J is for James

After a hiatus I’m back with a rundown of my alphabetical fiction favourite authors. I’m going for P.D. James for J – largely because of her science fiction classic Children of Men, set in a near future world where fertility rates have plummeted and the remaining children are prized. Society begins to break down as despondancy sets in, Soon there are no new births. Until…

This is a dystopian nightmare skilfully presented by a master crime writer switching genres (though I suspect she’s one of those authors who professes not to write science fiction, even though the evidence would suggest otherwise). There’s a geat movie version too, starring the much underused Clive Owen.

Honourable mentions to Kij Johnson, multi Hugo/Nebula winning short story specialist (her novella the Man who Bridged the Mist is a personal favourite) and to N.K Jemisin, whose imaginitive work is getting increasingly recognised (the Fifth Season is a good place to start). But this time around PD James is my chosen author with Children of Men her standout novel.

The Children of Men: James, P. D.: 9780307275431: Amazon.com: Books

Futures – a collection

Futures

A collection

As the world heats we slowly retreat under domes and behind impenetrable walls, waiting for the end of days. But not everyone is ready to die. There are choices – abandon the world or rebuild it? But at what cost? That’s Valentine’s dilemma.

What if you’re outside the domes, the planet frying around you. starving, desperate to get in? If, by some miracle, you succeed, will you remember your friends? Or will you leave your humanity behind, back in the scorched earth? The Beggar and the Golden Dome is a story of shifting perspectives against a background of desperation and salvation.

Your creation is perfect in every way, and you love her. But does she love you back? And does she have a choice? And when you realise what you’ve done, how can you make things right? For Hannah is a story of obsession, oppression and redemption, hubris and enlightenment.

You make first contact, where you least expect it. But there are people amongst you that cannot bring themeselves to beleve that we are not alone – for if there are others, how can we be the chosen ones? Certainty tests our boundaries and considers the lengths people are willing to take to deny what is right in front of their eyes,.

You wake up in a hospital bed, alone in a sterile room. You can’t remember how you got there. You only see your doctor and there’s definitely someting wrong about her. It gradually dawns on you that you’re not in Kansas anymore. Why are you there? How cann you get home? And what’s with the fish? Spirit is a different take on alien abduction.

Your team finds something msyterious in the jungle and people are willing to kill for its secrets. A gun to your head and a shimmering portal to your back – cue a high speed chase through a new world filled with flying monsters and gravity defying cliffs – Sideways.

Then there’s an annoucnent of the end of the world that begins to believe its own publicity in Mad Panic, Flying Paper and Philosopher Cats, a tale of humanity’s retreat into VR tanks in Immersion, surviving the apocalypse in Twins, pulp-fiction space detectives in Hunter, a VR fight for survival in Click, King Lear in Pluto orbit in The Travelling Shakespeare Company and bonding over deep space chess in For Love.

Twelve stories of the near future, some published before, many now out of print and some seen for the first time. Futures. For the future we may want, the future we might get, and the future we actually deserve.

£3.99 ebook £6.999 print – click below to buy.

H is for Heinlein

So, continuing my occasional trawl through my bookselves to find my A-Z favourites, H comes pummeling me over the head with countless options. Ask me tomorrow and I might go for Peter F Hamilton, because he’s so damn readable. But he’d be nowhere without Robert A Heinlein and this is certainly a case of giving due respect to your elders,

Heinlein was one of the big three of science fiction’s golden age, of course, alongside Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke, emerging from the pulps and going on to dominate the field through the 50s, 60s and 70s until age dimmed his talent and the next generation emerged. But, like Shakespeare and the Beatles, his legacy is evident everywhere. There would be no Peter Hamilton (as we know his writing) without Robert Heinlein, No John Scalzi, no Gareth Powell, no Alastair Reynolds, no Stephen Baxter, no Dan Simmonds and no James A Corey. Probably no Star Trek either, because Heinlein was out in space seeking out strange new worlds long before Gene Roddenbery put pen to paper.

As a kid I couldn’t get enough. I worked through his ‘juveniles’ (Tunnel in the Sky, Red Planet, the Star Beast etc etc) and quickly on to his books aimed at older readers. Mid peirod Heinlein classics included Starship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land, Glory Road and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and I’ve returned to them all many times. Later additions were longer, rambling, more indulgent and best forgotten but those early classics have a freshness and energy to them that is rarely evident in more modern work.

