This is a collection of short reviews of what I consider the `zeroth-best' book of certain authors -- those books that I consider superior to an author's most well--known book or his `classic' work. If you have read the classic work and are looking for something else of the same author, I highly recommend starting out with these books.
Don't misunderstand me, I also like the classics, most of them <quick glance over the list> sorry, all of them are great books, and I enjoyed them tremendously. But it's a relief to see that the writer can do even better.
At the moment, only the abstracts are there; I hope to find the time to write the complete reviews later on. You may want to pass the time inbetween by reading some of the books I mention. ;-)
Set in the same universe as his classic, A Fire upon the Deep, the action in this book takes place in a much more confined setting, which appeals to me more than the broad-sweeping space opera of A Fire upon the Deep.
All the sins Heinlein commits in his Lazarus Long books -- to which his classic Stranger in a Strange Land also belongs in a broader sense -- he makes up in this book. It's genuinely funny -- where many of his other books are tedious or boring --, it contains a variety of different universes and has a wonderful ending. When Heinlein is bad, he is very, very bad, but when he's good, he is also very good -- and this is one of his good books.
Yes, we all know Shockwave Rider, the illustrated version of Alvin Toffler's Future Shock. But frankly, we didn't believe Brunner in that book -- some of the features were just too god to be true, you actually felt yourself yearning for the future he created. For all those to whom Brunner had just gone soft in his later novel, this work gives you his raw, untempered writing force -- no need to fear a happy ending in this one!
Coupland's novel Generation X helped define the image of a whole generation (or so I'm told, being some years too young to belong to that generation.) This book is a collection of short stories that create the unique mood which characterizes his novels.
Pratchett is best know for his discworld series, but he also writes other stories -- and some of them are even better (not too difficult regarding the fact that his last discworld books have kept on getting thicker, but not better.) This collaboration with Neal Gaiman (of Sandman fame) presents one of the best (in my humble reviewer's opinion) plays on the old(est?) theme of heaven and hell.
Another author who is chiefly known for one series of books -- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in this case. But the material didn't really benefit from the jump from the radio play to the novel, and the sequels deteriorated steadily. (Yes, THGTTG was originally a radio play. Check it out if you ever get a chance.) With this book, he strays into a completely different field, but the results are amazing.
Stephenson's Snow Crash helped define the cyperpunk genre, and in his more recent novels The Diamond Age and The Cryptonomicon, he milked it for all it was worth. But I prefer his 1988 novel Zodiac, which is much faster paced and much more plausible than his other works. It's missing Snow Crash's element of satire and biting sarcasm, but, well, you can't have everything.
OK, so I have to make a confession: Samuel R. Delany is my favourite author! I have yet to find another author who can invoke my `sense of wonder' as Delany can.
But for those who want to start reading him, his classic work Dhalgren is a little intimidating -- it's a 700 page tome. TEI provides a lighter introduction to his work. It's a modern orpheus story (or so it says on the book jacket) that takes place long after the humans have left the earth, and other, different creatures have moved in and taken our place.