Okay, some good books, then.
I’ve written him up before, but: Anything by Charles Stross. Don’t miss his short story collection Toast, his novels Singularity Sky, Iron Sunrise, and the two stories in The Atrocity Archives.
China Mieville. I didn’t finish King Rat, and there were bits of Perdido Street Station that were a slog, but The Scar is great, and so far Iron Council is fantastic. Mieville is wordy and moody, but he’s in touch with the underbelly of society like no other SF author I know, with the possible exception of Samuel Delany. Mieville writes about dirty streets and folks barely hanging on who are faced with hard choices, he writes about dirty politics and pointless wars; imagine Orwell channeling William Hope Hodgson.
Oh, you haven’t read Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland? Find a copy in a used bookstore (there is a recent re-issue of it, along with other works that are apparently very not worth the price). It scared the hell out of me the first time I read it.
I just re-read David Langford’s The Space Eater, which starts out cliche-like (yeah, yeah, we have “tanks of goo” that bring our soldiers back to life, so they can get used to being killed over and over again and thus conquer fear), and winds up pretty interesting, taking some humorous twists along the way. A lot of Langford’s work is being printed suddenly — some of it is online, and you should definitely check out his fanzine The Ansible Online (just google for it). His The Leaky Establishment is a fun read — see if you can have your library spring for a copy 🙂
Richard K. Morgan’s Altered Carbon is an SF mystery that tries very hard to be a “Mickey Spillane with immortality and flying cars.” It’s okay as an SF piece, and the atmosphere is good, but as a mystery it’s not very mysterious. His most recent book, Broken Angels, is much better, with more believable characters and a plot that isn’t transparent.
Also highly recommended: Kage Baker’s “Company” novels, starting with The Garden of Iden, continuing with the hilarious Sky Coyote and funny/serious Mendoza in Hollywood, the side-splitting and riveting The Graveyard Game, and various short stories here and there. The whole shebang should be wrapped up in two more books (one of which is coming out in December). Worth the wait.
Jack McDevitt: Omega is the fitting end-piece of his five book series that includes The Engines of God, Infinity Beach, Deepsix and Chindi. I really liked Engines, but Beach and Deepsix were mild disappointments. His Ancient Shores is quite good, as is his first published book The Hercules Text. Chindi won a Hugo (though I didn’t think it was that good).
Digging into oldies a little: Michael Shea’s Nifft the Lean is great fantasy. He has other books set in the same world, such as A Quest for Symbalis, but they all start reading about the same after a while, and Nifft is enough to give you the flavor of his work without overdosing on it. Elizabeth Willey’s The Well Favoured Man is excellent fantasy a-la Zelazny’s Amber series (done better, in my opinion), continuing with A Sorceror and a Gentleman and The Price of Blood and Honor (the latter of which is a slog). Sarah Zettle’s Fool’s War is a great cyber-war SF piece, with good characterization, and her Reclaimation starts out (very) slow, but I couldn’t put it down for the last hundred pages or so. Also, please tell me that you’ve read C.J. Cherryh’s Faded Sun trilogy — if not, it’s recently been reprinted in one volume, don’t miss it.
I wish that Jerry Jay Carroll would write some more. I thoroughly enjoyed his three books Top Dog, Dog Eat Dog and Inhuman Beings (the first two books are related, the second one is yet another excellent treatment of modern Cthulhu-esque horror). Sadly, I think he has a day job.
Another author with a day job is John Cramer (a physicist at UWash), who wrote Twistor and Einstein’s Bridge. I’ve probably mentioned them before; they are definitely worth it.
Almost anything by Stephen Gould (e.g., Jumper or Wildside) is good, with the possible exception of Greenwar, which I didn’t finish.
James Stoddard’s The High House is a good fantasy about a house that is literally endless in extent, and the character’s quest to regain his mastership of it. (I couldn’t get past the first fifty pages of the sequel, The False House, so I can’t recommend it, but the first book stands on its own well enough).
Phew. End dump. 🙂