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Getting To Know You: Standalone SF Reads

Well, It's 2013, and the planet still appears to be in one piece. Time for a new blog entry!

Many people will tell you that good things (and bad luck) come in threes. Speculative fiction stories frequently do; the genre has a strong predilection for trilogies.  But many authors don't even stop there-- there are SF series and sagas that run to double-digits and represent decades of writing.  Some writers don't even finish their story arc within their lifetimes (ahem, Robert Jordan), leaving devoted readers to hope for a worthy successor (and copious notes left by the original author) to finish out the series.

The problem is that SF writers don't just have books in them; they have entire worlds.  Even purely character-driven novels often require more extensive world-building than you'd find in standard fiction.  For new readers seeking a foothold in the genre, this poses something of a problem.  A three-book minimum is more than many readers will commit to just for a taste of something different.  (Hey, even I get a little hesitant faced with book one of seven from an unfamiliar author-- I've had bad experiences with first-book cliffhangers.)

But there's hope!  Anthologies are one excellent way to sample several authors at once.  There are plenty of annual "best-of" collections out there that offer a veritable banquet of award-winning authors.  In addition, there are many SF editors who regularly assemble some great themed anthologies.  Short stories don't require a lot of time commitment, but still allow the reader to get a feel for an author's writing style.  They're a great way to get a sense of established authors in addition to newer voices.

Some would argue, though, that an author's short-form writing isn't always a good test of his or her novelistic mettle.   Luckily, even the most prolific series-geared authors often have a standalone title or two lurking in their backlist; the trouble is recognizing them.  That's where this month's list comes in!  In addition to a selection of annual and themed anthologies, I've also identified a number of solid standalone reads from authors better known for boxed sets than single books. 

If you'd like to find more, our NoveList Plus database can help you distinguish solo titles from series volumes, and recommend representative works for a specific author.  You might also try online sources like Goodreads, LibraryThing, or Fantastic Fiction, which will list series in order for you.  Be careful with newer titles, though-- sometimes they don't identify the first of a series until the second book comes out.

For those who just want to get their toes wet with a new author or a new genre, here are a few great one-and-done's from speculative fiction authors otherwise accustomed to writing in volume(s):

Anthologies:
Federations by John Joseph Adams, ed. (SF Federations)
Nebula Awards Showcase by Kevin J. Anderson, ed. (SF Nebula)
Best Horror of the Year by Ellen Datlow, ed. (Horror Best)
The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror by Ellen Datlow and Kelly Link (Fantasy SS Link)
Snow White, Blood Red by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, eds. (Fantasy SS Snow)
The Year's Best Science Fiction by Gardner R. Dozois, ed. (SF Year's)
The Monster's Corner: Stories through Inhuman Eyes by Christopher Golden, ed. (Horror Monsters)
The Year's Best SF by David G. Hartwell, ed. (SF Year's)
Blood and Other Cravings by Ellen Datlow, ed. (Horror Blood)
Down These Strange Streets by George R. R. Martin and Gardner R. Dozois, ed. (Fantasy Down)
Heroes in Training by Martin H. Greenberg, ed. (Pbk-Fantasy Heroes)
Extreme Zombies by Paula Guran, ed. (Express Horror Extreme)
The Hard SF Renaissance by David G. Hartwell, ed. (SF Hard)
The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year by Jonathan Strahan, ed. (SF Best)
The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer (Fantasy Weird)

One-Shots:
Cowl by Neal Asher (Pbk-SF Asher)
The Algebraist by Iain M. Banks (SF Banks)
Cabal by Clive Barker (Horror Barker)
Evolution by Stephen Baxter (SF Baxter)
Carnival by Elizabeth Bear (Pbk-SF Bear)
Blood Music by Greg Bear (SF Bear)
Brokedown Palace by Steven Brust (Fantasy Brust)
The Spirit Ring by Lois McMaster Bujold (Fantasy Bujold)
Fledgling by Octavia Butler (Horror Butler)
Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke (Reading List Clarke)
Threshold by Sara Douglass (Fantasy Douglass)
Faerie Tale by Raymond E. Feist (Horror Feist)
The Law of Nines by Terry Goodkind (Fantasy Goodkind)
Drinking Midnight Wine by Simon R. Green (Fantasy Green)
The Accidental Time Machine by Joe Haldeman (SF Haldeman)
The God Makers by Frank Herbert (SF Herbert)
Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay (Fantasy Kay)
Two Crowns for America by Katherine Kurtz (Fantasy Kurtz)
Newton's Wake by Ken MacLeod (SF MacLeod)
Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin (Horror Martin)
Moonfall by Jack McDevitt (SF McDevitt)
To Hold Infinity by John Meaney (SF Meaney)
The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon (SF Moon)
Thirteen by Richard K. Morgan (SF Morgan)
The Folding Knife by K. J. Parker (Fantasy Parker)
Dodger by Terry Pratchett (YA Pratchett)
Fathom by Cherie Priest (Horror Priest)
Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds (SF Reynolds)
Antarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson (SF Robinson)
Elantris by Brandon Sanderson (Fantasy Sanderson)
The Shape-Changer's Wife by Sharon Shinn (Fantasy Shinn)
Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons (Horror Simmons)
The Peshawar Lancers by S. M. Stirling (Fiction Stirling)
Glasshouse by Charles Stross (SF Stross)
All Seeing Eye by Rob Thurman (Pbk-Horror Thurman)
In Fury Born by David Weber (SF Weber)
The War of the Flowers by Tad Williams (Fantasy Williams)
The Barrens and Others by F. Paul Wilson (Horror SS Wilson)

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Thanks and Guy G. Kay

Nice list!  I've read "2" works by Guy G. Kay - the Fionavar Tapestry series and Tigana.  While I think his writing and story telling are excellent, the tragedy components stop me from reading him.  Regardlless, I probably would have picked Tigana as the stand along for him since Ysabel is slightly linked to the Tapestry series (according to wikipedia).  

Also curious, have you used KDL's What's next database?  Great for finding the order of a series, which is 180 degrees around from this post's topic, but great if someone does try a stand alone or anthology and wants to jump into a series. (KDL stands for Kent District Library in MI)