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Books of my life

One of the most frequent faq when I was in the Italian SF Mailing list was "Can you suggest any good books?"

Well, this is my list of the good books, and especially of the good writers, those who have been most important for me. It will grow with time. I hope. I do not subscribe to the notion that all the good books have already been written.
The titles I consider absolutely unmissable are in red<. All of the titles here are of books I have read and liked and more often than not read more than once.

You can buy them from here. Clicking on the title will usually bring you to the relevant's page, but there is often the USA link as well, that brings you to

[SF and Fantasy]



[Non Fiction]

Science Fiction and Fantasy

Iain (M.) Banks - Greg Egan - Gene Wolfe - Ursula Le Guin - Alfred Bester - Terry Pratchett - George Martin

Iain M. Banks

One of the best contemporary SF writers. Literate and lively, clever and accessible, full of humor and raw intelligence. Self-conscious Space Opera, action, humor, sense of wonder, one of the most credible Utopias around, style, anger, sense of justice, the knowledge of how ambiguous anger and sense of justice can become... and ships with names like Big Sexy Beast and Ultimate Ship The Second.

Consider Phlebas A Changer's desperate struggle against the Culture, in a universe where very big things explode spectacularly.
The Player of Games/ L'Impero di Azad : A player of games is sent by the Culture to deal with a pitiless, aggressive, brutal Empire, where life is terribly injust, very much like the Earth.
Use of Weapons* : the life and secrets of a Culture mercenary, and how terrible it is to be so unfailingly good in the use of weapons.
Feersum Endjin: The dead from the virtual Crypt help the living left on Earth to escape a Cosmic catastrophe.
Against a Dark Background : In a cut-off, insulated star system where the rest of the stars are so far away that the night sky is black, an ingrown culture hangs on hopelessly, and a lady warrior looks for the Lazy Gun, the ultimate weapon with a sick sense of humor.
Excession: Wars, conspiracies, betrayals and murders in one of the most cheerful Banks books.
Inversions : Two people try to better the lot of a pre-technological planet. Things do not go as expected. (Hardcover edition)
Look to Windward: A reflection on war and its aftermaths.
State of the Art (Hardcover)

And the mainstream novels:
The Wasp Factory
The Bridge
Espedair Street
Canal Dreams
The Crow Road

Whit (Hardcover)
The Business (Hardcover edition only for now)

Greg Egan

Maybe the best science fiction writer alive. He writes very hard sf - it doesn't get much harder than this - but remains a humanist. His books are precise and extraordinarily speculative, rigorous and full of passion. Hard SF has never been less cold. Incredible ideas, and unforgettable plots.

Axiomatic *: One of the best short story collection ever published. I have never read anything with a higher ideas per page ratio.
Quarantine Among other things, a book on quantum tunnelling and the morality of changing one's mind... literally.
Permutation City: A virtual life novel
Distress*: A novel on sexless love, technoliberation, pirate bioware, a cult that murders its prophet, and the Theory of Everything. Extraordinary, enlightening, passionate, touching, challenging. This is what science fiction should all be about.
Diaspora A highly cosmological-content novel that will mesmerize whoever has at least a nodding knowledge of physics. Everybody else will not be able to read it.
Luminous: The Ultimate SF Short Story Collection, version 2.
Teranesia: A boy grows up in a Pacific island, see his parents murdered in a war, saves himself and his baby sister both from the war and from kindly meant postmodernism, goes back to the island to solve a genetic riddle. The most humane of Egan's books.

Gene Wolfe

Gene Wolfe is one of the best writers of the 80s, and perhaps the most learned, stylistically accomplished and literate writer the genre has been graced with. The Book of The New Sun is an incredible treasure, full of wonders and terrors, an epic journey through a far future Earth where the Sun has waned and humankind has sunk to a pre-tecnological, at least on the surface, Middle Ages, and Severian, a journeyman of the Guild of Torturers, cursed with a perfect recollection and possessed of strange religious talisman, crosses lands and roles and ends up being One with the People. "There are beings, and artifacts, against which we batter our intelligence raw, and in the end make peace with reality only by saying: it was an apparition, a thing of beauty and horror."

The Book of the New Sun
Shadow/Claw: the first half of the Book Of The New Sun USA edition UK edition
Sword/Citadel: the second half of the Book Of The New Sun USA edition UK edition

Ursula Le Guin

Two undiscussed masterpieces of the sociological wave, and of science fiction in general. The first is an Ambiguous Utopia, which tells of two twin planets, one peopled by anarchists and the other not, and of a scientist that tries to overcome the limits of both worlds. The second is the extraordinary meeting between a Terran envoy and a remarkable alien, from a culture where sex is not fixed, and is only a few day's experience each month.

The Dispossessed * USA edition UK edition
Left Hand of Darkness USA edition UK edition

Alfred Bester

Bester is the ancestor of all cyberpunk, and much more. These two books belong to any possible list of the Ten Best SF Books of All Times. Verbal fireworks and complex plots.

