10 Books I Loan To Friends and Never See Again

Book LoanI’m a bit of a story evangelist. Throughout the years, I’ve cornered many a friend and, brandishing a dog-eared copy of a novel that’s caught my fancy, demanded to know if they have accepted the author as their prophet and savior. If the answer is no, I thrust a copy of the book into their hands with the stern admonition to give it back when they’re done, because it’s my only copy.

They rarely do.

I don’t mind, though. More often than not, they’ve passed it along to another friend, spreading the gospel of sci-fi and fantasy. And ’tis better to have loaned and lost than to never have loaned at all, right?

I can’t count the number of books that have disappeared from my library in this way, but there are certain titles that I have purchased over and over so I would have a copy to re-read, only to have it disappear again into the library of a fiction-deprived friend.

Here are the books that top my Most Frequently Rehomed list.

10. Earth, David Brin

Rehomed: 2 copies

Earth_BrinDavid Brin’s Earth is an environmental fable set in the year 2038, where being ecologically sensitive has become a religion in its own right, and universal access to data has turned the world into a true global community.

Against that backdrop of competing technology and ecology, the planet faces an apocalyptic disaster that threatens to destroy it from the inside: a man-made black hole is eating away at the Earth’s core. It’s a tale of ecological consciousness (wink and a nudge here to friends who have read the book) set against the backdrop of what the world might look like a quarter century from today.

9. Armageddon 2419 A.D. , Phillip Francis Nowlan

Rehomed: 2 copies

Armageddon2419_NowlanBefore the comic strip, before the serial films, before the campy 1980 TV series, Buck Rogers was a character in two novellas by Phillip Francis Nowlan. Armageddon 2419 A.D. and its sequel, The Airlords of Han, have been combined into this novel.

This is not the Buck Rogers you might know from any other media. This Buck Rogers awakens from suspended animation to find the world he knew gone, and Americans refugees in their own country. Rogers turns guerilla warrior against the invaders; gravity manipulation, beam weapons, and drone warfare are the weapons of the day in this vintage sci-fi classic that stands up surprisingly well against the years.

Meanwhile, in our own age of digital wonders, a free ebook edition is available. No need to “borrow” it from a friend!

8. Millennium, John Varley

Rehomed: 2 copies

Millennium_John VarleyI remember reading Varley’s short story “Air Raid” in the early 80s, and wishing the story were longer. Just a few years later, my wishes came true, as Varley released a full-length novel based on his story. (10 years later, it became a cringe-worthy movie starring Kris Kristofferson and Cheryl Ladd. I did not wish for a longer version of that flick.)

Millennium is set in a dystopian world ravaged by centuries of warfare, disease, and genetic corruption. In a desperate attempt to ensure the survival of the species, the survivors reach back in time to extract healthy humans and transplant them onto a new world.

When a snatch mission goes bad and a piece of high-tech equipment is lost in the past, agent Louise Baltimore is sent back to retrieve the device before it disrupts the proper sequence of time and destroys them all. The story bounces from future to past, from Louise to the NTSB crash investigator who finds the device, until it all culminates in a frantic race to save humanity from annihilation.

Millennium is one of those innovative books I couldn’t put down, no matter how early I had to get up the next day.

7. Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson:

Rehomed: 3 copies

SnowCrash_StephensonNeal Stephenson stands out as a sci-fi author of note, and Snow Crash was the breakthrough novel that established his reputation. It’s a literary delight, bursting at the seams with references to linguistics, anthropology, computer science, religion, philosophy, cryptography, and lashed together with the duct tape of an over-the-top, neon-lined cyberpunk world. Plus, perhaps the best main character name ever penned: Hiro Protagonist, whose status as a legendary swordfighting hacker is belied by his day job as a pizza delivery driver for the Mafia.

No mere summary can do this book justice. If you haven’t had the pleasure of devouring this book, please remedy that emptiness in your life immediately.

