The Five Most Influential Books in my Life

A meme going around recently in the genre blogosphere is to name the five most influential books in your life, and how they changed your life.

Some examples recently include : Ian Sales), Justin Landon , and Aidan Moher.

I can never resist a chance to talk about books, and so here are mine:

1. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury.
A couple of real genre books stick out as being formative in getting me interested in reading science fiction and fantasy. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury is one of them. I didn’t even know at the time that it was an incomplete version of the cycle, but I was hooked. And the end of the Million-Year Picnic was a sting in the tail that dropped my jaw,.

Alternate: I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov, which I read about the same time as the Bradbury, and everything I say about that applies to the Robot stories too.

2. Nine Princes in Amber, by Roger Zelazny

Roger Zelazny defined fantasy for me early and forever with his story of a multiverse dominated by a warring family that wars across the universe. The Amber Diceless Role Playing Game, based on the Amber novels, introduced me to a sheaf of friends and acquaintances, and firmly put me, in the words of Scott Lynch, into the “secret Amber Cabal”.

Alternate: The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. I read this over a weekend, along with the Lord of the Rings, because the cartoon versions were going to be played one fine Sunday afternoon and my older brother thought I should read the books first…

3. Cosmos, by Carl Sagan

The companion to the TV series that definitively got me interested in space, astronomy and space science forever. The photographs blew me away, and the writing me transported me across the solar system and beyond. It primed me to love space opera and science fiction set off the planet so definitively, for years I didn’t think SF was really SF if it DIDN’T have a space travel future.

Alternate: Asimov on Numbers, by Isaac Asimov. In addition to the many novels and stories he wrote, Asimov wrote a ton of non fiction, including columns in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I came across this collection, which were a selection of his columns on math and numbers and fell in love with his non fiction writing, reinforced my interest in math and science and helped set me on the path of gathering tons of useless information.

4. The Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide, by Gary Gygax.

I recently mentioned in a Roll Perception Plus Awareness column how important this volume was in the history of Dungeons and Dragons. It was also important to me for the simple reason that any wannabe player of D&D can get along with just owning a Player’s Handbook. Buying a DMG, however, means you want to be a Gamemaster. And this book proved to me that I wanted to be, in the words of a friend, a “GM for all occasions”.

Alternate: Call of Cthulhu, by Chaosium. This has been widely hailed as the best RPG book of all time for its relative simplicity and devotion to doing what it does and doing it well. I do think that there are ways it can be improved (such as Pelgrane Press’ Trail of Cthulhu) but CoC is a milestone that helped solidify me as a gamer and as a Gamemaster.

5. The Story of Civilization, by Will Durant

Although I liked history well enough, and had good teachers, it was discovering the eleven volume Story of Civilization series by Will Durant that really got me soaking in the history of the world. Although my preference was for the early volumes (Our Oriental Heritage, The Life of Greece, Ceasar and Christ and The Age of Faith), the entire series is worth your time and attention. No one writes like this anymore, trying to tackle all of history, and even Durant only made it to the 19th century. And they are all now available as e-books.

Alternate: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by Edward Gibbon.
I’d read a few books on ancient history, read some in school, but this was the book that firmly set me in mind that Ancient Rome was the civilization that spoke to me.

Okay, so what books changed your life?

4 thoughts on “The Five Most Influential Books in my Life”

  1. The funny thing is that “influential” won’t necessarily mean “favorite” in any way. _Illusions_ by Richard Bach was given to me to read by a boyfriend and it significantly influenced my recognition of boundaries. _Thendara House_ by Marion Zimmer Bradley was huge in the way I developed my thinking about gender, and _Friday_ by Robert A. Heinlein defined a lot of how I thought about sex. The _V for Vendetta_ graphic novel (Alan Moore) probably defined a lot of my thoughts about ethics. _Darker Than You Think_ by Jack Williamson explains a lot of how my parents shaped my worldview.

  2. Influential literature.. Hm. Now I have to remember a lot of stuff.
    Two books easily come to mind, Fahrenheit 451 and 1984. They helped me to take a non-idealistic view of blind progress and of the dangers of blindly relying on media.. Right or wrong, but they changed my opinions.
    Erich Kästner’s “When I was a little boy” (paraphrased name – it was a localized translation) was read at a very young age (9 years old or so), and prevented me from viewing any side of WW2 as “plain evil”.
    Likewise, Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5 further drove the point home that war is not about good vs. bad, but about people of all kinds being in a bad situation.

    And.. the last one might be a tad unconventional, but “Chariots of the Gods” was influential – it exemplified and helped me recognize the common tropes of conspiracy theories and the way people place their imaginations and desires above facts via manipulation of expression.

  3. Without further comment:

    Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter
    The Dragons of Eden by Carl Sagan
    Hiroshima by John Hersey
    Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
    Foundation series by Isaac Asimov

  4. Janna’s a person after my own heart! I’d put Hofstadter and Heller on there too. To add three more from my own list:

    “Dhalgren” by Samuel R. Delany
    “The Demolished Man” by Alfred Bester
    “The Whole Earth Catalog” edited by Stewart Brand

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