These are ten sci-fi/fantasy novels that I don’t think I could live without.
I don’t claim to have the most refined or best-informed taste in science fiction and fantasy. These are just the books that made the greatest impression on me.
Some I read for the first time years ago, like Lao and The 13 Clocks. A couple are recent revelations, like Stanislaw Lem and Connie Willis.
Aristophanes is simply the greatest. Birds is the subject of my sole non-fiction publication.
I won’t link to Amazon, but I’ll link to Alibris.
- The Dead Father by Donald Barthelme Caustic, surreal, shot through with disjointed images of hilarity and terror. I love this book through and through. The father-and-son “hep me onna patio” dialogue in the “manual for sons” section just kills me.
- The Futurological Congress by Stanislaw Lem Insanely, unstoppably chock full of medicinal puns, the wordplay leaves you spinning…and it’s all translated! The picture of the psychem world with its layers of reality has never been done better, not by Phillip K Dick and not by The Matrix — this is the place to go.
- The Cyberiad, by Stanislaw Lem Witty, outsized, fabulistic linguistic fun. I read it, then I read it again and then again.
- The Circus of Dr. Lao, by Charles G. Finney There’s never been a book quite like this one. I won’t spoil it. In a short span, it encompasses the far reaches of the world and the human capacity for myth and dread. The Disney movie (yup there’s a Disney movie) is putrescent; avoid it.
- The 13 Clocks by James Thurber A Prince, a Princess, an evil Duke, a Golux with an indescribable Thing on its head. Puns, wordplay, deliciously dark imagery, weird things without heads scuttling in the corners.
- The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins
A silly but engaging plot about a lost jewel, recounted by some of the most memorably weird characters in Victorian literature. Can’t miss this one.
- Birds, by Aristophanes The original Utopian story, this one works on neverending levels. Wilderness and civilization, chaos and order, the drive to rule and be ruled and the desire to escape.
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll Of course.
- Animal Farm, by George Orwell Nobody understood the way totalitarianism works on the mind better than Orwell. Read 1984, and then read Jung Chang’s Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China and read how the author’s parents were made to betray each other just like Winston and Julia. It’s a hard choice between 1984 and Animal Farm, but the scene in Animal Farm where Benjamin the donkey runs after the glue-factory truck carrying Buster will never leave me.
- To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis My mother recommended this. She said it was hilarious and delightful. She was right.
If I’d known about his work earlier in life, I’m sure Terry Pratchett would be on here. He’s brilliant, and if I’d run across his books at a younger age, I’d probably have never read anything else.