Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Top 10 Tuesday: Top 10 Books for People Who Don't Read SF and Fantasy

Top 10 SF and fantasy books for people who do not read SF and fantasy; for the Top 10 Tuesday Web meme.

For this list, I decided to list 10 books by 10 different authors, but other books by these authors also would fill the bill; I’ll put them in the descriptions. The thing is, I don't read a lot of SF and fantasy; I pick and choose. These authors are among those I've chosen:

1.     Declare by Tim Powers. Powers writes gender-bending “secret history” books that combine fantasy and actual events and people. Here, we discover that the Soviet Union and the Cold War were the work of a mad djinn. I’d also recommend his Las Vegas fantasy Last Call.
2.     A Canticle for Liebowitz by Walter M. Miller. This beautifully written linked series of novellas tells of a monastery formed after a nuclear holocaust; it looks at how human society reinvents itself according to the offices of a Roman Catholic religious order, and how the reinvention succeeds and fails.  
3.     The Illearth War by Stephen R. Donaldson. A friend, hearing my complaint about the poor prose style of fantasy writers in the 1970s, recommended the first Thomas Covenant trilogy to me. This, the second volume, is the best, although you probably should start with Lord Foul’s Bane. The basic premise is that Thomas Covenant, who suffers from leprosy, is transported to a fantasy realm where he is healed; the great thing about his character is that he never believes it’s real, creating innate existential conflict throughout the novels. In Illearth War, Covenant is joined by a blind expert in military tactics to fight against a rising evil force.
4.     The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Harry Potter for young adults reared in Brooklyn; by turns scary, funny, profound, obscene and riveting. This novel, and the sequel The Magician King, are for people who like fantasy with dirty fingernails.
5.     The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril by Paul Malmont. Malmont weaves actual pulp and SF writers into this novel about a mysterious substance the U.S. military may have hidden in the 1930s. The novel also incorporates magic, as in Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold. H.P. Lovecraft, Robert Heinlein and L. Ron Hubbard are key to the plot, as are the two main characters – the authors of The Shadow and the Doc Savage book series.
6.     Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. This is a YA title more or less in the steampunk genre, but it’s much more – World War I recast as a battle between the Darwinists (who have spliced the genes of many animals to create pollution-free transport as well as fearsome living weapons) and the Klankers (Germans and Austrians wielding giant mechanical armaments). At the heart of the story is a girl pretending to be a boy so she can act as a crew on a giant, living dirigible called Leviathan. Westerfeld’s two follow-up novels, Behemoth and Goliath, are great, too.  
7.     Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi. This funny satire portrays a Hollywood agent tasked with introducing a thoroughly disgusting yet perfectly harmless intelligent race of aliens to the American public. It’s SF for people who like Hollywood novels.
8.     The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams. This second Hitchhiker’s Guide book is by far the funniest; it’s a terrific send-up of SF while being a great SF novel. You may have to read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy first, however, to appreciate Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect and Zaphod Beeblebrox. 
9.     The Prestige by Christopher Priest. This novel is part steampunk, part horror and part SF; but whenever Nicolas Tesla appears, you know you’re in for a great time. Two competing magicians hide tremendous secrets that play out over nearly a century. The novel has a lot more to it than the movie, although the movie in of itself is quite good.
10.  Dawn by Octavia E. Butler. The beginning of the Exogenesis series tells of a woman waking up many years after a nuclear holocaust to discover she’s the guinea pig for a race of symbiotic extraterrestrials who are reshaping the human race. The first two books, including Adulthood Rites, are quite good; by the third, however, her conceit has pretty much run its course. But this novel has a full, believable main character, and it poses a great many questions about what it means to be human when humans are bent on destroying each other. 

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