Here are a few of my favourite authors, some of their literature and why I like it…
Fantastic worlds, incredible language, subtle but unassuming heroes, manical fantastic villains…
- Showboat World
- The Dying Earth
- Cudgel’s Saga
- The Eyes of the Overworld
- Star King
Rich prose of epic proportions – insightful characters and action all the way!
- Magic Kingdom for Sale
- Shannara (series)
H. Rider Haggard
Powerful classic fantasy – perfectly captures an age of mystery and superstition..
- The Wanderer’s Necklace
L. Sprague de Camp
Ultimate classic heroic fantasy tinged with fun, de Camp’s revised Conan series are very humorous and entertaining. (See below for details of the Conan series.)
- The Tritonian Ring
- The Goblin Tower
R. E. Howard
A pulp writer who died tragically young and was active during the 1920s and 30s; Howard is best known for the Conan series of stories, which were revised and compiled into a series of paperbacks by Lin Carter and de Camp during the early 60s.
Howard was influenced by a wide range of literary sources, including Norse, ancient Greek, Anglo-Saxon and Mediaeval Romances; his novels, from Conan, Red Sonja and King Kull are mainly set in an ancient, semi-historical age – following the sinking of Atlantis and the rise of Europe.
Howard’s most prolific and best known character, Conan, epitomises the raw energy that Howard invested in his writings; Conan’s life, from a primitive tribesman of the Cimmerians, to a master thief preying on fledgling but magnificent cities, and a dozen other roles is told in vivid, vibrant detail with some of the best incidental poetry in this genre (in Anglo-Saxon and Homeric style). Lin Carter, Sprage de Camp and others were able to imitate Howard’s writing pefectly in finalising and revising the incomplete series.
- Conan the Freebooter
- Conan the Cimmerian
William Hope Hodgeson
Another poweful classic fantasy – Earth’s last city awaits the onslaught of an alien demonic horde..
- The Night Land
J. R. R. Tolkien
Classic fantasy – need I say more? Tom Bombadil is my favourite ; ->
- The Lord of the Rings
- The Silmarillion
- The Hobbit
Clark Ashton Smith
Weird, other-worldly and beautiful prose – Clark Ashton Smith wrote during the early part of this century, and his novels resemble the exotic novellas of Beckford and Poe. At times macabre, these fantasies of a long-passed age conjure up elaborate civilisations, sinister villains and tragic protagonists. Zothique is possibly his finest collection of stories.
James Branch Cabell
Like Clark Ashton Smith, Cabell wrote about ancient pre-historic civilisations – but unlike Smith or Howard, his novels feature ordinary mundane individuals who just happen to get caught up in adventures!
The Caves of Steel is an incredible vision of a an insular underground society of the future – where the distinction between man and machine is blurred…
- The Caves of Steel
Barrington J. Baley
The single most incredible Sci-Fi I have ever read -a robot desperately trying to prove he is alive, sentient and human..
- The Soul of the Robot
A. E. Van Vogt
Intellectual, complex – a future where science seems like magic. Vogt’s writings can appear daunting, difficult, and sometimes ephemeral in scope, but once you get started you realise the seriousness of the writer. Vogt was active from the 30s, and his style typifies the pioneering, visionary style seen in the works of contemporaries such as Ray Bradbury.
- The Wizard of Linn
Like Vogt, intellectual – thoughtful glimpses into entirely unfamiliar futures..
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Pure escapism – trips to the centre of the earth, and a fallen Europe wasted by nuclear holocaust..
- Beyond ’30
Very clever writer indeed – deals with big concepts but presents them through very readable entertaining sci-fi.
Shadrach is about a future world plagued with a deadly virus – the subject of mortality and how we deal with it in the modern age is clearly evident, as is the the question of how we see ourselves in a civilisation increasingly based on control and totalitarian principles. Up the Line probes into the ethics of time-travel, if such a science existed; what would stop an enterprising person from manipulating history to suit their own ends?
