Written by Tom Maringer
I have always loved fantasy and science fiction. I think the attraction is the ability to create situations and events that would be unlikely to occur in the real world. I am considering “favorites” in the sense that they are most likely to be read again and again, and were most influential in introducing new ideas that sparked my own imagination.
7 of my favorite fantasy/sci-fi books (in the order I encountered them):
A Princess of Mars (series) by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Dejah Thoris as a strong woman, fighting nude against bizarre four-armed Thark enemies. Wow! Heady stuff for a 13 year old boy! The entire JOHN CARTER OF MARS series of novels were mind-blowing to me. John Carter was both strong and had a highly developed sense of honor. Imagining myself in his position was an escape from the banal world of a midwestern junior-high kid. I FIGHT FOR HELIUM!
Conan the Barbarian (series) by Robert E. Howard
I was introduced to Conan by a friend in 9th grade. Conan was not anything like John Carter in character. Rude, ruthless, and brutish, yet roguishly handsome and virile, he still had a rough sort of chivalry. Every time he got in trouble he just had to try harder and he was always able to overcome all obstacles. Conan was my introduction to the supremacy of an iron will. I had read all the books by the time the comics came out.
The Hobbit / The Lord of the Rings / The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien
This series is my all-time favorite. I may be a Dwarf in the real-world because I like to work with metals, but in my heart I am a Hobbit. I adored the fact that the Hobbits loved simple pleasures and good times more than wealth and power. As a stamp collector since childhood, I was immediately drawn to the fact that Bilbo was sitting on his front stoop reading his morning letters when Gandalf showed up the first time. I wondered what the stamps would look like, and was eventually moved to create postage stamps for The Shire, which is how my real-world business got its name: Shire Post. I was entranced that The Professor had created entire languages and modes of writing just as background for his stories, as well as a complete creation mythos. This was my real introduction to the sort of “immersive” fantasy that makes one really want to live in a fictional world.
FOUNDATION, The trilogy by Isaac Asimov
Asimov introduces the concept of a rigorously academic and disciplined analysis of future history that could predict the rough outlines of the developments centuries and millenia to come. In the real-world of course, our futurists have largely failed to predict very much with any accuracy. The tale lurches forward hundreds of years at a leap, so that we meet generations of players is a massively long story.
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert A. Heinlein
I found this libertarian story of lunar colonization very intriguing. The buzz-word TANSTAAFL (standing for: “There Aint No Such Thing As A Free Lunch”) originates in this book. Native “Loonies” have a very jaded opinion of folks from earth, or “groundhogs.” An especially funny joke to them is the fact that groundhogs (complaining about the daily air-tax) never tire of explaining to Loonies that air should be free. They are invited to step outside without a suit and breathe all the free air they want.
DUNE, by Frank Herbert
Dune is a super-classic sci-fi story that introduces a really interesting mystical vision of time and prophecy, used by the Navigators to safely travel between worlds. It is set in a far-distant future when the galaxy is almost completely settled by humans, yet the planets are so far apart that what it means to be human becomes wildly divergent. A sort of medieval nobility system controls the more powerful planets. Yet Dune, an otherwise poor and backward planet, proves to have the critical resource that keeps the galactic government in control.
The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson
This story is set in a not-too-distant future in which 3D printing of almost every imaginable thing becomes cheaper than any other method of manufacture, and crystallized carbon (or diamond) the most common-place material of all. Stephenson does a very nice job of taking that premise and wringing it out to imagine what changes of social and political structure might follow from this technological development. His youthful protagonist Nell embodies the best in all of us.