SFF Stack Exchange's new topic challenge program has got off to a good start, celebrating the start of 2021 and the 10th anniversary of the site with an Isaac Asimov topic challenge. This topic was chosen more or less by decree, since we didn't have time to hold a proper discussion with voting on different proposals. For future topics, though, we should use suggestions and votes from the community to decide. Hence, this meta post calling for proposals.

How to propose a topic challenge?

  • Post an answer to this question, detailing the book / author / film / TV series / comic / whatever you think would make a good topic for a future month.
  • One topic per answer, please.
  • As well as just proposing the topic, you can also include some justification of why it'd make a good challenge.

What makes a good topic challenge?

  • Preferably something underappreciated. That could be something that's really good but not really popular, or it could be something that is popular in the real world but hasn't been asked about much here. Part of the point of this topic challenge program is to increase the range of topics our site covers, make us a bit less dominated by a few mega-popular franchises.
  • (TheLethalCarrot's suggestion of topic challenges on popular works in their release months also bears thinking about, but not in this meta post.)
  • Another consideration might be availability. Things that are easy to get hold of (e.g. if some stories from an author are available online) might make for more accessible topic challenges.

How will topics be chosen?

  • When the time comes to choose a new topic, we'll pick the highest-voted answer to this meta post. The answer will then be deleted here, so that newer topics get more eyeballs/voters, and a separate meta post will be created for that month's topic, with a list of posts etc.
  • So please vote on the answers to this question as they appear!
  • For now, we'll choose topics at the start of the relevant month (the next one will be chosen three weeks from now, at the start of February). In future, when we've had more time, we might announce a topic one month before it starts, to give people time to prepare (e.g. to get hold of a book or start watching a show).

Hal Clement

The epitome of hard science fiction. He wrote a series of four books, starting with Mission of Gravity, about an unusual giant planet and its inhabitants, and about humans contacting them.

A few of his stories are in public domain and available for free on the internet, due to the quirks of old U.S. copyright law:

  • Some of his works are short stories en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… . Three stories are available legally online, but it's possible that these are his less good stories. – b_jonas Jan 11 at 16:54
  • I like this one! He wrote some interesting/thought-provoking stories, but I've realized in the past few years I missed some of them, and I wouldn't mind rereading the rest. Plus the novels are all fairly short, so they wouldn't be to onerous for someone to casually pick up. (As opposed to, say, Tad Williams.) – DavidW Jan 12 at 2:58
  • @b_jonas Which three? Are you referring to the three stories of his at Project Gutenberg? Lots of his short fiction is available at archive.org, and I assume they are all legal, but I'm not a lawyer. Are you? – user14111 2 days ago
  • @user14111 Project Gutenberg has the three stories (linked from the answer) that are in public domain, and so freely redistributable. Archive.org may have other books of his, but those are (probably) protected by copyright, and archive.org usually distributes them with a DRM mechanism. If there are stories there, feel free to link them from the answer. – b_jonas yesterday


Neverwhere exists in at least three formats: a BBC television series by Neil Gaiman and Lenny Henry, a short novel by Neil Gaiman (with an audiobook narrated by Neil Gaiman too), and a radio play by Neil Gaiman and Dirk Maggs. Despite being written by a rather popular fantasy author, it has only 5 questions on our site.

  • It was also a radioplay; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neverwhere_(radio_play) – Valorum Jan 8 at 21:56
  • @Valorum Cheers. I read in the tag wiki here about the "audio drama", but then only saw the novel's audiobook mentioned on the Wikipedia page. – Rand al'Thor Jan 8 at 22:02
  • Honestly the radioplay was better than the TV series which was very cheesy and 90's – Valorum Jan 8 at 22:04
  • If we are trying to ask about little-known works, I am not sure one by an author with a bunch of questions, where a single one of their books has five questions, really qualifies. – Adamant Jan 9 at 4:31

Rivers of London

Potentially one to be held in reserve for that release day match up if the TV series ever comes to fruition.

Rivers of London now runs to eight full length books, half a dozen graphic novels, a novella and a number of "exclusive" short stories only to be found in specific editions of certain books.

It's reasonably good at foreshadowing, is written in an approachable style, but the multiple format referencing and staggered publishing dates, novels often reference events from the Graphic Novels which are published afterwards. Though the individual comic editions are usually available beforehand.

This should make it ripe for confused "novel only" reader questions and yet we've only got three questions. Two without answers.

  • 1
    It counts as little-known, so here's an upvote. – Adamant Jan 11 at 9:55

Cornelia Funke

A contemporary writer of children's fantasy. Her most famous books are:

  • Herr der Diebe (2002, translated to English as The Thief Lord), adapted to film in 2006;
  • Drachenreiter (2004, translated to English as Dragon Rider) and one sequel, adapted to film in 2020;
  • Tintenherz (2003, translated to English as Inkheart) and its three sequels, plus a film adaptation for the first book in 2008, there's also a video game adaptation.

