Geeks don’t just play video games, read comic books and watch stuff. We read books, too. Real books.
I know that seems like an anachronism these days. But there’s a list a mile long of books that everyone should read, and none more interesting than must-reads for geeks and fans of science fiction.
Now, I’ll admit, this list is skewed toward my tastes. I haven’t read a fantasy book other than Tolkien since junior high—it was Terry Brooks’ Shannara series—and even then I tend to read more literary fiction than geek stuff. But I think there is some excellent crossover, and this list will prove that.
Starship Troopers: Robert A. Heinlein’s masterpiece of military science fiction stands up well beyond Paul Verhoeven’s underrated film version, telling the tale of Johnny Rico’s service in the Mobile Infantry and the war against the bugs of Klendathu. Despite an entire chapter in the last third of the book devoted to explaining the organization of the Mobile Infantry, this book remains a classic.
The Sirens of Titan: Kurt Vonnegut Jr. hated being placed on the shelf with science-fiction writers, wanting to be taken more seriously. I agree he should be taken more seriously, but his out-and-out science-fiction books are second to none. His second novel, The Sirens of Titan, tells the story of Malachi Constant and his travels across the galaxy at the fancy of Winston Niles Rumfoord, a wealthy New Englander stuck inside a chrono-synclastic infundibulum. It’s equal parts humor and social commentary, blended in a way that even the most uptight literati have to admire.
Fahrenheit 451: In a day and age where legislation like SOPA and PIPA—which would hamstring free speech on the Internet—are being debated by our elected representatives, there is no better time to reacquaint ourselves with Ray Bradbury’s classic treatise on free speech. In it, fireman Guy Montag is forced to re-think his job of burning books. It’s a beautiful piece of literature, and we teeter ever closer to its reality.
The Difference Engine: Many know William Gibson for his work in the cyberpunk genre, but it’s less well known that he kicked off the steampunk genre with The Difference Engine (co-written with Bruce Sterling). It tells of a past where Charles Babbage completed his mechanical computer, and the world is completely different because of it. The prose is excellent and the dialogue is just odd enough to seem perfect for the fictional time and place.
In Hero Years ... I’m Dead: Michael Stackpole of Star Wars and Battletech fame put together this intensely readable noir mystery set in a world of superheroes. Available only digitally, this book is a must for fans of both Mickey Spillane and Watchmen.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay: Though Michael Chabon’s masterpiece isn’t a science-fiction or fantasy book, it tells a story that every geek should read. Chabon re-creates the New York of the 1930s that spawned comic-book culture, and follows the two main characters on an epic family drama that brings them into the modern day. It’s a beautiful book, and I’ve had to buy more copies than I can count. Every time I loan it out, it never manages to come back.
If these don’t strike your fancy, you could always read the one I wrote: Lost at the Con, a sort of Fear & Loathing at a comic-book convention. And even if you don’t take any of my suggestions from this list, make a conscious effort to read more books like them. I’m always amazed by how rewarding it is.
Bryan Young is editor-in-chief of BigShinyRobot.com.