Monday, 18 October 2010

The Ten Best Books Of All Time (part 2 of 2)

Choosing your ten favourite books of all time doesn’t make allowances for all those marvellous ‘series’ of books out there; the over-reaching arcs that play out their entire stories in trilogies, heptalogies, or even on-going series that have been running for decades.

Sometimes it’s difficult to single out a specific title or novel within a cycle of books as being the best simply because to remove it from the context of the series would diminish it’s impact and render it virtually impotent (However, having said this, one of the titles found in the second part of my Top Ten Books list below is the first in an original cycle of six novels - a cycle which has now expanded into double figures in recent years).

Over the years I’ve been an avid reader of many ‘cycle’ or on-going book sagas, here are some of the best; Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, Robert Rankin’s Brentford trilogy (now 9 books long!), Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Stories, Jeff Somers’ Avery Cates series, David Nobbs’ Henry Pratt & Reggie Perrin sagas, Peter F. Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn trilogy, Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, Paul Magrs’ Brenda & Effie mysteries, Alastair Reynold’s Revelation Space sequence and Whitley Strieber’s Communion saga.

However, one of the self imposed rules to my Top Ten was that I was not allowed to nominate an entire series as one choice. For example, I was not allowed to put Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series into my list, but could, if I wanted to, choose a single title from that range (it would have been Hogfather, if I had to choose one, that being my favourite Discworld novel).

So, here’s the second half of my Ten Best Books of All Time :

06 - Dune - Frank Herbert
It took me a good many years to finally get around to reading this classic SF novel. Often labelled as a ‘heavy’ or ‘laborious’ read, Herbert’s Hugo Award winning 1965 novel of politics, religion, ecology and the fight for control over the life-expanding ‘spice’ rich planet of Arrakis (nick-named Dune) is one of the most refreshingly original and exciting pieces of science fiction I’ve ever read. It was the opening book in the first of the two Dune trilogies (the other titles being Dune Messiah, Children of Dune, God Emperor of Dune, Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse: Dune). His son, Brian Herbert, along with co-writer Kevin J. Anderson, has gone on to write a total of 10 prequels and sequels to the original series.

Despite the fact that it took me a while to read the book I’ve been a huge fan of the 1984 David Lynch film for the past twenty-six years, being one of my Ten Favourite SF Films of all time. Not a popular choice, I know, with most people preferring the John Harrison 4hour+ miniseries in 2000.

07 - Glue - Irvine Welsh
Welsh is one of the most original, shocking and all-round entertaining novelists writing today, and quite possibly the greatest British writer of the past forty years. I bought and read this book for the first time while spending several weeks up in Edinburgh, the city where the novel is set, and had the advantage of being able to walk the very streets that were being named in the story.

Following the highs and lows of four Edinburgh/Leith born wide-boys growing up in Britain between the late 70s - early 2000s, and, along with his novels Trainspotting and Porno goes to make up an unofficial trilogy.

08 - ‘Salem’s Lot - Stephen King
One of the scariest books I’ve ever read. It absolutely terrified me when I first took it out of the local mobile library, way back in the mid-80s. The book was collected together with Carrie and The Shining in a St. Michaels hardback, and I read it alone over a handful of bitingly cold winter evenings up in my bedroom after school. Although I read all three of the novels in the collection ‘Salem’s Lot stood out as the greatest of them all, and still is.

For me this 1975 novel marks the beginning of author Stephen King’s Golden Age; seeing a run of over twenty truly top-notch novels, short story collections, short novel collections, novelettes, and fantasy novels ending with The Dark Half fourteen years later in 1989.

The fifth book in his Dark Tower cycle, Wolves of the Calla, acts as a sequel of sorts, in so much as we catch up with the character of Father Donald Callahan, learning what has happened to him since we last saw him catching a Greyhound bus in the latter half of ‘Salem’s Lot.
 
09 - The War of the Worlds - H.G. Wells
Along with his novels The Time Machine and The Invisible Man, Well’s tale of alien invasion and conflict between the planets makes up three of the best SF novels ever written. Often categorised as ‘scientific romance’ the book can be interpreted as the author’s views and opinions on British imperialism and the legacy of the Victorian era.

Scenes of the massive tripod war machines striding across the English countryside, dispensing death and destruction to all that they meet are some of the most strikingly evocative pieces of fiction you will ever read. As with A Christmas Carol and Dracula, War of the Worlds is a story that many have seen film adaptations of but never actually read the novel.

Hugely influential to John Christopher’s fantastic Tripods children’s novel series; The White Mountains, The City of Gold & Lead, The Pool of Fire and it’s prequel When the Tripods Came.

10 - The Story of Britain - Roy Strong
The only non-fiction book in the list. Author, broadcaster and former Director of the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria & Albert Museum, Sir Roy Strong tells the complete story of this Island, from 320BC (when Britain enters recorded history) up to present day.

Beautifully illustrated throughout with portraits, paintings, documentation, photographs and even tapestries, along with Christopher Lee’s This Sceptred Isle, this is one of the most important and stunningly crafted history books ever produced. Fist released in 1998 and, in my opinion, never bettered.

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