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10 Science Fiction Books and Series’ that Made Me: Guest Blog by Cameron Johnston

Cameron JohnstonAngry Robot is proud to announce another new addition to their ever-growing robot army: our own Fantasy-Faction forum-ite Cameron Johnston! His debut publication will arrive in June 2018 and we have the privilege of hosting him today! Here he is to talk about some of the science fiction stories that shaped him and his novel, The Traitor God.

With The Traitor God due for publication by Angry Robot in June 2018, I find myself thinking back to the fiction of my youth, to where the desire to write my own stories began. Many authors write articles talking about the novels that influenced them while growing up, so, what with it being the done thing, I figured I should do one too, complete with the covers of the versions I read.

Except, I won’t be talking about the most famous novels and writers. There will be no Lord of the Rings here, no Dune, no Dragonlance, no Conan or Elric, no David Gemmell, David Eddings, Terry Pratchett, or Anne McCaffrey (though I enjoyed all of those). Instead, in no particular order, I will talk about ten of the more generally overlooked novels that still sit in places of honour at the back of my mind, remembered with great fondness.

Starstormers series by Nicholas Fisk

Starstormers (cover)Four children have been left in a boarding school on Earth for years while their parents are off building a new colony on a distant plant. They are fed up and frustrated and have had more than enough of that thank you very much, so naturally they decide to build their own spaceship and set off in search of their parents. They salvage parts from a spacecraft junkyard and outfit a hollowed-out asteroid into a ramshackle space ship they name Starstormer.

Children with agency building their own spaceship and setting off on an epic adventure among the stars? Was this series written personally for me? Book three also introduced the kitten, Fang, who joins the crew and helps save them from nefarious attacking forces. I’m such a sucker for animal characters, as you might notice later on.

Necroscope series by Brian Lumley

Necroscope (cover)Harry Keogh was born with the ability to speak to the dead. He befriends them and they teach him all they know. Harry then gets drawn into a conflict between British and Soviet E-branches – paranormal spy agencies.

Boris Dragosani, part of the Soviet E-branch, discovers an ancient vampire trapped in the Balkans and learns necromancy from the undead creature, enabling him to brutally rip secrets from the minds of the dead.

Of course, the vampire also has its own goal – freedom!

Vampires, spies, and psychic powers – what’s not to love about this? The Necroscope series has some of the best vampires in fiction, and they are something very different and deeper than you might expect.

Galactic Medal of Honor by Mack Reynolds

Galactic Medal of Honor (cover)The Galactic Medal of Honor was the most important, the most coveted award of all time. It was given only to a handful of the bravest and most self-sacrificing of those defending Earth from the mysterious alien invaders that appeared fifty years before. It was almost always given posthumously. The bearer of this medal became the idol of all mankind, would never want for any necessity or luxury – would never want for anything. Everyone on Earth sought that medal . . . One man was going to cheat to win it – and live to regret it.

What can I say other than the core premise of the medal is completely bonkers. An award that exempts the bearer from any and all laws? Yes, you read that correctly, ALL LAWS. The main character can do anything he likes with no consequences. Yeeaaahhhh. And yet, this was one of those books that taught me you could go nuts with writing and twist ideas and plots in weird and wonderful ways. It also manages to talk about capitalistic corruption and the pros and cons of capitalism and communism, and you don’t get that in many old-school sci-fi novels.

The Ring of Allaire by Susan Dexter

The Ring of Allaire (cover)Master magician Blais was dead, murdered by the evil ice-lord Nimir. Now there was only Tristan, an ill-trained apprentice, to carry on the quest to rescue Allaire, a princess held in enchanted sleep in Nimir’s frozen halls. Though a thousand master mages had already failed in the quest, Tristan must succeed – or all of Calandra would be doomed by Nimir’s greed.

This is a traditional fantasy quest story featuring a woefully ill-prepared apprentice magician trying to rescue a princess from an evil dark lord. And yet it is also so much more, featuring some unexpected twists and brilliant animal characterisation. Tristan is helped by a sarcastic cat, a brave and optimistic canary, and a magical warhorse. (For more mystical cats, try The Cats of Seroster by Robert Westall – another classic of my childhood I just had to sneak in here. That doesn’t count as one of my ten, right? Right?)

Flight from the Dark by Joe Dever

Flight from the Dark (cover)You are Lone Wolf. In a devastating attack the Darklords have destroyed the monastery where you were learning the skills of the Kai Lords. You are the sole survivor. You swear revenge. But first you must reach Holmgard to warn the King of the gathering evil. The servants of darkness relentlessly hunt you across your country and every turn of the page presents a new challenge. Choose your skills and your weapons carefully.

In the long shadow cast by Fighting Fantasy books, the Lone Wolf series is largely overlooked despite it being an exciting, well-written and illustrated choose your own adventure story. Lone Wolf’s Magnamund setting and continuing storyline was a riveting read. I never did choose the best Kai powers to help in whatever dire situation I found myself in. I recently learned that the magnificent people involved in Lone Wolf have graciously allowed their work to be published for free online at Project Aon and https://www.projectaon.org I am ecstatic to re-live those nostalgic adventures in Magnamund all over again.

