Friday, 24 June 2011

That profound effect…

My artwork takes a great deal of inspiration from what I'm reading. Up until my early twenties, I'd never been much of a reader of novels. One day (in the poignant year of 2001 I might add!), all that changed. I don't even remember what possessed me to decide to walk into Waterstones that day and go straight for the sci-fi section – the Arthur C. Clarke shelf in particular. The stunning array of cover artwork which adorned the SF Masterworks range of books from Orion was utterly compelling, and it was one painting in particular, by Chris Moore, which instantly grabbed my attention and sucked me in. The book was Clarke's The City and the Stars. And thus began my obsession…

Since then, I've been slowly working my way through the SF Masterworks range of books (and a few others). On many occasions upon finishing a book, it's easy to think "that's the best thing I've ever read!", only to think the same thing about the next one. But from a visionary and inspirational point of view, I thought I'd start to list the books that have had a profound effect on me; novels which broadened my SF horizons and really changed the game. Of course this list will go on expanding and evolving, but here it stands, as of today...

THE CITY AND THE STARS by Arthur C. Clarke
Nothing will ever knock this off the number one spot for me. When you consider this was written in the mid-1950s, Clarke's vision of future technology and civilisation is absolutely astounding. Granted, there is perhaps a bit more fiction than science here, yet it is still believable, which is what is endearing about all of Clarke's work. One of my favourite themes is that of escape and discovery of an unknown outside world, and that's exactly what The City and the Stars presents us with, as we follow Alvin, in his lone quest to go beyond the domed city of Diaspar. The timeline may be a little far-fetched, but the technology of the self-sustaining, regenerating city and it's populous, generated by a central computer, is absolutely fantastic. Not only did this book fuel my own inspiration, but it introduced me to Clarke's work and turned me overnight into an avid reader. And I loved Chris Moore's cover artwork so much, I bought a signed print from him, which hangs on my wall with pride.

This book is something of a hidden gem; underrated, and seldom referred to. As with the above, When the Sleeper Awakes deals with a vision of the future, in this case a future version of London. The story follows Graham, an insomniac with suicidal tendencies. When on the brink of throwing himself off some cliffs in 18th Century Cornwall, a friend comes to his aid, and he suddenly falls into a trance-like slumber – for over 200 years. He awakens in a very different world, of chaos and disorder, only to find that he is not only the richest man alive, but the apparent owner of everything. This was one novel I simply could not put down, ultimately prompting me to paint a pivotal scene from the story, of Graham's awakening in the new world. For me this is Wells' best work, undoubtedly inspiring many literary brave new worlds for years to come.

The second of three Arthur C. Clarke books in this list, the story tells of a vast spinning cylindrical object heading towards Earth. A specialist team is sent to investigate and once inside this vast, mysterious object, they find a whole other world, though seemingly uninhabited. Clarke's vision is again, huge and awe-inspiring. It may well be his best writing in terms of vision and science, but it is his knack of writing and describing things with such mystery and intrigue which really makes Rama work. This book blew me away, although I've deliberately avoided any of the later follow-ups.

NON-STOP by Brian Aldiss
I write this as, I'm about to finish the last few pages of this novel, so although the final outcome is yet to be determined, it can't go without mention. A very character-based story, Non-Stop is one of the most exciting books I've read, full of twists and surprises, with enough subtle hints throughout to keep you guessing, but without giving too much away. The story follows Roy Complain, of the Greene tribe, who live in a metal complex overgrown with hydroponic plantlife. Complain decides to investigate the various rumours of worlds and races beyond the enclosure and the ponics, and is in for a rather alarming journey of discovery…

CHILDHOOD'S END by Arthur C. Clarke
The mysterious Overlords arrive in huge saucers over the world's major cities and bring order and peace… Yet another Clarke classic, and certainly the most epic novel I've ever experienced. I say 'experienced', as Childhood's End is more than just a damn good read. It spans generations, raises eyebrows and poses mind-blowing questions. Possibly Clarke's most clever writing, and a book to be enjoyed over again.

I've come to realise that once you've read one PKD novel, you pretty much know what you'll be in for in many of the others. Although I'm yet to read his acclaimed Valis or Ubik, from what I have read to date, Flow My Tears… was the one that struck me the most. Cinematic in approach, almost comic book-like, the story takes place in a dystopian 1988, and follows the theft of TV star Jason Taverner's identity. As with many of Dick's other novels, such as The Penultimate Truth or The Simulacra, Government conspiracy forms a central theme, as do character crossover sub-stories and the overall subject of identity. 

Okay, so my planned 'top five' became six, and that was without mentioning Joe Haldeman's The Forever War or numerous other Arthur C. Clarke novels such as The Songs of Distant Earth or Fountains of Paradise!

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