The Island of Dr. Moreau
I know it's famous, yet it is nowhere near as well known as The Time Machine or The War of the Worlds, though it's probably Wells's best novel. Book four of Gulliver's Travels transformed into a blasphemous evolutionary parable.
1930s vision of a tribalistic future in
post-apocalypse England, starkly and humanely written.
Finnley Wren (not really sf, but so what?)
Another lost masterpiece of the 1930s,
a novel in the manner of Tristram Shandy, full of misogyny, wit,
a terrifying description of a forest fire, and one-and-a-half sf stories.
The Long Loud Silence
As much as he is known as a fan, Tucker
is vastly under-appreciated as a serious writer. In the 1950s he wrote
a series of calm, unsentimental books about ordinary men facing extraordinary
circumstances. Try this one, and then find The Lincoln Hunters and
The fate of the Neanderthal at the hands
of Cro-Magnon. The anthropology may be dated, but the story devastates.
A for Anything
Knight at his most incisive punctures half
a dozen sf cliches, but the power of the book is its bleak picture of the
hero's submission to whatever rules.
They Walked Like Men
Though I might have chosen Simak's Hugo
Winning but still forgotten Way Station as an alternative, I enjoyed
this book more than almost any I read in the early sixties Uncharacteristically
close to Phil Dick territory, about aliens (they look like bowling balls!)
who can assume any human shape and are buying the world. Funny, horrifying,
with hints of creepy sexuality.
Overshadowed by Camp Concentration,
this is Disch's best book, poised on the edge of satire, preceding his
descent into epicurean cynicism.
Robinson, K.S. Pacific Edge
The least noted of Robinson's California trilogy contains his most gripping human story, of frustrated love. And the guts to base a plot on a zoning battle.