Warning! This post is about three times as long as most! To that end, I’ve added hyperlinks to each section of this post to make it easier to navigate. Feel free to skip about as you like; I won’t be offended!
Reading is the best activity in the whole wide universe, bar none. I expect you might feel the same way since I write books, and you folks read them. Even if you aren’t the type of person to always have your nose buried in the pages of some novel or other, you at least obtain enjoyment from reading stories or you wouldn’t be visiting this website.
I’m never far from a book, be it a physically dog-eared paper version or the less ratty digital sort. My iPod holds dozens of books at any given time and — depending on which app you open, Kindle or Stanza — you’ll find yourself hip deep in a zombie uprising (The Purge of Babylon) or growing up in a dysfunctional family in the Deep South (Breaking Twig.)
And that’s on Tuesday. Who knows what you’ll find on Wednesday!
(FYI, if you don’t mind digital books, subscribe to the Pixelofink.com or Book Bub mailing lists. I pick up five or six new titles a week without having to pay a penny! You’ll have to sort through some pretty horrible writing sometimes, but there are wonderful jewels to be uncovered for little to no cost.)
I wanted to share with you my top ten favorite fiction books.
Only ten? That’s ludicrous!
By counting each title in a series of work, I got to nine. The next on the list however was the first of a trilogy. And I still had one series and two more favorites to go!
So I allowed myself one caveat — the list could contain series work. (Whew!)
Bear in mind that the this list has mostly remained the same over the course of my lifetime. I can safely say that the top three listed below have remained in those positions from the moment they came to my attention. The rest shift about in importance during life’s ups and downs, falling and rising with my moods and experiences.
Enough yapping! Let’s get to it!
The Deeds of Paknennarion
Tipping the Velvet
Honor Harrington series
Set This House In Order
Ready Player One
#1 The Deeds of Paksennarion, Elizabeth Moon – trilogy
This series has been number one on my list since I found it (supplanting #2 below after years reigning over my faves list.) I reread the Deeds series two or more times a year. It has never been erased from the Stanza app on my iPod, and I own the monster-sized trade paperbook omnibus. (In fact, I’m rereading it on the iPod now. LOL!)
The trilogy follows Paksennarion Dorthansdottir as she runs away from home to become a soldier in Duke Phelan’s army. She’s only ever wanted to be a soldier and works hard to achieve her goals. Sometimes she daydreams about a magical sword, shining armor and a grand steed, but those are just fantasies. Aren’t they?
Elizabeth Moon’s writing in this series is far from magical. Though set in a world where dwarves and elves are real, there’s no sense of mysticism and unearthliness as portrayed in Tolkein’s work (or any other of the hundreds of fantasy novels out there.) Paks’s world is gritty, sweaty and makes common sense. Magic and wizards are real, but more a curiosity than anything.
I like that Moon doesn’t attempt to follow the precepts of the fantastical which so many authors do. Her series is refreshing in its honest appraisal of real people in real situations…that just happen to include evil gods and goddesses as well as magical swords. (It helps that there’s a five-part companion series that takes place after the Deeds!)
When this book first came out, I was working at a tiny answering service in Nampa, Idaho. The business was housed in a former home — the living room converted into the main business area. There were three hundred phone lines to be monitored on an old-fashioned PBX board, a job normally done by two people.
Sundays were always slow however. Only one person was needed during the day and evening shifts. I had this book from one of my coworkers and had begun reading it on just such a Sunday.
I was so engrossed in the end of the world, so invested in the reality that King weaved with his words that the sound of the phone ringing startled me. Wait! You mean Captain Trips isn’t real? I remember standing and checking out the front window, reassuring myself that people still walked their dogs, kids still played in their yards and the occasional car passed by.
That was an awesome first read! Stephen King has always had a way with imagery. He can paint a scene and imbue it with just the right amount of disturbing comprehension. What a great skill to have! He sparked my interest with the end of the world. I could say he’s the reason Orphan Maker even came to be written. Without The Stand tripping my fancy in 1979, I wouldn’t have written my own post-apocalyptic tale.
#3 Tipping the Velvet, Sarah Waters
What’s not to like about this one, eh? This is the only lesbian title on this list and it holds a place of honor.
Nan King reminds me so much of myself that it’s eerie. Granted, her past is far different from mine but the cirmcumstances she experienced, the mistakes she made and the ultimate choice of which path to follow in her life resonate with me.
I too started out as a clueless and sheltered kid. I fell into the fiery romance that I threw everything into, including myself–the romance that was equal parts angst and agony and ecstasy. Only until you’re in the middle of such a relationship to you realize that the fires burn as well as warm. i followed Nan’s path of breaking up, rebounding into a marriage I should never have gotten involved with and eventually finding myself with the solid support of a woman who I’ve been with for the past twenty-seven years.