The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper

Over Sea, Under Stone (cover)A group of children are drawn into an ancient struggle between the forces of light and darkness. They must search for old magic and artefacts of power to prevent the growing power of The Dark from prevailing.

Probably the best known novels on this list, Susan Cooper’s magnificent mix of Arthurian legend, and Norse and Celtic mythology really struck a chord with me. The landscapes in these books are ancient and mysterious and the beings that inhibit them powerful and potent.

The prose is elegant and the mythic plots and characters are dark and dangerous, and deeply fascinating. Together with The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner, this series helped cultivate my enduring love of mythology and folklore.

Gather, Darkness! by Fritz Leiber

Gather, Darkness (cover)Hundreds of years after a nuclear holocaust threw society back into the dark ages, the world is a fraught and superstitious place ruled over by the techno-priests of the Great God, using scientific knowledge lost to the rest of humanity to maintain control over the populace. Jarles rises to become a priest, but finds their gospel is a fraud based on illusion and trickery. He rebels and joins the outlawed practitioners of witchcraft, who use their own understanding of science to begin a holy war to free humanity from its overlords.

I was more familiar with Fritz Leiber as the writer of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser swords and sorcery stories, but Gather, Darkness! was such an amazing setting to be dropped into, now reminiscent of the techno-religious Mechanicum of Warhammer 40,000. This was one of these big ‘What If’ stories that really caught my imagination. The priest’s ‘rods of wrath’ are notable as one of the first depictions of a lightsaber – two wizards fight to the death with the weapons during a rebellion. Somehow, that sounds familiar . . .

The Ring of Charon by Roger MacBride Allen

The Ring of Charon (cover)Experimenting with gravity control and the manufacture of black holes on a research station on Pluto, scientists are horrified when planet Earth disappears. Long-dormant alien machines have been woken by their experiments and begin to destroy the solar system.

This is one of the sci-fi novels that introduced me to the Big Idea: What if the Earth disappeared?

*mind blown*

After reading the back of this book in the library, I just had to add the big hardback to my growing pile of loot (ten books at a time was not too many). Scientists struggle to determine what happened, and who or what stole the Earth, only to be faced with the imminent destruction of the entire solar system by self-replicating alien machines. Whoa! I’m still wanting and waiting to read The Falling World, the third book of this unfinished trilogy.

The Space Mavericks by Michael Kring

The Space Mavericks (cover)Renegade space pilots risked their lives to stay one orbit ahead of the interplanetary police. Their only chance for survival lay on a desolate planet whose inhabitants had mysteriously disappeared, leaving behind traces of an advanced civilization.

Early 80s space opera is sometimes mentioned as being one of the most badly written thanks to some very purple prose.

I loved it.

Independent space truckers on the run, biomechanical body modifications, and ruins of an ancient alien civilisation that leads to a huge mystery. It played with lots of fascinating ideas. To this day I would read the hell out of that unpublished third novel in the series.

The Anvil of Ice by Michael Scott Rohan

The Anvil of Ice (cover)In the Northlands, beleaguered by the ever-encroaching Ice and the marauding Ekwesh, a young cowherd, saved from the raiders by the mysterious Mastersmith, discovers in himself an uncanny power to shape metal – but it is a power that may easily be turned to evil ends, and on a dreadful night he flees his new home, and embarks on the quest to find both his own destiny, and a weapon that will let him stand against the Power of the Ice.

This was probably the first book I read where the world itself was the enemy, the advancing glaciers driven by a malevolent will threatening to destroy what is left of humanity. Drawing heavily on Germanic and Norse mythology, it was an intriguing not-quite-history book, and the depictions of magic being tied to metalsmithing were marvellous.

– – –

There we have it, ten books and series’ that helped to fire my imagination, and in many small ways have influenced the writing of The Traitor God.

Thanks are owed to my brother’s book collection and to the local library I habitually raided after school.

A city threatened by unimaginable horrors must trust their most hated outcast, or lose everything, in this crushing epic fantasy debut.

After ten years on the run, dodging daemons and debt, reviled magus Edrin Walker returns home to avenge the brutal murder of his friend. Lynas had uncovered a terrible secret, something that threatened to devour the entire city. He tried to warn the Arcanum, the mageocracy who rule the city. He failed.

Lynas was skinned alive and Walker felt every cut. Now nothing will stop him from finding the murderer. Magi, mortals, daemons, and even the gods – Walker will burn them all if he has to.

After all, it wouldn’t be the first time he’s killed a god . . .

The Traitor God is due out in June of 2018. If you’d like to learn more about it you can visit Cameron’s website or follow him on Twitter @CamJohnston.

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3 Comments

  1. ScarletBea says:

    Well done, Cam! Really happy for you 🙂

  2. G R Matthews says:

    Space Mavericks!!! So tempted to try and write the third instalment… happy to collaborate 🙂

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