To recommend just ten books seems a bit restrictive. I think it would be more appropriate to give recommendations for ten authors and give you the choice to pick what looks interesting of their works. Few of my recommendations will sound familiar to today's readership, that's because I find the mainstream literature of today boring and uninteresting. Even the speculative fiction writers of today have little to offer me that hasn't been done better long ago. Maybe I'm too old to be impressed. Maybe I just know what I like. Whatever the case, here are my recommendations, in ascending order:
10. Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?). Not well known today, Bierce was a pioneering writer of what came to be called the horror genre. His best known work is “An Occurrence at Owl Creek” which set the stage for quite a few copycat stories in the 1920s and 1930s. He disappeared without a trace after joining Pancho Villa's revolutionaries in 1913.
9. Robert E. Howard (1906-1936). Best known as the creator of Conan the Barbarian, Howard's work included westerns, poetry, and historical fiction. My favorite character of his is Solomon Kane. He never earned more than $4000 a year for his writing, was always in financial trouble, and had a weak heart. The stress of this and being advised of his mother's impending death drove him to suicide.
8. H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937). Raised by an overbearing mother when his father was committed to a mental institution, Lovecraft began writing horror fiction at 8 years of age. Never very skilled at any craft, he had difficulty supporting himself all his life. When “Weird Tales” magazine offered him an editorship, he turned it down and it was given to a writer he had criticized. This doomed his own writing, as the new editor refused to accept his stories until after his death.
7. Ray Bradbury (1920-2012). A lover of speculative fiction from his youth, Bradbury spent his entire life learning how to write and write well. His stories and books are pure joy to the science fiction and fantasy fan. It doesn't matter what you choose that has his byline. You will enjoy it.
6. Jack Vance (1916-2013). In his “The Dying Earth” series, which first appeared in the 1950s, he set the stage for many of the mechanics gamers will recognize are used for mages in games like “Dungeons and Dragons”. His world with a population resigned to its inevitable fate is a harrowing statement on the apathy of not only his time but of ours. Technology to him was not something to admire.
5. A. E. Van Vogt (1912-2000). Cited as one of the main influences on men like Philip K. Dick, Van Vogt's work is considered the fundamental basis of science fiction today. SFWA founder Damon Knight hated his work so much he slandered the man at every turn. It took Harlan Ellison to reveal that Knight wouldn't allow Van Vogt to be recognized as a Grand Master before he was. Van Vogt's structure entertains and confuses equally, a chaotic but fascinating and thematically mature manner of story-telling. If you start reading “The Weapon Shops of Isher”, be ready.
4. Theodore Sturgeon (1918-1985). “Ninety percent of science fiction is crud, but then, ninety percent of everything is crud.” Sturgeon's Law. That certainly can't be said of this man's work. He wrote for television as well as print. He is credited with two Star Trek episodes and many Star Trek innovations: pon-farr (the Vulcan mating ritual) and the Prime Directive among them. He influenced several other well-known writers such as Kurt Vonnegut, Isaac Asimov, and Samuel Delany.
3. John Brunner (1934-1995). Incredibly prolific and published under numerous pen names, Brunner's work was prophetic masterpiece after masterpiece. His “The Traveler in Black” is my favorite, with its precautionary theme of be careful what you wish for. Brunner was always on the cutting edge of writing about technology and warned of over-dependence and the dangers of alienating humanity from itself.
2. Philip K. Dick (1928-1982). Political and social commentary in science fiction reached its peak in Dick's work. His stinging criticism of modern values helped shape changes that today seem axiomatic. If you read nothing else by him, read “Ubik”. It heavily influenced my own fantasy work.
1. Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988). What can I say about Heinlein that hasn't already been said? He's been lauded and vilified, praised and slandered. If you don't love his work, you probably hate it. He's been called a misogynist and a pervert by the feminists, a visionary and a prophet by others. His most entertaining works center around Lazarus Long. I cannot recommend him highly enough.
About the Author
Hiring into the FAA, he returned with his wife and two daughters to the States and settled briefly in Gulfport, MS. A few years later, he moved to Memphis, TN, as an Air Traffic Controller for the Memphis ARTCC. There he remained until his retirement.
David’s writing has appeared in numerous anthologies, magazines, webzines, and writer’s sites. His work continues to appear on a regular basis through multiple publishing houses.
About the Book
by David Blalock