My friend Tyler copied an idea from another blog about his ten must-read books. I figured that I’d get in on the game with a list of my own essential books. I’ll try and avoid some of the more obvious ones, as he noted, such as Lord of the Rings and The Golden Compass with some stuff that usually doesn’t get enough attention. I can’t, however, promise that I’m going to limit it to an arbatrary number. I will limit it to geek-related reading, however. SF, Science, Fantasy, etc.
The Magicians, Lev Grossman. I read this book late in the summer, and was really impressed with the storyline and direction that it took. While ostensibly a ripoff of Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia, this book explores more realistic feelings of a young man being trained in the art of magic.
Wired for War, P.W. Singer. This was an earlier read this year, for which I wrote a review for io9, and had a chance to meet and speak with Mr. Singer. This book is ripe with SF references and potential, looking at the introduction of robotic entities into warfare, and how that effects not only combat, but our military’s structure.
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke. Suzanne Clarke is possibly one of the best fantasy writers of our generation. JSMR is a stunning book, rich in depth and prose, and is a very deliberate book to get through. It’s long, challenging and absolutely fantastic.
Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book, Gerald Jones. This book is what got me interested in social history, which has then gotten me further interested in the field and writing. This book presents a very interesting chronicle of the comic book industry, linking it to major events throughout US history, and traces the beginnings of the first comic strips to the industry that it is today.
Coyote, Allen M. Steele. Coyote was initially published as a series of short stories by Steele in Asimov’s Science Fiction, and is a great read on intersteller travel, near future politics (this was born out of the Bush Administration, and while it’s interesting, it’s not necessarily accurate or really in depth) and the colonization of a world, a sort of parallel with the foundation of the United States.
The World Without Us, Alan Weisman. Alan Wesiman askes an interesting question: what would happen if humanity just vanished? He then goes on to say what would happen – infrastructure would collapse and vanish quickly, and this premise was used in the recent film I Am Legend. However, there’s a really good part of this that examines our relationship with nature.
The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch. Scott Lynch’s first novel is an absolutely riveting read. Lynch is a master at epic world building, creating a detailed fantasy society that includes the darker elements that most Fantasy series seem to avoid. His followup novel, Red Seas under Red Skies is also well worth reading.
The Icarus Hunt, Timothy Zahn. This is an older book by one of my favorite authors, Timothy Zahn. It’s fairly light fare, but it’s an entertaining space opera novel that holds up well.
In the Shadow of the Moon, Francis French and Colin Burgess. With the 40th anniversary of the Lunar Landings, there has been an influx of interest in the history of space travel. The University of Nebraska has been on the ball for a couple years now, with the release of In the Shadow of the Moon, which has no connection to the wonderful documentary of the same title. This book examines the history of space travel, on the behalf of the US and Russia, from Gemini to Apollo 11, covering the territory in fantastic detail. The other books in the series are also wonderful.
City of Pearl, Karen Traviss. Karen Traviss’s debut novel is the first of a six book series and helps to establish her as one of the best new SF writers of the decade. Her stories take place in a number of well concieved worlds and looks over near-future technology, environmental issues and corporate demands. Oh yeah, and some interesting first contact situations and interstellar warfare.
American Gods, Neil Gaiman. What’s to say about American Gods that hasn’t been said before? Gaiman has put together an incredible story.
Altered Carbon, Richard K. Morgan. Richard K. Morgan is another up and coming SF writer who has just burst onto the scene in wonderful fashion with this book, Altered Carbon. Morgan puts together a fantastic futuristic world through the story of a noir-esque mystery.
Ringworld, Larry Niven. This is already a classic in the SF world, but I wanted to include it because it doesn’t get as much attention as some of the other heavyweights of the genre. Ringworld combines epic science fiction from the best elements and lofty themes of the 1970s with another classic theme of SF, exploration.
Soon I Will Be Invincible, Austin Grossman. Austin Grossman’s first novel about a group of Superheroes in modern society is a fun, exciting and interesting read. These superheroes are a far cry from those of the classic superheroes that are in the comics: these guys have affairs, problems and a rich comic book-style history behind this world. Fans of Watchmen should enjoy it.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon. Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel is the story of the creation of Superman, and I would actually recommend reading it along with Men of Tomorrow. It’s a wonderful and engaging read.
The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Vol 1, Robert Silverberg. This last book is one that I would recommend above all others. If there was ever a situation in which you could only read one SF book, this is the one that I’d recommend. A collection of superb SF stories from the best minds of the genre, this book is one that is absolutely essential. The stories, writing and authors are all top-notch for their times, and this collection of their best works is easily the best snapshot of the genre that I can think of.