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).

19 Answers 19


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, 2021 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, 2021 at 10:27
  • 3
    @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 Mod
    Jan 9, 2021 at 15:37
  • 2
    @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, 2021 at 17:41
  • Is this going to be the next topic challenge? If it is, it might be worth advertising it now Apr 24 at 9:13
  • @ClaraDiazSanchez Thanks for the reminder! Done.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Apr 24 at 13:23

Naomi Novik

She's a best-selling, award winning author with a nine book series and twelve books all told and there's only one question about any of her works. I've always been a huge fan of the series, but the new Scholomance book A Deadly Education is one of my favorite recent reads.

  • Might provide a good excuse to re-read the Temeraire series.
    – Jontia
    Jan 22, 2021 at 14:58
  • I enjoyed Uproted a good deal, and th4e early volumes of the series that started with His Majesty's Dragon But A Deadly Education has had at least two very negative reviews from reviewers I respect, including one by James Nicoll. I will probably not read it. But I have upvoted this suggestion. Mar 7 at 16:05
  • There are lots of books that offend lots of people for lots of good reasons, and I can certainly appreciate that A Deadly Education is one of those. It is definitely not for the faint of heart. Nor is The Shawshank Redemption. Nor is Schindler's List. I think that the darkest of stories have the ability to illuminate the most profound varieties of heroism that humanity is capable of. Just my two cents. Mar 8 at 20:29

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.
    – user89356
    Jan 11, 2021 at 19:41
  • What in the heck is the deal with the downvotes? This is exactly the kind of topic that challenges are for. Feb 26, 2021 at 21:06
  • 2
    @Donald.McLean - I do not know what motivates every downvote, but one hypothesis is that some people feel like this challenge is for "classic" (old) authors. The majority of the authors that we have had so far are deceased. There is also the possibility that some people do not like Nigerian authors as much as American or British ones (or at all).
    – Adamant
    May 31, 2021 at 19:53
  • Familiarity may also the key. This answer does not have as more downvotes than some of the top answers, but neither does it have many upvotes. Our top candidates are currently an ex-moderator of this very site, Neil Gaiman, Naomi Novik and the Elder Scrolls, at least three of which are kind of familiar to many users. Of course, some downvoters may have other motivations.
    – Adamant
    May 31, 2021 at 19:56

Time Quintet

By Madeline L'Engle. Very popular fantasy series, first book is A wrinkle In Time.


The Deryni series by Katherine Kurtz

This is a very well done set of historical fantasy. There are five trilogies and assorted other works. There are only nine mentions of "Deryni" on this site. When I asked a question about the series, in the end I had to go elsewhere to get the answer; no one tried to answer.

Another potential advantage -- the author is sometimes accessible and will answer questions, possibly allowing us to get definitive answers to questions we might not be able to answer ourselves.

I recommend the series very highly, both for its quality and for dealing head-on with issues like prejudice and fear of differences.

This excellent set of books is, in my opinion, underrepresented and underappreciated, at least on this site, and I'd like to see more attention brought to it.


Nathan Lowell

Lowell has written a 6-book SF series that focuses on space trading rather than wars or space navies. This is the "Share" series: Quarter Share, Half Share, Full Share, Double Share, Captain's Share, and Owner's Share. (The author calls these the 'Trader Tales from the Golden Age of Solar Clippers".) These follow the fist-person protagonist, Ishmael Horatio Wang ("Call me Ishmael."), over a period of about 22 years, starting with his becoming a novice spacer at age 18. There are no space battles or cosmic consequences, only day-to-day life and character development.

The author has also written three further novels about Ishmael (with three more planned or in progress); a series of three "Smuggler's Tales" set in the same universe; a series of three "Shaman Tales" set in the same universe, but on-planet, not in space; and at least three Fantasy novels ("Tales from the Lammas Wood"). All of these are available in Ebook, most or all from Kindle, purchasing links and some background info is available from the author's web site, https://nathanlowell.com/ where there is also the author's blog. Trade paper editions are also available. Several of these were first published as audio podcasts.

Lowell's works are not too well-known, but have received quite a few positive reactions, and there are a number of potential questions to be asked about them.

  • Thank you for introducing me to this author whom I had not heard of. I have just read the "Share" series and found (much of it) very enjoyable and interesting.
    – Basya
    Dec 7, 2021 at 13:23

Darren Shan

This award-winning Irish author has written a lot of young-adult books and series, mostly in the horror side of speculative fiction. They include:

  • The Saga of Darren Shan, a series of 12 short books about vampires.
  • The Demonata, a series of 10 shortish books featuring werewolves and demons. One of my favourite YA series ever; nearly every book has a brilliant ending, especially book 5.
  • The Saga of Larten Crepsley, a 4-book prequel series to the Saga of Darren Shan.
  • Zom-B, a 12-book series focusing on zombies.

