My entry in the genre conversion kits discussion is very belated, but here it is all the same (I came up with a list of titles back when the discussions were going around, and then didn't have time to add reasons to the list). Since I'm not up-to-date on science fiction these days, so I'm only doing a fantasy conversion kit. Here are ten books chosen to be introductions to different types of fantasy; they're meant to be picked among, based on the tastes of the person you're trying to convert. (I like all of these, else I wouldn't recommend them, but I don't expect everyone to.)
- The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. A great deal of the genre is the Big Fat Fantasy: long, sweeping, multi-character, otherworld fantasies about the fate of the entire world, frequently involving wars and political intrigue. If someone's wanting epic, I still can't come up with anything better than Tolkien in this category, for all that it's not perfect.
- Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay.
Historically-based or inspired fantasy; it's not an alternate history, but
it's similar in enough ways that it could be a gateway into alternate
history if one liked it. It's also on the literary end of genre fantasy.
Tigana is set on an Italy-inspired peninsula and concerns, in part, a curse that has stripped the name of a province from outside memory. It has political and personal intrigue, heightened emotions, and a gripping plot; IMO it also has a somewhat unfortunate attitude toward sex, but that's a relatively small portion of the book. I gave it to an English professor who loved it.
- Finder or War for the
Oaks by Emma Bull. These are both urban fantasy, which is set in
cities of our world or a close relative thereto, present-day or
near-future, with magic or Faerie, and often featuring younger (teens and
twenties) characters. As urban fantasy often is, these two books are more
intimate than your Big Fat Fantasy, both in scale and plot components.
I think Finder is a slightly better novel than War for the Oaks. However, War for the Oaks was one of the original urban fantasy novels and stands entirely alone. (I don't think that Finder's setting in the Bordertown shared universe renders it not a stand-alone, but I note it for those sensitive to such matters.)
- Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny or Jhereg by Steven Brust: Short, snappy, first-person smartass narration, with high quantities of Cool Stuff and intriguing settings in worlds other than our own (mostly). Chad's hooked several of his students with Jhereg, and a set of the Vlad books up through Dragon now lives in his office.
- Last Call by Tim Powers: A secret history of Las Vegas, poker, and the Fisher King. Besides being mythic up to your ears, it's got grit and tension, which might appeal to someone who likes mysteries or thrillers.
- Spindle's End by Robin McKinley: For those looking for mythic through a fairy-tale format; also for those who like animals. Rich characters and rich prose in service of a fascinating retelling of "Sleeping Beauty." I have some extended quotes in a review.
- Resurrection Man or Mockingbird (review) by Sean Stewart: Tight, intimate family tales with mysterious, non-mechanical magic. Resurrection Man is dark (it opens with the main character looking down at his own corpse), Mockingbird is funny (and, I think, slightly more accessible to mainstream readers), and they're both excellent.
- Sorcery and Cecilia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer (booklog) or The Element of Fire by Martha Wells (booklog entries one, two): Examples of Fantasy of Manners, with all the crackling wit and social negotiation that implies. Sorcery and Cecilia is an epistolary Regency-with-magic, and somewhat lighter than the more seventeenth-century The Element of Fire (which, alas, is also a much harder book to find). Sorcery and Cecilia in particular would be good for romance readers.
- Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett: In which "Five billion people almost DIE, and it is FUNNY" (as Book-A-Minute has put it). Because it's also humane, and we could all use that sometimes.
- Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton (booklog): Okay, I don't exactly know what else this would lead a new reader into besides Walton's other novels, but as a Trollope novel where all the characters are literal dragons and eat each other, well, I bet you could intrigue a lot of people who've read Trollope (willingly or otherwise) into reading it.
Not objective, not authoritative, open for discussion. Comments?