Tunnel in the Sky, one of his ‘juveniles’ is my favourite. A bunch of kids on some sort of outward bound survival ecercise on a new planet get stranded with all the adults and teachers cut off when their wormhole link goes down. It doesn’t quite turn into Lord of the Flies in space, not quite.

Heinlein’s politics got dodgy as he got older, and as the spiritual father of military SF he’s got a lot to answer for. But his grunts-in-space classic Starship Troopers also inspired Joe Haldeman’s seminal anti-war novel The Forever War, and early Heinlein would probably have barely recognised his later incarnation. So take him in the round, and like your grandad try and overlook his slightly dubious take on the world and remember what you love about him – strong storytelling, great characters, vivid imagination and the chance to live out your dreams, page by page. H is for Robert A Heinlein, then, and Tunnel in the Sky is my pick of his books.

G is for Gaiman

G is for Gaiman

In my A-Z run through of my favourite writers on my bookshelves (real and virtual) G throws up a conundrum or two. The contenders: Neil Gaiman, William Gibson and Ursula LeGuin. Surely the mother of Earthsea and the father of cyberpunk deserve the shout? Well, yes, probably, but they’re sharing an initial with Neil Gaiman.

Sandman, American Gods, Stardust, Coraline. Need I say more? Well, yes, because Good Omens (co-written with the late, great Terry Pratchett) has always been one of my favourite novels. It’s witty, sharp and readable – the end of days with jokes.

So G is for Gaiman and Good Omens is the book.

F is for Faulks

Because Birdsong is the Dog’s Bollocks. End of.

Longer version: continuing my bookshelf A-Z of favourite authors and their top stories. F’s not a prolific author surname, but there are some standouts, Ian Fleming, much derided in the 1050s by sniffy contemporaries like Graham Greene for being a hack not an artist – but um, let’s see – Brighton Rock or 25 Bond films and counting? Then there’s Jonathan Frantzen for his magnifient The Corrections – surely one of the finest novels of recent generations, And the incomparable F. Scott Fitzgerald with his masterpiece The Great Gatsby – period-heavy tale of love, obsession, class and teh American Dream (again sniffed at by his contemporaries).

So why am I choosing Sebastian Faulks’ BIrdsong over Bond or Gatsby? Well The Bond novels don’t represent great writing even though the character is, undewniably, iconic and enduring. And Gatsby? There’s a car-crawh plot contrivance at the end that’s always bothered me. Bridsong’s not without its issues either, It’s mostly set against the backdrop of the First World War but for the first 100 pages or so (it’s a long novel) there’s nary a trench in sight – early on, the story concentrates on an illicit love affair between a British businessman and a married Frenchwoman. And then the war kicks in. Layered, intricate and engaging, Birdsong timeslips before, during and after the war to great effect examining love, loss, war and sacrifice. The (relatively) modern day sections are probably a mistake, but they’re short. And there’s a sequence towards the end – where our hero is trapped in tunnels under enemy lines – that build up suspense and tension better than any writing I can recall. Astounding writing. F is for Faulks and for Birdsong.

Birdsong: Amazon.co.uk: Faulks, Sebastian: 9780099387916: Books

E is for Eliot

Continuing my A-Z roundup of best on my shelves.

I know, I know – all getting literary around here and no zombies or space opera in sight. But George Eliot’s Middlemarch is the standout best book of the 19th Century, in my opinion. And then there’s The Mill on the Floss, Daniel Deronda, Silas Marner…

I think part of the reason for my choice is that poor old Mary Anne Evans had to change her name in order to get published. I can’t imagine how difficult it would have been for her to find a publisher, let alone the encouragement to continue writing in such a male-dominated world. Her writing was far from stereotypical either – Middlemarch is all about death, obligation, debt and disgrace. It challenges the notion that women can’t be strong and independent as it entertainingly portrays 19th century life. This book, and this writer, have stayed with me for decades, so this selection is straightforward. E is for Eliot and particularly for Middlemarch.

Portrait of Eliot, c. 1849

Darker more contemporary choices would be Bret Easton Ellis for the disturbing but magnificent American Pshycho and Harlan Ellison for just about everything, though he could have been a bit nicer about it (a legendary staight talking curmudgen). F will be more modern, I promise!

D is for Dick

D is for Dick

Pin on Philip K. Dick Book Covers

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.