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Books that are out of this world
Top Ten Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books
Member Name: ladybracknell
Top Ten Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books
Advantages: Some excellent stories written with originality and flair
Disadvantages: You'll find this genre addictive
I'm a huge fan of the relatively new sub-genre of urban fantasy which kind of bestrides both SciFi, Fantasy and Horror and deals with extraordinary situations taking place in an ordinary and usually contemporary setting but despite the paranormal or fantasy elements, these are always firmly rooted in a recognisable reality.
Some of you may think I've cheated with my choices because a few of my selections are series of books featuring the same characters and their ongoing adventures but what the heck!
So, without further ado, and in no particular order, here goes....
1. Dark Universe - Daniel F. Galouye
This book was first published in 1961 at the time of the Cold War when we were all supposedly living under the shadow of the nuclear bomb. The novel is set many years in the future in a post-apocalyptic world where the population had sought safety underground and their society continued to develop in darkness. The people held Light in great reverence and its memory was treated as something almost holy. Over generations, the people learned to find their way in this dark subterranean world by using click stones which worked on the principle of sonar and allowed the people to "see" without light, But then the monsters arrive in this sightless world. Monsters who silently "scream" and everyone is terrified, especially when some of the people begin to disappear.
This is an excellent and thought-provoking book and one I've re-read several times. It was out of print for many years but I'm pleased to say was reprinted last year which is a testament to its enduring appeal. To my mind this is a science fiction classic and certainly isn't as fantastical as when it was first conceived, especially as there was a news story quite recently about a blind child who actually "saw" by using a very similar method to the click stones.
2. Silver Metal Lover - Tanith Lee
Although this is definitely a SciFi/Fantasy novel, it's also a love story but one with a difference. This book is set in a dystopian world where robots have been developed to such a degree that they can replicate practically everything man can do. Silver is a robot, created to conquer the only area in which robots have yet to equal man: the arts. He's a musician and Jane, young and impressionable, falls for him hook, line and sinker. Jane comes from a wealthy background and along with her rather controlling mother lives in a high rise home high in the clouds above Earth's squalor. Problems arise with Silver and Jane's burgeoning relationship when Silver's creators recall that model of robot as being flawed, so he and Jane escape and live amongst the lesser humans trying to avoid his being captured and decommissioned.
This is a beautifully written and intelligent novel with elements of the fairytale about it, which draws the reader into this futuristic world from page one. Essentially the book is asking the ultimate question: what is it that makes us human?
3. Moon Called (Mercy Thompson series) - Patricia Briggs
This was the first urban fantasy novel I read and from page one, I was hooked. From its humble beginnings, this sub-genre now has some really excellent writers with first class world-building skills but there are also some real turkeys, too. Had I not read this book first, I doubt very much whether I would ever have bothered with this type of book at all.
Mercy Thompson works in the Tri Cities as a motor mechanic and she's a Walker, someone who can shapeshift at will into the form of a coyote. She was taken into the guardianship of a werewolf pack as a child where she was taught to control her twin nature and learn the ways of the pack. Although she's now living a independent life, she maintains a close relationship with her pack leader and his sons whom she regards as almost family, and she is also under the protection of the local pack led by their alpha, Adam.
In this first book, Mercy employs a young man to help her in the garage, even though she senses he is a werewolf and not from the local pack. Very soon she's involved in a fight with werewolves seeking the boy in order to kill him and she calls on Adam for help in protecting him. Many twists and turns in the plot occur before all is resolved.
Patricia Briggs has created a very believable world inhabited by walkers, werewolves, vampires and fae, all living amongst humans. This is a series which gets better and better with each successive book. If you've never read any urban fantasy, this is a very good place to start.
4. Warprize (Chronicles of the Warlands) - Elizabeth Vaughan
This was a first novel and an immediate success for Elizabeth Vaughan. I'm not normally a huge fan of straight fantasy but this book grabs from the outset and the world created is vividly described and very original.
Xylara is a princess of the ruling house of Xy and she's also a healer who not only nurses her own people during their war but also the wounded Firelanders, the enemy. As part of a peace treaty with the Firelanders, Lara is given to Keir, the mysterious warlord and is taken as the "Warprize". Initially, Lara is terrified. She doesn't know what being the Warprize entails and she is not unnaturally fearful but she's in for a surprise when she eventually discovers just what being the Warprize means.
This is a wonderful story full of action, adventure and humour, all played out in a world so beautifully described that it's easy to imagine it truly exists. The book is part one of a trilogy which has now lengthened into a fourth novel due to be published this year.
5. Northern Lights (His Dark Materials) - Philip Pullman
I know this book has upset many Christians because of its alternative view of religion which they claim is anti-church. As I don't subscribe to any religion, I don't have a problem with that at all and just enjoy it as the darn good story it is.
Lyra lives in Oxford but a very different Oxford to the one we know. When her friend Roger vanishes, Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon go in search of him. They embark on a journey which takes them into the frozen wastes of the North where they encounter armoured bears, flying witches and a laboratory filled with scientists engaged in unspeakable experimentation.
Although this book is ostensibly for children/young adults, it has universal appeal across all the generations. The imagery and storytelling is of a very high standard and I guarantee you'll want to read the other two books in the trilogy just to find out how everything is resolved.
6. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
First published in 1932, this book is not only a science fiction masterpiece portraying a terrifying dystopian society but it's a satire on society which also proved to contain some prophetic elements, too.
