Inspired by World Book Day, I thought I’d pull together a list of my top ten favourite books
So, in no particular order, I recommend:
1. Only Forward ~ Michael Marshall Smith
This was Mike’s debut novel, billed as a cross between Blade Runner and The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s neither, but an entirely original blend of smart-talking protagonist, weird & wonderful situations and locations, holding together a dark, funny, unforgettable story. This is the book I’m most likely to recommend to you on any given day.
2. The Stainless Steel Rat ~ Harry Harrison
My dad had a copy of this on his bookshelf at work, and I was drawn to it by the fabulous spaceship on the front. It’s a corking read which zips along without pausing for breath. The thing I love about old sci-fi books is that they’re short, skinny little paperbacks that you can get through in a couple of hours, but packed with excitement, adventure and really wild stuff. This is the story of Slippery Jim DiGriz, ace con-man, and titular Stainless Steel Rat, and his recruitment into the Special Corps, run by criminals to catch criminals. Who better to catch a thief than another thief? Brilliant. I’m not ashamed to say that Monty owes a lot of his heritage to the Rat.
3. Dune ~ Frank Herbert
Yes, it’s long, and yes the later books in the series do go on a bit, then turn utterly bonkers. But Dune is wonderful, deep and complex, laden with atmosphere.
4. The Kinky Friedman Crime Club ~ Kinky Friedman
A friend gave me a copy of this many years ago, and I was instantly hooked by the tales of Kinky Friedman, loft-dwelling, cigar-smoking, espresso-guzzling private dick for hire in NYC, with a great line in one-liners
5. Pashazade ~ Jon Courtenay Grimwood
The first of his ‘Arabesk’ trilogy, it’s a book I’ve read many times. Jon has a knack for finding a sentence or turn of phrase which is just *so* delicious and perfect that I find myself reading and re-reading sections, just to work out how the hell he did it. Masterful.
6. The Eyre Affair ~ Jasper Fforde
Ah, no list would be complete without Jasper. The adventures of Thursday Next, Jurisfiction Agent. The first book is literally stuffed to the gills with ideas which make your head spin. Superb.
7. Against a Dark Background ~ Iain M. Banks
A lot to choose from for Mr Banks, but this is my favourite. Dark, oh so dark, but a cracking good read. The Lazy Guns alone are worth the price of admission.
8. Pyramids: A Discworld Novel ~ Terry Pratchett
Again, lots to choose from. Pyramids is my favourite and most-read of my Pratchett collection. The opening scenes where young Pteppic joins the Assassin’s Guild are a joy to behold, and Arthur’s line
‘This is a No.2 throwing knife. I got ninety-six percent for throwing knives. Which eyeball don’t you need?’
cracks me up every time I read it. I went to get my copy of the book to check I’d quoted it correctly, and giggled when I read it.
9. Neverwhere ~ Neil Gaiman
I first read Neil’s ‘American Gods’, quite enjoyed it, but couldn’t quite see what all the fuss was about. Gaiman fans seemed to be *everywhere*, but on the basis of AG, I wasn’t entirely sure why. Then I read Neverwhere, and never looked back. Genius.
10. Un Lun Dun ~ China Miéville
…And if you’re having Neverwhere, you’ve got to have Un Lun Dun. Seriously, just go and buy it. It’s entirely different from China’s other stuff, but weird and wonderful and odd and inventive and just plain bloody marvellous. You can thank me later.
There are, naturally, some notable exceptions on there – The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, for one. But then I’d assume that if you were likely to read it, you’d have done so already.
Also there are other books by most of those authors which I’d also highly recommend. Jasper’s second book, Lost in a Good Book, is arguably better than the first, but I think you’re better off starting with The Eyre Affair. In LiaGB he realises that he’s got a readership who will quite happily trot after him down whatever crazy labyrinth of ideas he comes up with, and the story works a little better.
Iain M. Banks (and his alter-ego, Iain Banks) has his Culture Books, The Player of Games or Use of Weapons, and for his ‘mainstream’ books, The Crow Road is brilliant. The Crow Road starts with the line
It was the day my grandmother exploded.
Seriously, how can you not want to read on?
Michael Marshall Smith’s other books are great too – Spares is a very close second behind Only Forward in my book, and some of his short stories are utterly superb, very dark, scary, thought-provoking and funny. If you happen to come across a copy of his collected short stories, More Tomorrow & Other Stories, snap it up. It was only a short print run, but is a great collection. Failing that, go for What You Make It: Selected Short Stories, a shorter collection in paperback.
I could go on, but I think that’s quite enough for now.
So, dear reader. What are *your* favourite books? And what did happen to my copy of American Gods?
This list is subject to change depending on various factors, including my current mood, what I’ve just read, how much coffee I’ve had and the phase of the moon.