stephens, but the other four struck me as being as unlike one another as is possible while being aimed at children and in some way fantastic. But I take it that is the point - they are notable works of children's fantasy, which those interested in children's fantasy should read.
Mike G.
7. Juhan
Roger Zelazny should come up in this series, definitely.
Mike G.
8. James Davis Nicoll
There was once a library guide in which you could look up a writer you liked and it would tell you what other writers were similar. I found this when I was about fifteen. I eagerly looked up Anne McCaffrey, whose work I’d just raced through, and found that she was supposedly like...Ursula Le Guin and Jerry Pournelle. Oh, really? (The rest of that guide might have been excellent. I can’t say, I never touched it again.)

It's a sad condemnation of the way my memory works that I cannot recall enough details to link to a name cloud-based reference source I mentioned in the last month but I had no trouble recalling the Disco Era New Maps of Science Fiction, in which researchers William Sims Bainbridge and Murray M. Dalziel attempted to use the Big Iron of 1970s era computing and no less than !3,510 bytes of data! gathered with interesting operating assumptions for a try at predictive mapping of authors:
Mike G.
9. James Davis Nicoll
I remembered enough about the useless title I hung on my post and when I posted it to rediscover the link for Literature Map:

Be warned it's ideosyncratic.
Mike G.
10. Gerry__Quinn
Great idea for a series. The only thing is, breaking it down in terms of a writer's whole ouevre may be too much. For example, someone asked about Gene Wolfe. You couldn't say Dan Simmons is all that similar to Wolfe in general, but I think Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion might appeal to those who like Book of the New Sun.
Mike G.
11. James Davis Nicoll
The only thing is, breaking it down in terms of a writer's whole ouevre may be too much.

Walter Jon Williams would be particularly problematic.
Mike G.
12. LaurenJ
I'd love to see "more like C. J. Cherryh," whom I love for believably alien aliens, well-developed anthropology, and complex characterization.
Jenny Rae Rappaport
13. JennyRaeRappaport
I'd love to see you cover Sherri S. Tepper and Georgette Heyer (who is harder to do, than you'd think!).
Peter Stone
15. Peter1742
I'd like to nominate Patricia McKillip. I can never have enough books by Patricia McKillip.
David Dyer-Bennet
16. dd-b
The book of books like other books I know of was What Do I Read Next? And the science fiction section was prepared for many years by Minneapolis's (and Uncle Hugo's) own Scott Imes. Scott was better at doing this in person than anybody else I've ever met. I haven't used the book enough to know how good I think it was there; in person, he asked what people liked and did pretty well from there, though.
David Dyer-Bennet
17. dd-b
I think people like Heinlein, and by extension everybody else, for a variety of reasons, not all the same. The fact that some people actually prefer the late novels highlights this particularly spectacularly.

Good luck! I've never yet found anybody who particularly scratches the Heinlein itch. Or the Doc Smith itch.
18. robbie1998
That is a great idea! I also vote for Roger Zelazny if you feel like covering his work.
Mike G.
19. Narmitaj
James Nicoll @ 9 - " - Be warned it's ideosyncratic."

Yes... I entered J G Ballard and close in his cloud was A A Milne!
Mike G.
20. Action Kate
I'll second Cherryh, and may I also nominate Gael Baudino? She apparently stopped writing in the late '90s and I really loved her elf series. (The Dragonsword one I picked up, appropriately because I too had fallen in love with McCaffrey and I wanted more sharks dragons. The Dragonsword books themselves are wonderful but I can't re-read them because the war parts are too raw now. The less said about the writing experiment which is the Water! series, the better.)
Nancy Lebovitz
21. NancyLebovitz
I second several of the requests. For some non-obvious reason, it seems easier for writers to imitate Delany than Heinlein.
Mike G.
22. PhilJ
Jo you are a saint! :) Great idea for a series of columns! Probably 75% of my reading list is made up from "If you liked this, then you might also like this" suggestions from Amazon.
Stephanie Leary
23. sleary
My list matches wsean's. I'm also a huge fan of both Bujold and Lee/Miller, and I've trawled Goodreads to find more in that vein. I've made myself a pretty long to-read list of space adventures.

