Today was a beautiful day in the city, and I went for walk downtown to get a burger at one of my favorite places, a restaurant with remarkably bad service and great food. It's sort of a Spanish inspired place I suppose, but again, they do serve burgers, so they clearly aren't so highbrow as to refuse slumming it with the likes of me.
I'm sitting at the bar with my nose in my book and my waiter stops by to check what I'm reading, not so interested in taking my order, but interested in my book. That's a-ok with me. I can get service anywhere, but rarely do I find a person who wants to talk books with me.
I sheepishly admit I'm reading a fantasy novel, but I don't really read fantasy. "What do you read?" he asks.
"Science fiction," I say.
His eyes light up and we have a short conversation about Asimov, Haldeman, and Card before he whooshes away to do something that doesn't involve taking orders. I read.
Sometime later he returns, he reluctantly takes my order and asks me a simple sounding question.
"What one Science Fiction book should I read that I haven't?"
I felt my cheeks grow hot before the question was even out of his mouth, "Um," I say, "Ah..., let's see... er... wait... I know this. Let's see. Hmmm, damn. Geez, can you give me a minute?" Yes, it was a rough 30 seconds.
What the hell? I can rattle off every major sci fi book of the last 70 years. Clarke? Bester? Niven? Stapleton? No. I say nothing besides, "give me a minute." I'm such a moron. He takes off and I can no longer read my book. He didn't even bring me a drink!
The place had a staff of around six that I could see. Including myself there was maybe four customers. I don't know what they had going on, but that guy was pretty scarce for the next 45 minutes or so. I did get back to my book, but I couldn't focus. What one book do I recommend that a science fiction fan must read to be in the club?
Dune? No, I like it, but it's the Lord of the Rings of Sci fi, everyone's read the thing. I don't want to be too obvious. Verne? Wells? No, those are classics and aren't really the sort of thing I'm trying to pass out as a tract for my genre. Besides, the guy has read several sci fi classics anyway, he isn't a nube.
I settled on House of Suns, by Alastair Reynolds, and I threw in Scalzi's, Old Man's War as a bonus. Modern books, but two that I think will age well. I wrote them on a small piece of paper and handed it to him as I left. By the time I gave it to him he seemed to have forgotten our conversation. But I insisted he take it. He probably thought I was getting weird and too much in his space. I told him to look at it and he recognized that I'd only written books and authors down and he got real excited again, swearing that he'd hadn't read either of them. I gave my best wizened, all-knowing look, and said nothing.
The teacher had left the building - totally redeemed.