It's the year of our Ford 632, and among its many advances, society has mechanised the process of reproduction. The book opens in the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre where babies are born and their place in society is determined with the babies being designated from Alpha to Epsilon. Alphas, of course, are the ruling class with the poor Epsilons destined to fulfil the most menial tasks.
Bernard, an Alpha, is on vacation where he meets John the Savage, who has grown up on a Reservation outside of this ordered society. When Bernard returns to his everyday life, he takes John and his mother, Linda, with him. Linda is happy to return to this world from which she originally came but John sees everything for what it truly is. This is a world of casual sex, drugs, test tube babies who have been genetically modified and the elderly are euthanased.
This book should be on every school curriculum, if only to demonstrate where political and social apathy might lead. Brave New World is a gripping and unsettling read.
7. Ill Wind (Weather Wardens) - Rachel Caine
Another urban fantasy series which, again, shows great skill in world building, characterisation and plot originality, coupled with excellent storytelling.
Joanne Baldwin is a Weather Warden, one of a group of humans who have paranormal ability which enables them to control the elements of fire, earth and weather (air). Joanne is something of a rebel but she's really in trouble at the beginning of this book. She's been accused of the murder of Bad Bob Biringanine and she's on the run from the World Council, trying to get to Lewis, a fellow Warden, who Joanne believes to be her only hope in clearing her name. On the way, Joanne hooks up with David, a hitchhiker, who turns out to be anything but ordinary and proves to be her salvation.
This is a superb series with not a werewolf or vampire to be seen anywhere. Rachel Caine has created a world that's immediately recognisable as our own but with an added dimension that is totally and sometimes frighteningly believable.
8. Neverwhere - Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman has risen to be regarded as one of the most inventive and original writers of his generation and he's achieved much deserved success. Neverwhere was his first book on which was based on the BBC series of the same name which he devised in collaboration with Lenny Henry. That series was excellent but the book is even better.
Richard Mayhew is a young businessman living and working in London. On his way home with his fiancée, he encounters a young woman, Door, who is lying bleeding in the street. She tells him she's on the run but she's not from the London that Richard knows but a dark subterranean land far beneath the city called London Below.
Richard finds himself falling through the cracks of reality and transported to Door's world and in his efforts to return home, he encounters all manner of weird and wonderful people and creatures, some friendly such as the Angel Islington, the Marquis of Carabas and Old Bailey and others who threaten his chances of ever returning home.
This is a wonderfully inventive book filled with excitement and humour in equal measures. Travelling on the London Underground will never be the same again after you read this book!
9. Freedom's Landing (Catenni Series) - Anne McCaffrey
Anne McCaffrey is not one of my favourite writers usually but this short series totally captured my imagination. We none of us know what tomorrow may bring and it may very well bring an alien craft to scoop us up and carry us off who knows where!
Kris Bjornsen is going about her usual daily business when, out of the blue, the Catteni ships land and herd thousands of humans, including Kris onto their craft where they are unceremoniously dumped on an alien planet filled with dangers never before experienced.
As Kris and her fellow captors begin to come to terms with their situation and explore the planet they discover huge storage barns which they find puzzling. The humans later discover that they are not alone and that a Catteni has also been dropped on the planet but he is in the same predicament as themselves. Zainal doesn't seem like the other Catteni, however, he's kind and protective and knows far more about surviving in this alien landscape than the humans. Through Zainal's stumbling attempts at English, the humans learn that the Catteni are some kind of intergalactic farmers who supply another alien race with food. As the slow realisation dawns that they are the food, the group of humans, along with Zainal set off to establish a place of safety and plan their escape.
This is an exceptionally well drawn world and the concept of being suddenly swept up and carried off to another world is not beyond the bounds of possibility.
This book is the first in what was a trilogy but, by popular demand, Anne McCaffrey produced a fourth book in the series. I recommend the first three books wholeheartedly but, in all honesty, I found the fourth one very pedestrian and it added nothing to the series at all.
10. Magic Bites (Kate Daniels series) - Ilona Andrews
My final choice is another superb urban fantasy series which begins with this book. This is written by a husband and wife team and has a much darker edge to it than a lot of other urban fantasy series.
Kate Daniels lives in Atlanta, a crumbling city at the mercy of waves of unpredictable magic which play havoc with the technology: guns won't fire and cars won't start and cause skyscrapers to topple. Kate is a powerful magician but earns her living as a mercenary hired to clean up any remaining magic which is causing problems.
This world is dominated by three distinct groups The Order, knight-like magicians; Necromancers led by the Master of the Dead, and The Pack, headed up by the Beast Master, Curran. When Kate's estranged guardian, a highly skilled magician, is murdered, she volunteers her services to the Templars, determined to track down whoever or whatever has killed him.
This is another highly imaginative series with a completely different slant on the paranormal. Here vampires aren't sexy undead humanoids but vile bat-like creatures which scuttle around in the darkness and the Pack is comprised of shapeshifters of every variety with their leader, Curran, able to transform into a huge lion.
The fact that the book is written by a male and female partnership lends a great deal of authenticity to the narrative giving the reader the Ying and Yang perspective. This is a well conceived series with interesting characters and great storylines, all told in such a way as to make them totally believable.
So there you have it: my current top ten. I hope you find something among the list which takes your fancy.
Of all the genres of literature, I find Science Fiction & Fantasy the most exciting. Tt's produced writers of the highest calibre who have the ability to lead you into worlds you never dreamed existed.
Summary: Just some of the SciFi and Fantasy books which I've enjoyed