TEN OF THE BEST…. AND THE OTHER BEST

There’s a meme doing the rounds of Facebook that requires the recipient to name 10 books that have had an impact upon them, then pass the disease on to ten innocent schmucks. Rather than waste all that typing on just one form of social media, I thought I’d list them here, too.

1. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkein. Read it for the first time when I was ten and it blew the breath out of my mind. I’d never experienced such scope, depth and majesty in a story before, and have pretty much never experienced it since. Read it every year until my mid-twenties, and a few times again since then.

2. The Cats by Joan Phipson. The first book I ever bought with my own money. A kids book about psychic cats who kidnap a kid in the Australian bush.

3. Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner. An amazing dystopian near-future SF work that feels as relevant and likely now as it did when I first read it in my early 20s. Brunner is the author David Brin wishes he could be when he grows up.

4. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Everything I wanted to write when I grew up, in a single trilogy. It hasn’t aged well, but its impact on the 16 year old me cannot be overstated.

5. Brighton Rock by Graham Greene. Sparse, brutal and unforgiving. The perfect crime novel.

6. The Scar by China Meiville. My first Mieville novel, it kicked off an ongoing love affair that has never abated. Beautifully lyrical, ugly, despairing, and epic and everything in the weird that I want to achieve.

7. Science Fiction Stories for Boys, editor unknown. A cheap ‘Octopus Books’ collection of the type that used to proliferate in the wild 70s before copyright law reached Australia. My first real SF book, it contained the story that set me on the path to an SF future. My first taste of Asimov, Heinlein, Leiber and Harrison. I still have it, and it’s still brilliant.

8. Lord Foul’s Bane by Stephen Donaldson. The first modern fantasy book I read that dared to break the Tolkein template. A deeply unlikeable protagonist, acres of grit and despair, a true sense of dirt under the fingernails of a real second world. The clear forerunner to the current ‘Grimdark’ generation of Joe Abercrombie and peers.

9. Booklife by Jeff VanderMeer. The book that helped me sit down and define my career goals at a time when I was floundering. More than one recent success is down to its lessons.


10. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John Le Carre. Sparse, brutal and unforgiving. A perfect ‘cold equations’ novel, and still just about the best thriller ever written.

And because I’m me:

11. Red Country by Joe Abercrombie. The best novel of the last 5 years, bar none. Brilliantly grim, realistic fantasy, filled with consequences and the kind of bleak beauty rarely seen outside of a John Huston film. A stunning novel


And just for yucks, my friend Stephen Dedman decided I should list 10 films in the same way. So I did:

1. Doctor Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Brilliant satirical dark comedy centred around stunning multiple performances from Peter Sellers, who is never better than here. Kubrick’s best film by a country mile.

2. The Crow. Dark, dystopian revenge fantasy that distills everything that a 19 year old in the late 80s found too cool for words, backed by the single best soundtrack in movie history. Nominally a superhero film and on that basis still one of the best 3 or 4 superhero films ever made.

3. ET. First saw it on an excursion with my under 13 soccer team. We’ll all deny it to our dying breaths, because we were Rockingham bogans trying to be tough, but we all bawled like we were sponsored by Kleenex. The special effects have dimmed over time, but the emotional impact never has.


4. The Italian Job. The film that inspired a life long love of heist movies. Good, clean, criminal fun from beginning to end.


5. Fight Club. Nihilistic, counter-culture view of a personal apocalypse. Brilliantly out of kilter, with a career-defining performance from Brad Pitt.


6. 12 Monkeys. The perfect combination of Terry Gilliam’s visual and narrative brilliance, Brad Pitt’s superb ability to create a beautiful freak, and a thoughtful and finely tuned SF plot. An utter classic.


7. Iron Man. I’m making no excuses here: this is the movie the 8 year old me waited 30 years to see, and it was everything I expected it to be. I loves it with loves that turns any form of criticism at all into “nahnahnahnahcan’thearyoucan’thearyounahnahnah…”


8. Blade Runner. Ridley Scott was never better. Another stunning, beautiful dystopia rendered in images so perfect they will live forever in my internal viewfinder. The flames along the edge of Sean Young’s iris may be the most perfect filmic image ever committed.


9. The General. Film’s greatest magician at his highest peak. Brilliant comedy, special effects, stunts and storytelling, still genuinely gripping after 90 years.


10. A Night at the Opera. My first Marx Brothers movie, it still has the power to crease me over with helpless laughter and yet, as I grow older, it’s the quiet moment of Harpo and Chico playing together on the ship that fill me with wonder. The archetypal something-for-everyone comedy, it should make talentless hacks like Adam Sandler hang his soulless head in shame. A wonder.


So there we go. Now tell me, what’s your list? What books and films have had a lasting impact upon your poor, tortured psyche?

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