A few months ago:
Mike: Saw the first War of the Worlds trailer today.
John: Yeah, I caught it online.
Mike: I loved that opening voice-over. Gave me chills. Totally grabbed me.
John: ... that's from the book.
John: That voiceover. It's the opening paragraph from the original H.G. Wells novel.
John: I love you like a brother. But if you fight me on this, I will kill you with this remote control.
Mike: ... that's not a remote control. That's a steak knife.
John: Go turn the TV channel ... or I'll stab you with this steak knife.
Mike: I see what you're going for here.
And so, because Mike is cool, he went and read the novel, and was completely floored. I reflected on the fact that it had never occurred to me that someone who I consider very bright, creative, and leads a productive life may NOT have read a novel from 1898.
The challenge then, geek brethren -- what is this basic syllabus of sci fi? Category A: submit ten novels/pieces of writing giving a new reader a great general overview of where sci fi came from how it progressed, or what it means. Even single suggestions will be considered, all submissions will be judged on a completely unscientific basis, and the final list posted here on Kung Fu Monkey.
For optional Category B: We can all agree on the classics. but what's your little obsession? The book/work you live which you can't honestly say has reached classic status quite yet, but it knocked you on your ass. Who's your favorite underrated dark horse or up-and-comer?
One week of voting, or whenever I get bored.
Addendum: this is meant to be the newbie friendly list. I may, depending on mood, break this off into 101 and 201 -- and yes, short stories/collections of same are game
Addendum 2: Bonus points for spotting the actual famous sci-fi authors who are posting on this list ...
addendum 3: Has anyone actually ever done a decent overview of sci-fi evolution from, say, nineteenth century through now?