BookPeople has been Texas’ leading and largest independent bookstore since 1970. Located in the heart of downtown Austin, BookPeople has been voted the city’s best bookstore for over 15 years. One of the big reasons people love us is our wide selection of books on every subject in every section of the store, and the wide variety of readers we have on staff who love to make recommendations. Joe Turner and Tommy Wilkerson are, without doubt, the two biggest (and beloved) sci-fi nerds on staff. Here’s what they think you should be reading (and you’d be right to listen; these guys are unmatched in their knowledge and ability to recommend books in this section)
From Bookseller Tommy Wilkerson:
Castle of Wizardry by David Eddings
When I was fifteen I first put my hands on a copy of David Eddings’ Castle of Wizardry. Unfortunately that’s the fourth book of the Belgariad series and I had no clue what was going on, but the book was awesome and I knew that I had to go back and read the entire series. When I had finished it, and it’s companion series the Mallorean, I knew that I had finished something very rare in the fantasy genre, a character-driven fantasy that also had heaping helpings of action. Plenty of swords, sorcery, perilous quests, and character development? Sign me up! When people come in asking me what to read after finishing A Song of Ice and Fire, I invariably point them to Pawn of Prophecy, first in the series, and I tell them to come talk to about it when the finish, because they always do.
Ghost Story by Jim Butcher
Over the years of the series Harry Dresden has risen to some awesome high points, mortal emissary of the Winter Queen, Warden of the White Council, and so forth. But to me he’ll always be that scruffy P.I. we first met in Storm Front, which is why I was concerned when I heard that he would be a ghost in his latest adventure Ghost Story, although with that title it makes sense. Then I finally had a chance to sit down and read it and loved this outing of Harry’s more than I have any of the books since Dead Beat. (Seriously, it’s hard to top riding a zombie T-Rex through the streets of Chicago.) Ghost Story offers a unique challenge to Harry. Can he pull off saving Chicago, his apprentice, and maybe even the world, all without his magic? Don’t look at me to give away the answer, pick up a copy of what is definitely one of the best Dresden adventures to date and find out for yourself.
The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross
The name is Howard, Bob Howard. Please don’t kill me! This is the tag line of one of my new absolute favorite books, Charles Stross’ The Atrocity Archives. When we first meet Bob Howard, a mild mannered tech geek for England’s supernatural intelligence division, he is smack dab in the middle of trying to become a field agent, think James Bond but with more math and less guns. Stross combines the high action world of James Bond with the utter creepfactor of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos which in and of itself would be an awesome combination. I mean who wouldn’t want to see Bond throw out a cheesy one liner as he stops the cult leader, at the last second of course, from completing his ritual to raise Cthulhu from the depths of ocean? But Stross isn’t content to stop there. He also decides to mix in the wonderful workplace humor of Scott Adams’ Dilbert, which creates one of the best action comedy scifi books since The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan
For some people the cyberpunk genre begins and ends with William Gibson. I grant you the man is the master of the genre and that it owes very much to him, but if his books are all you read you’re missing out on some wonderful stuff. Such as Richard K. Morgan’s Altered Carbon. Set in a bleak future full of technological advances, the most of important of which is the ability to download your memories and personality into new bodies at any time, Altered Carbon is a fantastic noir murder mystery that is, at its core, an examination of life, death, and what it means to be human. Morgan’s work in general, and this book in particular, show that philosophy and science fiction can blend well together and create a book that forces the reader to think as well as entertains. Plus Jimi Hendrix makes a cameo as the personality of hotel AI. How cool is that?
Nightwatch by Sergei Lukyenenko
In high school I always hated having to read the great Russian classics. Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Chekov... absolutely hated them. They were too long, nothing happened, and I couldn’t stand them no matter how well written they were. (And they were well written.) Then about a year and a half ago I stumbled across Sergei Lukyenenko’s Nightwatch. An urban fantasy set in modern day Moscow, Nightwatch combines the best of classic Russian lit, good writing and well developed characters, with the quick action of the urban fantasy genre. Good and Evil have created a stalemate that allows both sides to exist at peace with one another, but as the saying goes: The center cannot hold. The peace starts to come undone, the world is threatened, and one low level magician is at the center of everything. Dark, mysterious, and perfect for fans of horror or fantasy. READ THIS BOOK!!!!!
Leviathan Wakes by James Corey
Space has always been fascinating for me ever since I spent a summer at space camp when I was eleven. I’ve always wanted to go to space — I read about space in both fiction and non-fiction — and James Corey’s Leviathan Wakes is a space epic quite unlike any other. Two parts military space opera and one part John Carpenter’s The Thing, Leviathan Wakes feels almost like a Hollywood sci-fi flick, except it leaves all of this visuals to your, hopefully overactive, imagination. I was skeptical at first but when I finished this book I had the same wide-eyed sense of wonder that I did when I first watched Star Wars. To sum up what is already a long-winded explanation, if you love space at all in any way whatsoever pick up Leviathan Wakes, it will not disappoint.
