Sunday, July 23, 2006

The horror, the horror (and the sci-fi, the sci-fi)

In a comment to a post below, swlrir asked for suggestions for recommended reading lists for genre fiction (SF, Fantasy and Horror). Not wishing to clog up the post with a huge comment, I thought I'd start a new thread for suggestions (and brief reasons for their recommendation).

William Gibson - "Virtual Light/Idoru/All Tomorrow's Parties"
The vision of the future in Gibson's "Bridge Trilogy" is either a utopia or a dystopia depending on your viewpoint. More accessible than some of his other work, there are some striking images (a community living on the superstructure of a post-quake Golden Gate Bridge, for instance).

Patrick Tilley - "Fade Out"
Almost forgotten in the wake of Tilley's magnum opus "The Amtrak Wars", this tale of contact with an alien technology has been oft-copied but never bettered. If we were to lose all the technological advantages of the last 70 years, how would we cope? (Hint: It would be a bit like calling our tech support helpdesk...)

Ray Bradbury - "Fahrenheit 451"
It would be remiss of me as a librarian to leave this title out. The tyranny of censorship has never been more eloquently described. A classic example of how science fiction can be best placed to treat the big themes of modern life.

Stephen Donaldson - "The Mirror of Her Dreams/A Man Rides Through"
As with Tilley and Gibson, the less well known works are often gems and this small series is no exception. The central idea, that a young woman is transported to another world where mirrors have a very different, and much more dangerous use, is a great hook. As ever, Donaldson's imagery is striking and his inventive use of language is always interesting.

Robert Holdstock - "Mythago Wood" et al
The "Mythago Wood" series of novels and short stories are an intriguing look at the form and function of myths, especially those Northern European ones we've always taken for granted. Arthurian knights, Robin Hood and the Green Man all crop up in various guises throughout these books, and after reading these you'll never think of British folk traditions as cosy ever again, (not that lonewytch ever would!) nor will you be quite so relaxed walking through woodland in future!

William Goldman - "The Princess Bride"
There are few books that one could honestly say transcends age groups and genres, but this is one of them. Ostensibly it's a fairy story, told to a bedridden boy by his grandfather, but in reality it's much more than that. Yes, it's got beautiful princesses, dread pirates, Spanish swordsmen, giants, albinos and villainous Sicilians; but it also has a lot to say on friendship, honour and dare I say it, true love. Plus the film rocks!

William Peter Blatty - "The Exorcist"
A lot more thought provoking than the publicity surrounding the film suggests, this is a profound look at the nature of evil. It's also a lot more equivocal than the film, leaving it up to the reader to decide in many instances whether the events are religious or psychological in origin.

M.R. James - "The Collected Stories"
M.R. James was the Edwardian Stephen King: he painted a picture of a plausible, recognisable world, then introduced something alien, malign or downright diabolical into it. Some of the stories are legendary, such as "Oh Whistle and I"ll Come To You, My Lad" with its creature posessing "a face of crumpled linen". Others, such as "The Tractate Middoth" are cool because they introduce the idea that libraries can be really creepy places!

Stephen King - "Salem's Lot"
I've always been something of an evangelist for Stephen King: he's a lot more subtle and interesting a writer than he's given credit for. This inventive updating of the vampire mythology, centring on the infestation of a township in New England says as much about small town life as it does about bloodsucking creatures. All you need to know about "Salem's Lot" is that without it, there would be no "Buffy the Vampire Slayer".


swlrir said...

Thanks, Bibliothecary : That's a great start. My top 10 SF list has hit 15 and is still growing ; I'll post it when I get it back under control.

M.R. James is (along with Sherlock Holmes) my standby book ; for when I'm between reads, or can't sleep at 3.00am.

michael said...

I have to bow down to both of you: I'm a relative neophyte, with a lot to learn about SF, but I think I'm in safe hands here.

One of the best parts of my English degree was the module on modern science fiction: we read a good range of mid-late 20th century SF, the tutor was incredibly keen and the module even attracted people from other departments, notably a computer science student. The moral of this story: SF builds bridges!

I don't have 10 books for an SF list, but I have genuinely enjoyed them more than any of the "serious" literature I've read in the last few years.

I only started reading SF novels late last year. It occurred to me that I love SF in other formats so books ought to be worth a look as well. I was right.

William Gibson - Neuromancer.

I love postmodern theory and this book is a wonderful illustration of intertextuality in the finest pomo tradition. It is painfully easy to see how other SF has drawn on this iconic work.

The very second direct neural interfaces for computers become an achievable reality, I'll be at the front of the queue. And if I could have a HUD in my specs as well, I would be quite happy.

Philip K Dick - Do androids dream of electric sheep?

I came to this book after I'd seen Blade runner, which had an interesting effect: the film is great in its own right, but weak if considered as an adaptation of the book.

Both are equally brilliant examples of what they do. Do androids... uses a dirty, noir-ish SF futurescape to ask some big questions about humanity, identity and society. Thought-provoking as well as a truly enjoyable read.

William Shatner - TekWar.

TekWar is technically a pretty terrible book. It's on my list because it put a big, wide grin on my face.

The writing is dire. Each character is introduced with detail on their height, hair colour, build, clothing and age; dialogue drives the plot forward; the book is clearly a pale imitation of "proper" cyberpunk. But Shatner's name on the cover counts for a lot. The man was Kirk, for gosh sakes! The final word goes to Principal Skinner:

" Well, the kids have to learn about "Tek War" sooner or later".

Alastair Reynolds - Revelation space.

This is unarguably a proper SF novel. Reynolds was an astrophysicist before he switched to writing full-time, which explains the thorough and realistic use of science within the novel.

The scope of the novel is impressive, with generational and prehistorical elements tied into the main characters. On occasion, the writing is a little disappointing; plot, movement, science and range make up for it though, in my opinion. I have some more of Reynolds' novels lined up in my (growing) SF collection at home.

Kim Stanley Robinson - Red Mars.

Red Mars combines good contemporary writing with a sound SF backdrop: human colonisation of Mars. It almost reads as a "real" account of terran activity of the red planet, with all of the main characters realised with exceptional detail.

This realism extends to the characters' interactions with each other and with Mars. We see fallings-out, political manoeuvring, scientific innovation and more, none of which seems tokenistic or forced, as it might in other novels.

As for fantasy, I haven't gone further than the Discworld series by Terry Practhett. I'm working my way steadily through them, and already Pratchett has become my favourite author. Wit, adventure, knowing winks to the reader, pastiche of more than just fantasy - there is a lot to be found here. Not that anyone reading this needs to be told, I'm sure...

I've not read any horror, other than the titles commented on earlier, which I will have studied as set texts at some point.

My horizons, then, will benefit from some expansion. Any comments on where I could take my SF&F reading will be gratefully received, and recommended titles will be gleefully devoured.