Sharing Day: Good Reads edition

My question for you today is:

If a friend came to you who had never read a comic book/fantasy novel/science fiction novel before (your choice) asking for your advice on what to read, what one book would you give them to introduce them to the genre?

You only have to do one of the three (though you can do more if you like), but I’m going to take a crack at them all.

In science fiction, I always recommend they start with “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card. It’s well written, with intriguing characters you really come to care about, and it’s nothing so crazy far-out that it would scare them off.

If they’re a religious person, I recommend “The Sparrow” by Mary Doria Russell. It posits that First Contact with an alien planet was made by a group of Jesuit priests. Only one returns, and the novel is about figuring out what happened. It’s great science fiction, raises some excellent moral and spiritual questions, and is accessible to anyone even if they know nothing about sci-fi.

On the comics front, I’d probably go with the Frank Miller/David Mazzucchelli Daredevil collection “Born Again“. (For a non-religious person, that’s two religious books. Hmmm.) I think it’s grounded enough in reality for anyone familiar with pop culture to be comfortable with, but with enough super-hero elements to be a decent introduction to the modern incarnation of the genre. Plus it’s a gorgeously illustrated and written book.

Finally, on the fantasy front I think you probably can’t go wrong with “The Sorcerer’s Stone“, the first Harry Potter book by J. K. Rowling. It has all the juicy fantasy tropes presented in a friendly way. If they were a darker sort of person, I’d go with Steven Brust’s “The Book of Jhereg“. Because it’s written in first person, I think it’s easy to get into the character’s head, and I love the way that Brust makes the magical world very commonplace in the mind of the main character. After all, for him it’s just normal; it’s only magic to us. Or, if they’re a more literary sort of person, I’d give them Brust’s “The Phoenix Guards“, set in the same universe but with different characters, told in the style of Dumas’ “The Three Musketeers”. It’s just a rollicking good read all the way around.

Most of those (and more) can be found on my Amazon Listmania list of sci-fi/fantasy books that I love.

Now, your turn!

35 Responses to Sharing Day: Good Reads edition

  1. Alphaalpharomeo

    Comic- I would recommend the Green Lanter Power of Ion continuation.

    Fantasy Novel- Prince Caspian. I’m a fan of the whole Narnia series, but this book is by far my favorite of the series.

    Science Fiction Novel- Frankenstein….It’s just a great classic

  2. On the comics front, you can’t go wrong with a bit of Frank Miller, but I wouldn’t say ‘Born Again” was his best. I’d say they should check out either of his classic Batman titles “Year One” or “Dark Knight Returns”. I know it’s a really obvious, almost cliche, recommendation but that is for a reason.

  3. JR19759:
    On the comics front, you can’t go wrong with a bit of Frank Miller, but I wouldn’t say ‘Born Again” was his best. I’d say they should check out either of his classic Batman titles “Year One” or “Dark Knight Returns”. I know it’s a really obvious, almost cliche, recommendationbut that is for a reason.

    I like “Year One”, I could go with that. I just think the whole Batman story is so pervasive in the general culture that for a first-time reader it would be repetitive or boring. I definitely wouldn’t go with “Dark Knight Returns”, I think they’d find it way too confusing and jumbled. That’s a classic for comics fans, I think, but not for a lay person.

  4. As far as the comics go, I usually recommend Identity Crisis by Brad Meltzer with cover art by the late, great Michael Turner and interior art by Raga Morales. What I love about it is that for once, it’s not centered around the DC Trinity. It’s more of a detective story which really wraps up in the last few pages and changes the dynamic of the Justice League and sort of leaves a few characters sort of tweaked. If this book doesn’t change your view on superheroes as being fallible, nothing will.

  5. I’d probably agree with your choices for fantasy and sci-fi, and I can’t comment on the comics as I don’t really read enough of them. Some alternatives for fantasy might be The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (what I consider to be the first of the Chronicles of Narnia) or maybe something by Anne McCaffrey – which, depending on which series you pick, could also be sci-fi.

  6. The Atomic Punk

    For comic book, I would say Spider-Man “Kraven’s Last Hunt.” Excellent story that delves into the psyche of all the characters.

