Joined: Aug. 2005
I second Good Omens and American Gods.
Xanth, the entire output of Piers Anthony for that matter, skip it. Pratchett is far superior.
I could write a pretentious novel of my own on the subject of genre literature (SF/Fantasy), but I'll try to limit myself to what I consider the cream of the crop.
My favorite genre author, bar none, is Gene Wolfe. Often referred to as "the best writer you've never read," his prose never fails to be anything but excellent. His magnum opus is the tetrology The Book of the New Sun. I like genre-bending stuff, not quite science fiction, not quite fantasy, and this one sets the standard for that kind of thematic inventiveness.
I am especially fond of the Latro books. Originally published as Soldier in the Mist and Soldier of Arete, they are now in print in one volume, called Latro in the Mist. Set in the ancient Mediterranean just after the Persian Wars, the story is presented as the "diary" of a (Roman?) soldier who was wounded in battle and has amnesia. Along with this disability, however, comes the ability to see and interact with the gods, who seem to take an at times unhealthy interest in Latro's doings. It can be frustrating to read, since many events have to be inferred --Latro often has no idea what's going on around him. But, if you can dig it, the narrative trick is Wolfe's art, and he is truly a master. There's a new one out, too, after twenty years, called Soldier of Sidon.
There's agreat deal more, both SF and Fantasy, and a lot of it you couldn't say what it is really. Mostly it's just damn fine writing.
Another favorite author is Michael Swanwick. He deals in a brand of decidedly grown-up dark fantasy that would frankly scare the pants off the likes of David Eddings. My fave is Iron Dragon's Daughter, which turns the fairy-tale upside down and sets it in a gritty, magical-industrial dystopia. Again, a tantalizing blend of Fantasy and Sci-Fi themes. It's currently out of print in the US (not sure about the UK), so look for it used or at the library. Just out is a sequel, Dragons of Babel, which I have not yet read. I believe its release has occasioned a reprint of Daughter, so the first one may soon be available new.
Swanwick isn't the craftsman Wolfe is, but then, nobody is.
On the SF side, for a taste of "the new Space Opera," I recommend two authors: Charles Stross, especially Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise, and Alastair Reynolds, a series beginning with Revelation Space.
My Fantasy runners-up are China Mieville (Perdido Street Station et al) and Ian R. MacLeod (The Light Ages and House of Storms). Both brilliantly inventive, if not outright weird, both much darker than traditional swords n' sorcery-type Fantasy.
The is the beauty of being me- anything that any man does I can understand.