- Shadrach In the Furnace
- Up the Line
Eric Frank Russel
Wasp is probably the best novel from this classic SF writer. Imagine an earth of the future at war with an alien civilisation similar to our own – with comparable resources and technology, Earth resorts to subterfuge and espionage, disguising a soldier as one of the aliens and dropping them right in the middle of the alien homeworld. Utterly original, also very funny, particularly where the hero has to convince a group of alien criminals to blow up their own government…
In a nuclear-wasted world of the future, there are two categories of humanity: human and mutant – the mutants come in all sorts of strange configurations and integrate with mixed success into human society. This novel explores the theoretical consequences of such a disaster, but unlike most novels of this type, probes deeper into the problem of divergent human types or races living and working together. This book was written in the 50s and has obvious parallels with the American race issue, though I’m sure it has deeper more fundamental concerns in an age of racial inequality and racism.
- Twilight World
Gritty reality in the depression years – wonderful reflections on the strength of the human spirit, comradeship and shared suffering amongst friends..
- Of Mice and Men
- Cannery Row
- Sweet Thursday
- Tortilla Flat
Erich Maria Remarque
Semi-biographical account of the author’s experiences in the First war as a German soldier in occupied France; vividly described and translated from the original German.
- All quiet on the Western front
The arch psychopath Pinky (superbly played by Richard Attenborough in the 50s film version) epitomises the crumbling moral order of 1930s Britain; the run-down ghettos of the gangland criminals in the once opulent sea-side resort suggest an apathy and spiritual degeneration in the post First-World-War years.
- Brighton Rock
Surreal journey into the 19th Century Congo – the protagonist Marlowe comes face to face with the inhuman conditions endured by native subjects of the British, and the depths to which civilised morality can degenerate when removed from the hub of social order.
- The heart of darkness
A turbulent and often introspective writer and poet, whose outlook was a microcosm of 19th century agnosticism and skepticism; Hardy was also a gifted craftsman expressing the vitality and richness of the dying pre-industrial age. In Hardy’s novels, these perspectives combine to form the tragedy of agrarian decline in Britain – blending rich descriptive narrative with a symbolic and allegoric framework that was innovative and even radical for it’s time. In The Mayor of Casterbridge, Michel Henchard’s rise to wealth in the agrarian community of Casterbridge, and subsequent decline seems to epitomise a way of life, a relationship with nature and a religious outlook fundamentally threatened by 19th century science and the rise of the machine.
In the final chapter, Henchard – a proud countryman who built his empire from the humble beginnings of a crofter, finds himself impoverished, rejected by his only daughter and alone. The songbird he brings for his daughter’s wedding to the mechanist Farfray is left to die of exposure, as does he later – a poignant symbol of his own inconsequence, frailty and loss.
- The Mayor of Casterbridge
- Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Like Steinbeck – Miller’s dramas represent a modern allegorical critique of western civilisation, culture and values.
Miller doesn’t indulge in nostalgia (he actually ridicules it) – and instead conveys the pressures and ills of modern society through the tragic demise of struggling protagonists, who seem, like Willy Loman – to fall despite all the effort that the human spirit can afford. Against the values of this modern mercantile world, ambition, greed, success – the striving individual has little chance or hope…
- Death of a salesman
Shakespeare sought to convey through tragic drama the extremities and complexities of human suffering and experience, while demonstrating the fragility of civillised man, and the transience of order in a world subject to the corrupting influences of life. Men like Macbeth and Edmund renounce the values and traditions that have bound the social fabric since time immemorial, striving to become more than their ordained role within the prescribed social order of their time. On the other hand, men like Henry V, Malcom and Edgar strive to sustain or re-establish that moral order, charactarised by the hierarchal social and religious order of Shakespeare’s own time. Even in the Romances and Comedies, Shakespeare’s preoccupation with sustaining, re-structuring and re-ordering the moral and spiritual framework is evident.
- King Lear
Like Samuel Johnson, Joseph Fielding and other 18th century humanists, Defoe sought to capture the gritty realities of his age through social satire and comedy. Moll is a woman thrust into the harsh life of a pauper, criminal and other roles by necessity.