For Brust, the only thing I've read that comes close to the Vlad books is Scott Lynch's Lies of Locke Lamora.

I'm eager to see what people would recommend for Heyer as well.

My other request would be (mostly) out of genre: Jennifer Crusie. The other romantic comedy writers I've tried have fallen flat.
Mike G.
24. UnexpectedAlien
I nominate Patricia McKillip, she gets far less attention than she deserves IMO. Also, a couple of YA writers: Diana Wynne Jones and Margaret Mahy. :)
Brandon Lammers
25. wickedkinetic
I applaud this effort, but I think every writer is a unique and while elements and styles may be common, I've found that when I like a writer that by similar authors don't scratch the same itch....

for a while I only read Clive Barker because I found his visceral imagery and unique imagination and convoluted plotlines fascinating. I have moved on, but I doubt any other writer at the time could have captured me the way his early writings did. I have had similar infatuations with William Gibson (after reading his definitive cyber-punk, no other cyber-punk seemed as interesting), Neal Stephenson (when I read Diamond Age I could not fathom anyone else even attempting such a story, and then he did Crypto and the Baroque Cycle, and with Anathema, he finally added a satisfying plot arc to his brilliant storytelling although it was a bit of a job to get there...), Charles Stross (Accelerando for me topped Stephenson, Sterling, and Gibson for techie/cyberpunky/singularity-ish fiction, so I had to run out and read everything he ever published...) and yet when I tried to find other 'cyber-punk', other singularity fiction, the other authors I found drastically different, I wasn't that excited about nerds in leather jackets and 'mirror-shades', the 'shark' as you say....

I know everyone's tastes are different, I know some people read everything they can get their hands on in a given genre, and have no interest in anything outside that niche, some people have 1 writer they like and won't read anything else...

at any rate, i'm looking forward to what you come up with, but in my experience, every writer is an island, and with very few exceptions, I can't see general rules where we can say with reliability that the majority of people that like 'x' are going to like 'z'. there's no accounting for human tastes as far as I can tell....
Mike G.
26. Damien RS
wsean: A lot of Brust is deliberately like someone else. Vlad sounds like the Corwin books -- "first person smartass" -- and the Paarfiad is aping some English translations of the Three Musketeers. (I think he used language of that level of precision; unclear if he's aping Dumas per se, but the Dumas we know.) I think the Zelazny influence is open (and Steve named his son Corwin.) Agyar seems in the same family.

OTOH _Athyra_ and _Brokedown Palace_ are more original, or else I don't know their references. (Apart from Grateful Dead refs in BP.)

Tongue in cheek: Who is like Hope Mirrlees?
Tongue in both cheeks: Who is like Jo Walton?
Mike G.
27. Iarvin
Terry Pratchett! He's fairly unique, but if there's another author that scratches that itch. . . I'd be delighted.
Mike G.
28. WonderGirl
More like Peter S. Beagle? (I loved A Fine and Private Place so very much.)
Melita Kennedy
29. melita
Others have made suggestions that I'm interested in, but I have a few others: Zenna Henderson, Dorothy Dunnett, and maybe Daniel Keys Moran.
Sean Arthur
30. wsean
Thanks for the tips, Damien! I knew about the Dumas aping, but didn't know he was so influenced by Zelazny. Been a few years since I read the first Amber book, I'll have to go back and take another look.
Dave West
31. Jhirrad
There has to be a bit done for Gaiman.
Andrew Mason
32. AnotherAndrew
The primary influence for Brokedown Palace, I believe, is Hungarian folk stories.
Mike G.
33. PhilJ
Oh oh! I just thought of a writer I'd love to see a Something Else Like... about.

Iain M. Banks (with the M! please).

