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).

14 Answers 14


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?)


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.


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.


Doris Lessing's Canopus in Argos series

Nobel laureate author Doris Lessing wrote a science fiction series Canopus in Argos:

Re: Colonised Planet 5, Shikasta

The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four, and Five

The Sirian Experiments

The Making of the Representative for Planet 8

Canopus in Argos: Archives

They are very original and unusual, and leave a lot to the imagination -- I think there are many questions that could be asked about them. As far as I can see there is no tag for the series and none for the author, and I have found no questions about any of these works. As far as I can tell, the only mention of them is in answers to story-id questions.


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).


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
  • I see three downvotes here. I am curious why people have down voted this. Dec 8, 2022 at 19:22
  • I don't know -- you got a +1 from me, and you got me addicted for a while :-). But I have noticed that every (almost every?) suggestion in this thread has at least 2-3 downvotes, so I wouldn't worry too much about it.
    – Basya
    Dec 8, 2022 at 20:25

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.


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
    – user128845
    Nov 29, 2021 at 0:48

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.


Garth Nix's Keys to the Kingdom and Old Kingdom series. I currently have asked all the questions with the Keys To The Kingdom tag, and I believe Adamant has answered them all. Other works of his as well, especially Old Kingdom, are rich in lore.

I would propose

Garth Nix

As a whole for a topic of the month.


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).



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.


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.

  • 3
    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

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.

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