I've been on a bit of a book-buying binge lately, in this case re-purchasing a few books that, frankly, I've worn the covers off! I am forced to admit that there are more than a few of these, and it's good to get new versions on my shelves...but it got me to thinking, a little, about what I would have as a writer's 'Appendix N'. (The famous 'recommended fiction' appendix in the original Dungeon Master's Guide, which I suspect was the introduction to a lot of excellent fantasy fiction to hundreds of thousands of people.) So – without further ado, and in no particular order...
The Early Asimov (Isaac Asimov, obviously)
These are the three books that got me started as a writer. I mean that quite literally – it was reading these three books that convinced me not only that I wanted to write as a living, but that I could write for a living. What you have here are the first stories that Isaac Asimov sold when he was starting out, as well as a potted autobiography of him in these early stages of his career, and both are tremendously inspirational. The beauty of this collection, in this order, is that you can see Asimov's development of a writer, and hear him talking about how he progressed – and god, some of the early stories are ropey. I think this was key to me when I was a kid...it was the breakthrough that the great writers learned too. They didn't just sit down at the typewriter and start, they had to learn their craft. That little lesson got me through the first few years of disastrous drafts, and frankly, the stories are fun as well.
Gold (Isaac Asimov)
At this point you might get that Dr. Asimov was and is a massive influence on my work. This comes at the other end of his life, and collects some of his later short stories (though I am forced to say that his later novels were not the equal of his earlier, his short stories never faded) as well as a thundering lot of essays on science fiction and writing. The stories are good, but the essays are brilliant, and this is one of those books that I break out every year or so to read – it really is that good.
The Lost Worlds of 2001 (Arthur C. Clarke)
Can I admit at this point that I don't actually like 2001 that much? I can see what they were trying for, but...it just doesn't work for me. I prefer the book. Though over them both, I prefer this book, which is essentially a diary of the writing of the novel and the extremely early days of production of the movie. This book is basically Arthur C. Clarke talking about the writing of a book, and you can winnow out pieces of his style and the manner of his creation – with the bonus prize that he includes a lot of 'deleted scenes' from the book, including several attempts at the ending (at least one of which I prefer, frankly). This sort of revelation about writing is golden, and it's an excellent book to read to boot.
Four Thousand Years Ago (Geoffrey Bibby)
This is actually a book I only read for the first time last year, but it catapulted right to the top of my list. Essentially, this covers the entirety of the Second Millenium BC, and covers it as if it is outlining the setting of a fantastic fantasy landscape, describing the different cultures, religions and peoples. The writer was an archaeologist; he was also, I venture, a great loss to the world of fantasy and historical fiction. Another of my great inspirations, albeit one that I have barely begun to tap. A good supplement to this book is another called 'The Ancient Explorers', which covers a similar period with a focus of the history of explorers in the ancient world; between the two of them, I reckon you'd have material for an awful lot of stories, and I hope to write some of them in the near future.
The Science of Aliens (Clifford Pickover)
Finally I get to a book that is actually in print! Hurray! I know I've been promising this for ages, but aliens are going to make an appearance in the Triplanetary setting; they've been name-dropped as early as 'Price of Admiralty', and there have been a few other appearances of long-dead creatures...but for the creation of a real, living, culture, it is hard to go wrong with this book. The writer is an SF author in his own right, and it shows – it really covers all the bases quite concisely, giving a good feel for how different worlds affect different creatures, and thinking through all the problems. It's just a generally good book, and makes my 'Appendix N' list.
A Means To Freedom (Robert E. Howard / H. P. Lovecraft)
I could have put a lot of books by these authors on this list, but I've chosen this one simply because it provides a terrific window into the creative processes of these great authors, their ideas, philosophies and thoughts, and really allows one to have an opportunity to get inside their heads – and that's the truly invaluable thing here. This was a 30th birthday present, and I've read both volumes twice since then, and likely will again several times, simply for the insights into their thought processes it provides.