At Cheshire Writing Services, we’re passionate about bringing forgotten artistic gems back to the fore. Here is our own selection of sci-fi novels which deserve to be cherished (and if you don’t agree with any selection, please let us know!):-
The Iron Dream – Norman Spinrad
The Iron Dream is a curious novel penned by a forgotten science fiction writer who emigrated to America from Germany in the 1920s: his name was Adolf Hitler. After this startling introduction, Spinrad lays Hitler’s strange vision of the future before us. Feric Jaggar, a man of pure blood in a polyglot nation of parrot-faced mutants, finally gains admission to Helden: the one land on earth still untainted by the Great Fire of the ancients. In the Emerald Forest he finds he can wield the Steel Commander, a huge phallic club which demonstrates his genetic descent from ancient heroes. Thus armed and inspired, Feric takes command of his people, clears Helden of hated Dominators and begins a war of global purification.
A Barnstormer in Oz – Phillip Jose Farmer
Set in Frank L Baum’s wonderful world of Oz and invoking its many characters, this wonderful novel transforms Baum’s florid fantasy into a gripping sci fi novel. Here, Oz is a parallel world which Dorothy visited but never returned to. Her son, Hank Stover, is whisked to Oz in 1923 and finds himself – and his barnstorming biplane – in the middle of a civil war between two Witches. Because this is a sci fi book, expect lots of cool and quirky explanations of Oz culture, history and flora. For example, the Cowardly lion’s huge size is explained by him being descended from the American Lion, an extinct species much bigger than modern African lions. To a British reader, the enduring American fascination with Oz is remarkable; the Oz books symbolise freedom, childhood and wonder in a way we Brits can scarcely grasp. In this wonderful, life-affirming book, Hank is ultimately forced to choose between Oz and the fanatic militarism our own world; an obvious reference to the oppressive values that menaced American liberty during the Reaganite years. Another great thing about this book is that it stands alone on its own merits; it is not part of some multi-book ‘series’ of ever-declining quality, so common in the science fiction and fantasy genres.
Mind Swap – Robert Sheckley
Mind Swap begins like a typical sci fi novel, with the protagonist submitting himself to a mind-swapping experiment. However, the narrative soon explodes beyond all narrow, predictable expectations into a fugue of addictive chaos worthy of James Joyce himself. The author’s ecstatic joy in free-wheeling, genre-smashing literary experiment explodes from every page of this neglected masterwork.
Time’s Last Gift – Phillip Jose Farmer
Many readers will be broadly familiar with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and the Steampunk genre in general. However, the whole idea of literary and historical figures being plucked from their original contexts and placed (often together) in wildly different scenarios is something that really started with Phillip Jose Farmer’s Wold Newton Family series, to which this masterpiece belongs. In this novel, four time travellers return 10, 000 years into the past; and we are soon being bombarded with a feast of alternative anthropology, linguistics and history, along with the fascinating plot twists and bone-crunching action Farmer was so adept at delivering. One of the time travellers is a curious specimen: he can throw a spear better than any tribesman and is a treasure-trove of curious learning and anecdote. His true identity is held back to the very end; but rest assured, the final revelation will be well worth the wait.
Agent of Chaos – Norman Spinrad
Written in the early 60s, the protagonist of this thoughtful libertarian novel is quirkily named Boris Johnson. In a totalitarian future where the Hegemony which strives to eliminate all chance or speculative thought, he becomes an Agent of Chaos: an outlaw dedicated to overthrowing this tyrannical but benevolent regime. A wonderfully philosophical novel, Spinrad tackles such issues as free will and determinism, tyranny and democracy, collectivism and liberty. While rigid political and social order invariably strives to stamp out random factors, such zeal always invokes a libertarian reaction. Meanwhile, the Brotherhood of Assassins plays a game no one else can fathom. And when extra-terrestrial life is discovered, the seeds of a thrilling and educational denouement are set in place. What with Brexit, Trump and the rise of right wing populism across the globe, Agent of Chaos is just as relevant today as the day it was written.