China Miéville is the author of King Rat and Perdido Street Station, which won the Arthur C Clarke Award 2001 and the British Fantasy Award 2001. His latest novel, The Scar, is a seaborne fantasy.
“I don’t think you can distinguish science fiction, fantasy and horror with any rigour, as the writers around the magazine Weird Tales early in the last century (Lovecraft in particular) illustrated most sharply. So I use the term ‘weird fiction’ for all fantastic literature – fantasy, SF, horror and all the stuff that won’t fit neatly into slots. Any list of favourites is subject to regular rapid change, of course, so what’s here is just a fast-frozen moment.”
In no particular order…
1. The Course of the Heart by M John Harrison
A towering genius of modern fiction. That he’s not won the Booker proves the bankruptcy and back-slapping generic snobbery of the literary establishment. I nearly chose his seminal Viriconium sequence, but this unforgiving story of gnosticism and loneliness worries and worries at me like a dog, so I gave in and picked it, scared.
2. Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake
The trilogy, not just the second volume, of course. Somehow this manages to be both rich and austere at the same time – the sense is of vastness, but of unbearable claustrophobia, too. The egregious BBC adaptation turned it into an Augustan costume romp and stripped out all the shadows and all the dust. Philistines.
3. Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
Not very original to choose an Alice book, but they loom so large in my head it would have been a lie not to. Both are magnificent, but this is the darker and stranger.
4. The Island of Dr Moreau by HG Wells
Jorge Luis Borges called this book “an atrocious miracle” and he’s bloody right. Short, cold, economic and totally unrelenting. An utterly terrifying book, Wells’s outstanding achievement by far.
5. The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K Dick
It’s infuriating to have to choose just one of Dick’s works – he is the outstanding figure in SF. In the end I went for Stigmata because I remember how I felt when I put it down. Hollow and beaten. I kept thinking: “That’s it. It’s finished. Literature has been finished.”
6. The Dark Domain by Stefan Grabinski
Early in the last century, this shockingly underrated Polish writer saw the horror that haunted modernity. His ghosts and demons don’t inhabit graveyard or ruins, but steam trains, electricity cables, and the rapidly growing cities. The antithesis of nostalgic fantasy.
7. Strange Evil by Jane Gaskell
The book was written when Gaskell was 14, and though it suffers from all the flaws her youth would lead you to expect, it is a staggering achievement. A fraught fairyland full of sexuality, and containing the most extraordinary baddy in fiction.
8. Une Semaine de Bonte by Max Ernst
The best comic strip of all time. The best illustrated book of all time. The best sustained work of surrealism of all time. A magisterial whodunwhat, full of little deaths and high adventure, insurrection and freedom.
9. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
The greatest work of horror ever. OK, technically there are no monsters or aliens or what-have-you, but there’s no way this isn’t horror. A book about madness, loneliness, manipulation, class and sex that’s more frightening than any tentacled thing Lovecraft could come up with.
10. Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link
This small-press short-story collection by a young American writer is a joy – a very tired word, and not one I use lightly. I’ve not been so moved and affected – and dammit, yes, inspired – by a book for a long time. Run, don’t walk, to http://www.kellylink.net and get your copy.