Cliff McNish

This English author has written a whole lot of excellent young-adult fantasy and horror novels:

  • The Doomspell Trilogy, combining high fantasy (set in a fully invented world) with urban fantasy (set in our own world as children develop magic here) and even some space travel. A great well-imagined magic system and brilliant worldbuilding.
  • The Silver Sequence, another memorable fantasy trilogy, set in our world as six kids spontaneously develop special powers to help combat "the Roar", a rapidly approaching interstellar menace. According to Wikipedia: "Noted for its original storyline and intense imagery, the sequence was described in UK newspaper The Guardian as taking the reader ‘into uncharted territory, manipulating language in the most extraordinary way.’"
  • The Hunting Ground, a fantastically creepy ghost story "aimed at older teens", which won several awards a couple of years after its publication.
  • several other books as listed on Wikipedia, which I haven't read

As far as I can tell, there are no questions about any of these stories on our site.

  • I have read the Doomspell trilogy, and I found it entertaining. More to the point, it actually is by a little-known author. I am not sure Asimov and Neil Gaiman questions are really in the spirit. – Adamant Jan 9 at 4:33
  • 1
    @Adamant - I think we need to strike a balance between promoting an underread author and prompting questions where an author/creator/property is under-served on the site. If you pick a nobody, we'll get two or three questions and stony silence. – Valorum Jan 9 at 10:27
  • 2
    @Adamant That's fair, but I'm trying to strike a balance and lead us in slowly. I don't quite agree with Valorum about "a nobody", but it's going to be tricky to convince a site largely obsessed with HP/SW/ST/LotR to immediately start reading authors they've never heard of before. (Much easier on Literature where a significant portion of the community was into increasing diversity from early beta days.) At least Asimov, while still pretty mainstream in the sci-fi world, is out of the bubble of modern pop culture that everyone on the internet's familiar with from memes. Step by step ... – Rand al'Thor Jan 9 at 15:37
  • @Valorum - Come on. I can usually come up with five questions just by watching a miniseries. I think our high-reputation users can do better than two or three questions for a whole author, assuming they take the time to read their works. – Adamant Jan 9 at 17:41

Nnedi Okorafor

Okorafor has written various good novels and series, and is still actively writing fiction.

She recently won the Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story for her story LaGuardia, a.k.a the same award that Neil Gaiman won for Sandman: Overture in 2016, and that the Folios won with Girl Genius who knows how many years until they decided to take themselves out of the running, as well as the Eisner Award. She also won the Hugo and Nebula awards in 2016 for her novella Binti. Her story Who Fears Death is on track to be adapted into an HBO miniseries executive produced by George R.R. Martin, and she will reportedly write a screenplay for an adaptation of Wild Seed by Octavia Butler.

Her works include the Binti series, a soft-science fiction trilogy; the duology Akata Witch and Akata Warrior, which have a bit of an urban fantasy feel and are set in modern Nigeria; The Book of Phoenix and Who Fears Death, where the second is set in a post-apocalyptic world and the first is a prequel detailing the events that led to it becoming that way; Lagoon, a science-fantasy book about the arrival of aliens in modern-day Lagos. Starting in 2017, she also has written a number of Black Panther comics.

We only have two questions about her work, not counting a question, so she definitely fits the "little-known" portion of the question, at least on site, and she is not very well-known outside of fantasy circles, but her work has been well-received and has received a good deal of recognition. So she is somewhat popular outside the site, but less well-known here, which was one of the question criteria. One disadvantage (albeit one that will be shared with a lot of authors) is that few if any of her works are freely available.

  • 1
    I upvoted this, but if this suggestion doesn't get enough traction here, you are more than welcome to submit it to the Literature SE suggestions question. A few months ago, I thought about suggesting Nnedi Okorafor there, but (1) I already have a ton of suggestions and (2) I haven't read any of her work. – Tsundoku Jan 11 at 19:41

Thaddeus Howze

Yes, SFF's own! You only need to follow the link to his profile to see all the on-topic work he has published.

Currently there is only one question on the site with the tag , surely we can do better for one of our moderators! Who knows maybe it will bring him back to the site to answer questions about himself!

  • 2
    A huge advantage of this suggestion over all the others so far is that Thaddeus Howze has lots of short stories available online. (I've learned from running topic challenges on Literature that people don't engage so much when a topic challenge requires going out and buying a book, or reading a long work even if it's available online. When there's a ton of "10-minute read" material freely available on the internet, it's much easier for people to casually dip in and participate.) – Rand al'Thor Jan 11 at 10:18

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