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A Top 10 SF Novels
by Neal Asher
When asked to list my top ten SF books I quickly became confused and bemused: you don't spend the best part of your life being fanatical about such things without having read a lot. Also, my top ten changes with my mood, the interval since reading them, and is changed by the influence of what I have most recently read. I'll try my best though - sticking to SF novels only (no fantasy) - by simply sorting through my book collection and listing what most forcefully impinges on my memory (of course this ten is subject to change...)
Right now I still have to put Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks - in the list. Being impressed by Consider Phlebas and Player of Games, I was dubious about this book, when I discovered its disconnected chronology, and wondered if it was going to be like some of his so-called mainstream books and stumble off into a non-ending. The writing was gripping and brilliant and the ending, though gruesome, was exactly right.
Next I must add Consider Phlebas: what a superb panoramic space opera. Here I rediscovered that sensawunda first found in Asimov and Clarke, but which can never be enjoyed by going back. I loved that understated description 'General Service Vehicles' for spaceships the size of moons, and the sprawl and wonder of 'The Culture'.
For sheer imagination and consistency in an alien life-system I loved Wyrms by Orson Scott Card, and when I first read it I heard no hint of tambourines rattling in the background. Unfortunately I hear them now - more muted than in the execrable Xenocide, but Wyrms is still a damned good book and well repaid a recent return visit.
I feel no list like this would be complete for me without Dune by Frank Herbert. What an excellent writer this man was with titles like The Santaroga Barrier and The White Plague in his oeuvre, but they, though excellent, just do not have the breadth of vision of Dune. After reading it, I went on to follow the series through, though never as impressed (admittedly God Emperor of Dune came close), and cursed him when he died after writing 'Chapter House'.
Sheri Tepper is a name that almost guarantees a damned good read, and the best of these has to be Grass. The way, from the initial hunt of the foxen, she gradually revealed her world demonstrated her mastery of her art. And what a wonderfully weird logic was finally revealed.
The Ringworld Engineers by Larry Niven holds a special place for me. I read it before Ringworld (my brother bought it for me for Christmas not knowing it was the second book) and I discovered a great thick wad of paper full of everything I loved. This book also opened to door for me to the rest of Niven's 'tales of known space' and for that I'll be forever grateful. The Pak, organleggers, matter transmission booths, wireheads �excellent, and just a few examples of why it's not easy to write original SF nowadays.
Half-past Human by T.J. Bass was a book I picked up in a second-hand bookshop. I didn't know the name, thought the cover looked a bit naff, but thought I'd give it a go as I was on one of my sporadic rucksack visits to the place. Revealed was a superb and horrible vision of the future that is off the usual track of SF. The idea of the 'nebbish' human population living in cylinder cities under ground whilst the few remaining five-fingered humans wandered about the surface, occasionally using their cousins as a food source. I have yet to get hold of Godwhale - another by him - and wish he had produced many more.
A.E. van Vogt is a writer who to my mind is not mentioned enough. I really enjoyed Supermind and have reread my copy enough for it now to be falling to pieces. I guess the idea of space vampires is now a bit 'oh dear', but I don't really give a shit - I enjoy what I enjoy and screw the literati.
For sheer atmosphere C.J. Cherryh takes a lot of beating. As this is an SF list I'll do no more than mention the superb 'Morgaine' series as those books perhaps fall more into the fantasy genre (I didn't make the labels). Of her SF books it's a toss up between Downbelow Station and Merchanter's Luck. In the end I'll go for the latter for its sheer intensity. How does she manage to get hold of the reader's lower intestine with just 'the Norway is docking' - she also manages to bring home just how harsh and unforgiving it is out there.
Last on my list is James Kahn's World Enough and Time. This is a weird and unusual novel with its combination of both fantasy and SF elements: vampires and neuromen, centaurs and 'Accidents'. I list it as SF because all the mythical creatures are the product of past genetic engineering. Kahn, I think, should have stopped there rather than going on to write Time's Dark Laughter and Timefall, where the ideas were wearing a bit thin. Anyway, the first of these is well worth return visits.
Now I've finished this list I am of course remembering other classics (like Hothouse by Brian Aldiss, Blue World by Jack Vance) and wondering if I should delete some of the above and replace them. Best I send it off now.
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