I like to write, which I think for most people who enjoy that, also likely enjoy reading. I could go into a very long post about how society is on the verge of being post-literate, best exemplified by the increase in streaming + book to movie conversions. But this is a blog, and you’re reading it, so you’re not exactly that audience.
I have a preference for fiction. Mostly due to work giving me more than enough material in the non-fiction area. I tend to stick to sci-fi authors, as they generally have more complex world building that isn’t reliant on tropes. Or perhaps that’s just cause the gap between good sci-fi and bad is much larger than good and bad fantasy.
Dune – Herbert
Might as well start with a gold standard. Dune as a standalone novel is full of crazy ideas that have been replicated in nearly all sci-fi stories from 1990 on out. Dune as an idea, that is something else. There are few examples of books that can tackle the concepts of religion and determinism, and this series is at another level. It is one of the first books to really take the concept of AI to the next level, again, with religious tones.
Foundation – Asimov
This series started as a collection of short stories in pulp. The three main line books (Foundation, Foundation and Empire, Second Foundation) deal with intergalactic civilizations and rarely ever fire a shot. It’s a thinking person’s series, more in line with Sherlock Holmes than you would think. The concept here is that there’s a math equation for society, that can foretell future events at larger scales (not individuals, but groups of people). There’s an underlying plan to avert 1000 year dark age, and then seeing how people deal with that concept and the people “controlling” the math. There are ton of books in this series, but these 3 are the gold standard.
If you want to read another seminal book from Asimov, I suggest The Gods Themselves. That is a mind messer.
Childhood’s End – Clarke
I’ve read this story at least a dozen times. Every time is makes me take pause and reflect on our understanding of what humanity really means. This theme of humanity exploring it’s own limits is also found in 2001: A Space Odyssey (I do appreciate the film more than the novel), and Rendez-vous with Rama (only the first book is worth it). Childhood’s End instead focused on the end of humanity as we know it, and how society comes to terms with that fact. It is an astounding work of thought.
The Fifth Season – Jemison
A very recent series that deals with society facing the end of the world. Again. There are a few tropes in here (mages are all evil and need to be controlled) but the real interesting bit here is the world building. The lengths that people will go to in order to protect their own. The 3rd novel comes to terms with the lore, which ties in so many other loose ends. There’s no denying the fact that as a female author of colour, Jemison had to surmount some impressive hurdles to get this out the door.
7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Covey
I can’t think of any other book that has had more impact on my general life than this one. If ever you’re feeling overswamped with things, this book has a set of tools that can help you prioritize through them. With some exercises. If you have someone you can talk to about this method, all the better. I’m somewhat amazed this isn’t mandatory reading in high school.
Wheel of Time – Jordan
Where Tolkien laid the ground work, Jordan defined pretty much every single fantasy trope in use today. It is an astoundingly dense series of overflow 4 million words, hundreds of characters, massive armies, complex magical structures, time travelling eternals, and an absolutely effective ending. I re-read the series every time a new book came out, and there’s a practically essential wiki as well.
Flowers for Algernon – Keyes
This is a story about a slow person who goes through an experimental project to become smarter, and examines the positives and negatives that come with it. It exemplifies the “ignorance is bliss” mindset. It is rare to read any tragic sci-fi novel, and rarer still to have one stick with you for years on.
Ender’s Game – Card
Boy genius + military world set = catastrophic consequences. This is a very complicated story, with a very strange writer. This was written when war games (simulated war through computers) was a theory, and has only aged like wine with time. The entire concept of consequences when you think you’re playing a game is the foundation of drone strikes being a valid military strategy. That distance removes empathy and allows for crazy decisions. Then the realization dawns, and it all falls to pieces.
Hyperion Cantos – Simmons
What if people were immortal? What if time travel were possible? What if both intersected? The first novel is more anthology, and absolutely spectacular with a tomb that is travelling back through time as the focal point. The latter parts of the series focuses on the challenges with immortality, the risks with AI, and the concepts of self-sacrifice. Simmons underlays it all with multiple allusions to the poet Keats.
American Gods – Gaiman
Gaiman is a prolific author, primarily in visual mediums (comics, tv). This book explores the concept of gods being real, manifest of our worships and feeding off of it. The American Gods reflect our obsession with the internet, TV, and food, taking away from the older gods of folklore. It’s really hard to write any fantasy in current day settings, it just doesn’t age well. Yet here it feels almost prescient.
There are dozens of other authors I enjoy. King’s Dark Tower series would be here if he was still doing drugs (Blaine the mono can only exist on a binge). A lot a references from other people, or message boards. And with ebooks its a simple matter of finding what you want. And there’s plenty of “good” bad writing out there. Dan Brown is a horrible writer, like eye gouging bad, but he gets people reading which is awesome. Not everything needs to be about learning or deep thought, it can be to just past the time and think of something else.
While we’re all strapped for time, there really isn’t much compared to the feeling you get when reading a great book. Just need to make time for it.