    Fantasy novel, The Hobbit (glaringly obvious)

    Science fiction novel… Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress or Red Planet.

  7. If I had to give a fantasy novel recommendation I would say The Amulet of Samarkand. I love the whole trilogy. I thinks it’s well done and funny, and I think it’s good for a first time fantasy reader because it doesn’t follow all the stereotypes one would normally think of when they think fantasy.

  8. The Atomic Punk:
    Fantasy novel, The Hobbit (glaringly obvious)

    The problem with giving “The Hobbit” to someone who’s never read fantasy before is that – OK, it’s not as bad as LOTR itself – it’s a bit of a slow start. I know several people – myself included – that gave up the first time they tried to read it. An experience like that could put someone off fantasy for life. Just sayin’.

  9. Comic Book… For a first time reader, I’d give Top Ten, by Alan Moore and Gene Ha. It’s sufficiently familiar (police show) that people won’t get too lost, yet it’ll introduce them to superheroes, time travel…

    Fantasy Novel: I’d like to advise the Black Company, but… Eh. So I’d say the Amber Chronicles (Corwin series), by Zelazny. It starts on our earth, and the concepts are introduced to both the character and the reader, which would be great for a beginner. And it’s an awesome cycle

    Science Fiction novel: If we’re really, really talking SF, and not just “fantasy with blasters and robots”, this one is very difficult IMO. I’ll pass, I think :-(

  10. I can’t really suggest a comic book because I rarely read them now a days save when I but a random title in the Grocery store, though back in the day I was a big Firestorm and Doctor Fate fan! .

    Fantasy Novel is a bit hard to pick just ONE book as most of the titles I enjoy are trilogies or series. I guess I will go with “Brightly Burning” by Mercedes Lackey, while part of her Valdamar series it is also a stand alone self contained story.

    Sci-Fi, I don’t read a lot of however I would suggest “Battlefield Earth” by L Ron Hubbard as it was a very excellent book ( the most horrible movie I ever saw, but an excellent book! )

  11. For Sci-Fi I’d go with either Asimov’s “Foundation”, Asimov’s “Cave of Steel” or Clarke’s “Rendezvous with Rama”. All classics.

    Comics…. Maybe “Watchmen”. It has the same grandiosity of Miller’s Dark Knight, but it is self contained. No need for previous knowledge.

    And Fantasy…. I haven’t read much fantasy… but if it counts, then “Good Omens” by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Seriously hilarious book. It may just be me though, as the book delivers lots of fun at religion’s expense.

  12. sci-fi: Snow Crash. between it and Neuromancer pretty much created the cyberpunk sub-genre and influenced the really real internet we are using now.

    comics: If we are talking super-heroes then Watchmen. i dont even need to explain why. otherwise The Sandman by Neil Gaiman.

    fantasy: The Hobbit. Without it all the rest wouldn’t even exist. it is the Led Zeppelin of fantasy. (hmm maybe Led Zeppelin is the Led Zeppelin of fantasy…. Ever seen The Song Remains the Same?)

  13. For a fantasy novel, I’d suggest The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett, because the Discworld novels are very accessible to new readers.

    For a science fiction novel, I’d suggest Santiago: A Myth of the Far Future by Mike Resnick, because it’s such a fun yarn.

    For a comic book, I’d have to say Watchmen. Really, why would you pick anything else?

    I’ll add my own work here as well, because SELF-PROMOTION.

    For fantasy: Pariah’s Moon, which combines epic fantasy with Westerns and a little touch of steampunk.

    For science fiction: Troubleshooters, a fast-paced cyberpunk adventure of the near future.

    For comic books: Well, I don’t have any comic books, but there’s my 5-year run of The Adventures of the S-Team webcomic, or the first superhero novel in the Just Cause Universe, Just Cause, with a cover artist you may all know…

  14. I would actually have to agree with Ender’s Game and The Sorcerer’s Stone for SciFi and Fantasy starters. With the comic book starter I am a little unsure. I’m so weighed down with comic book history I’m not sure if I can distance myself enough to look at it from the point of view of a beginner. Hmmmm…

  15. This is great. I’ve been looking for book recommendations.
    I can’t really think of any fantasy or comic suggestions. (Actually just started to try and get into comics.) If I were to suggest something for Sci-Fi I’d want to say “Out of the Silent Planet” by C.S. Lewis. Its not too hard to follow and it has a nice early sci-fi feel,if that makes sense. As an added bonus its kind of old, so you can a used copy for pretty cheap.