None of these have ever been asked about on this site except in story-ID questions. Fair warning, they contain a lot of extreme violence, but I still enjoyed both the first two series linked above (haven't read his later work), with many plot twists and interesting characters.


Final Space

Taking a bit of a break from the norm here of book suggestions. Final Space is an excellent science fiction TV series currently with the third season airing. It is available to watch on Netflix. Whilst it initially starts out quite silly and humorous, it does develop a really good story with character development and emotion; it is quite the ride.

The series only has 2 questions on the site, one by myself, and it is relatively underappreciated in general I feel. Lastly, for you Doctor Who lovers David Tennant voices the Lord Commander who is the main baddy in the first season, shows up briefly in the second and I believe has some role in the third (though I've not seen it yet as it's not out in the UK AFAIK).


Patricia McKillip

McKillip is not a prolific writer - only 25 novels and 4 collections over a career of nearly 50 years (so far) - but a very good one. Many people have heard of The Riddle-Master of Hed and its sequels, but she has written a lot of other stories worth reading. (In my opinion, of course.)

She writes fantasy, but a fantasy that is about as far as one can get from Tolkien and still be in the same genre. Some of it is modern fantasy, but the majority is written in unique worlds of her own. One of the things I really appreciate about her works is that in most of them there is rarely any violence, and the heroes are heroic while still being almost normal people (given the milieu), which make them excellent books to recommend to advanced younger readers.

I believe she merits consideration as an "underappreciated" author, and since she uses a lot of metaphor I think there are probably a lot of potential questions. (For instance, in The Alphabet of Thorn Bourne of Seale claims that all magic is illusion, but then it seems that he does actually drop the Floating School; which view is correct?)


Janni Lee Simner

Author of several young adult fantasy novels (the Bones of Faerie post-apocalyptic fantasy trilogy and Thief Eyes, Icelandic fantasy saga), and some for younger children, as well as fantasy and science fiction short stories. Her writing is excellent and compelling. She has zero mention on this site; I think we can call that 'underappreciated' :-)


John G. Hemry a.k.a. Jack Campbell

An american author of military science fiction novels. Drawing on his experience as a retired United States Navy officer, he has written the Stark's War and Paul Sinclair series. Under the name Jack Campbell, he has written six volumes of The Lost Fleet series and the Steampunk/Fantasy The Pillars of Reality series. He has also written over a dozen short stories, many published in Analog magazine, and a number of non-fiction works.

Hemry has continued the Lost Fleet series with a spin-off: Beyond the Frontier, focusing on the main characters from the Lost Fleet. A second series, called The Lost Stars, focuses on the collapse of the Syndicate Worlds.


Trudi Canavan

Has a series of series: the Kyralia series, the Ithania series and the Millennium's rule, along with a bunch of short stories.

The only series I've read is the Kyralia series (specifically the ), which was excellent, and has a fairly novel magic system.

She has very few questions on the site, with two being questions.

  • Read one Trudi Canavan series and you'll think it's excellent. Read more than one and you'll realise that she can only basically write one story and just keeps repeating it over and over every time she makes a new series.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Mar 7 at 9:11
  • @Randal'Thor I've only read the black-magicians series, but I didn't notice much repetition there...
    – AncientSwordRage Mod
    Mar 7 at 11:08
  • That's my point: as a stand-alone series it's good, and maybe every one of her series is good in isolation, but if you read several of them it gets boring.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Mar 7 at 11:22

J.V. Jones

This fantasy author has a small number of books, the (1 question) and (0 questions).

The Sword of Shadows is, from what I remember, has an incredibly rich setting and very compelling story featuring many different characters and perspectives.

Definitely an underappreciated author.


P.C. Hodgell and her Kencyrath books. We've had a few questions on the books (and it's come up a few times for ), but I'm sure there's more, and Pat is friendly to people asking questions on her mailing list (although she doesn't always answer them, and she's a bit fuzzy on details of past work in part because she can't read the past books without losing time because she wants to start fixing them).


The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel

Long title, I know. It's a 6-book series by Michael Scott, already has a tag that only has two questions. It's a very good series - complex plot, well-thought-out world and magic system, good writing. I don't know anyone who read it and didn't like it.

