This thread is to talk about great novels. Not any great novel, mind you, but the ones that for some reason, decidedly not as well-known as they should.
So no recommendations for Dresden Files, the Foundation series, Vorkosigan Saga or even the Mote in God’s eye (disclaimer, this one is still on my to-read list).
Let me start with the book that actually drove me to begin this thread:
The Night Land, a story retold by William Hope Hodgson and James Stoddard
This is actually a rare case in literature, a remake.
The original, the Night Land, was written in 1912 by William Hope Hodgson. It features an extraordinarily powerful retelling of the Hero’s journey and love story thanks for the most part to its extraordinarily setting.
Based on the science of the time, it was thought that the Sun would cool down and be extinct in a few million years (they thought the Sun’s energy was entirely from the collapse of the primitive nebula - nuclear reactions were unknown at the time).
Here, the story (mostly) takes place in the far, far future, long after the Sun went extinct. The last millions of humans live in an immense pyramid, the Last Redoubt, powered by the Earth Current (a geothermal energy source, most probably). Beyond it lies the Night Land, populated by monsters, god-like Watchers and unknown, hostile Forces dwelling into the dark, laying eternal siege.
I won’t tell you more, to let you discover it by yourself.
The problem with the original book is that it was written in an awful, near-unreadable pseudo-archaic style. The reaction of pretty much everyone at that time (and since then) was “what the hell?”, because it would otherwise have reached (and deserved) the status of a classic of SF/fantasy, along Lovecraft or H.G. Wells.
Fortunately for us, in 2008, James Stoddard rewrote it in proper, modern and highly readable style. He made some changes, like adding dialogs (and a name for the protagonist), but stayed faithful to the original book - and what made it so great.
So if the Night Land was called a flawed masterpiece, a story retold is a pure gem.
Note : living in France and wanting a numeric version, I found that the only option was Amazon. Not having a Kindle (and kind of disliking Amazon anyway), I wrote an email to James Stoddard, asking him if he knew of other options, or if he could sell it to me directly.
To my surprise, not only did he answered, but he graciously offered me an ePub version, asking only that I didn’t spread it around (obviously ) and that if I enjoyed the book, to write a good comment on the store pages.
So in addition to the above, I also recommend the book as (re)written by a great person!
Through Struggle, the Stars by John J. Lumpkin
This is a recent hard-SF novel, the first volume of the so far 2-volumes Human Reach.
If you are here on this forum, it’s probably that you like space opera. Good news for you, then, this may be the best space opera I’ve ever read.
In a not-that-far future, varied nations have reached space, then the stars thanks to mastering wormholes. (They keep one end around, throw the other at a nearby star with an antimatter rocket and voilà, space-borne stargate! And no they can’t travel through time with it, the wormhole would crash before).
As tensions rise between the two main interstellar powers, China and Japan, we see the story from the point of view of a young American space officer on his first assignment on-board a starship, suddenly cast as an assistant intelligence officer.
The story is well-written, excruciately well-researched hard-science-wise (you can feel how much Atomic Rockets was consulted), and pretty gripping. Battle scenes are great, characters are believable, and star powers are gray, ambiguous but not monholitic.
But in addition to it being a masterfully-done hard-SF novel, there is another great thing the book has for it. Its author, John Lumpkin, worked with the intelligence community for years and used his experience in the book. As thus, there is a big layer of “spy thriller” added to it, which works really well. As the character is immersed in the world of military (and, sometimes, civilian) intelligence, he sees and learn more about what is really going on, completing the military Space Opera side very well.
If you like hard-SF, this is a book to definitely read. And if you like it, feel free to send an email to the author to let him know!
So, what hidden gems would you recommend, people?