The best books you've never heard of
So, I've already done one of these 'in a better world' posts today. In it I mentioned two books that I felt, in a better world, would be classics of science fiction and/or fantasy... Robert R. Chase's THE GAME OF FOX AND LION (an absolute master piece of epic space opera) and Steven Gould's HELM.
I've just raided my bookshelves and come up with about a dozen more to add to the list.
It's possible some of these titles may already be regarded by fandom at large or SF's professional community as classics. I don't get to talk to SF fans all that much. I do know, though, that on the rare occasion that I run into a fellow geek, if I bring up one of these books, they generally regard me with a blank stare.
I'm not listing any obscure books by very well known authors. I could have tossed some Poul Anderson, some Andre Norton, and even some Heinlein onto the list, and a few other books by equally famous authors... but if the author is famous, then chances are, the books are getting read. This list is about authors whose work isn't getting read any more, as far as I can tell... or authors whose work was probably never widely read at all.
ALTERNITIES, by Michael Kube-McDowell - everyone seems to love alternate timelines, yet few people seem to have ever heard of this, probably the best exploration of alternative timelines ever (well, not counting PARATIME by H. Beam Piper, which is an anthology, not a novel). In a parallel universe, a corrupt Senator has discovered a way to travel between universes, and has exploited it to his own advantage... but now, the President in of that particular United States wants to start a nuclear war with the Soviet Union and use the 'alternities' as a secret fall out shelter for Federal elite. Kube-McDowell handles multiple characters and a complex plot masterfully.
THE DEATH OF THE NECROMANCER by Martha Wells - All of Wells' stuff is worth reading, but this is one of the best psuedo Victorian fantasy novels ever written, and a wonderful Sherlock Holmes pastiche as well.
LIEGE-KILLER by Christopher Hinz - the worst mistake humanity ever made was genetically engineering the Paratwa - superhuman assassin/soldiers with one mind controlling two physically separate bodies. They thought the Paratwa were all dead, but it turns out, they thought wrong...
THE REASSEMBLED MAN by Herbert D. Kastle - aliens take a sex starved, frustrated nobody and turn him into a sexually irresistible physical, mental, and psychic superman. Now he's living the life he's always dreamed of... but there's just one catch...
AT THE NARROW PASSAGE by Richard C. Meredith - what Fritz Lieber's THE BIG TIME should have been and wasn't.
STARDRIFT by John Morrissey (aka NAIL DOWN THE STARS) - in Morrissey's expansive future, humanity has spread to the stars using technology no one really understands any more. A young boy named Jolon Gallamor barely escapes the assassins that murdered his parents by changing his name and joining a star circus.. and that's just the start of his galaxy spanning adventures. If there was any justice in the world, Morrissey's SF books would be as famous as Heinlein's.
EMERALD EYES by Daniel Keys Moran - time travelers, genetically engineered telepathic slave assassins, the last days of the U.S.A. as an independent nation, flying cars, cybernetically enhanced United Nations Peacekeepers, super-hackers, a future Earth ruled by the French, and the lyrics of Jim Steinman, all intertwine into one of the most awesomely epic SF stories ever written. This is what NEUROMANCER would have been like if Walter Gibson could write characterization.
SYSTEMIC SHOCK by Dean Ing - one of the most startlingly original After The Bomb books ever written, as young Ted Quantrill fights to survive in a post Apocalyptic Steamlined America run by the New Mormon Church.
THIS FORTRESS WORLD by James Gunn - one of the coolest decadent galactic empire stories I've ever read. When William Dane stumbles across a secret of cosmic proportions, he ends up being hounded by vicious blaster wielding Assassins across the face of the galaxy. Only by grasping the very secret of existence itself can Dane save himself... and all of humanity! Still one of the most fun SF stories I've ever read.
TO REIGN IN HELL by Steven Brust - not technically science fiction, this story of the rebellion of the angelic host is simply mind blowing. Roger Zelazny would have killed to have written this.
STAR REBEL by F.M. Busby - In a future run for profit by ruthless corporations, Bran Tregare mistakenly ends up at a training academy for starship captains, run by ruthless administrators and vicious instructors, where the credo is, excel... or DIE! Tregare not only survives, he ends up leading a successful rebellion!
THE MAN OF GOLD by M.A.R. Barker - unless you were a hardcore fantasy gamer in the 1980s, you've never heard of Barker's epically ornate EMPIRE OF THE PETAL THRONE roleplaying system and setting. But Barker also wrote two novels set in that world, this one and FLAMESONG. Both are worth reading, entertaining stories of action and adventure staged in one of the most richly nuanced, intricatelyldetailed and atmospheric settings ever created.
LORD OF BLOOD by Dave van Arnam - actually a sequel to the not as good STAR BARBARIAN, this book follows the hero of that previous novel as he makes his way through the perilous pitfalls of his world's version of civilization. Much as if Robert E. Howard had ever written a novel where Conan spends all his time getting involved in political intrigue in Aquilonia, or something.
I'm sure I have others I'm not thinking of right now. In the meantime, though, if you enjoy science fiction or fantasy, and you come across any of these books, I strongly recommend them.