My Science Fiction And Fantasy Loves
I spent 10 years editing the sci-fi media mag SFX. I'll be eternally grateful for all the books that landed on my desk, and all the authors I got to meet, during that time. But my love of genre fiction goes back much further, all the way to my youth. Hungry for robots and rocket ships after being exposed to Star Wars on the big screen, I found my father's copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy… and immediately realised there's so much more to science fiction. It's the perfect genre for exploring the human condition. In asking "what if…?", it pushes us to our extremes. What better way of contemplating loneliness than to narrate the experience of the last human alive? In aliens, can we see the perfect outsiders, or refugees, or colonists?
The boundaries of science fiction are wide and encompass many works that you might not immediately think of us belonging to the genre. My list (which represents personal passions and recommendations, not a definitive reading list) could have included Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid's Tale – it won the first ever Arthur C. Clarke Award – or Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, or Philip K. Dick's The Man In The High Castle. But for the sake of this piece, I've stuck mostly to robots and rocket ships, those books which grabbed the Star Wars part of my brain and pushed it further...
The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy
One of my favourite books of all time, the first I remember reading again and again as a young man. The mix of wry comedy and high-concept science fiction has rightly placed Adams among the pantheon of British comedic writers. It's PG Wodehouse in space, Star Trek filtered through Monty Python, but also more than that: a phenomenon in its own right, which still feels fresh almost 40 years later.
With the middle M or without, Banks is sorely missed. He was such a good writer of high concept, action packed space opera. The whole "Culture" canon is wonderful. You'll hear people champion The Player Of Games or Use Of Weapons. But his penultimate novel, about the creation of virtual reality "hells" and a battle for the right to own and operate them, is a personal favourite.
The Ship Who Sang
Really a collection of stories about cyborg spaceships, human minds inside metal vessels. McCaffrey claimed the first tale in the book, the moving story of Helva the brainship and her pilot/partner Jennan, was her personal favourite work and one that always made her cry. It's easy to see why.
The Forever War
A riposte to the militarism of Starship Troopers, The Forever War is science fiction at its best, taking a concept and pushing it to the extreme. Soldiers returning from space to find that, due to relativity, so much time on earth as past that they no longer fit in – it echoes the alienation of troops returning from Vietnam.