Lately whenever anyone has asked me “what have you read lately?” my usual reply is some sci-fi or fantasy novel they’ve never heard of. I often wonder if they think I’m strange (maybe for other reasons), or that it’s juvenile. Sometimes I get reactions about the size of the books I’m reading (less obvious since I’ve embraced e-books), but that’s not the reason why I love them—although there is something great about being only part way through a promising story, knowing you have that much more left to savour.
The main reason I love these genres is the capacity to change my perspective and open my mind up to new ideas and worlds. Other genres (and other media) can of course have this effect, but for me the standard of whether a sci-fi/fantasy book is great or not depends on this quality. World-building is something we discuss in pretty much every acquisitions meeting, and I have few greater pleasures than delving into new environments, learning their rules, customs and history, and emerging with an altered view of my own world.
Here are some of my favourites, but I’m always looking for more worlds to devour. What are some of yours?
The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings, Tolkien—the series that started it all for me, and made me realize there was more out there than The Hardy Boys. It took me about 8 months to get through LOTR the first time I tried (c. 13 years old), but it was so worth it.
Dune, Frank Herbert—particularly the first book of the series. It’s a great example of how sci-fi and fantasy can blend into one masterpiece.
The Pebble in the Sky, Isaac Asimov—about a man in the present who is transported 14,000 years into a future where Earth is a radioactive wasteland and a forgotten backwater of the galactic empire.
Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie—decidedly controversial and usually thought of as “magic realist,” this book opened my eyes to the use of magic and fantasy as a comment on history.
The Malazan Book of the Fallen, Steven Erikson—this gritty world was created for a role-playing game by two historian/archaeologists, and is hands down the richest environment I’ve yet encountered.
Neuromancer, William Gibson—the quintessential cyberpunk novel that popularized the term “cyberspace.”