I grew up reading a lot of science fiction because my dad read a lot of science fiction. I wasn't trying to copy him, it's just that we had a LOT of science fiction paperbacks floating around the house. I read all of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan and John Carter of Mars alike, Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, and Frank Herbert. I preferred the nuts and bolts sort of science fiction, spaceships and zap guns and other planets, to the sort that tended more towards fantasy. Heaving bosoms and slashing swords weren't for me, and neither was pacifism.
As an adult, I continued to read science fiction. I married a man who wasn't a reader but who loved that I was, except for, you guessed it, science fiction. He just could not figure out the appeal. Not at all. He saw me once reading a book that showed its science fiction roots and asked, "are you reading about dragons f***ing on Jupiter again?"
***Ever since, when I think of the genre, it's under the subheading, "Dragons F***ing on Jupiter."
One of my favorites was (and still is), "Podkayne of Mars," maybe because it was the first one by Heinlein that I ever read. I was eight or nine when I met her, but I still love Podkayne. Another favorite was "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress," a classic. I reread that one periodically and am always sad that Mike goes silent in the end. I loved how Lazarus Long kept showing up again in this book or that and how Glinda the Good turned out to be a serious power in the universe.
Glinda brings me to L. Frank Baum. The Oz books. I LOVE the Oz books, but was horrified to read that Baum advocated the extermination of Native Americans. It took some thinking about to decide that it was okay for me to separate the artist from the art, much like Wagner. Baum wrote more than just the Oz books. Some of his other stuff is seriously dated, but books like "The Magical Monarch of Mo" were still a lot of fun to read to my girls.
I loved Ray Bradbury, the way his books could bring you right into their environment so much that stopping reading was disorienting. I think of his "Fahrenheit 451" whenever I see the huge tvs that some folks have, or theaters in the home. Sad.
Douglas Adams was in a class by himself. KidTwo even has a tattoo that reads, "Don't Panic." (I don't like tattoos, but can't argue with the sentiment.) I love that bad poetry is a weapon, and that Marvin is paranoid, and that the meaning of life is 42.
An author not so well known as all of those listed above, except to those of us who are devotees, was Fredric Brown. He wrote for the pulps, detective fiction and science fiction alike. Who else could write a story about the stars in the skies leaving their assigned paths not to announce the Second Coming but to spell out an advertisement for soap? And Brown's martians were little green men--read "Martians Go Home" to find out why.
Anne McCaffrey's Pern books are fun. Not tremendously heavy reading, but fun. Given my interest in anthropology and evolution, I found it especially interesting that the society on Pern developed from colonists sent from an advanced world, with people having to organize themselves to fit a new environment and things once known through science being lost.
But none of those are my favorite science fiction story, no matter how much I love all those authors, even Fredric Brown.
My favorite science fiction story is "Dune," by Frank Herbert. I came across this one somewhere when I was a freshman in high school and took it to English to read. (My English teacher that year was still suffering the after-effects of the sixties--there wasn't much to do in her class except to read books from home. Or try to see if there really was weed in her purse.)
"Dune" is an amazing book. The scope of it, the breadth and depth and complexity of it, are all incredible. Every secondary character is interesting enough to warrant a novel on his own. The weaving of religion and politics and history, the self-contained mythology, is subtle and consistent; the characters are as noble and venal and grasping and petty as any in history. Personal freedom is contrasted with self-sacrifice, the meaning of an indivdual life held up against the greater good. It's an achievement that blows my mind again every time I read it. The sequels to "Dune" are all over the map, some good and some not so good. I doggedly read all the ones by Frank Herbert and browsed through the ones written by his son, Brian. The one I most enjoyed, after "Dune" itself, was "Children of Dune," but even that one didn't begin to approach the wonder that was the original.