A list of the 20 most formative books for me. Thus these books will not necessarily be my absolute favorites, or books I consider great writing -- though some will be -- but the ones which, in one way or another, affected me and my approach to reading, writing, and/or life.
1) A Fish Out of Water (by Dr. Seuss under one of his many pen names). I learned to read on this book, so its formative effect is immense!
2) Volcano! (author unknown). This book, written in the 60s or possibly very late 50s, opens with a description of the birth of El Paricutin, the volcano that emerged in a Mexican farmer's cornfield. It's a children's book describing volcanoes of various types, and started my lifelong fascination with volcanoes and science books in general.
3) The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (and sequels) by L. Frank Baum. My first clearly fantasy reading, and a huge influence on me. The eerieness of the worlds of Oz are often unknown by those who only have the movie as their experience of the world. It's also an excellent view back in time to other people's points of view that are solidified in the text.
4) Runaway Robot, by Lester Del Rey. My first clearly Science Fiction book.
5) Second-Stage Lensmen, by E. E. "Doc" Smith. This introduced me to space opera on a grand scale, and gave me a yardstick against which to measure other contenders. Very few ever manage to measure up. One of the single largest influences in my writing.
6) A Treasury of Great Science Fiction (Volumes I and II). This dual-volume anthology collects some of the greatest SF tales ever written (as of 1959) and was the most concentrated dose of sensawunda ever. Included many works by many authors including Bester (The Stars My Destination), Wyndham (Rebirth), Bradbury (Pillar of Fire), Van Vogt (Weapon Shops) and many more. IMCGO (In My Completely Godlike Opinion) there is no multi-author anthology ever assembled that comes close to equalling this one.
7) The Past Through Tomorrow, by Robert A. Heinlein. RAH's "Future History" was my first encounter with the idea of an SF author constructing a long-term, coherent world that spanned multiple sizes and types of stories, and it was also my first encounter with RAH himself, one of the great SF writers that has been of considerable influence on me.
8) The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov. Realistically speaking, psychohistory can't work. But GOD DAMN that was a cool idea, and following it through the Trilogy was awe-inspiring. I still get a little chill down my back reading the simple words: "I am Hari Seldon!"
9) 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne. The super-gadget adventure to begin them all.
10) Lord of the Flies, William Golding. This book taught me the invaluable lesson that you really DON'T have to read things that suck. I only came to that realization AFTER finishing this piece of crap, but it was the book to inspire me in that area. It also became the first book in my elite "bounce" category.
11) The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Epic Fantasy; this was my introduction to the concept and to the depth of detail an author could create in parts of his world -- and to the fact that if you looked carefully, the use of that much detail in one or two areas could help give the FEEL of such detail in the others, lending versimilitude to the rest of the world that the author couldn't actually construct.
12) The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, by Stephen R. Donaldson. This was my SECOND Epic Fantasy. And boy, was that a kick in the pants. A nearly unique experience; I **HATED** Covenant through 2.9 books. Normally that's a non-starter with me; if I don't like the main character, the book's a loss. I stuck to it because I loved some of the OTHER characters. The vividness of the writing -- wierd word usage and all -- also stuck strongly with me.
13) Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand. Ayn was a complex, conflicted, and in many ways troubled woman. But she was brilliant, her work -- at least to me -- had power and beauty in the writing (despite her agenda-weighted sledgehammer), and her ideas -- while ultimately no more practical than those of Marx in their pure form -- influenced and still influences the way I view the world.
14) Raise the Titanic! by Clive Cussler. I'd read, I think, a couple of books in the same sort of vein before, but none quite hit the straight-out adventure mainline the way this one did. Cussler's series of novels about Dirk Pitt became one of my addictions. I bought most of them in hardcover. Cussler has the virtually unique distinction, for almost all of those books, of being able to write the most complete and utter idiotic bullshit -- super AIs, sonic missile shields, shifting planetary crust, whatever -- and making the story so fast moving and smooth I'm standing there going "yeah, uh huh, that would never work, so what THIS IS SO COOOOOOOOL!!!!" In some ways, perhaps the ultimate example of using your actual and clear authority in one area (in Cussler's case, sea salvage operations) to lend versimilitude and conviction to everything else.
15) Three at Wolfe's Door, by Rex Stout. I *think* it was this three-story omnibus that first introduced me to Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. Stout has had considerable influence in my thinking and writing -- not the least being that Jason Wood's "tone" was originally modeled to a considerable extent on Goodwin, although obviously the character is quite different. My internal model of Wolfe has greatly influenced my design of one of my other characters too, though he hasn't shown up yet.
16) The Price of the Phoenix, Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath. Often cited as one of the very worst Trek novels ever written, I actually enjoyed this one. What made it influential/formative was that it helped me articulate clearly the concept of CONSISTENCY that had been nagging at me for years -- the idea that if you come up with some Neat Idea for your writing you'd better at least take a few minutes to figure out if the Neat Idea is going to have some kind of effect on how your world develops. For those who haven't read it -- and who may not wish to -- the important point of this book and its sequel The Fate of the Phoenix is the extrapolation of the Transporter technology to its obvious conclusion as a source of immortality and personality duplication.
17) Rendezvous With Rama, Arthur C. Clarke. There have been other hard SF writers, some even probably with better hard SF work. But THIS was possibly the defining book for the term "Sensawunda" when applied to scientific exploration. One of the major influences on Boundary.
18) Dungeons and Dragons (original three), Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. RPGs defined much of my life and are currently one of my major writing tools, as well as one of my entertainment choices. These three little stapled booklets began the entire industry.
19) Poisonous and Venomous Marine Animals (Vols I-III), Bruce W. Halstead. I used to read pieces of this MASSIVE work on marine toxicology when I had to go with my dad to his work due to my being sick. It helped spark my interest in oceanic creatures, and -- among other things -- gave me my nickname. The icon accompanying this post comes from one of the color plates in this unique and essentially irreplaceable work.
20) Lord Valentine's Castle, by Robert Silverberg. Silverberg's work has always been rather uneven to me, and not tremendously interesting. But Lord Valentine's Castle was something utterly different. This book is simply beautiful. It breathes sensawunda from every corner. It opens up both the SF and fantasy doors, invites the two in, and marries them in a unique union that I've never seen equaled. And the protagonist Valentine is the key to it all. I can only hope to one day produce a book that can be a tenth as wonder-filled.
There was a lot of competition for these slots of course, and the fact that something isn't on it doesn't mean it was unworthy. (James Schmitz was screaming for space, as was H.Beam Piper, and Zelazny, John W. Campbell Junior, Shakespeare, RAH wanted another mention, Fred Pohl and Kornbluth, Lovecraft... well, I could just go on.)