  • I read it and liked it (and you have my +1), but I also disliked how it clearly hadn't been planned out from the beginning: especially towards the end of the series, the nature of some characters in the story changed dramatically in a completely unforeshadowed (and in some cases sudden and unexplained) way. Some of the reveals at the end really made sense, like the true nature of Marethyu and his hook, but some other things really didn't.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Nov 29, 2021 at 0:46
  • @Randal'Thor yes I read it a while ago, so I don't remember all the details, but I see what you mean
    – Tuor
    Nov 29, 2021 at 0:48


Jeff VanderMeer's weird saga of the really weird city Ambergris, a city of saints and madmen, as depicted in the novella Dradin, in Love, the novels Shriek: An Afterword and Finch: A Novel, and several short stories.

It's got it all: tyrannical squid, terrifying small people opera star politicians, warring publishing houses, living saints, mendacious art dealers, people turning into fungus, plus a murder mystery (actually several). It seems like a goldmine for questions.


Carl Sagan

From his 1978 New York Times essay, “Growing up with Science-Fiction”:

‘Science fiction has led me to science,’ says Cornell University astronomer Sagan, who writes about the impact of sci‐fi on his life and on our society.

Sagan is a famous astronomer, known the world over — perhaps becoming the best known of all scientific populizers.

He is also a sci-if author, having written Contact, which was adapted to the film Contact, directed by Roger Zemekis.

His relevance to sf had been evident much earlier than that, however, through his speculations about life on other worlds; he was one of the comparatively few scientists to have given serious thought to this question. His first book was an updating of a translated 1963 book by the Russian astronomer I S Shklovskii; the collaboration, published under both their names, was Intelligent Life in the Universe (1966). Sagan's next books in this area were The Cosmic Connection: An Extraterrestrial Perspective (1973), "produced" by Jerome Agel – winner of a special John W Campbell Memorial Award, the only one ever presented for nonfiction – and Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence (CETI) (anth 1973), which he edited.

He wrote on evolution in The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence (1977) – this won a Pulitzer Prize – and published a collection of speculative essays (some dealing with pseudoscience, such as a vigorous assault on the planetary theories of Immanuel Velikovsky) in Broca's Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science (coll 1979), including "Science Fiction: A Personal View" (in Teaching Science Fiction: Education for Tomorrow, anth 1980, ed Jack Williamson). There followed the Hugo-winning book of the television series, Cosmos (1980) – it was on the best-seller lists for over a year – and a book about Comets, particularly Halley's comet, Comet (1985) with Ann Druyan, his wife.

Sagan's final nonfiction works of note are Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (1994), emphasizing the smallness and arguable non-uniqueness of humanity's place in the universe at large; and The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1996), which expounds scientific method and renews the author's previous assaults on pseudoscience and allied forms of irrational thinking.

Having been influenced by the traditional sci-fi “classics,” and whose works inspired countless generations of aspiring sci-fi authors throughout the world, Contact would be his only work of fiction.


The Metaverse

Given how much Facebook wants to push their metaverse onto people and how much of our lives are going digital, it would be great to explore universes where the entire world (or at least most of it) is digital. For example, Ready Player One, Belle, etc.

With the prevalence of Deepfake technologies, how can you know if you're in reality or in a Matrix? What happens when the techno-overlords ban you from reality?

There are so many interesting questions brought up by this concept and so many depictions of this world in stories that I believe it would be worth being a topic. Even if it doesn't refer to a specific topic or genre, I think this could be a compelling and relevant topic.


Warhammer (fantasy)

Warhammer is a table-top fantasy game, the forerunner of the now popular science fiction tabletop game that goes by a similar title. Age of Sigma is one of the replacement games, and as of typing, there are 7/8 questions for AoS, and 35 questions for the original game - somewhat small considering the 150 books written and the numerous video games created as a result. The game has spanned 30~ years and produced numerous spin-off table-top games, as previously mentioned, but also has a vastly fleshed-out universe - but definitely seems lacking on SFF considering how much material there is, even when compared to it's newer cousin (Warhammer 40k) which has a similar amount of books, games and the like.

  • 1
    There are 400+ questions about Warhammer in general. It doesn't seem to be an underrepresented topic area
    – Valorum
    Jun 2, 2021 at 11:30
  • @Valorum But I am speaking specifically about the fantasy sub-category, which doesn't have many questions by itself (most of the questions are about the 40k game, not the original fantasy-based version)
    – Boolean
    Jun 2, 2021 at 11:52

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