  16. My problem with “Watchmen” as an introduction to the graphic novel is just that it’s a little dark and sort of hard to get through. Not just in terms of the basic story, but in how it’s told, the color palette, etc. I wouldn’t start a fantasy novice out with “Lord of the Rings” because, while awesome, it requires a fair bit of work and time to get into. Watchmen is the same way.

    Having said that, yes, obviously it’s a titan in the genre. I would just worry that it would be too much for a novice and it would turn them off.

  17. The Atomic Punk

    Kaylin88100: The problem with giving “The Hobbit” to someone who’s never read fantasy before is that – OK, it’s not as bad as LOTR itself – it’s a bit of a slow start. I know several people – myself included – that gave up the first time they tried to read it. An experience like that could put someone off fantasy for life. Just sayin’.

    Depends on the person. The Hobbit is the first book that I read cover-to-cover and I was 8 years-old. My brother recommended it and he was 12. My mom had to take it away from me because I wouldn’t go to bed. I used to have a way longer attention-span when I was a kid.

    barbario: (hmm maybe Led Zeppelin is the Led Zeppelin of fantasy…. Ever seen The Song Remains the Same?)

    Too funny!

  18. The Atomic Punk: Depends on the person.The Hobbit is the first book that I read cover-to-cover and I was 8 years-old.My brother recommended it and he was 12.My mom had to take it away from me because I wouldn’t go to bed.I used to have a way longer attention-span when I was a kid.

    Too funny!

    It would also depend on the age of the reader also I think. I was in my mid 20’s when I read the Hobbit and Barely made it through it to the end. Then went on to the Lord of the Rings and made it maybe two chapters into the first book before I gave up in disgust as it was clearly not written to be read by someone of my age group but a much younger reader.

  19. The first two chapters of LOTR are legendarily awful. Tolkein was much better at his Norse myths than light social comedy.

    My favourite book for this list straddles the fantasy/sci-fi categories. I read far, far too much of this stuff when I was a teenager and, on reflection, much of it was awful. Some of it has kitsch value (google “goodshowsir!” to see what I mean) but most is unreadable.

    However… one that still stands up is Michael Moorcock’s “The Dancers At The End of Time”. Moorcock’s a bit out of fashion these days, but in the 60s and 70s he was the fantasy wunderkind. His “Eternal Champion” books, and especially the Elric and Corum books, have spawned a thousand imitators. “Dancers” is a part of the series but it’s not a genre fantasy book… it’s a psychedelic fantasy about a group of all-powerful humans at the end of time… part fantasy, part satire, love story, time-travel drama, and numerous other things. Very funny, very rude, and I find another layer to it every time I read it.

    I loved “Watchmen” back in the day but haven’t re-read it for years… does it still work?

  20. I loved reading the Hobbit when I was younger, around 8 years old, but I still can’t get into Lord of the Rings, it is just too hard to actually read. Tolkien was an english professor writing in the 40’s and 50’s so that isn’t surprising.
    I have to agree with Jeff’s assessment of The Watchmen. It is probably THE classic of the genre, but it’s too dark to be a starting point for superhero comics. It’d be like introducing someone to action/thriller movies by making them watch Pulp Fiction. Get them started with the big names (Bat’s, Spidey, Superman) then let them make their way onto the darker classics.

  21. Comic: Young Justice (only saying this because my mom took it away for being too violent :p)

    Fantasy: Oh man, just one? I really like Eragon, but that’s not everything.

    Science Fiction: I’d say the Dragonback series (Dragon and Thief) by Timothy Zhan.

  22. Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit are definitely classics, and ones I have read multiple times, but they have their problems in connecting with the modern reader. I can only imagine that some people may see them in the same light that I view movies made before I was born—a little outdated in their style and presentation, and hard to get into.

