If you're looking for eloquently-written SF, I'd have to recommend the work of Jack Vance. These days he's mostly remembered for "The Dying Earth", which is excellent but is essentially fantasy; most of his work, though, is SF, from planetary romance (Big Planet or Planet of Adventure) to space opera (Demon Princes). The latter, which was originally published in the 1970s, is probably the pinnacle of his SF writing.
Vance's biggest strength is his eloquent, very urbane style, especially in dialogue. He's probably the best writer I've read at coming up with neologisms that sound like real language; not really "can look up in the dictionary", though.
My "Must Read SciFi List" has long been:
Frank Herbert. THE classic space opera. The rest of the series can be a bit hard to swallow, but the firsy book should be required reading in all universities or something. Not techy at all- in fact the science is a bit of a stretch and rather odd. the action is sociopolitical, and sort of messianic. I generally abhor space opera- I'm much more into hard SF- so when i recommend something pulpy or operatic you can feel confident that it's good.
The Forever War
Joe Haldeman. A thinly-disguised commentary on the Vietnam War, and a bit dated, but great. Wonderful premise- that soldiers fighting an interstellar war are affected by time dilation, so every time they come home a huge span of time has passed and they soon no longer recognize the society for which they are fighting. Haldeman is a great SF author, but he has never quite equalled this work. If you are at all human the last page will leave you with tears in your eyes- something not terribly common in scifi.
Stranger in a Strange Land
Rober Heinlein. An older very pulpy work, but a classic, about a human raised by aliens, and how his outlook thus differs. This book is why some idiots call Heinlein a "hippy."
Robert Heinlein. Ok, the book is NOT the movie. Say it three times. (And the people who hated the movie CLEARLY didn't get the joke...) ABut this is also older and very pulpy, but a classic. For a long time it was required reading at various military academies, and remains on some military reading lists. This book is the reason that some other idiots call Heinlein a "fascist."
William Gibson. This book (essentially) started the cyberpunk genre. Like Haldeman, Gibson has never regained this level of work, but this is great.
The Mote in God's Eye
Larry Niven. Set in the CoDominium universe, albeit after the CoDo broke up and the Empire of Man has risen. A great first-contact story.
Islands in the Net
Bruce Sterling. A pseudo-cyberpunk book written from the point of view of the corporate executive. Sort of. I put this on my list when I first made it long ago and was in a bit of a cyberpunk phase, and I'll admit that it probably isn't one of the Great Works that these others are, but still well worth a read.
Orson Scott Card. I had this on my list LONG before the movie- it is another that is often on military academy reading lists. I guess it appeals to neo-Clauswitzians or something.
My wife has read four of these (Dune, Stranger in a Strange Land, Ender's Game, The Forever War) and despite being a snooty humanities person has liked them all.
Some others I really like:
Steven Baxter has his Xeelee sequence, which is grand hard SF written on an epic timescale. Like, a timescale over which human evolution occurs. I highly recommend it. There are many books set on this timeline. Ring, Raft, Exultant, Transcendant, Timelike infinity, Flux, Vaccuum Diagrams, The Time Ships, etc. The only thing he has ever written that I truly hated was the Time's Tapestry series. That was simply not up to his usual standards. The Manifold series is very, very hard to follow at times, dealing as it does with time travel, paradoxes, etc., and I'd recommend saving it for later. The Northland Trilogy is interesting, but different, and i wouldn't recommend it to anyone who doesn't already know they would like it. I haven't read his NASA Trilogy, Mammoth Trilogy, or Time Odyssey series.
Anything by Neal Stephenson is pretty good, but I especially like his Baroque Cycle. It's not really scifi- it's more picaresque historical- but it reads like scifi, somehow. And, wow. It's huge, epic, and will hurt your brain. Lot's of playful language, double-entendres, and crunchy historical sciency stuff. And it is sort of a prequel to Cryptonomicon, in that it involves the anscestors of some of those characters (it's set around the late 1600s and early 1700s). The first 200 pages can be hard to get through, but then you'll be sucked it. Hard to follow at the start- this is a thinking man's book. NOT light reading. Stephenson has yet to disappoint me- I even liked Anathem (the butt of that xkcd joke someone posted) and Reamde.
If you want complex plots with intelligent writing, Baxter and Stephenson are what you are looking for.
I'll also +1 Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy. That stuff was excellent, though he clearly has the classic SF author's tendendcy to neglect character development for cool science. Not that there is no character development- I just mean that the TRUE beauty of the book is in the worldbuilding and societal building.
Oddly, I absolutely LOVED World War Z. (And again, the book is NOT the movie. At all. it's a totally different story. The movie sucks.) I picked it up on a discount rack at an airport and it was great! It is not the usual zombie drivel. It's written as a series of interviews done by a UN rapporteur after the zombie wars have ended. I'd again describe this as a "thinking-man's" zombie book. And, again, my wife the snooty humanities person liked it. (Every so often I challenge her to expand her horizons with a good scifi book. She resists, but it's good for her, and she admits that I haven't disappointed her yet.)
Charles Stross's Accelerando was excellent. He also wrote the less-serious Laundry series, which is hilarious. Along the same lines as Accelerando is Rainbow's End by Vernor Vinge. Vinge's older A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky were also very good.
For lighter reading, I liked the Man-Kzin War books, as well as the first few Ringworld books, by Larry Niven.
Footfall by Niven and Pournell was probably the first alien-invasion story that was "done right." I also liked Lucifer's Hammer. Dated, now, but still great.
Without doubt, the ultimate space combat board game is undoubtedly Attack Vector: Tactical, by Ad astra games. It'll blow your mind, but you actually need to know some basic physics to even stand a chance of understanding it. The ultimate (mostly) non-combat scifi boardgame is Phil Eklund's High Frontier.
Anyone interested in hard scifi should peruse Winchell Chung's Atomic Rockets webpage.
I agree, iain m banks was really a good author, the society he describe as the culture is very interesting and positive as a possible bright future for mankind. to bad he died last year:( hist last sf book the hydrogen sonata is really one of my favorite. Peter F hamilton comonwealth saga is also really good, and long, a good point for a big reader;)
Originally Posted by Datoria