“Dune” by Frank Herbert
If you’re making a list about must-read science fiction, Frank Herbert’s epic pretty much demands a prominent spot. In addition to being a cracking good read in and of itself, it spawned a series that just keeps on trucking, even after Herbert’s death. In addition to the five sequels Herbert himself wrote, his son Brian has spent the past decade further exploring the Dune universe via prequels and sequels co-written with Kevin J. Anderson. The notion of continuing to play in an author’s sandbox after he’s dead and gone is a contentious one, but thankfully Herbert left us one perfect book that stands above all the others. David Lynch filmed an infamous love-it-or-hate-it movie version back in (there’s that year again) 1984, but it definitely took some liberties with the book. The Sci-Fi Channel Dune and Children of Dune miniseries were actually pretty good if you can get past the production values. Really, though, if you’ve never checked out Herbert’s original, book passage to Arrakis for a tale of empires, rebels, and spice ASAP.
“Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury
I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Ray Bradbury’s classic tale of the dangers of censorship and the power of books over the years. On the love side, it was one of the few science fiction books in the curriculum back when I was a wee lad, and I was always eager to get credit for reading something I would have read on my own anyway. On the bad side, the book store I worked at during college had a tradition of setting up a display for “Banned Books Week,” and it inevitably showed a loop of the old lady atop the burning book pile that played over and over and over again, until I wanted to set her on fire myself. Unless she’s made of books. That would be wrong. I doubt anyone managed to make it through junior high without reading Fahrenheit 451, but if you are that unlikely soul, get on that, would you? Mel Gibson notoriously tried to get a new movie version of Bradbury’s classic up and going for years, but it seems to be well and truly dead.