British Authors

At the last Phoenix quiz, I set a series of lit questions all involving women authors. At the time, I planned to follow this up with an article looking at the contribution of women to Science Fiction. It was pretty obvious however that I couldn't even begin to do this topic justice in the type of article I was planning. I'm probably not a very good person to do the article anyway so the idea lapsed.

The point of this is that it did inspire me to think about other groups of authors. By looking at my personal book collection, I came up with a few manageable groupings. The authors concerned in the first and most obvious of these groupings are dealt with in this piece. Note that this is not supposed to be definitive - quite the opposite really since it is based on works I know about personally. Feel free to tell me about the ones I have missed, but do not expect me to do anything about it.

As to the first grouping, it should be so obvious that I do not need to tell you what it is - so I won't! If you can't figure it out then perhaps this might give you the excuse you need to do a bit of reading.

First up is Paul J McAuley. In 1989 he won the Philip K Dick award for "Four Hundred Billion Stars". The PKD award is usually a pretty good indicator of quality and that is certainly the case here. McAuley does a line of hard SF with detailed settings, good characters and strong plots based on a mystery type theme. Apart from this his own work of quality, McAuley also collaborated in putting together my second favourite short story anthology "In Dreams" - a collection of stories inspired by the seven inch rock single. (My favourite anthology - "Mirrorshades" compiled by Bruce Sterling of course.)

McAuley's collaborator for In Dreams is our second subject. Kim Newman is a writer of skill and genuine flair. His horror novel "Jago" is imbued with a great sense of fun - true also of his cyberpunk novel "The Night Mayor", a book which draws on Newman's other major literary forte - films. You can be assured of great entertainment when reading Newman's work, with the only problem being that most of his material is rather hard to get hold of.

Kim Newman may have a sense of fun, but Terry Pratchett is at another level entirely in the humour biz. He and his work are so well known that there is probably not much more I can tell you about him that you do not already know. I once heard that ten percent of all SF sold in the UK is by Pratchett. I have no idea how accurate this rather amazing statistic is, but the fact that it can be taken seriously is as good an indication as any of his influence. A side effect of Pratchett's popularity is that the door is opened to other humour writers in the genre. We can add to our list the names of Neil Gaiman, Robert Rankin, Douglas Adams, Christopher Moore, Douglas Hill and of course Rob Grant and Doug Naylor.

Colin Greenland is not an easy author to describe. His superb first novel "Take Back Plenty" is a kind of sensitive new age space opera. His latest effort "Harm's Way" is more of a pseudo Victorian romantic space fantasy. If that is a hard concept to get your head around, well the book is even harder to categorise. My suggestion is that you read it or the earlier work - they are well worth it.

Of course Michael Moorcock virtually defines the concept of hard to describe. Luckily he is so well known I don't really need to try. Actually I'm not much of a fan of Moorcock. I get the feeling that you need to be on the same mind altering substances as him to fully appreciate his work - or perhaps it is just that the concept of the multiverse and the eternal hero don't do anything for me. Some pieces I have enjoyed however. In particular "The Dancers at the End of Time" series where he gets the mixture of parody, social satire and outright humour just right. I periodically try reading other Moorcock works to try to find other gems. He is after all a very important figure from the 60's new wave movement - both as an author and as an editor.

In much the same category is Brain W Aldiss. In fact he may be even more influential than Moorcock - at least he seems to think so from his own critical works. Although the (so called) New Wave was very important to the development of SF, the actual writing that composed the movement was often obscure and just plain hard to read. This is how I perceive Aldiss. Enjoyable is not an adjective I have ever used to describe his work. But as with Moorcock, he is an important figure and it is possible to see where his influence affects gifted more recent authors like McAuley, Newman and Greenland.

Another author where enjoyment seems secondary to style is Ian Watson. But on the basis of the small amount that I have read, it is worth the effort. Perhaps that is why I keep confusing him with Ian McDonald who shares some of these characteristics as well as a first name. McDonald is on my mental list of authors who I have neglected and should read more of.

Well that's the lot - I have obviously left out a lot including a well known legend in the field. If you are interested in expanding on the names here then check out the pages of Interzone. There are regular collections of the best work from this magazine which have a lot of interesting material - most by authors covered by the scope of this article. What do you mean you don't know what the scope of the article is - shame on you.