Here's a list of a dozen of my all-time favorite books. I started it many years ago so it doesn't include anything recent. I'll save those for the next review. As you'll see, I tend toward science fiction...or at least I used to; seems harder to find good authors these days.
The Stand by Stephen King
My favorite book ever. Basically, superflu wipes out 99.9% of the population by the second act. Forces of good and evil brew in the aftermath until a final confrontation ensues. The interesting characters will draw you in for the long haul of 1,200 pages in the extended version...much of the time you are following them on journeys across the country.
Favorite character: Tom Cullen. "M-O-O-N, that spells moon!"
Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
A cloud of broken comet scattershots a hemisphere of the Earth from the Mediterranean to the California coast, in nearly 100 pages of morbidly adventurous detail...and that's just the second act!! The afterstory follows characters in California, where the San Joaquin Valley is now a flooded inland sea. In the mix with our astronomer hero (go nerds!) are a persistant postman and Soviet cosmonauts.
Favorite scene: The surfer.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Powerful stuff. I'm not saying anything...you just have to read it.
Favorite character: Lenny
Inferno by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
This sci-fi spin on Dante's Inferno is a good weekend read. The fast-paced action takes you on a guided journey through Hell, visiting upon the sinners and having to endure or escape their punishments, as something of an environmental road hazard.
Favorite level of Hell: The Fifth, the lake of boiling blood.
Midnight at the Well of Souls by Jack Chalker
Chalker does an excellent job of blending hard sci-fi and fantasy into a rich tapestry of future history in this first novel of a long series...though this story is complete and quite satisfying. The heart of this universe is the awesomely conceived Well World, an artificial planet covered with some 1500 biozones, each with their own climate and intelligent lifeform...into which our characters are randomly transported (and transformed!) when they stumble through an ancient gateway. The quest is nothing less than the answer to life, the universe and everything.
Favorite character: Nathan Brazil
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything is found!! Problem is, nobody knows what the actual question is...and so goes the quest for the question! Place your beliefs in farcical suspension all the way to The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, where you will dine in book two of the original trilogy, which is the required portion of the reading assignment. The series definitely wanes in later installments though most fans will stick with it to the end.
Favorite character: Marvin, the Paranoid Android.
The Chrysalids by John Windham
A classic novel of life after a nuclear holocaust, it follows a group of special teens in a fundamentalist agrarian society that shuns all mutations. This is easily the coolest book I was ever assigned to read in school.
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
The heart-wrenching story of "Charly," a retarded man given the gift of genius.
The Mote in God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
First contact is a bit more bizarre than we anticipated. Niven and Pournelle (can you tell I like these guys?) create a truely alien and enigmatic species for us to explore and slowly discover the darker side of. The title is a reference to the setting...on the farside of the Coal Sack nebula, from where it resembles a large cloaked head, with a lone red giant star and its yellow dwarf companion set against it.
Favorite scene: the starship diving toward the sun and rescuing the alien light-sail probe.
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
Rich eccentric recreates dinosaurs from DNA preserved in amber. Builds theme park. Shit hits the fan. Simply the best story in the genre...the movie wasn't bad either. I had nightmares after reading this one. *shudder*
Favorite dinos: Velociraptors
Q Squared (Star Trek: The Next Generation) by Peter David
Remember Trelane, from the original Star Trek episode, Squire of Gothos? Turns out he is Q's godson...who knew? And Trelane is being a very naughty boy!! I think this is simply the best Star Trek story ever told...if not a bit confusing on first read. The action plays out in a multiverse of alternate dimensions; one 'normal,' one with Picard as first officer to Captain Jack Crusher (Dr. Crusher's undead and now ex-husband), and one in which Data is human. An E-ticket ride all the way!
Ringworld and Protector by Larry Niven
The two best books of the Known Space series, a future-history in which Niven has woven dozens of stories, both short and novel-length. He won a Hugo Award for Ringworld, which is one of the most fantastic settings I've had the priviledge to peruse. Protector takes you to a much earlier time in Known Space and sets the stage for many other stories in this well-crafted universe.