I’m reading my way through the science fiction and fantasy of the twentieth century. Here’s why:

Like you, I have a homemade time machine in my basement. But, to me, time travel is like surfing the Internet. Unless I’m looking for something specific, I tend to wander aimlessly, lost, confused and barred by Niven’s Law* from altering history in any way. Jaunt after pointless jaunt into the past got me wondering about which time was truly the best to visit. 

For answers, I decided to hunker down and do a little reading.

Specifically, I have decided to read one work of science fiction published in each year of the twentieth century, beginning with 1900**. The books will be chosen at random and read non-chronologically, their merit carefully considered and then given a grade on a scale relevant to their content.

Some reviews will be pithy and insightful. Others will be uninspired. One will contain the word ‘falanaka’and will leave the reader wondering if it has been used correctly.

With each year of C20 represented by a book, the best book will ergo determine the best year, and I can set the coordinates of my time machine accordingly. And that’s when I’ll live, happy at last.

Stay attuned.

 

*During his Oscar acceptance speech for Best Actor in 1958’s Separate Tables, actor David Niven wittily surmised that “If the universe of discourse permits the possibility of time travel and changing the past, then no time machine will be invented in that universe.”

 **I know, I know. But it seems like a good place to start. A nice, round year.

The fourth installment in Farmer’s Riverworld series, wherein the source of the alien power that has resurrected all of humanity (we’re like the stock market – one minute we’re down, then we’re up!) on a distant planet is finally discovered. SPOILER ALERT: it was aliens with a resurrection machine. They wanted to test Earthlings’ morality, and we failed said test, scoring just above an immoral species of flatworm from Antares IV which befriends you only so it can bang your sister. Also, the clocks go ahead this weekend, so remember to change the batteries in your spoiler-alerter.

On a scale of famous labyrinths ranging from the Pac Man board to Minotaur’s hideout, this book is: the hedge maze from ‘The Shining’.

RIP, PJF.


An Earthman travels to a distant star where he meets strange beings and engages in lengthy discussions about reality, morality and the veracity of various philosophical systems. And I’m all like, “Enough jib jabberin’! Break out the lasers!” Sadly, the lasers remained sealed in their blister packs throughout the novel. Literary critic Harold Bloom loved this book so much he wrote a sequel to it, which is indicative of how boring it is. If you don’t know who literary critic Harold Bloom is, Google him. Look at his sour, pompous, fish-like puss and ask yourself if you’d ever want to read anything he recommended, ever.

On a scale of doomed voyages ranging from the Challenger to the Titanic, this book is: a car ride where you get stuck in traffic.

Stay home.

A medieval village is transported to a technologically-advanced planet, where 12th century weaponry and terrestrial cunning miraculously defeat hoards of laser-toting aliens. This book proves that Earth is the USA of the galaxy – EARTH! EARTH! EARTH! – because we kick ass and take names. And that ain’t easy, because alien names are hard to spell, and our limited knowledge of xenobiology often makes finding their asses difficult. Recommended.

On a scale of medieval weapons ranging from the misericorde to the scramaseax, this book is: the zweihander.

Cheech and Chong's favourite book. Because, you see, they like marijuana.

I can sum up this anthology of Russian scifi stories in one word: дрянной. With a capital ‘д’. Most of them are written by and told from the point of view of scientists who, despite their depiction on NBC’s Scientists In The City as promiscuous, self-narrating singles who sip cosmopolitans from Erlenmeyer flasks and wear $30 Manolo Blahnik arch-support loafers, aren’t as thrilling and sexy as you may think. This makes for what I call a ‘burnt toast book’: edible but dry. Pass the butter.

On a scale of guys ranging from to Aiden to Big, this book is: Berger.

The Ultimate Threshold of BOREDOM, maybe. Snap!

Having gotten over humans crucifying Jesus, God decides to send another messiah to Earth. But this time, it’s a woman. Not only that, but Morrow infers that God Herself is a She. A female God? Sounds crazy but he might be right; God is demanding, prone to frightening emotional outbursts and no man can make Her happy! Rim shot. I guess the Eleventh Commandment would be ‘Thou shalt not leave the toilet seat up’! Double rim shot.  Vagina! Goodnight everybody. Highly recommended.

On a scale of miracles Jesus performed ranging from turning water into wine to driving demons from a pig, this book is: that time He made the Statue Of Liberty disappear.

‘God’ is ‘cat’ spelled with different letters.

So enamoured are we with the film adaptation of this book that we forget how utterly fucked up the original story is. Within its pages are a beheading, a heroin-induced coma, a sociopathic android, a poisoned dildo and the megalomaniacal, self-crowned ruler of an enchanted city who keeps order through fear, deception and sorcery.  Okay, not the dildo, but still. Of course, when you think about what the children of 1900 were doing – working in factories, eating laudanum, losing their sight in smelting accidents – this book makes sense. Kids back then were tough, and needed stories to match, When’s the last time Dora The Explorer fought her way out of a heroin-induced coma? Never. Because, in addition to having a pussy, she also is one.

On a scale of people from Oz ranging from Beecher to Schillinger, this book is: Adebisi.

I read it while I was high, now I have the Munchkins.