Rainn Wilson geeks out: 10 favorites from my sci-fi and fantasy bookshelf

July 29, 2011 | 3:14 a.m.

1) Ray Bradbury: He's the godfather of my nerd-dom. I got into the whole genre through his books. I discovered him deep in the stacks of the Shoreline public library and my mind was instantly teleported into realms of bizarre, imaginative genius. Along with Rod Serling, he’s the early master of the field.

2) Clifford Simak’s “City”: I was obsessed with this book as a teen and read it several times. It is truly weird. Through a series of interlinked stories, we come to know of the demise of humanity and the rise of the next dominant species, the talking dog. Yes, the talking dog. And then the ultimate master of planet Earth is revealed, the talking ant.

3) Robert E Howard: I seem to have lost all my original Robert E. Howard “Conan” books, but thankfully I still have “Kull” and a few others. He was a tremendous author and really launched the genre of sword and sorcery. He’s like an edgy, pulp J.R.R. Tolkien and deserves -- and needs more -- mad respect. The subsequent authors that took up his Conan series were sucky and lame compared to the brilliant, dark Howard. Forget Arnold, the original “Conan” was a ferocious bad-ass who lived in a terrifying world of sorcery. (Note: I have high hopes for Jason Momoa, who is playing Conan in the "reboot." I thought he did a great job as Khal Drogo in “Game of Thrones” on HBO.)

4) John Norman: He was a freak. He was a philosophy professor who had a bondage fetish. His “Gor” fantasy books were filled with noble warriors who rode giant birds around and bought and sold docile women sex slaves. Why my parents let me read these books, I’ll never know. Great cover, though.

5) Roger Zelazny: I read this series many times and it was one of my favorites. The “Amber” series is about a magical family that uses Tarot cards. That’s about all I remember. That, and one of the characters is named “Random," which actually inspired my aunt and uncle when they chose to name my younger cousin. Nerds all around.

6) Fritz Leiber: Leiber was most famous for his series of “sword and sorcery” novels (a phrase he coined) about the two great friends and roguish antiheroes Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Fafhrd was a 7-foot blond barbarian and his friend was a little thief named Mouse. I identified with Fafhrd for some reason and had a little friend, John Valadez, whom I called the ‘Gray Mouser’ as we ran around the woods of Seattle with fake swords and garbage-can lids for shields.

7) "Logan's Run": This book and movie blew my mind. I was 10 years old when the movie came out. It was pure big-budget sci-fi cheese and I loved it. It starred my hero, Michael York of “The Four Musketeers” who made a brilliant "sandman" named Logan 5 in the city of eternal youth. The book was even darker and weirder.

8) "Stormbringer": Oh, how I longed to be the undead, albino warrior Elric of Melniboné slinging the soul-sucking demon sword on the cover of Michael Moorcock’s "Stormbringer." I mean, look at the guy. Who wouldn’t want to be him? Heavy metal, baby.

9) "The Eyes of the Overworld" by Jack Vance was probably my favorite fantasy book ever. Vance wrote impossibly thick prose but had an amazing dark sense of humor. I loved that the hero, Cugel the Clever, unlike so many other fantasy heroes, had to rely on his wits to get by in this fantastically imaginative world.

10) And, last but not least, who could leave the realm of sci-fi and fantasy books of the '70s without mentioning the greatest masterwork of all, "Tentacles of Dawn"! Authored by this very own nerd’s father, Robert Wilson, it’s about a guy who wakes up in an egg in a cave and, after dodging a giant bat and some "wild wagon women" goes on a quest for the “Watcher of the World.” That’s my dad!

Rainn Wilson stars in the  most dangerous masked-man movie of the year, “Super,” which hits DVD on Aug. 9, but the actor is no newcomer to the fanboy universe. In this guest essay, the famous face from “The Office” turns back the pages on his love of sci-fi and fantasy novels. Click through the photo gallery above to see some of his beloved bookshelf artifacts (make sure the “Captions On” option has been selected).

Rainn Wilson (Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times)

When I was growing up in the ’70s in suburban Seattle, I had a secret obsession. I was a science fiction and fantasy nerd. This was waaaay before it was ever halfway cool to be one. This was before “Star Wars,” mind you. Before Comic-Con and “The Dark Knight” and the “Lord of the Rings” movies. These were the dark days of “Logan’s Run” and “Zardoz” and “Silent Running.”

My dad was an aspiring sci-fi author and we used to go every year to NorWesCon, the sci-fi and fantasy convention of Seattle. The most bizarre, mossy, unwashed nerds of the northwest would crawl out of their caves and cabins and caverns and descend upon the Ramada Inn at Sea-Tac airport for a weekend of lectures, book signings and Dungeons & Dragons gaming.

My parents were a couple of odd bohemians living in suburban Seattle. We didn’t have much money but my dad had an awesome rule: As many books as I wanted, he would buy me.

I have many fond memories of poring over the outlandish sci-fi and fantasy book covers at the University Book Store in Seattle and choosing a stack to bring home with me to devour. I have managed to, over the many decades since the late ’70s, hold on to a good deal of my collection and I’m proud to share with you now some of my favorite authors and their covers from my bookshelf.

– Rainn Wilson


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26 Responses to Rainn Wilson geeks out: 10 favorites from my sci-fi and fantasy bookshelf

  1. rob says:

    Mr. Wilson–you are even more interesting and fun than Dwight! Thanks for the article–rob h.

