Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons by Julie Falk
Which sci-fi/fantasy book do you find so important, so mind-blowing, so compelling or just so darn fun that, in your humble opinion, other people simply need to read it?
Last week, I posted this question on fantasy-writers.org and sffchronicles. Initially, answers tended towards the predictable, with Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm topping the list, followed by Bradbury’s Farenheit 451, Richard Adams’ Watership Down, Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon, and a selection of Aldous Huxley, C.S. Lewis, H. G. Wells and Jules Verne rounding out the classics.
Beyond that, I wasn’t surprised to see a lot of people recommend The Hunger Games, The Handmaid’s Tale, American Gods and Ender’s Game, along with The Hobbit, Harry Potter and Pullman’s Northern Lights (The Golden Compass). I was also pleased when a good number of votes came in for Ursula K. LeGuin’s works, including A Wizard of Earthsea, The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed.
Then it started to get creative.
The shift was subtle, at first, with a lot of folks slipping in one or two of their favourite sci-fi and fantasy authors–Aasimov, Anne McCaffrey, Pratchett, Harlan Ellison, Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson.
Wait a minute, Brandon Sanderson? Really? I mean, at the risk of getting trolled, are you joking? Okay, I know there are a lot of Sanderson fans out there but, come on, he’s no Robert E. Howard. (And I suppose that comment will get me trolled for entirely different reasons so, please, understand that my tongue is lodged firmly in my cheek.)
Anyway, amongst this list of individual favourites, a few singular curiosities started to show up. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy made many lists, with no one feeling any need to justify its presence. Other choices, like Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and William Gibson’s Neuromancer, made sense, even if they might not be everyone’s cup of tea.
And then, after some discussion, members of sffchronicles decided that any story with talking animals should be counted as fantasy. And so Beatrix Potter’s collected works were promptly nominated for the list, Peter Rabbit and all.
Next thing you know, people were nominating Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat (never mind that there are no talking rats–or any other animals–in the series), followed by all five volumes of Phillip K. Dick’s short stories, then L. Ron Hubbard’s Typewriter in the Sky and Lin Carter’s unfinished Khymyrium: The City of the Hundred Kings, from the Coming of Aviathar the Lion to the Passing of Spheridion the Doomed (a big thanks to Danny McGuinness at sffchronicles for pushing my quest to this level of absurdity!).
For me, though, the best part of this experience was discovering a large number of books, and even authors, which were previously unknown to me. Added to my reading list are: China Mieville’s The City and The City, Elizabeth Moon’s Remnant Population, Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor and George R Stewart’s Earth Abides.
And what are my choices, you ask? Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash and Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson’s The Illuminatus! trilogy. Neither is suitable for use in schools but that just makes them even more essential reading.
Come on, I can feel your fingers twitching over your keyboard, so go ahead and post your suggestions. Don’t be afraid to repeat titles I’ve already mentioned but please try to avoid the obvious choices (no Frankenstein or The Tempest, please).