Just thought of this since I finished the Hydrogen Sonata. Every time I finish one of his Culture books I have this really bummed out feeling as I scramble around for another scifi author who can do something as amazing as Banks' Culture books.
Mike G.
34. TheMadLibrarian
I miss Robert Forward. He wrote a juvenile sci-fi novel, Higher Education, that was the closest thing I had read to Heinlein. Engaging hard science fiction (easy enough for non physics majors to follow, but not so dumbed down as to be insulting) is a hard act to follow.
Mike G.
36. DevillEars
Interesting concept... The "something else like..." implies that the named author is no longer writing new material, having shuffled off this mortal coil, and the asker is looking for some similar alternatives from other writers.

If this be the case, then I'd like to suggest some alternatives for Eric Frank Russell:

1) Christopher Anvil (also slyly humorous and a wee bit anti-establishment)
2) Keith Laumer (in his Retief sequence) demonstrates a real desire to take down bureaucracy
3) Poul Anderson (to a limited extent in his Dominic Flandry sequence) shows a somewhat jaundiced view of an Imperial future that could just be an analogy for our world of today.

Thankfully, EFR's works have been preserved for posterity by NESFA Press (I have copies of Entities and Major Ingredients in my shelf that are never loaned out), and BAEN have come to the party by re-releasing collections of many of John W. Campbell Jr's proteges from the heydey (including works by the three writers listed above).

Elsewhere in this blog mention is made of Thorne Smith along with comments that, maybe, it's high time we saw some re-releases. I heartily second this as my collection (complete) is showing all the signs of having been re-read too often.

Now, I don't know about you, but I read for enjoyment and there's nothing I enjoy more than a really good belly laugh, so - with Thorne Smith no longer of this Earth - one needs substitutes. One such is Tom Sharpe - a Brit with a wit like a finely honed scalpel, coupled with an unbridled urge to milk sacred cows in his quest to point out the various lunacies to be found in and around this world of ours.

Some Tom Sharpe recommendations:

- Riotous Assembly & Indecent Exposure (his slap back at S. Africa)
- The various adventures of Wilt (4 or 5 works by now)

Thanks for an extremely interesting blog...
Mike G.
37. Kimi
Reader's advisory, this was one of my favorite classes in library school! One of the things that make recomending books difficult is finding out just what part of a book someone likes. One person might like the character driven story while another likes the strong female protagonist. In each case you have to recommend a different book to each person, even though they are starting with the same book. It's a bit like playing detective.

Can you tell I'm super excited about this?
Mike G.
38. James Davis Nicoll
Put me down for authors like RA Lafferty, Lee Killough, RA MacAvoy and Howard Waldrop. Not that any of them is much like the others.
Crystal B
39. Amaunette
I'd also like to point out something to Literature Map above called Book Lamp. Literature Map finds books most commonly read together, but Book Lamp is like Pandora for books. It breaks down each book (not author) into relevant components and uses learning algorithms to find similar books.

See, for example, recommendations for "Stranger in a Strange Land":
Melissa Shumake
40. cherie_2137
i'd be interested if you were to come up with authors similar to guy gavriel kay. i am seriously obsessed with his books. i love them for the historic basis, complex character interactions, and general perfection.
Debbie Solomon
41. dsolo
I have been a voracious reader of SF since age 11, and my favorite author for years (decades) was Isaac Asimov. I can't say why exactly, but character driven stories seem to appeal to me more, and people's reaction to technology. I've veered more into urban fantasy over the years, but I still love the old SF authors - Heinlein, Bradbury, Bester, Zelazny, Lieber, etc. Cordwainer Smith would be another hard one to quantify.
Tabby Alleman
42. Tabbyfl55
Don't know if anybody's still interested, but for fans of Brust, I'd recommend checking out the Night Angel trilogy by Brent Weeks.

Also, finding and reading the Liavek novels could lead you to other contemporaries of Brust you might like. I believe I discovered Will Shetterly that way.

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