Oh, yes, I understand Nan King.
I’ve read a couple of other Sarah Waters books, but only this one makes the list. The emotional similarities are too close for it to be otherwise.
#4 Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card
This is another book that has been high on the list for years. (Tipping the Velvet supplanted its usual spot at third place.)
I realize the author’s politics are egregious toward LGBT rights. I know that many people will immediately judge the book by its author. And I know my praising this book is unpopular, considering his opinions on the world. That doesn’t negate the fact that I love the book or that it’s on this list.
Mankind has suffered through two wars with an alien hive-minded species–the first a wave of military ships sent to destroy the population, the second a well-protected and vast colony arriving to take over Earth. The first war was won by sheer numbers, the second by the shrewd military intelligence of Razer Mackham, a nobody in a space ship who destroyed the Queen’s flagship just before the fleet could be overrun.
Now the third wave is coming and mankind has restructured itself to meet the upcoming challenge. Ender Wiggins is a five-year-old boy who has just the right genetic brilliance and emotional maturity to be one of the soldiers necessary to defend humanity. He’s inducted into Battle School where he’ll either learn to fight and command or die trying.
Something about Ender has always struck me as brave, even when he did things because he thought he had no choice. Due to his position at battle school and the interference of the teachers and brass, he’s constantly treated as an outsider, forcing him to excel at everything he does just to stick it to his bullies.
Having attended twelve schools in twelve years, I can certainly relate to feeling like an outsider. Being the new kid at a school ain’t easy, especially if you do it three times in seventh grade! I think that’s why Ender’s Game seems so pertinent to me–Ender did what I never really could, he beat his bullies using his brains and became so good at what he did that no one could touch him.
#5 Honor Harrington, David Weber – series
Another series, this one has lots of books!
The first book, On Basilisk Station, opens with Honor happily taking over her first serious command of a light cruiser in the Royal Manticoran Navy. The joy quickly ends when she shows up the admiralty during war games. She and her ship are ordered to the back-end of Manticorian space, punished for losing the games when the admiralty set them up to fail.
And then the series gets interesting!
Honor is a strong female character, level-headed, professional and with a sense of humor. What’s not to like about that? She faces down each obstacle, controlling her fears and worries, thinking outside of the box to attain her goals with the limited resources left to her. That sort of personal strength and authority is a complete turn on! (Okay. It is to me anyway.)
I think the two best books in the series are In Enemy Hands and Echoes of Honor, the first being her capture by the People’s Republic of Haven and the second her eventual escape and liberation of thousands of prisoners from the Peep’s prison planet. Her character is really run through a wringer in these two books. Rather than break her, she comes out tougher, her iron will stronger than ever before.
It took me several years before attempting to read this series despite multiple recommendations. There’s a lot of science techno-babble in these books (and I mean a LOT!) The first book is slow reading through the first couple of chapters because of the incomprehensible hard science, but I forced myself through it anyway. I’m glad I did. Once I understood enough of the mechanics of space flight and the vagaries of those limitations in battle, I had a fun time!
#6 Set This House In Order: A Romance of Souls, Matt Ruff
This entry is an intriguing murder mystery/psychological thriller with an inner supernatural twist. Andy Gage suffers from multiple personality disorder and works at a virtual reality start-up outside Seattle. His boss is as broken as he is…in fact everyone working there has their baggage. A new coworker has arrived and Andy recognizes a fellow MPS sufferer. Between the two of them they have hundreds of personalities that ping off one another, eventually leading them across the country and to the small town where Andy Gage was murdered, thus creating the hundred or more personalities in his head.
But you don’t just deal with the outside world and Andy’s emotions (and those of his alternate personalities) for Penny Driver (and her various personalities.) You also see what the inside of Andy Gage’s head looks like, see the mental landscape that he has created for himself and his alternates as their world rocks and shakes from the writhing of the Other in the lake.
Good gods, this book is spectacular! Andy’s alters interact with Penny’s, throwing them both into wild circumstances as they work toward discovering what originally happened to Andy to shatter him. Not all of Andy’s alters want to know what happened either. This leaves him vulnerable to internal sabotage that eventually breaks out into the real world.
And the twist about Andy at the end…? Blew my mind! I had no idea!
I highly recommend this baby. It’s an apple cart ride down the side of a mountain on a game trail!
Another series, even the paperbacks are thick tomes. The storyline follows a cast of hundreds as they investigate the odd comas that children all over the world are falling into. Some come out of this unnatural sleep changed, but most remain unconscious until they die. Several people are given hints of a golden city in the virtual reality world and follow it.