  23. No answer for the comic books…as to the others, depends on their tastes.

    Science Fiction: If they’re fans of comedy, hand off Phule’s Company by Robert Asprin. Otherwise, I’d probably start them out with Weber’s ‘On Basilisk Station’.

    Fantasy: Depending on the tack I think they’d take, either ‘The Magician’s Nephew’ (Book 6/1 in the Chronicles of Narnia), or Pratchett’s ‘Guards! Guards!’. (‘Colour’ draws too much of its essence from manipulations of fantasy tropes; I don’t think it would do as well.)

    Fans of one type of speculative fiction looking to branch to the other: Hand off a trio of books consisting of Stasheff’s “The Warlock in spite of himself”, ‘Escape Velocity’ (the pure Science Fiction prequel) and ‘The Warlock Unlocked’ (the most fantasy-based of the series).

  24. this is tricky for me, since I didn’t really start with comics WITH the actual comics – I used to watch the spiderman/x men animated series as well as the DCAU. Then one day my brother started buying the actual comics, so I was like “okay – I’m on board with this.” I guess it would depend on the person and the age of whoever I’m educating in comics, but I’d go with something like Year One or maybe Ultimates – just introducing them to the major players

  25. Comic Book: Watchmen.
    Science Fiction: Starship Troopers.
    Fantasy: [removed by Jeff].

  26. Man, am I ever angry at trying to reply to this thread today. This would be my fourth (fourth!) attempt at it, given my finicky computer today, and the nightmare that is trying to type something of length on my phone.

    I’m with most of the community regarding Tolkien and The Hobbit. I love the book, it can be read by younger readers (I think I was 11 when I first read it), but it is not what I would suggest as a starter into the fantasy genre for most laypeople. Jeff has it right with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Philosopher’s Stone if you live in Canada or Great Britain). It introduces basic fantasy elements that get more in depth as the series continues, it appeals to a wide age demographic, and it’s a pretty light read that even most 8-10 year olds could handle on their own.

    Sci-Fi is a fairly diverse genre in itself, so there isn’t a best “one size fits all” approach to it, but I would probably go with Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter and the Princess of Mars in most cases. It’s a fun, swashbuckling read with some sci-fi trappings, and the language is easy enough for most people to follow, even if the story can get kind of pulpy and dated at points.

    As for comics, I have to side with Jeff and a few others here. Certain titles like Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman are great examples at the power of sequential art as a narrative medium, but I wouldn’t foist this onto a first-time reader. Instead, I’d probably go with Marvel’s Secret Wars. Editor Tom DeFalco and writer Jim Shooter correctly approached the series under the presumption that most of their readers had probably only collected one or two of the titles from which the heroes appeared, and therefore made timely and brief introductions into all the characters without disrupting the story or weighing it down. The story itself is fun, the series is, especially by today’s standards, remarkably self-contained for a crossover event, and doesn’t require a lot of previous knowledge of the characters to understand who everyone is. The cast is large (the hero team consists of the Avengers, X-Men, Fantastic Four, the Hulk, and Spider-Man), but there are some tantalizing focuses on most of the characters that it could get a new comic reader interested in some of the characters’ individual titles. For a person whose only experience to Marvel comics might have been watching The Avengers and maybe one or two other big Marvel movies, they would already know more about the characters than they would actually need to when they picked the series up.

  27. Hmmph! That’s public domain! :(

  28. My friends–yikes.
    SF–The professor types would need “Moon is a Harsh Mistress” for it’s allegory. The few managers I’ve known with imaginations would love “Ender’s Game,” and so would anyone I know who needs leadership training. The friends I know in the metropolitan area I live in now? I’d recommend SF short story collections featuring Hugo winners or moderately old Asimov, Heinlein, T. Sturgeon, and P. K. Dick. Everyone I didn’t know so well? I’d have to suggest watching some old “Outer Limits” episodes and telling me what their favorites were before making other recommendations.
    Fantasy? Dragonriders of Pern by McAffrey (sp?) for serious people who love speculative history. Discworld series for people with irreverent senses of humor who aren’t easily offended. I can’t remember the name of the little drow who could–for those needing hope.
    Comics? mm. I would never start someone on hero comics. I’d get them used to how comic books work in a familiar genre first–they’re all out there now–and then pick one partially based in their comfort zone.

