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I'm not sure where I'm going with this, but it seems like a start at something. I'll probably flesh it out more later, and do one for the Computer/technical books as well. Looking at books as a sort of shared culture in addition to just as a communication medium (and even as a form of discourse) has interesting implications when you start looking at the Web. What happens when people can't quote Sheakespeare or the Bible and expect to have them recognized?
A not so quick rundown of SciFi and Fantasy novels on my bookshelf (far from complete, but a start):
Steven Brust a good mix of light reading and deeper human insights.
- Vlad the assasin series (Taltos,Orca,Pheonix,Jhereg,etc - about 10-12 of them) Hard boiled detective meets fantasy. Except he's an assassin, not a detective. Light, refreshing, regularly slips insights into human behavior in, without being heavy handed.
- Agyar a most unusual vampire novel
- Gypsy the story of a Taltos - a Hungarian/Gypsy shaman in Chicago. And some more mundane figures.
- To Reign in Hell a retelling of the story of the fall of Lucifer and his other rebel angels. Very well done, with a surprise ending!
- The Sun and the Moon and the Stars two stories for the price of one. A group of starving artists struggle attempting to get their "break". Also a Hungarian folktale told by one of the artists to the others. The two are interspersed throughout the novel, and compliment each other nicely. Quite possibly Brust's best work to date.
Harry Harrison very much reading for entertainment.
- The Stainless Steel Rat series. James Bond in space. With a wonderful sense of humor (much better than the Ian Fleming novels)
- Bill the Galactic Hero series. Poking fun at the whole space opera/starship trooper genre. Bill is the stupidest individual ever. Fun though.
Robert Asprin more humorous novels.
- MYTH series. Long running series spoofing classical sword and sorcery stories. Main character is a scrawny, half trained mage. Bad guys tend to be big bulky swordsmen. Or government conspiracies. Or the mob. Definitely light fantasy.
- Phule's Company series (Phule's Company,Phule's Paradise,A Phule and His Money, andPhule me Twice) Light SciFi. Quite funny.
Lois McMaster? Bujold
- Miles Vorkosigan series. Space opera, with a sort of dry humor to it. Bujold creates some very memorable characters, and does a great job of bringing them to life.
Orson Scott Card
- Speaker for the Dead series (Ender's Game,Speaker For the Dead, Xenocide, Children of the Mind) somewhat heavy handed examination of how people react to strange/unknown races. Very well written (Card has said he intentionally tries to create literary quality fiction).
- Treason SciFi novel. Set on a world being used to punish people for their ancestors transgressions. A call to reexamine priorities and what we accept as good.
- Tales of Alvin Maker series. (Seventh Son,Alvin Journeyman, etc.) Alternate history of pre-civil war US. Examines how people resent those who excel, and will fight against progress.
- Call of Earth series. I've only read a few. They didn't seem to be the same quality as the above works. Perhaps Card has two sets of books, and one is lower quality but easier to produce - so it can support the writing of the others?
Alan Dean Foster generally light fiction.
- Spellsong series. Light fantasy. Law student/rock guitarist wannabe gets transported to a magical world.
- The Damned (3 novels). Very different take on the whole humans meet aliens and get pulled into intergalactic war genre. Stands a lot of the genre's conventions on their ear (e.g. humans turn out to be unusually strong, fast and hard to kill...)
- Flinx novels (The Tar-Aim Krang,For Love of Mother Not, Mid-Flinx, etc.) Sort of coming of age/SciFi adventure.
- Mad Amos very odd things happening in the old west. Very entertaining short stories involving the title character.
Neal Stephenson very good fiction, not adhering strictly to a single genre. Generally occupied with how people and society are affected by technology. IMNSHO one of the best authors out there right now (I'd have Brust and Card on the list as well)
- Zodiac "The eco-thriller". Story of an asshole. And some polluters around Boston. And genetic engineering.
- Snow Crash possibly the best cyberpunk novel ever.
- The Diamond Age nanotechnology is ubiquitious. Society and nations have splintered.
- Cryptonomicon two stories. Modern day geeks try to create a data haven. Their grandparents work to break codes and fight the Nazis (or maybe just get laid).
Stanislaw Lem science fiction in the classical vein. translated to English.
- Solaris if something looks and acts like a person, should we treat it as one? What happens if a person tries to tell themself it's not a person - and regrets it?
- The Cyberiad tall tales about two legendary robots. Lem is obviously toying with concepts - playing with ideas.
- The Blending series. interesting twists on mechanics of magic. Follows classic plot arc - group thrown together, occasionally separated, overcomes steadily greater obstacles and correspondingly saves more and more (themselves, cities, nations, continents, etc.) Followed by a second series essentially indistinguishable from the first. Falling prey to the Tom Clancy syndrome - each novel has to have a bigger, badder villain. Entertaining reading, I just hope it doesn't melt down the way some other series do when they overheat.
David Eddings generally well done fantasy
- Belgariad series (6 novels, beginning with Pawn of Prophecy) Coming of age fantasy epic. No deep human insights, but a good read.
- Mallorean series (6 novels, beginning with Guardians of the West) Continues the Belgariad in a new sequence.
- Belgarath the Sorcerer and Polgara the Sorceress retellings of history of time through eyes of two major characters from the previous two series.
- Elenium and Tamuli series (2 series, 3 books each) set in different world than Belgariad and Mallorean. Sword and sorcery.
- The Redemption of Althalus. Standalone fantasy novel. I can't come up with a good plot synopsis. The sort of heartwarming fantasy we've come to expect from Eddings (who co-authors with his wife, Leigh), only this is much more concise - previously they might have taken the same story line and made 3-6 novels out of it. In this case they did it in 1 book. Robert Jordan should get some hints from these guys.
- Wheel of Time series. (Currently 9 books, beginning with The Eye of the World). Starts out as coming of age fantasy epic. Quickly becomes more of a soap opera. The author admits he doesn't know how many more books will be in the series. Very intricate, complicated novels told from multiple viewpoints with an ever growing cast of characters. The plot moves forward at a glacial pace (but the books are chock full of captivating action and emotional conflict).
Laurell K Hamilton
- Anita Blake vampire hunter novels (The Laughing Corpse,Blue Moon, Obsidian Butterfly, etc.). Pulpish vampire novels. Relatively good characterizations, but Stephen R Donaldson did a better job of depicting someone torn by internal conflict. Anita Blake (the heroine) never really hesitates - you always know she'll do what needs doing, whereas Donaldson made his character so conflicted that you wondered if he'd do some of the stuff he needed (and he fought it every step of the way).
- Discworld series. Not too intellectually challenging humorous fantasy novels. Pratchett fits more sideways social commentary into a given paragraph than anyone else I've read. Somehow he keeps his satire and social commentary from being depressing. Which is a great improvement over The Onion.
Might I suggest BookShelved as a good place for this list?