My pal Miriah recently emailed me in an act of desperation. She travels a lot for work and burns through books quickly. Her favorite author is Neil Stephenson followed closely by William Gibson. She’s read all their books - some of them more than once - and she needed some book suggestions.
I wrote her back a long list and thought I’d go ahead and share with everyone. These aren’t the only kinds of books I read, but are aimed more towards her tastes.
First, some titles that you should read:
The Mars Trilogy (Kim Stanley Robinson) - these books (there are three) are long but are seriously some of the best books I’ve ever, ever read. I could go on and on about them. All together they’re probably 1200+ pages or so, and I’ve read it twice (actually, read it once, listened to the audio book once). Seriously, start here. They are SOOOOOO good. Dear god they are good. I think they all each won him hugo awards.
A close second are the Hyperion books (Dan Simmons - there are 4 in the series). The first book of this series is a wonder. It’s set on a ship that his headed for the world of Hyperion where a somewhat mystical, inscrutable, and horrific being called the Shrike resides. Pilgrims to the Shrike go because (if I recall correctly - it’s been a while since I read this) he takes an audience of 7 individuals, always kills 6 of them, and grants a wish to the last. So the first book is seven people headed to this place, and each one tells their story. The stories are so wildly different and tragic and by the end of each you understand why they would be willing to go take a 1 in 7 chance of dying just for the chance of having a wish granted. The following books are all apparently the ramifications of the first set of stories and it all comes together into this big grand scheme that you don’t see coming. While the story as a whole is wondrous and beautiful, the first book is just astonishing and it won the hugo.
If you haven’t read the Dune saga, it’s pretty good. The first book (Dune) is fucking amazing. If you’ve seen the movie don’t let it put you off. The series basically goes down hill from there. Each successive book is a little worse than the other. I think I went as far as Heretics of Dune before I gave up on it.
Ender’s Game is another of my favorite books (Orson Scott Card). I’ve read/listened to it several times over the years. It’s rather short but it starts off the Ender saga, which is like, 7 books. I didn’t really care for much of the rest of the saga (except Shadow of the Giant, which is the same story as Ender’s Game told from a perspective of a different character). None of them were bad really, but the first book is so awesome that the rest are let downs.
Another favorite book of mine is Jumper. Yes, they made a crappy movie out of it, but the book was good. It’s definitely aimed at a younger audience, but it holds up. The main character discovers he can teleport. He’s young (maybe 14?) and basically does what you think someone that age would do with that power. He’s very much alone though, and then something really terrible happens and he ends up becoming a super hero of sorts, though a very realistic one. There’s a sequel, which is very good, though not quite as good as the first one.
If you haven’t read any James Elroy, he’s another good one. His books are thick, and I don’t mean page count. They are gumshoe detective murder novels for the most part. His first book - The Black Dahlia - blew my mind. The way they work is like this: mixed in with all the slang of being a cop in LA in the 50s is a grinding job. The main characters trudge their way through their work. Someone has been found murdered and there are some crime scene clues but nothing really useful. They canvas the neighborhood. They track down friends and next of kin. Through all this they get drunk or in fist fights with their partners or whatever. Time drags on. They hit dead ends. They re-canvas the neighborhood and the trail is cold. Then one little fact is discovered. At this moment, at this precise moment in the book - you have it. You - the reader - have enough information to put it together. The main character suddenly figures it out too, but Elroy doesn’t tell you what they’ve figured out (yet). You’re on your own. When this moment in the book happens, you suddenly find yourself thumbing through the earlier chapters. Wait - didn’t he talk to a neighbor who saw her put on a different hat? That kind of thing. When it happens, you put the book down and stare at the wall for 20 minutes. And the thing is, as the book nears the end, it happens again. And maybe again. And each time one small fact throws a new light on the story and what you figured out the last time it clicked suddently means something entirely different.
Not all his books do that, but most do. The only hard thing about Elroy is that he puts you through the grind. He makes you work for it. If the detective is in a rut, so are you. The books can drag on. But when that one new fact comes to light - before the book goes into overdrive at the new revelation - and you can figure out that it really means something - that all the useless facts you’d seen previously - names, addresses, times - that one of those things clicks with this new thing and really MEANS something. It’s magical.
Another book that just occurred to me is Light (M. John Harrison). This book is relatively new and it was heralded as the arrival of the next great SF author. It reminded me greatly of Gibson’s work. He’s got a sequal to that book now that I haven’t read (Nova Swing) and several other books (including one with Neil Gaiman).
Speaking of which, if you haven’t read any Neil Gaiman you’re missing out (and he’s quite prolific). I’ve read several of his books, but not all of them. In general, you can’t go bad with any of them.
Terry Pratchet is a fun one. He’s british and often very humorous. I recently read Going Postal, which was somewhat short but very entertaining and witty. I also re-read Good Omens (which he co-wrote years ago with Neil Gaiman), which tells the story of the coming of the Anti-christ (who arrives in Britain). Only things go a little wrong and he’s accidentally switched at the hospital and ends up going home with a normal family instead of the ones that were to raise him to destroy the world. So 11 years later you have a mostly-normal, precocious and imaginative kid who happens to be able to bend reality to his will. Though he doesn’t know it.
I hate to say it, but Michael Crichton manages to crank out some easy reads that are usually quite scientifically based. Things like the Andromeda Strain and The Great Train Robbery (which is one of my favorite books that I’ve read recently - it’s really top notch). He’s hit or miss.
Philip K. Dick might be a little better for you than Asimov. Asimov is entertaining but so antiquated. PKD is much closer to our reality w/ regards to technology.
Robert Heinlein is a prolific science fiction guy. Some of his stuff is a little juvenile, but I have friends who have read all his books and revere him. I don’t, but who knows.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Harry Potter series. I got the impression that they didn’t interest you, but when I finished the last of the series (on our trip) it was so…. satisfying. When I started the final book I felt sad that it was going to end, but by the end of it I felt that it was so wonderfully complete that I was quite content. I love these books.
I’ll also mention the Lord of the Rings. These books are a masterpiece and if you haven’t read them, you should.
Finally, there are a lot of awesome graphic novels out there. The Dark Knight Returns (Frank Miller) is a masterpiece as is The Watchmen (Alan Moore). Alan Moore is something of a graphic novel god (so is Frank Miller) and he also wrote From Hell (a comic about Jack the Ripper), and V for Vendetta. Frank Miller has done a lot of amazing books as well. His Sin City series is beautiful, and Ronin is like a graphic William Gibson novel.
One last thing. If you’re ever in this spot again, just go read the Hugo Award winners. Every year one author wins it and each one usually has a body of work to delve into…