7 Fantasy / Sci-fi Books that Rocked My Goddamn World
Written by Luke Cooper
I decided to do a list of books because there are far too many movies to sift through. Generally, I prefer horror novels to sci-fi and fantasy, but there have been a few that have rocked my world. Here they are, in the order I discovered them.
Lord of the Rings
J. R. R. Tolkien
It’s an obvious choice, but that’s because it was my first step into fantasy. Even as a child I could feel Middle Earth growing ever darker as the story went on, soon leaving behind the charming fairytale feel of the first volume. It all falls apart in the last book, with Tolkien seemingly loathe to end things before even the smallest loose end is firmly tied, but there’s no denying the power of the book that started it all. Peter Jackson’s movie adaptations, while very good, kind of spoiled the books for me. How can you read them now without picturing scenes from the films?
Is it cheating to include a gamebook in this list? Well, if so, tough. The Fighting Fantasy books were a big part of my childhood. When they were reprinted by Wizard recently, I just had to indulge in a heady dose of nostalgia. Deathtrap Dungeon remains my favourite. It’s fiendish and cruel, and waves away the need for anything so tawdry as a plot. Go into a dungeon filled with monsters and traps in order to win a big prize. That’s it. The illustrations are magnificent too, although it’s probably sacrilegious to acknowledge that in a list about books.
Stephen King and Peter Straub
I think I have taken a copy of this book on every holiday I’ve taken. I think it’s safe to say this is my favourite novel of all time. If I was only allowed to read one book for the rest of my life, this would be it. In the story, to save his sick mother, a young boy must undertake a quest to find the legendary Talisman to cure her, flipping between our world and the nightmarish Territories. It is set up like a children’s adventure but is definitely not for kids, featuring as it does some adult themes and truly terrifying moments.
The Discworld books may have started out as a parody of fantasy fiction, but quickly evolved into a fully realised world of its own. I like all of them, but I have a particular fondness for the books featuring Commander Vimes and the City Guard – basically detective stories with a fantasy tint. Jingo and Night Watch are two of my favourite ever novels. Hidden in among the jokes and clever twists on familiar fantasy tropes are needle-sharp shards of satire and genuine nuggets of wisdom. When we lost Pratchett, we lost a modern day Jonathan Swift.
The Dark Tower
I love Stephen King’s work and so make no apologies for the fact that his name appears on this list twice. I could make the argument that this series of books is the greatest fantasy of recent years, if you can say such a thing about something that has been released gradually over such a long period of time. I have all of the novels and a bunch of the comics too. To say I love it is an understatement. Lord of the Rings by way of Sergio Leone? What’s not to love? It frequently references other famous books, King happy to wear his influences on his sleeve, goes into meta-fiction about halfway through as his characters become aware they are figments of his imagination, crosses over into his other novels and then finally ends with a cripplingly bleak and utterly perfect resolution. Sheer genius and a must for King fans.
The Milkweed Triptych (Bitter Seeds, The Coldest War, Necessary Evil)
What if the Nazis had been able to create real supermen? How would the Brits have dealt with that? Well, according to Tregillis, they’d have made some dark deals with the forces of evil and fought back with magic. It’s a great concept and Tregillis follows it to its grimly logical conclusion, rewriting history as he goes. While he doesn’t write totally convincingly in an English voice, the author being American, he does a pretty good job and balances the action and ominous bleakness of the story well.
Since I have never read the sequels, I have only included the first novel in this list. Translated texts always read a little oddly, but once you get used to the style it soon becomes clear that this is a superb book. Radiation has rendered the world above uninhabitable to all but the most twisted of grotesque mutations so mankind has been forced to hide underground. Sounds familiar, right? Well, this book handles the concept better than most, with the huddled vestiges of humanity sheltering in the tunnels of the metro beneath Moscow. I was initially disappointed by the lack of terrifying monsters, but that’s because the point is that it the people that are the real threat, grouping themselves together in savage gangs. When the characters do venture onto the surface, it is the stuff of nightmares, more atmospheric and haunting than anything I’ve encountered in fiction before.
Bubbling under, the influential and shockingly prophetic War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells, the smart and funny Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams, and the intriguing Miss Peregrine books by Ransom Riggs, written around the author’s eccentric collection of old photographs.