  29. Comic Book: What if (everything upto some of the more modern ones) was a good book to see an AU take on various books/ events
    They kept it quick intro and it had a range from slapstick to distopias.
    Science Fiction: Millennium (time travel, airplane, and babes- what’s not to love?)
    Fantasy: Mythology 101- Jody Lyne Nye, The Phaze series and Xanth series by Pier Anthony have been good.
    if you like Anthologies you might like the Chicks and Chained Males Series.
    Time travel: Leo Frankowski or Eric Flint in the genre.

  30. We all know that it was put into the 100 greatest novels of all time list (the only comic to get in) and how critically acclaimed it is. But as a beginners entry to comics….
    whilst people still think of the big blue boy scout when you say comics, Watchman is going to be too much for a beginner. you have a dog with it’s skull split open, people getting fingers broken, an old man getting beaten to death, a rape scene, the main character getting blown up on an atomic level, massive homophobia/ sexism and murder (all from the good guys remember) and I haven’t even mentioned the massive blue guy who spends all but two pages entirely naked with all that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons gave him on display. So it would be a bit of a unusual choice to recommend to a first time reader. Plus the actual artwork is quite hard to get into if you aren’t used to comics of that era, let alone comics in general, even more so than Dark Knight Returns. A few of my mates who loved the movie couldn’t get past the first few pages, let alone read the entire thing. And they weren’t first time comics readers.

  31. I’m not sure about what comic book I’d recommend; I’m pretty new to it myself, so my range here is quite limited. Probably I’d end up recommending the first one I read, which was Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman”. Simply put, it’s amazing. It is, yes, heavy stuff for a beginner but if I can do it then others certainly can.

    As for fantasy novels, my choice here would be anything written by Terry Pratchett. If specificity is required then I’d have to go with “The Last Hero” because this was the first book of his I’d ever read. It contains every last trope in the fantasy genre, while not being bogged down by them or getting stuck churning out the same stuff that’s been done by countless others. It pokes fun at the cliches that have accumulated over the years, and the humor in Pratchett’s writing is wonderful. The characters, as in all of his books, are not only awesome but also believable (for a given value of believable) and even inspiring. The artwork, by the peerless Jack Kidby, brings the story to life so that even those who have trouble putting words into mental pictures.

    For sci-fi it’s a toss up between “The Demon Breed” or “The Witches of Karres” both written by James H. Schmitz. “The Demon Breed” is your classic alien invasion story, but begins with an invasion that’s already been thwarted and the aftermath it has on the repelled alien forces. The heroine breaks from the sci-fi model of the time by being nobody’s victim, is intelligent and three dimensional, and kicks some serious ass. Oh, and the story also involves giant, talking, intelligent otters, and a word called gromgorru. I’m not kidding. This book is also reasonably slim, for those intimidated by length.

    “The Witches of Karres” is just as good, if not better. This book is a space opera, and involves everything from pirates, nova guns, and time travel, to interdimensional entities, robot assassins, and… You know what? I’m not gonna tell ya. Just read the book already!

  32. Comic- That’s a really tough call. I’ve been reading comics/graphic novels for almost three decades, and I don’t think that there’s a single one that I could narrow down my favorites to one that would be a good intro for someone new.

    Fantasy Novel- Any of Piers Anthony’s “Xanth” novels (probably an early one to get somebody started). They’re mostly geared towards the humorous end of things, so it doesn’t beat you over the head with fantasy too terribly much. Also, I think that KEric might be the first person to mention them that I’ve ever met.

    Science Fiction Novel- Frankenstein is probably the best classic choice, but that’s another really tough call. I’ve got so many favorites that I don’t think I could narrow them down to one. I could snag favorites from different series, but a single book? No way.

  33. @Jeff: Simple question: Did you do this just to get some new reading recommendations from the community??? ;) :D :P

  34. Worf:
    @Jeff: Simple question: Did you do this just to get some new reading recommendations from the community??? ;):D:P

    You can prove nothing. NOTHING!