The next work on my list of books everyone ought to read is Interstellar Patrol by Christopher Anvil.
I should mention that Interstellar Patrol is a collection of stories; what I really consider obligatory reading is the first three stories. They were originally published in Analog several decades ago; then turned into a “fix-up novel,” under the title of Paradise Planet (if I remember correctly; it might also have been Strangers in Paradise), that wasn’t nearly as good; and then republished in their original form in this volume as part of Baen’s recent effort to get a lot of the “forgotten classics of SF” back into print.
This collection was in the Baen Free Library, and I trust will return there once they’ve gotten their issues with Amazon et al. worked out; when the Library is returned to its former glory, you’ll be able to read the collection for free.
Now, with those two notes out of the way, here’s why I think these stories belong on the list.
Part of it is sheer enjoyment: Anvil writes in a distinctive style (except that’s not quite right, because the style sometimes varies from story to story). I won’t say “inimitable,” because I have occasionally read passages by other authors that indicated that perhaps they could write like Anvil with a little effort. But because no other major author I know of does, reading a story by Christopher Anvil is a rare treat—not a “comfort read” like (for me) Understood Betsy or The Princess and the Goblin, but like the first raspberries of summer, or the first slice of bread fresh from the oven.
Some authors are chiefly notable for the worlds they build, some for the engaging characters they write about, some for the well-constructed or intriguing plots they devise, and some for the engaging narrative “voice.” Anvil is none of these. His stories are “idea stories,” a category that once nearly defined science fiction, but unlike so many of those early works, his work (and these stories in particular) show considerable skill in worldbuilding, characterization, plotting, and narration, but all of these are invariably set in service to the story, and given less prominence or even omitted altogether if that better serves the story. (Which is why, above, I said that his style varies from story to story—different ideas are better served by different styles.)
In the “Paradise” stories (“Strangers to Paradise”, “The Dukes of Desire”, and “The King’s Legions”), which form the first section of the Interstellar Patrol collection and are the “obligatory reading” for which I placed it on the list, Anvil has produced an interesting and all-too-plausible world, a cast of likable and amusing characters, and engaging plots each leading to a satisfying conclusion—and subtly raises deep questions, while showing some possible answers, about human nature and the fundamentals of politics and human society.
Which brings us to the next point: in addition to the delight of any Anvil story and of these in particular, these have a “weight” to them that’s rare in science fiction’s “idea stories.” The issues that they raise are important ones that we—individually and as a society—need to grapple with, and the stories clearly show the point, which so many nowadays seem to miss, that good intentions and a reason to believe your plans will work are not enough. And the assumption explicitly underlying the whole thing is that societal problems’ roots lie in the human heart and its desires, rather than on the surface of actions and words—another point that so much rhetoric nowadays seems to miss.
And there are other, almost-as-weighty, points made in the other stories in the volume.
So, for edification and delight, I say that everyone ought to read Interstellar Patrol by Christopher Anvil.