*This is a guest post by writer Colin F Barnes
Johann was kind enough to invite me to chat about what I enjoy in SF and what I consider to be stand out books. Well, in no specific order, here are five that really stand out for me.
1. A Scanner Darkly – Phillip K. Dick
Where to start with this masterpiece? It’s a semi-autobiographical tale of drug culture in Orange Country. Written in 1977 it sets the story in the then future 1994. Bob Arctor, the protagonist is a drug enforcement officer working undercover, which means he has to partake in the drug called ‘Substance D.’ As the story goes on, Arctor’s reality shifts into two personalities and we see the culture of drug use from both sides of the argument. I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s in my mind one of the most poignant and perfect endings in any story, let alone SF. I can’t recommend this enough. PKDs prose is eminently readable, and this story drips with authenticity and charm.
2. Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
Another colossus of the genre, and a beacon of literature. F-451 is a short novel set in dystopian society (as is A Scanner Darkly) where Fireman don’t put out
fires anymore; they create them. Their job is to simply burn books. Our protagonist (a fireman), however, starts to read one of these books and questions the wisdom of burning literature. Things begin to escalate, and we find the protagonist fighting to save the books. It’s a fairly obvious nod to book burning and censorship; something sadly that still hasn’t stopped since this was written in 1953. As with anything by Ray Bradbury, the prose is world-class, full of metaphor and simile and done with an incredible level of craft. This book should be on the curriculum of every school on the planet. Very powerful stuff.
3. Heir to the Empire – Timothy Zahn
This perhaps doesn’t have the literary weight of the previous two. It’s an expanded universe Star Wars novel. The very first in fact. Written in 1991 and set 5 years after The Return of the Jedi, it marks the very beginning of a hugely successful run of Star Wars books. Its hard to really say why it stands out other than it was the first extra story made available to us Star Wars fans and for me, it really carried on the magic. It tells the tale of the last of the emperor’s admirals, Thrawn, as he seeks out a dark Jedi in order to fight back against the alliance. There’s a lot in this book: adventure, high stakes, lots of Star Wars lore. Above all, it’s a lot of fun and really brings the tone of Star Wars to a whole new line of book.
4. Neuromancer – William Gibson
Absolute classic. The cornerstone of the cyberpunk generation and the influence of so much near-future tech based stories. And an influence on my own novel. It tells the tale of a burnt-out hacker, Case, looking for work in futuristic Chiba City, Japan when he is approached to do what he does best: get into the network and pull of a grand hack in the aims of combining the two embargoed sides of a grand AI (Wintermute and Neuromancer). It’s a complex, winding, powerful piece of fiction that speculates and extrapolates accurately and with incredible vision. This was Gibson’s debut and arguably one of the greatest debuts ever. Two more books followed to create the Sprawl Trilogy.
5. Spares – Michael Marshall Smith
A mashup of crime noir and cyberpunk, ‘MMS’ leads us through a world within a world where spare humans are cloned to serve their masters with new organs and parts as-and-when required. Jack Randall, a drug addict and ex-cop with a few morals left gets involved with a multi-layered gang cartel. The book descends into questions of morality, human cloning, viruses and drug use. It has a grand approach, and although in some ways a flawed book, the imagination, the characters and sheer readability of this book makes it a real standout choice for me.
Johann says: Colin is a clever fellow who has his own Sci-Fi book out right now, called Artificial Evil. You can feast on a sample chapter by clicking the cover image. Once you’ve done that, follow the links below to buy the rest.
2153. Post-cataclysm. The last city exists beneath a dome where the mysterious benefactors ‘The Family’ tightly control the population with a death lottery and a semi-autonomous network.
All is well until the day family man Gerry Cardle, head of the death lottery, inexplicably finds himself the no.1 target of a malicious Artificial Intelligence. Gerry’s numbers are up, and he has just 7 days to save himself, find the source of the AI, and keep the last stronghold of humanity safe.