The stars my destination (aka Tiger! Tiger!)USA edition UK edition
The Demolished Man USA edition UK edition

Terry Pratchett

Pratchett started his career as a parodist, but his books have now reached the status of very good serious fantasy in itself. They are still screamingly funny, but they are also humane, wise, witty, clever and good.

The Colour of Magic
The Light Fantastic
Equal Rites
Wyrd Sisters
Guards! Guards!
Moving Pictures
Reaper Man
Witches Abroad
Small Gods
Lords and Ladies
Men at Arms
Soul Music
Interesting times
Feet of Clay
The Last Continent
Carpe Jugulum

George R. R. Martin

An author that hadn't particularly impressed me in the past, but his latest work, the long and luscious Song Of Fire And Ice, is probably one of the best fantasy series of all times. It's complex, it's realistic, it's engrossing, it's intelligent, well done and passionate. It's intricate and subtle. Unfortunately, it's not finished yet.
A game of Thrones
A Clash of Kings
A storm of Swords, Steel and Snow
A Storm of Swords, Blood and Gold

Noir and thriller

Reginald Hill - Nicci French - Christopher Brookmyre - Barbara Vine

Reginald Hill

I bought my first Reginal Hill book because it has a character named Andy Dalziel that seemed in everything the parody of the grave aristocratic melancholy poet Adam Dalgliesh, PD James' unsufferable detective. Dalziel wasn't grave, wasn't aristocratic, wasn'te melancholy, was certainly not a poet: he was a larger than life rude brash prole sneaky bastard, and yet he has a lot of surprises in store for the reader as well as for his liberal-leaning, educated, decent subordinate and co-protagonist Pascoe. I don't know if the reversal was done on purpose but I feel in love with Hill's characters and his prose and his plots. He's head and shoulder above a lot of people still outselling him, PD James included.

Death's Jest Book
And Advancement of Learning
Dialogues of the Dead
A Killing Kindness
Exit Lines
Bones and silence
Child's Play
An April Shroud
Ruling passion
A Pinch of Snuff
On Beulah Heights
Pictures of perfection
Recalled to Life
Arms and the woman

Nicci French

I can't very well explain my fascination with Nicci French. She (they) writes well, has good plots, hooks my to the pages, and seems to posess a strange insight in decent resistance angainst entropy. It's buy on sight, not yet in hardcover, but in trade paperback.

The Memory Game
The Safe House
Killing Me Softly
Beneath the Skin
The Red Room

Christopher Brookmyre

Picked up One Fine Day in The Middle of the Night because of Charles Stross reccomendation, went back the day after bleary eyed to buy every other book he wrote. One Fine Day remains my favourite but they're all worthy. Buy on sight too.

Quite Ugly One Morning
Country of the Blind
Boiling a Frog
Not the end of the world
One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night
A Big Boy Did It And Ran Away

Barbara Vine

Barbara Vine is a pseudonym for Ruth Rendell, but for some reason, I like her when she writes as Vine a lot more. These books are difficult to categorize, they're not really crime novel or psychological thrillers. They are usually deeply affecting, sometime upsetting books, and beutifully written.
A Dark-Adapted Eye
Asta's book
No Night is Too Long
The Brimstone Wedding
A Fatal Inversion
The Chimney Sweeper's Boy
The House of Stairs
King Solomon's Carpet

Non Fiction

Douglas Hofstadter
Godel, Escher e Bach - This book is about everything and its mother.

Raymond Smullyan
What is the title of this book? - The logical puzzle book that you want to bring to desert island.
3000 AD - Philosophy doesn't get any better than this: entertaining, profound, witty. )

Ian Stewart
Does God Play Dice? - The best book on Chaos theory for laymen, complete, rigorous, unpaternalistic, and accessible even to people without a degree in Mathematics.
(with Jack Cohen): The Collapse Of Chaos - Reasons why science is poor, reasons why science is rich.

Stephen Jay Gould
The Mismeasure of Men - A deeply affecting book on tolerance, scientific honesty, and how the wrong ideas, sometimes, are as dangerous as bombs.

Peter Maas
Love Thy Neighbour - A Story Of War (USA edition only) : All that we didn't want to know, to our disgrace, about the war in the Former Yugoslavia, form a Washington Post war correspondent who was there. A terrible book, but one that you have to read, if you don't want to be a silent accomplice again, in the future, somewhere else.

John Conroy
Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People: the dynamics of torture (USA edition)- An incredibly important and thoroughly stunning book. It calmly, dryly explains how evil is usually not born of malice but conformity, indifference, and a sincere desire to preserve the most vital values. Lots of extremely valuable information on the psychology of helping, or not helping, others. Factual but vibrant. I can't exaggerate how good this book is. (Mentioned to me by Karen Lofstrom, to whom I'm grateful).

Joseph Collins and John Lear
Chile's Free-Market Miracle: A Second Look - A detailed book on what was the real cost of the free-market policies in Chile. As far as I know, very reliable. No rethoric and lots of figures. (Out of print, but can be bought used at Powell's)

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