Philip K Dick, that is. He’s my bookshelf selection for my favourite author whose surname begins with the letter D, nestling between Colin Dexter and Charles Dickens.
Easy choice, really, if you’re a science fiction writer. I could have gone for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle but (whisper it) I find his writing turgid, repetitive and uninspired. I could have gone for Dickens, too, but I am occasionally conscious we’re living in the 21st Century and all that rich boy unexpectedly finding themselves poor then regaining riches nonsense gets a bit wearing after a while. Still, Miss Havisham. Now there’s a gothic legend.
Dick, though, has influenced me way more than Charles Dickens (reputedly the world’s most famous novelist of all time – in print continuously since 1837). Growing up, it was all Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein – until I discovered Philip K Dick. There was something… off about his fiction. It wasn’t all square jawed pilots and hardy space explorers with Dick. No, it was all stuff to make your head spin. Dreamscapes, people who weren’t people at all. People with other people in their heads. Androids. Nazis winning the war. Dystopia. The paranormal. World War III. All written with an unsettling confidence each page, each idea primed to set his readers off balance.
The world didn’t really catch up with Philip K Dick until after he died an untimely death of a stroke in 1982, aged just 53, an agonising three months before the release of Blade Runner, based on his pacey but thoughtful exploration into humanity Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. After that our screens were full of Dick adaptations – Total Recall,Minority Report, The Adjustment Bureau and (on Amazon Prime) The Man in the High Castle. I learned from Philp K Dick that fiction doesn’t have to be ordinary and straightforward. It can be irreverent, take twists and turns with logic and ideas and really take a poke at what is and what isn’t. And that’s why D is for Dick.
What if you could sell your dreams but can’t buy them back, and now all you have are nightmares? My fantasy short story collection Dreams and Visions is avaiable now through Amazon (paperback and e-book). Monsters, wizards and impossible decisions. Plus demons.
Choosing an author whose surname begins with the letter ‘C’ wasn’t straightforward. A was always going to be for Atwood and B for Banks, but C? Orson Scott Card wrote one of my favourite books (Ender’s Game) and Arthur C Clarke takes most of a shelf, but both are flawed and neither is truly great. Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is surely one of the best fantasy novels of recent times (though her back catalogue is too sparse for this selection) and Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler (from very different perspectives) have filled many of my hours with gripping tales of crime and detection (though I prefer my writers to take themselves – and their characters – a little more seriously). Lewis Carrol’s there, as are Jack L Chalker and Edmund Cooper (relatively obscure hidden pleasures), but again they’re too light for my selection. James A Corey (author of the Expanse series) would have been there, and probably would have been my choice if he actually existed, but the two people who actually write the books, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, haven’t done enough on their own to demand a place on this list.
For style and substance, there’s only one real choice. Angela Carter. Read her 1979 short story collection, The Bloody Chamber for a profoundly unsettling experience (particularly the title story), or pick up one of her layered novels such as Nights at the Circus (1984) or The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972).
Magic realism? Fantasy? Horror? All of these and more. Here tales are feminist gothic mixed with the fantastic and sinister, and her ideas are challenging and subversive, making her one of the great writers of the 20th century. She died when only 52 in 1992. C is for Carter and The Bloody Chamber is my book choice.