Why are the children going into comas? What is Otherland? Where is this golden city? And who is the Other that looms over it all?
When the characters find their way into Otherland, whether accidentally stumbling in at the wrong time or by conscious attempts to break through, everything they know about virtual reality and digital programming will change.
Though at first a bit confusing, the tale is a good one. It can be a bit long upon the second or third reread, but I was fully ensconced in the VR worlds of Tad Williams’ creation the first time around. The filthy rich are aiming for the most detailed immersive environments possible, and a handful of people are mentally abducted into Otherland for various reasons, the results of different searches through the Net by a host of many individuals.
I found each virtual world amazing in description and feel. The author not only considered what sort of VR world people would create for themselves but also advanced each one forward after the worlds had been left to neglect. Each world has its own culture, its own emotional texture…it just amazes me that it all came from one man’s imagination! I would love to write like this!
This is my most recent acquisition. I attended Norwescon in Seattle last March and found these books in the dealer’s room.
Yeah, okay, it’s a zombie series. Sorta. Not really though. Zombies exist, but the world didn’t completely crumple. It’s been twenty years since the rising and life goes on…in a manner of speaking.
Georgina and Shaun Mason are internet journalists that have been selected to follow Senator Ryman on his presidential campaign. They bring along their techno-genius pal, Buffy, and discover more than politics on the trail. Sabotage for instance. Someone wants the senator out of the race. The next two books investigate the growing governmental conspiracy initially uncovered in book one. And yes, zombies, though the tale isn’t about them so much as the virus that created them.
Mira Grant writes great dialogue. The books are from one person’s point of view and are soaked in that character’s essence. Wit and black humor along with authentic emotion are mainstays throughout the books.
I mean it has to be good, right? It made this list before I’d finished reading the first book!
#9 Ready Player One, Ernest Cline
Another newbie, Ready Player One is another novel set in the not too distant future. The internet has taken over everything, even education. It’s not unnatural to live most of your life online, only coming offline to take care of basic biological needs and to earn an income. Even the latter is debatable though since it’s pretty easy to find virtual work.
Years ago the creater of OASIS, the online immersive environment that’s available free to anyone with an internet connection, died and left an Easter Egg somewhere in the vast amounts of digital data. The person who figured out all of the clues and puzzles and games would inherit his massive estate and billions of dollars. Over the intervening years hundreds of hunters have attempted and failed to uncover the first clue, let alone found all three keys.
Wade Watts is a dirt-poor kid growing up in the stacks–a low income trailer park that has literally stacked old trailers on top of each other in unstable ramshackle towers. He has a laptop and the rudimentary VR equipment assigned to him by his school and that’s about it. While all his online acquaintances search for clues, play immersive video games and gain experience points in virtual life, he’s stuck back on the VR teaching planet where his school is located with no money to get “off-world.”
When he stumbles across the first clue, he’s catapulted into international fame and thrust into a world of cut-throats who would do anything to win first prize.
The creator of OASIS was an afficianado of the 80s, hence the reason I love this book. All the cheesy hair styles, movies, television commercials and 8-bit games are woven into the tale. It’s a hoot following Wade through the quests and video games, growing with him as he makes and breaks friendships in the struggle to reach the finish line before the corporate baddies take it.
If you’ve ever been a fanboy or fangirl of the 80’s you’ll love this book. It reminded me of summer afternoons at the Karcher Mall arcade, playing Tailgunner for hours on end. It’s total nostalgia packaged in a bracing new tale.
Danny is a five-year-old boy who lives in a single room with his mother. The entire novel takes place from his point-of-view. Through his eyes the reader comes to understand that he’s the son of a man who kidnapped his mother when she was a teenager. He’s never been outside, has never played with other children and hasn’t spoken to anyone but his mother…ever. His sole understanding of the world outside is through the small television in the corner of the room. As Danny goes through his day, he deals with his mother’s depressions, her fears, her simple exhaustion at having no one but a child or her captor/rapist to interact with day in and day out.
What a challenging world to write, huh? And Donaghue does it with impeccable taste. The book really opened my eyes to another perspective, one that I’d never considered before. Sure, we hear about the women who have been abducted and held captive for years (Ariel Castro anybody?) But what’s it like for the children that are born into such a limited world?
And that’s it! I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at what I consider the best books around. Maybe you’ll see something of interest here! If you take a chance on any of these and like what you’ve read, let me know. I’d love to pat myself on the back for introducing you! LOL!
As I stated in the beginning, I love to read. You can tell by this list that psychological strangeness and speculative fiction tend to top the list, but that doesn’t stop me from being open-minded. Comment below and give me some suggestions. Perhaps something will spark my fancy and topple one of my tried and true favorites off the list!
I look forward to hearing from you and happy reading!