There was a great article on iO9 talking about entry level science fiction and fantasy books. They got a lot of people to give their ideas for great books to introduce someone to science fiction and / or fantasy. I felt bad because there were a lot of books that I had actually never read. At the same time there were a good number that I had read. It was definitely an interesting list of a wide variety of books. The ideas came from authors, publishers, and more, but here are a few books that I think are a great introduction to science fiction and fantasy.
Some of the idea is that science fiction and fantasy can sometimes be so epic and many of the books are such small parts of a larger whole it can be difficult to want to enter in to a potentially large commitment. The books that I think would work well either are single stories or stand on their own enough that they do not further books to get the whole story.
by Orson Scott Card
Now forgetting about the opinions of the author of this book, the ideas and concepts presented still speak to us. Ender Wiggin as a character is someone we can empathize with. The story that is being presented is one that we can understand because we have all had some experience of the military. As one of the writers recommended get it from a library and do not google Orson Scott Card.
by Lois Lowry
I think this book is a great introductory story to the genre of science fiction and fantasy. The story is heavily grounded in the reality that we know and looking at a possible future. It leaves the reader asking questions about life, the future, and society as we know it now. It is a great stand alone story that raises many of the issues that should be raised in a good science fiction story.
by William Gibson
Normally the standard William Gibson is Neuromancer, but my first introduction was this book. Even though critics did not necessarily appreciate it I think the way the story is weaved together has a beauty to it. The thing that is great about this book is that it takes place in a contemporary setting, but it deals so much with technology that it still fits into the genre. It is a more accessible introduction then something that is based in space or so far in the future that the world might be unrecognizable.
by Ray Bradbury
Now this is one of my favorite Ray Bradbury stories. It is simply a great story and one that deals with an issue that we are constantly battling. Just because we do not burn books does not mean we do not have an issue of banning them. It speaks to the heart of what books mean to the world.
By Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Now we have mentioned some pretty serious stories, but we need to make sure to add some humor to the situation and this is the perfect book to do that. A great introduction to a genre book and written by two authors. By reading Good Omens you are introduced to both Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, both of which are great examples of the genre. The combined book is simply a bonus and since both have a large body of work it is a great introduction to their writing styles. It is also just a fun book, which I think can really help with getting someone interested in reading more of the genre.
Now I admit that most of my suggestions are more science fiction, some of that is that I think most of the fantasy I read is a little too epic as an initial introduction. Although Harry Potter is honestly the best one I could probably think of. It can be hard to introduce people to a new genre, but it is about finding the one that they can find something to relate to. If we cannot empathize with the story the book is telling it will be hard to want to read more like it.