From Inventory Manager Joe Turner:
Elric, The Stealer of Souls (Chronicles of the Last Emperor of Melniboné, Vol. 1) by Michael Moorcock
Imagine that it is the early to mid 1960s and the youth of England, filled to overflowing with existentialism and Psych 101, have buckled under the pressure of being the heirs to a crumbled, decaying empire and have, perhaps sardonically, turned to drugs and rock & roll to help them through it. Got that in your head? Now imagine that “the sixties” is really the far flung past (or the furthest future), replace “England” with Melniboné, and the nebulous “youth” with Elric Kinslayer. Fantasy as Jungian self-exploration? Or just good pulpy sword & sorcery? Michael Moorcock is my spiritual godfather.
Anno Dracula by Kim Newman
Kim Newman presents us with a world where Dracula was the victor who married Queen Victoria, making her into a vampire and her realm into a nation where being Undead is the entryway to wealth, power, and social advancement. Stalking this kingdom is a killer of vampire prostitutes known as “Jack the Ripper.” And that all just in chapter one! I’ve loved this book for dang near 20 years and this new reissue, with all its added features, is the bee’s knees!
Snuff by Sir Terry Pratchett
As Sir Terry Pratchett grows more acquainted with his own mortality, he seems to set his targets on more hideous and less banal evils than he has done in the past. A thematic sister to Unseen Academicals which focused like a laser on racism and the whole nature vs. nurture debate, Snuff attacks the end result: genocide. Whilst not as laugh out out loud funny as previous Discworld novels, it still has a sterling wit, grand characterizations, and the ability to look our faults in the eye and still call us human. And Tears of the Morning is my favorite new character!
Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany
The literary, labyrinthine masterpiece of speculative fiction and one of my top ten books of all time. A discursive, fever dream rumination on the fall of America’s urban cities, race riots, and sex and gender roles of the 1960s and 70s refracted through the prism of Bellona, a city where time stands still and and an engorged sun perpetually sets.
The Darkest Part of the Woods by Ramsey Campbell
Generally considered by most contemporary horror writers to among one of the few living masters of the form, Ramsey Campbell, in this reissue of his 2003 classic work, returns to the type of Lovecraftian horror with which he made his start. Echoes of T. E. D. Klein and Arthur Machen also haunt this book about a family and their unnatural relationship with the local woods. Cosmic horror at its finest!
The Sky People and The Courts of the Crimson King by S.M. Sterling
Imagine, instead of the dry boring reality of the inner planets of our solar system, Leigh Brackett’s description of Venus and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ conception of Mars were the true reality: Venus is a vast jungle filled with lizard people and Mars is a gigantic desert home of a very ancient civilization. And now imagine the effect this knowledge would have once we started our Cold War and sent probes into space. These two books, one set on Venus the other on Mars, are a rollicking good tribute the old sci-fi pulp adventures of the past!
The Point Man series by Steve Englehart
Steve Englehart, to me, was, the “Grant Morrison” of seventies comic books. He put the magick into Dr. Strange, political edge into Captain America, and pure cosmicism into the Avengers. In the early eighties he brought these ideas together in his novel, The Point Man, which weaves together 2012 cosmology, counter-cultural politics, and action/adventure in the form of ex-Vietnam vet turned DJ, Max August. Now, in the 21st century, he’s returned to the character with two great sequels and, hopefully, more to come.
Of Blood and Honey by Stina Leicht
Former BookPeople employee makes good! An urban fantasy novel that is, at times, more urban than fantasy, Of Blood and Honey is a fantastic read that marries the stark, harsh reality of Ireland’s “troubles” with the stark, harsh reality that hides behind gaelic fairy creatures such as the Púca. Terrorism, punk rock, and magic mix together in an Irish stew of a novel that left me wanting the next book to come out RIGHT NOW!
The Book of the New Sun (Shadow & Claw, Sword & Citadel) by Gene Wolfe
This dense, highly allegorical quartet of novels published in two books, is one of the high points of speculative fiction. It is the story of Severian, an apprentice torturer, who is sent out into the world to make his fortune. Religion and mythology combine in the voice of one of the great unreliable narrators who never lets us know what happens actually happened the way he describes it, or if it happened at all. Gene Wolfe is one of the genre’s, hell, literature’s greatest living writers and this book is a dark, dark dream that is worth the journey.
Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles by Michael Moorcock.
Two great tastes that taste great together! Michael Moorcock (of the Elric book mentioned above) marries his Multiverse Eternal Champion cycle to Doctor Who’s all around, well, “Whoism” to great effect. A must have for all fans of Doctor Who and Michael Moorcock!