Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Guardian: 1000 novels everyone must read

The Guardian, a prominent newspaper in the United Kingdom, recently published a long list of books titled “1000 Novels Everyone Must Read.” The list has received quite a bit of press and has some readers restructuring their own reading lists. Interestingly, of the 124 Science Fiction & Fantasy books on the Guardian 1000, only three are about Mars or Martians:

The War of the Worlds (1898), by H. G. Wells
"The most read, imitated and admired invasion fantasy of the 19th century. The Martians, a cold-bloodedly cerebral species, driven by the inhospitability of their dying planet and superior technology, invade Earth. Their first cylinders land at Horsell Common and are followed by an army of fighting machines equipped with death rays. Humanity and its civilisation crumple under the assault, which is witnessed by the narrator, a moral philosopher. Finally, in the wasteland of 'dead London', mankind's salvation is found in the disease germ: 'there are no bacteria on Mars'. The novel can be read as an allegory of imperialism. As the narrator muses: 'The Tasmanians were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of 50 years.'"

A Princess of Mars (1912), by Edgar Rice Burroughs
“John Carter, a Confederate veteran turned gold prospector, is hiding from Indians in an Arizona cave when he is mysteriously transported to Mars, known to the locals as Barsoom. There, surrounded by four-armed, green-skinned warriors, ferocious white apes, eight-legged horse-substitutes, 10-legged 'dogs', and so on, he falls in love with Princess Dejah Thoris, who might almost be human if she didn't lay eggs. She is, naturally, both beautiful and extremely scantily clad ... Burroughs's first novel, published in serial form, is the purest pulp, and its lack of pretension is its greatest charm.”

Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), by Robert A. Heinlein
“Amateur stonemason, waterbed designer, reformed socialist, nudist, militarist and McCarthyite, Heinlein is one of the most interesting and irritating figures in American science fiction. This swinging 60s bestseller (working title: The Heretic) is typically provocative, with a central character, Mike Smith, who is raised by Martians after the death of his parents and questions every human assumption -- about sex, politics, society and spirituality -- on his arrival on Earth. Smith's religion, with its polyamory, communal living and ritual cannibalism, inspired the neo-pagan Church of All Worlds.”

I’m genuinely surprised that Out of the Silent Planet (1938), by British author C. S. Lewis, is not part of the Guardian 1000.

Pictured above: Cover of The War of the Worlds, Magnum Books, paperback, 1967.

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