Someone on our forums recently asked about what books to read if you are thinking about starting to read science-fiction. And it struck me, that might not be as obvious an answer to some people as it is to me.
So here is what I would consider a basic primer for building a foundation into the world of science-fiction enjoyment for the beginner. Or, if you've missed any of these, for the more seasoned veteran as well. This is NOT intended as a comprehensive list, but more as a guide to establishing a well-rounded narrative from which you can start to make your own decisions about what to read next.
DUNE by Frank Herbert
I always recommend DUNE first because it is extremely well written, engaging, and thought-provoking. The themes are timeless, the world expansive, and Herbert's love of ecology is as important now as it was when he wrote it. You can also choose to read just the first book, or dive deeper into the entire series. Personally I would recommend the entire run of original Frank Herbert books. Dune is an excellent place to start because it mixes so many genres together so well.
FOUNDATION by Isaac Asimov
The next cornerstone series is by the great Isaac Asimov and is called FOUNDATION. It is a must read for any science-fiction fan and will open your eyes to big ideas, timeless history, and engaging thoughts about the future of humanity. Again, like DUNE, this is a series and any of the original books are worthy of your time.
There are two authors in this post that I am going to treat in a special way, Ray Bradbury being one of them. They deserve this special treatment because they are incredibly talented writers, and because you can essentially pick up anything they've written and be the better for reading it. In addition, they are both prolific short-story writers and make for excellent "in-between" reads, for when you've finished a novel and want something short before you start another. At least that is how I read. Pick up a Bradbury, sit back, and let him tell you a story. You won't regret it.
The other special author is Harlan Ellison. Another incredible short story author whose works push the boundaries and expand the mind of anyone that reads them. In addition, his Dangerous Vision anthologies are cornerstone works into many other authors and I can't recommend them enough. But also check out his classic collections, or just pick up The Essential Ellison and dive right in.
You can't go wrong with choosing any Robert Heinlein novel, but I'd recommend starting with "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" and then moving on to Arthur C. Clarke's "Childhood's End" and then maybe freak yourself out with "Stranger in a Strange Land". But there are so many great books in his collection, you can't go wrong with any of them.
RINGWORLD by Larry Niven
Larry Niven's Ringworld series is another cornerstone must-read for any science-fiction fan. Featuring one of the biggest ideas in all of science-fiction, Niven manages to paint a future that is massive and yet extremely personal at the same time.
HYPERION by Dan Simmons
This is another series that I often recommend to the beginning reader for various reasons. Mr. Simmons is a more modern author, but more than that this series expands upon what science-fiction is really about at its core and twists it in ways that are unusual and engaging. As with all of these suggestions, this series will open doors to other pathways and authors that you may want to investigate further.
TITAN by John Varley
Like Hyperion, John Varley's Titan trilogy (Titan, Wizard, Demon) are amazing works on their own, but they also provide a great beginning into additional works and other pathways that you may want to explore on your own.
Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison
I can't recommend these books enough. Science-fiction isn't always stuffy and serious and the Stainless Steel Rat series is the perfect place to enjoy a rather lite adventure series with a sense of humor.
And that is a rather brief, but rather comprehensive, foundation to a life of enjoying science-fiction. There are literally hundreds of other authors, books, and series that could be on this list. The history of science-fiction is rife with hidden treasures and amazing tales, but you have to start somewhere. And these are great places to get started, without diving all the way to the Time Machine and HG Wells.
Enjoy and remember, reading is fundamental.
Feel free to make any other suggestions in the comments for those visiting.