SF/fantasy writer Neal Asher is the author of Gridlinked and The Skinner. His latest book, The Line of Polity, is a complex, multilayered story about rebels in a slave world.
1. Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny
With fantasy one often has to think of a well-loved series before narrowing the selection to a favourite book. So it is with Zelazny. I’ve read his Princes in Amber books so often I know them almost verbatim, so much so that I am now trying to forget them so I can return to them with renewed pleasure. The best of the line is The Guns of Avalon.
2. Waylander by David Gemmell
Gemmell’s name guarantees a satisfying story and a thumping good read. I recommend all his heroic creations – Druss the axeman, the Jerusalem man, among others – but my favourite has to be Waylander: Clint Eastwood with a crossbow and the same ‘make my day, punk’ attitude.
3. Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
It seems fashionable at the moment to pick holes in the greats, and Lord of the Rings gets the biggest hammering because it is the progenitor of most swords/wizards/elves/dwarves fantasy. People seem to forget that it is mimicked because it is very good, original for its time, and written with an understanding of story and language that few can match.
4. Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett
I enjoyed his neglected SF books, like Dark Side of the Sun, and every single one of his Discworld books. Foremost of these has to be Witches Abroad. Who can fail to be amused by the travails of a vampire, transformed into a bat, being stunned by a piece of garlic sausage tossed out of a window, and then eaten by a dyspeptic cat?
5. Volkhavaar by Tanith Lee
I’ve been reading Tanith Lee since I was a teenager, beginning with The Birthgrave and The Storm Lord. Only recently did I discover, to my delight, how many more of her books I’ve yet to read. This one presented the idea that the quality of worship creates the god long before Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods.
6. Stormbringer by Michael Moorcock
Moorcock’s interlinked Eternal Champion series is a constant source of enjoyment. Of its tragic hero incarnations, my favourite is Elric of Melnibone and the best book has to be Stormbringer. And as for that other sword, Excalibur? Pah! Use it to spread your butter.
7. Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen Donaldson
These are cursed by comparison to Tolkien: there’s a dark lord, there’s a gold ring… However, I have to say that this series shows a greater understanding of human nature and of evil. My favourite is The Illearth War, but read from the beginning and weep.
8. Anubis Gates by Tim Powers
This is fantasy without the usual trappings, and utterly unique for now. What a superb book. I think I’ll have to sit down and read it again.
9. The Eyes of the Overworld by Jack Vance
I loved the invention in this: the strange lands, stranger peoples and a loathsome anti-hero who is just engaging enough that you want him to win through. Vance is a master of the weird.
10. Shiva 3000 by Jan Lars Jensen
I’m including this for its portrayal of a weird future India, complete with lashings of colour and exuberance, a monstrous, roaming Jagannath and a battle in which spices are used as weapons (imagine getting a face full of chilli powder). Wonderful stuff.