Paul's Favorite Books
Last Revised 31 December 2004
Here's a list of my favorite books of all time. Since SF tends
to shine in single volumes and fantasy lends itself more to longer
series, I'm listing SF as individual books, but I'm listing fantasy
works by series (except where indicated as a single book, by
italics). These lists are subject to additions as I
remember them, and are in no particular order whatsoever. :) The
SF list also includes some associational and influential
books/series for me.
Favorite SF books, plus general influences:
- Larry Niven, Ringworld and all of his Known Space books, plus The Integral Trees, The Smoke Ring, etc. -- terrific hard SF. Ahh, how we drank these up in high-school!
- Roger Zelazny, Lord of Light -- I always wondered why this was often listed as one of the best SF novels of the century...until I read it.
- Dr. Robert L. Forward, Dragon's Egg -- he's written some real gems and a few clunkers; this one's his best and an excellent book.
- James P. Hogan (just a few of his "really-good" books). He's great at hard SF.
- Voyage to Yesteryear -- the only truly "workable" Utopia I've ever encountered in fiction. There are reports this book has been used in college sociology classes for this reason.
- The "Giants" trilogy -- These begin with Inherit the Stars, the only book ever to be featured in an episode of Robotech :).
- Code of the Lifemaker -- this is a possibly-workable look at an evolution of machine intelligence.
- Robert A. Heinlein, R.I.P:
- The Moon is a Harsh Mistress -- not just a great SF novel; a look at revolutionary theory in practice. :)
- Starship Troopers -- not to be confused with the movie, which was only fair. :)
- (and so many others....) Heinlein is one who passed away before I could meet him. I've read some pretty "harsh" reviews of his career where, e.g., the reviewer hadn't read Harsh Mistress -- a terrible oversight.
- Frank Herbert, Dune -- the sequels tailed off after a few volumes, but the first few hold their weight to this day.
- Michael Moorcock, Mother London; also his End of Time series --
sure I'm biased; he's a friend of mine! He lost the prestigious Booker Prize
for Mother London to some chap who was in the news. Who was it? Oh, yea,
Salman Rushdie, that Satanic Verses guy....
- C.J. Cherryh, the Chanur series -- terrific alien interaction and good, solid hard-SF from a woman, which is relatively rare (but becoming less so). C.J. knows her stuff.
- David Weber, the Honor Harrington series -- excellent modern-day space warfare, with characters you truly care about.
- Storm Constantine, Hermetech -- her best foray into the realm of
SF; scarce in the States but worth the trouble to find. Sprinkled, as usual,
with Storm's trademark "neet people." :)
- Isaac Asimov, the Foundation/Robots series -- influential SF from the
Good Doctor, and good stuff. I met him only once before he died. :(
- E. E. "Doc" Smith, the Lensman series -- sure it's pulp, but it holds
up pretty well to this day.
- Wallace West (probably a pseudonym or house-name), Lords of Atlantis -- my
"guilty-pleasure" listing. This was offered through the Scholastic Book
Service and I remember snitching it from a rack at school (gee, I was such
a hellion in middle-school :)). Cheesy, but any book that includes damming
the Atlantic at the Pillars of Hercules and creating a valley out of the
Mediterranean is pretty neet. Also features broadcast power beamed from
a central antenna, a concept that's being revisited a bit today.
Of course the big dam gets attacked and collapses at the end of the
- Douglas Adams, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy -- one of
the single most influential SF series of modern times. I am a hoopy frood
and always know where my towel is. Do you?
- Clive Barker, Imajica -- outstanding crossover novel, part SF,
part dark horror....or something. This would make a really neet movie/miniseries.
- Robert McCammon, Boy's Life -- terrific contemporary
horror novel. Thanks to Metallica's Kirk Hammett, a "bookworm,"
for recommending McCammon to me. :)
- Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged -- perhaps the most influential
work of the 20th century, and a dangerous book indeed. This book
isn't normally classified as SF, but the "shielded" valley at the
end certainly implies some advanced technology.... In any event, it
deserves a listing, and has directly improved the lives of at least two
of my friends.
- Patrick O'Brian (R.I.P.), The Golden Ocean, and the
Aubrey/Maturin series -- "The greatest historical novels of all time."
--The Chicago Tribune.
Before his passing the New York Times considered him the
world's greatest living novelist; I'm curious as to where they'd slot him
now. After reading these books, and Forester's, you truly feel as if
you could, at a pinch, command a 32-gun frigate or a
"seventy-four" two-decker from her quarterdeck. O'Brian's use of period
vernacular and phrasing helps transport you right into the salt breeze
and the cracking of the royals and studding-sails. He really
was as good as they say.
- C.S. Forester, the Horatio Hornblower series -- also historical,
these are another big influence on many contemporary SF writers
including David Feintuch and Gene Roddenberry, who based his Captain
Kirk character on Horatio Hormblower. Still great, if overshadowed a bit
now by O'Brian's works.
- Clifford Stoll, The Cuckoo's Egg -- Cliff's true story of how he
helped catch some East German computer spies is compelling enough; what makes
this book one of my favorites is his endearing account of how the entire
process changed his outlook on the world. From Berkeley hippie to a
somewhat older, worldly-wiser and more experienced soul, his emotional journey
is as fun to follow as Cliff's well-written electronic real-world chase
to find the hackers.