6. The Stand, Stephen King

Rehomed: 3 copies

TheStand_KingStephen King’s 1400-page epic saga of post-apocalyptic horror is a tale of Armageddon. Following an epidemic of “superflu” which wipes out most of humanity, the survivors find themselves drawn by dreams and nightmares to the avatars of the new world: saintly Mother Abigail in Boulder; and demonic Randall Flagg, in (where else?) Las Vegas. The coming showdown between good and evil builds throughout the novel, but it’s the struggles of the large cast of characters, presented with King’s unique flair, that keeps you turning the pages.

5. A Matter for Men, David Gerrold

Rehomed: 3 copies

MatterForMen_GerroldThe alliterative titles of the War Against the Chtorr series are among my favorite alien invasion stories, which makes their incomplete (and apparently abandoned) status heartbreaking. Fans have been waiting since 1993 for the fifth installment in the series, and even after endless promises from the author, I must confess, I’ve given up all hope of ever seeing this story brought to its conclusion.

But if you’re one of those people who can live in the moment and don’t need immediate closure, the first four books in the series are sci-fi at its finest. Gerrold paints a bizarre and fascinating tapestry of Earth in decline, as the dwindling survivors of a virulent plague attempt to cope with the ultimate invasive species, a highly evolved ecosystem that’s slowly replacing our own.

Sadly, the book is out of print and unavailable in electronic format, but used copies are easy to come by.

4. Starship Troopers, Robert Heinlein

Rehomed: 4 copies

StarshipTroopers_HeinleinIf your only exposure to Starship Troopers has been the Paul Verhoeven film, please understand that the movie licensed the name, and discarded everything that made this book a sci-fi landmark. It was an entertaining movie for what it was — a militaristic fascist spoof — but the novel provides an entirely different and far richer experience.

Starship Troopers was a controversial book at the time, in part due to Heinlein’s vocal support for increased nuclear testing and the perception that the book was an extension of Heinlein’s political views. But political ideology aside, it’s a great read, especially if you’re a fan of military sci-fi. James Cameron’s blockbuster Aliens was influenced by Starship Troopers, and the book was required reading for the actors who played the Colonial Marines in the film.

3. Nine Princes in Amber, Roger Zelazny

Rehomed: 4 copies

Nine Princes in Amber / The Amber Chronicles

Zelazny’s fantastic, winding decalogue is filled with magic, intrigue, and cosmic forces. At one pole of the universe, the Castle Amber houses the Pattern — the semi-sentient manifestation of order and structure. At the other pole, the Courts of Chaos are home to the Logrus, the manifestation of change and randomness. The interplay and interference between those two primal forces creates the multiverse, dimensions of possibility known as Shadow.

But it’s not the strange worlds and sinister magic that are the appeal of the stories, it’s the intrigue and maneuvering of the royal families that’s the draw here. For while the Courts are ironically stable and relatively calm, the royal family of Amber is a tumultuous, backstabbing, murderous lot vying for the power of the throne at their end of the universe.

With parallel universes, warped magics, alien creatures, plots within plots, and a wry sense of humor throughout, Chronicles of Amber is among the most creative and vivid fantasy series I’ve read. Pick up all 10 books and dive in, you won’t be sorry.

2. On A Pale Horse, Piers Anthony

Rehomed: 5 copies

OnAPaleHorse_anthony

Let me say this up front and get any outrage from my readers out of the way: Piers Anthony is a terrible writer. His dialogue is clumsy, his plot lines can be tortured and nonsensical, and his prose is sometimes excruciatingly bad. Reading Piers Anthony’s work makes me worry that he’s got his editor chained and helpless in the basement, tormented by the broken red pencil laying just out of reach.

But Anthony is also a demigod in the world of fantasy thanks to two redeeming factors: his long-running (and long-punning) Xanth series, and On A Pale Horse, both of which brightened my teen years immeasurably. These stories have a way of clamping onto your brain and leaving a lasting impression. That’s the paradox that is Piers Anthony.

On A Pale Horse is one such story, the first in the Incarnations of Immortality series. It follows the adventures of Zane, a man who kills Death — the grim reaper, complete with scythe and cloak — and is then compelled to replace him. (Dead Like Me creator Brian Fuller credits this novel as the inspiration for his show.)