- Moll Flanders
Whilst we may think of Mary Shelley as writer of the Gothic genre, she was also a romanticist and passionate advocate of reform in 19th Century England. These qualities are reflected in her novel Frankenstein, where the monster and his progress stands as a symbol of human innocence corrupted by an unforgiving world. Have you seen the most recent Frankenstein film? Probably closest to the book.. I also like her writings and letters – she was the daughter of the philosopher and socialist William Godwin and part of the Shelley circle.
See the Poetry page for links to Romantic writings – I will be posting my dissertation on Shelley’s Political Writings and other criticism I have written there soon (hopefully !)
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Discusses the nature of art – its purpose and spiritual significance, a must for any student of Romanticism!
- Biographia Literaria
Haven’t read this for a bit – I even scratched my head to think of the author ! Then, in a daze I typed ‘A. C. Doyle’ ! (Sherlock Holmes !!!) Luckily, Wayne was looking at the page a little later and alerted me to this gross error.. Dracula – dark, gothic horror – will chill your bones ! I like his short stories too, ‘The Dolls House’ was particularly scary as I recall…
Very weird Gothic novel, written by an 18th Century nobleman – Beckford was credited with writing Vathek during one of his regular ‘orgies’ – entirely in French – although he translated it later..
Vathek is an Arabian Prince who craves to answer all the unanswerable questions in life, unfortunately he falls short of the devil in the process.. A difficult plot, but worth the ride.
If you like Byron, Poe or anything with the word ‘Gaiour’ in it, you will like Vathek : ->
Faustus is the humorous and sometimes often genuinely scary account of an unfulfilled religious scholar – a theologian, who learns about the Black Arts, making a pact with Lucifer to obtain everything he wants, at a price: his soul. Faust looses all his friends and reputation through his megalomania, and is at last swept away by Satan at the appointed hour – Faust’s final speech, where Lucifer’s envoy Mephistophilis comes for him is quite memorable:
“My God, my God, look not so fierce on me.
Adders and serpents, let me breath a while.
Ugly Hell, gape not; come not Lucifer.
I’ll burn my books. Ah, Mephistophilis !” (Act 5, Scene 2.)
Incredible drama – the passionate and tragic corruption and fall of Satan from Heaven to Hell.
Did Milton really believe in the literal account of Satan’s fall from grace and expulsion into Hell, or is this epic an incredibly clever exploration into the moral basis of sin and redemption? Read my essays on the subject in the poetry page soon!
- Paradise Lost
Philosophy / Political
Political writing that inspired the American constitution, the French Revolution and socialism throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.
- The Rights of Man
Beautiful poetry – if somewhat religious…
- Vita Nuova
- Divine Commedy
utterly original radical writer – whilst his uses of symbolism can appear at times complex and nebulous, many of his poems are stark reminders of a grim era of social privation and tragedy. Blake’s religious and moral outlook is harder to pin down, although he did practice some of his philosophy in his daily life – such as nudity !
Many of Blake’s poems are simple (structurally at least) and quite memorable; his art, which accompanies his ‘illuminated’ writings is also very original; consider the poem, London:
“I wander thro’ each chartered street
Near where the chartered Thames does flow.
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe..
In every cry of every Man
In every infant’s cry of fear,
In every voice; in every ban
The mind-forged manacles I hear.” (London)
- The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
- Songs of Innocence and Experience
Early socialist writings by this Pre-Raphaelite craftsman, poet and artist.
- Political Writings
A pioneering socialist and father of Mary Shelley. Very interesting reading – many of the apparently common-sense views seen in his writings we take for granted today, but were banned during the astere political age of Pit and the Tories.
- Anarchist Writings
Another political philospher – Hobbes was also a pioneering mathematician; like Descartes, Rousseau, Locke and other 18th century philosophers and scientists, Hobbes’ main focus was the relationship between traditional religion and monarchial politics and the emerging world of science and political debate.