- "Pee Wee" Gaskins, Final Truth: the Autobiography of Serial Killer
Pee Wee Gaskins -- this real-life story from Gaskins himself, as told
to a writer just prior to his execution, is a shockingly candid account of
life in prison, his career of mostly petty crime, his "Coastal Killings"
and his "regular murders." He knew he was going to die, so he pulls no
punches when he describes everything -- complete with his upcountry twang
and slang -- about his career of death. His description of drowning two
male victims alive and offhandedly comparing the way they drown as compared
to his other female victims is certainly the most chilling passage I've
ever read, fiction or nonfiction.
Favorite Fantasy Books and Series:
- Storm Constantine, the Wraeththu trilogy -- the single most influential fantasy I've encountered in the last 8 years. Her Grigori and Magravandian trilogies are good, too. Fine writer and a truly nice person. Heck, she let us stay at her house in the UK. :)
- Jacqueline Carey, the Kushiel trilogy (starts with Kushiel's Dart) -- excellent series with strong (!) female lead character. Highly recommended.
- Robert Jordan, The Wheel of Time series -- often compared to Tolkien; in plotting and the depth of his characters' complex relationships Jordan easily surpasses J)ohn R)onald R)euel.
- J.K. Rowling, the Harry Potter novels -- intended for kids but they make a great read for adults, too (and they're quick to get through). Rowling deserves special praise for singlehandedly turning an entire generation of youngsters back to reading. Let's hope it isn't just a passing phase.
- George R.R. Martin, The Song of Ice and Fire (The Game of Thrones and its sequels). Great stuff here!
- Michael Moorcock, the Eternal Champion cycle (Elric, Corum, Hawkmoon, Erekose, etc.) -- I ran Mike Moorcock's international fan club from 1987 thru 1992 or so. Although we don't always see eye to eye on politics, his works will always have a special place in my heart.
- Terry Pratchett, the Discworld series -- At least as funny as Douglas Adams, maybe more so. Each book is great.
- Fritz Leiber, the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser series -- Mike Moorcock lists Leiber as one of his primary influences, and Fritz certainly develops his fantasy anti-heroes endearingly well. More: his dry humor makes these books fun.
- JRR Tolkien, the books of Middle-Earth -- perhaps you've heard of them? :)
- Tad Williams, the Memory, Sorrow, Thorn trilogy -- great interrelationships, great traditional high fantasy. Recommended for those who are scared to tackle all sixteen gigawords that Jordan has released.
- Raymond Feist and Janny Wurts, the Empire trilogy -- I liked these three books (first one is Daughter of the Empire) even more than Feist's framing stories (see below). Not your usual fantasy: this mix of Aztec, Asian and other influences from the other side of the Rift is terrific.
- Raymond Feist, the Riftwar and Serpentwar series -- excellent epic-length high fantasy.
- Katherine Kurtz, the Chronicles of the Deryni -- no-one does religious ceremony and detail like KK. Great stuff!
- Mercedes Lackey, The Last Herald-Mage trilogy -- these were the single biggest influence on me during the earlier 90s, for several reasons....
- John Myers Myers, Silverlock -- With most other authors, you might call what JMM does "plagiarism." This book is so well-written and JMM sneaks in so many nods and references to great literary works throughout history that it transcends the P word and indeed, the ordinary realm of fantasy.
- Barry Hughart, The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox -- brilliant, but hard-to-find, high fantasy set in ancient China. Great fun to read and flawlessly executed.
- Ellen Kushner, Swordspoint and Thomas the Rhymer -- excellent standalone fantasy books, which are becoming increasingly rare nowadays. The first one includes a subtle gay relationship. (Its sequel, A Fall of Kings, is good but lacks a satisfying ending.)
- Stephen R. Donaldson, the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever -- have a dictionary handy, and maybe a crying towel. :) The first trilogy is somewhat better than the second one, IMO.
- David Gemmell, Legend and The King Beyond the Gate -- two well-crafted quasi-related fantasies by a relatively new -- and good -- British talent. The sequels and prequels hold up well, too.
- Elizabeth Moon, The Deed of Paksennarion (omnibus) -- one of the best looks at how a mercenary company might function I've ever read. The prequel collection, The Legacy of Gird, is also excellent.
- Guy Gavriel Kay, The Fionavar Tapestry -- excellent high-fantasy trilogy by a British master of the craft.
- Roger Zelazny, the Chronicles of Amber -- I'd love to have a deck of Trumps. Failing that, I'd love to make and sell them at conventions. :)
- Ursula K. LeGuin, the Earthsea trilogy -- considered childrens' books, but so what? Great stuff for any age.
- John Christopher, the Tripods trilogy -- More childrens' books, but these are good. Adapted for TV by the BBC.
- Judith Tarr, Lord of Two Lands, Isle of Glass, etc. -- She really shines with her historically-accurate details. I didn't know Alexander the Great was gay until I read the first one.
- Mervyn Peake, the Gormenghast trilogy -- not the easiest books to enjoy, but Peake's highly lyrical style is unforgettable.
Again, these lists will be added-to. Sometimes when, joy of joys,
I read something really good, and sometimes when I remember
something I read and enjoyed. :)
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