Zane learns that Death, War, Time, Fate, and Nature (the Incarnations) are jobs held by normal human beings, aided by the devices they carry and the inherent powers of the office. And he learns that the Incarnations are in a tug-of-war between Good and Evil, with the latter constantly seeking to manipulate the Incarnations and shift the balance of power to evil.

It’s a wonderfully twisted and comical universe he’s created, filled with Anthony’s particular brand of wry humor and unabashed use of puns. Although the rest of the series falls victim to Piers Anthony’s shortcomings, On A Pale Horse remains one of my favorite light reading choices, and its familiar gold cover has always held a special place on my crowded bookshelves.

1. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card

Rehomed: 6 copies

EndersGame_Card

One book holds the distinction of being the most-loaned and most-lost novels in my collection: Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. As with Starship Troopers, if your only experience with this story is the Hollywood bastardization, do yourself a favor and strike your head against the wall until all memory of the film is gone. The book is an entirely different experience.

Ender Wiggin is a prodigy, a tactical genius at the age of six. Ender is drafted and sent to Earth’s orbital Battle School, to be shaped into a strategic weapon against the Formics, the deadly race of insectile enemies that have twice attacked Earth. Now the third invasion is imminent, and children like Ender are humanity’s last hope of survival. But to shape a tender child of six into a leader and a weapon of war, his Machiavellian handlers put him through increasingly difficult challenges unlike any training regimen the Battle School has seen before. Will Ender rise to the challenge, or shatter under the pressure?

It’s hard to believe that there’s anyone who hasn’t read this sci-fi staple, but if you’ve never cracked open the cover, you are in for a treat.

About John Doppler

Author, cruciverbalist, serial hobbyist... John Doppler blends science, art, and humor into a delicious smoothie of chaotic evil.
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8 Comments

  1. I’ve only read 2 of these (Snow Crash and Ender’s Game). I guess I have some more books to put on my reading list!

  2. Rick and Jason love the starship troopers. I re-read the Stand every few years, classic good versus evil. I for one really don’t like not getting books back. So much so,that I hesitate loaning out any books to anyone. (And are we archaic by discussing Books? Not me, I like the feel of one in my hands.:-)

    • I still have a nostalgiac love for my paperbacks, but I’ve gone almost entirely digital. It does make it harder to loan (and lose) my books.

      There’s a neat feature on the Kindle that lets you loan titles to friends, though! I hope more publishers decide to participate in that program.

  3. Thanks for the list – I’m definitely adding to my reading list. I’ve read Ender’s Game – love, love, love it! The Xanth series is a favorite. And if you can get over the gore – Stephen King is a genius! So, I will definitely be trying a few (or all) of these other books… thanks

  4. I never read sci-fi unless it’s either a Hugo or Nebula award-winner – there just isn’t that much out there that appeals. I like Brin and Heinlein though. If I weren’t on the other side of the hemisphere (practically) I’d loan you some Ursula K. Leguin.

    • I’ve always loved the original Earthsea Trilogy and Lathe of Heaven. =)

      Much of what’s out there is tailored to the mainstream and filtered through traditional publishing gatekeepers. If those works don’t appeal to you, maybe you should give indie authors a try.

      Traditional publishers often reject works they feel don’t fit the mold of genre, or that are too risky for their market. A growing number of authors are rejecting that system and bringing their works directly to their fans through independent publishing, and some of the most dazzling fiction available is coming to us from indies.

      What sort of fiction appeals to you?

      • I’m not reading much fiction right now actually, sci-fi or otherwise. I really like the themes of eastern mysticism in LeGuin’s books, but I mostly like Ray Bradbury and John Wyndham, in addition to the others mentioned. Been reading some short horror collections in the recent past. The biggest turn off for me in sci-fi is a lack of allegiance to the “hardness” or rigor of the science itself. Finding books on “hard” sci-fi is more difficult as most fall into the “soft” category. I have about 300 folio books on the classics that are on my bucket list, so I suppose I need to get through all of those first………Cheers

What are your thoughts?