Inspired by Claire’s post, here’s my top ten novels. Not my ten favorite (although many of these are), but ten that showed me what a novel could be.

In no particular order:

  1. The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons. This series is both deeply disturbing and (at the end) tremendously inspirational, not to mention producing the coolest (and the most terrible) means of FTL travel ever seen in SF. I hope someday to write even a fraction as well as he does.
  2. The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Many find these books (especially the latter) dry, but the depth and quality of storytelling in these works (really, one huge story) is unequaled in literature. The hobbit in me loves genealogies, too.
  3. Dune, by Frank Herbert. While I like the whole series (especially God Emperor of Dune), the first in the series is a masterpiece of weaving multiple storylines and points of view(in deep omniscent) so seamlessly that you never realize what he’s doing unless you make yourself focus on it.
  4. Faith of the Fallen, by Terry Goodkind (In the Sword of Truth series). Now, many people don’t like this series, because it’s violent, dark, and some say misogynistic. But Faith of the Fallen is flat-out inspiring. The best and the worst of human nature, and how one man, just by being himself, changes an entire city for the better.
  5. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson. Such brilliant writing that you never notice he’s in third person present the entire time! He foresees Google Earth, VR, and a pay-the-author eBay-style version of Wikipedia long before any of those come to pass. And it’s a hell of a fun book from page one. Where else can you get a pizza-delivery hacker wielding dual katanas, a murderous harpoonist with a nuke strapped to his sidecar, and a balkanized Southern California, all in one story?
  6. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. Not just a book for chicks. I had to read this in high school, and if you didn’t get to, you should. This gal overcomes things that flatten the people around her, without dipping into pathos or making her a stereotype. Not easy, considering it was written in the 1800’s. Mystery, moral dilemmas, and gritty reality in the Dickens tradition. One of the classics for a good reason.
  7. Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Psychological intrigue at its finest. Another classic.
  8. The Gap Series, by Stephen R. Donaldson. A dark, claustrophobic series (most of it takes place in space), where alliances shift from chapter to chapter and the reader constantly wonders if they’re getting (as the first book is called) The Real Story. The author has created main characters you care for in spite of the fact that they are not ‘good people’, and the creepiest, the most cold-blooded and fear-inspiring alien race I’ve ever seen.
  9. A Song of Ice and Fire, by George RR Martin. A gritty, sprawling epic fantasy, that works in spite of a multitude of POV characters on three continents, just about all who are plotting against each other. The story itself is about an entire civilization coming apart right at the worst possible time (it just occurred to me that the timing of publication might be apt). Complex, real, and filled with deeply flawed people, some of whom are doing the best they can.
  10. Tunnel in the Sky, by Robert Heinlein. The first SF book I read as a middle school student, which hooked me on SF forever.