I knew I was never going to be able to write these posts whilst sticking to my original five (Ha!) books, without thinking of some that had slipped my mind.
So before I get to my last two official choices (and before any more occur to me) here are a couple of others that I can’t not include.
Millennium by John Varley is an ’80s Sci-fi novel about a dying future society that uses time travel to send specially trained teams back to the present day to kidnap people for spare parts.
So far, so freaky, but it’s the fact that they plan the snatches at moments in time when the people in question won’t be missed.
Like just before a plane crash for instance.
And if you replaced the missing people with pre-charred bodies, who’d know…?
It was later made into a rather unsuccessful movie, but even if you’ve already seen that, I’d still recommend reading the source material. And if you do so with other, more recent aircraft-related disasters in mind, it becomes even more chilling.
Steampunk appears to be growing in popularity in recent years, and one of my favourite examples of this rollicking sub-genre of fantasy is the extraordinary neo-Victorian epic The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by G.W. Dahlquist, first of a trilogy of adventures featuring three unlikely heroes battling evil mystical scientists in what one reviewer described as “…a cross between Sherlock Holmes and the Marquis de Sade, with the production values of Buffy the Vampire Slayer”
I have to admit that I’ve not got round to reading the last volume yet, but I loved the first two and look forward to the exciting conclusion.
Speaking of which, we have now got to the final two, in no particular order, of my not-really-top-five (ish) books, so…
In the introduction to the first edition of Stephen King‘s book The Gunslinger – First in the epic Dark Tower saga – he writes that not even he knows where the story will lead, nor whether it’s hero, enigmatic, troubled Roland Deschain will actually survive the journey.
A courageous claim to make when you want your “Constant Reader” to invest their time and imagination in a work that eventually runs into seven volumes (eight, if you include the recent Wind Through the Keyhole) and a few thousand pages.
Yet, stay with it millions of us did, and the rewards for doing so are considerable.
The world in which Roland lives is described as having “moved on”, which we take to mean an advanced civilisation that has, for some reason, declined and returned to it’s primitive beginnings, technology forgotten and fallen into disrepair.
He roams the desert in pursuit of The Man in Black, an ancient enemy who we discover more about in flashback as the books progress. We also find out more about Roland’s history, and why he is on his quest to reach the Dark Tower, the axis of all worlds.
On his journey, he draws companions from our present day reality – a young boy, Jake Chambers, a junkie, Eddy Dean, and a disabled woman, Odetta Holmes – into his world, to assist him in his quest.
All of these characters have demons and secrets in their pasts, which they can escape by surrendering to the call of the Dark Tower.
But at what cost?
The way in which the narrative threads it’s way in and out of our world and Roland’s is seamlessly achieved, and the plot is ambitious and satisfying. We really want Roland to reach the end of his quest, to reveal the secrets of the fabled Tower at the centre of a world that’s moved on…
The series was inspired both by ’60s Spaghetti Westerns, and by Robert Browning‘s epic poem, Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came, and it has a dark, sweeping grandeur not found in King’s other works.
So anyone who might be put off by the fact that these may be “horror” books, should approach them with an open mind, ready to be drawn into a remarkable world where westerns, fantasy, Sci-fi, and yes, horror too, combine to stunning effect.
Many people consider John le Carré‘s master secret agent George Smiley to be the ultimate fictional espionage hero, but I have a soft spot for a more amiable, ambling, man of the people type of spy.
Bernard Samson is the spy in question, and he leads us through not one, not two, but three trilogies of ’80s cold war intrigue, all told in a dry, cynical tone, as befitting a man whose career hasn’t been helped by the fact that his wife – another high ranking officer in “the Department” – has recently returned from having defected to the other side.
The novels follow a story which takes the reader on a globetrotting trip of various hotbeds of political and military unrest, with Bernard searching for answers about his wife’s defection, secrets in his own past, and a mole within the Department. All the while having to deal with the backstabbing, conniving machinations of the public school old boys’ club that make up the upper echelons of the secret service.
The books form such a coherent narrative that in the foreword, Deighton says that a literary professor wrote to him, saying that he got his students to read the books in reverse order, to study plot and character development.
There is even a stand-alone volume, Winter, that follows the history of some of the characters’ families, during the second world war.
I would say that if you think “spy novels” mean James Bond gadgets and glamorous women with names like Illavya Bolloksov, you should give some well written, intricately plotted fiction, that just happens to be set in the world of espionage a chance.
You might be pleasantly surprised.
And that’s it.
Except…I’ve just worked out that my original five books have finally come in at a total of 42.
Douglas Adams wouldn’t be surprised to hear that,
I get all my reading material at the wonderful Tarka Books