Continuing my favorites list are those from the last quarter of the 20th Century, 1975-1999. There are some awesome stories from this period. Perhaps it’s just nostalgia since these were my formative years, but I think this section is the strongest.
Fantasy from 1975-1999
- The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams, DAW Fantasy, 1988. This is the beginning of my favorite fantasy series, Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. The whole series could be here, but I’m just going to list one. Regardless of my thoughts on the author as a person there is no doubt he is a master story teller. While there is nothing all that original in the story (young orphan is catapulted into the middle of a magical war between the forces of good and even in a land populated by fantastical beings), he does it with tremendous style. I was completely sucked into the world he created. There is also the fact that none of the main characters are safe from death, unlike so many tales of high fantasy. By the time the trilogy ends nearly half of the character list is dead. But be prepared for many a long night, this is epic fantasy with a capital “E”. The third book alone is over 1000 pages.
- Interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice, Alfred A. Knopf, 1976. The first of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles launched a beloved series of books and a couple of mediocre movies. Actually, I just like the first three books in the series, and after that it started to get a little stale for me. But the first two books, Interview and it’s sequel The Vampire Lestat got me hooked that I powered through a couple of the lesser sequels before throwing in the towel. This book is well worth the read.
- Bride of the Rat God by Barbara Hambly, originally by Del Rey, now Open Road Media, 1994. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. I shouldn’t have been since I’ve liked everything I’ve ever read by Barbara Hambly (check out her James Asher novels for vampires that don’t sparkle). Set in early Hollywood, California just as the silent movie era was ending I fell in love with the descriptions of the way things used to be. If you need a strong female character that can handle herself and still fit into her expected role in society to use as a role model, this might be a good choice.
**Honorable mentions to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Morgan Llewellyn for Red Branch, and Robert Heinlein’s Job: A Comedy of Justice.
Science Fiction 1975 to 1999
- Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, Knopf, 1990. Hands down the best SF book of the period. I don’t even think it’s all that close even with the other great works during that time. Not only does this book deal with science as a main theme, but the suspense throughout the story drips off the page into your head to such an extent that it’s nearly impossible to shake loose. If you’ve only ever seen the movie, you REALLY need to read the book. There is no sense of urgency in the movie like there is in the book, and most of the characters are completely different. I didn’t care for the sequel, but this one was stupendous.
- Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, Tor, 1985. A neighbor of mine recommended this to me one weekend when I was in college. I finished it in one day. I thought it was superb. Child abuse? Yeah. But still great story telling. Weird aliens trying to kill us? A dystopian statist society? Yup and Yup, but still great story telling. Regardless of what you may think of the man’s political or religious views, story telling doesn’t get much better than this.
- Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, Tor/Forge, 1995. This book blew me away the first time I read it. I had never heard of either of these authors and had no idea what to expect really. After the first time I read it I imagined I smelled something goatish in the dark garage (light switch was on the other end from the door), it got my adrenaline flowing and my blood pressure up. I’ve read it several times now, and it’s still suspenseful. There are very few stories that can keep me riveted in suspense after the first time, this is one (sort of like watching Alien, I still get scared and jump). The X-Files was big around this time, but Muldar and Scully would have gotten their butts pasted across the museum. Pendergast is THE MAN! Some of the technology is looking a little dated now, but the thrill and excitement is still there. ps – don’t bother with that atrocious pile of steaming dung they called a movie.**honorable mentions: Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson, On Basilisk Station by David Weber, and Antarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson
Mystery from 1975 to 1999
- The Alienist by Caleb Carr, Random House, 1994. I didn’t know what I was getting into when I first read this. It sucked me in, chewed me up and spit me out again. I was enthralled. For an author I had never heard of Mr. Carr sure made a wonderful impression. Historical fiction, mystery, horror, it’s got it all, and at a great pace, too. Moore and Kreiszler are wonderful characters, and the brief appearance of Mr. Roosevelt was a bit of a surprise.
- Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith, Random House, 1981. Stick a fork in me, I’m done. I came to this book by way of the movie, but still enjoyed it immensely. I love Arkady. He never seems to get a break from his superiors, but keeps on doing his job even when he knows he’s likely to get shit on for it. I think this is a wonderful introduction to his character. It’s also somewhat jarring seeing how desolate the USSR is. Foreign barely describes it. Want a good mystery thriller, especially one set in a foreign land, this is it.
- Coyote Waits by Tony Hillerman, Harper and Row, 1990. Right in the middle of the series, but one of the best. The whole series is terrific and I suggest everyone read all of the books. This just happens to be my favorite. Joe Leaphorn is a stoic, no nonsense cop. Jim Chee is a young tribal cop still trying to find his way in the world.**honorable mentions: Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger, The Bat by Jo Nesbo and The Old Silent by Martha Grimes.
Honestly, there are so many great novels from this period that I could have done a list of 10 for each of these and still had left overs.