We're all familiar with the feeling we get when we're swept away by an incredible piece of music. Often it's a particular passage that hits us in just the right way; it's one of the few ways you can reliably make me emotional. Not surprisingly, that's also the reason I've done my music plugs bit - to share some of those experiences with you.
But it's not just music that can touch a person - every once and a while, I'll go back to one of my favorite books and read a passage that moves me, or just makes my spine tingle. Here's a short list (which should also be taken as recommendations):
If there's a better magical realist sci-fi author than Ian McDonald, I haven't found her. McDonald's prose style is unique, punchy, powerful. There's a passage in Desolation Road, the first of his two Mars novels (novels? is that even the right word?) where rain falls on the Viking probe for the first time. Note - and this can be said for nearly all of the passages listed here - that some of its impact comes from the lead-up throughout the book and it doesn't hit at full strength without that background, but it's still enough that Jo Walton over at Tor.com used it as a reading at her wedding. That's enough of an endorsement for me.
Following up Desolation Road is Ares Express, the story of a young girl going on an adventure that crosses the face of Mars. The introduction to the book is also our introduction to her, and there's no better way to introduce both a character and a world than the first five pages of that book. Do yourself a favor - go to Barnes and Noble, find Ares Express, and read the prologue. If you are not immediately moved to buy the thing, I fear for your soul.
Yeah, yeah, we know - Pratchett is almost cliche: prolific, goofy, a geek's geek's favorite writer. But when he's on, he's on. And seldom is he more on than in his characterization of his, well... characters, who are always simultaneously relatable and larger-than-life. Death's introduction to Mort in Mort is one of those beautiful little pieces of prose that sends tingles down your spine. And the parable of Granny Weatherwax and the farmer's wife in Carpe Jugulum... well, that's some pretty intense stuff there, too.
Guy Gavriel Kay
Certainly, there are some holy crap moments in Kay's largely low-fantasy, alternate-historical fiction, but there's a passage in Sailing to Sarantium that literally forced me to put down the book because I couldn't read through the tears that were streaming down my face. It's not a sad passage - I just found it that powerful, like when you hear the opening of the last movement of Beethoven's 5th Symphony for the first time. Kay's description of the small chapel in Sauradia - and Crispin's reaction to it, punctuated by Kasia's response - is so amazing that if it were any shorter I'd include an excerpt right here.
Anyway, those are my top picks - if you've got any of your own to suggest, please do!