  2. Rae says:

    "The most bizarre, mossy, unwashed nerds of the northwest would crawl out of their caves and cabins and caverns" SO TRUE!

  3. Steve says:

    Michael Moorcock must've had a fun time in high school with that name.

  4. C Broderick says:

    Great commentary by Rainn (read the captions) of some classic SF. And he nails the 70's geekdom from the Pacific Northwest. I'm surprised he doesn't have Theodore Sturgeon, Damon Knight, Frank Herbert (he's from Seattle,Rainn!) and some others on that list. And of course, where's LOTR?

  5. Tmiller says:

    I commit to read these books. However, I also committed to watch all of Herschell Gordon Lewis' films.

  6. Jason says:

    I am now officially a Rainn Wilson fan. One, he admits his full throttle geekdom with metal mania on the fringe – much like myself. Two, he grew up in the Northwest (I'm from Portland). And three, he would appreciate my opinion on the epic life changing truth is better stated as a question: Since when did being Geek become so cool?!?! …which leads to the fourth reason which is to say I am sure he had one or two days of "not fitting in" with the preps and jocks growing up. I had one or two days of that too.

    All in all, the despite some rumor of fame and fortune via a hit TV show, he's probably a guy you could be friends with and shoot the sh!t many a rainy NW afternoon. To bad he cant reply to comments, that would be cool.

  7. Guest says:

    Jack Vance's "Eyes of the Overworld" (and almost anything else by Vance) is wonderful. I wonder why there aren't lots of movies based on Vance books?

  8. Dan says:

    Thank you Rainn, I am a big fan of yours. I am also a big sci fi fan and can say that I missed this genre, probably because the books you like are more sci-fi/fantasy than purely one or the other. One more example to parents that if you want to raise incredibly smart kids, get them to read (and read to them) as much as possible.

  9. Col Bat Guano says:

    The "Amber" series by Zelazny is a classic right up there with LOTR and The Foundation/

  10. Datus says:

    The very first time I saw Dwight on The Office I thought to myself how much that character reminded me of the people I grew up with. Did I grow up in Seattle? No! Small town Connecticut! I wasn't surprised then to learn of Rainn's recent involvement with Weezer. I guess us old school sci-fi / fantasy nerds are all kindred in a way aren't we? Good times… good times…

  11. Jay says:

    Wow, no Isaac Asimov..? Read Foundation Trilogy and get back to me… Dune, Frank Herbert?

  12. Math Prof says:

    Mr. Rainn, I too grew up in the 70's and my dad was a USMC colonel and a bit of a hard ass, but he too had one basic rule that I also greatly appreciated…any book I wanted he would buy for me as long as he knew I would read it and tell him about what I had learned from it. Teaching your children to be life long learners is the greatest gift a parent can give…

  13. Matt says:

    THIS is a great article. And how awesome are those original booksleeves!?? Thanks, Rainn and Hero Complex!

  14. Fortesque Montgomery says:

    ..Srsly brah? Outlaw of Gor?

  15. mpittscampbell says:

    Pity that only two are science fiction, as much as I love the Chronicles and as much fun as Vance is..

  16. hgpress says:

    Great list, Mr. Wilson, and I'm a big fan of yours.

    Women write science fiction, too, however…

  17. Charles Gramlich says:

    This is cool. Outlaw of Gor was pretty good. Before Normon got off on his slave girl stuff. All this stuff is great. I would have loved to go those cons as a kid. There weren't any in Arkansas.

  18. Nickie says:

    God – had so many friends who wanted to be Elric. I got you all figured out now, sir. Too awesome.

  19. lifediving says:

    Love that you're a total geek. But how is Dune not on this list?!

  20. Elvi says:

    I have all of these except the Wilson, most inherited from my father. I read all the Gor books as an impressionable teen – though unlike some of the other works I haven't passed those along to my daughters to read…. Would the Wilson in question be your father, achieving his aspirations? Must go Google…
    I'd love to see your library catalogued on LibraryThing. Sounds like there'd be a big overlap with mine…

  21. Kyle says:

    Thank you for sharing a glimpse at your geekdom. You refer to the covers: I hope that readers also appreciate the artistry of Michael Whelan (“Stormbringer”) and Boris Vallejo (“Outlaw of Gor”). I don’t see any of his covers on your list but what discussion of Conan books is complete without mentioning the late and great Frank Frazetta. I hope a post of the scifi and fantasy artists will be next.

  22. J A says:

    Male, male, male. Not to mention mostly drek, but I guess there's no accounting for taste.

  23. jack says:

    Great list…well representing of the era with the inclusions of Fafhrd & Grey Mouse books and of course Micheal Moorcock's Elric saga! Could there be some other additions? Of course! I would have had to include at least one Robert Heinlein novel and the first Dune books…but that's my list!

  24. John J. Dunbar says:

    This article should be re-titled “I Was Nerdy (When Nerdy Wasn’t Cool)”

  25. Jason M Waltz says:

    Awesome history, awesome collection, and some terrific summations! Thanks for sharing

  26. Vince Scoggins says:

    I know this is a long shot–but I am trying to find the name/ author of a series of paperbacks in the 70S about a man that, when he goes to sleep- he is transported to another planet by the "elders" ?of that planet to help fight their wars. In it he is a great warrior there, some animals talk, some are viscious, he can fly on some. It seemed like there were 3 or 4 in the series.Any ideas–Thanks Vince

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