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At first nearly all softcover books were reprints of hardcover editions. In the New York publisher, Fawcett, began to produce original paperback fiction, commissioning new works rather than contracting for reprints. Using well-known names from the pulps and commercial fiction circles like Cornell Woolrich and Sax Rohmer, plus a lot of new young talent like Vin Packer and David Goodis, Fawcett cultivated the old pulp magazine fans and a new generation of readers looking for something stronger than the old magazines.

Fawcett had tremendous success with its Gold Medal line of paperback originals. Numerous other publishers began issuing similar lines of sensational originals in softcover editions.


A new style of pulp fiction evolved: grittily realistic, often frankly erotic, with an iconoclastic eagerness to explore the controversial and the taboo. The paperbacks developed new genres around such shocking subject matter as drug addiction, juvenile delinquency, racism, and homosexuality. Escapist reading took on a weird, nihilistic edge in the work of such paperback pros as Jim Thompson and Charles Willeford.

Similar fiction lines thrived in Great Britain, with the rise of numerous small softcover publishers pushing tough, ersatz American private eye stories and erotic fiction. As literary censorship began to crumble in the s, erotic fiction paperbacks became the mainstay for hundreds of small softcover publishers. These books, subtle and euphemistic in the beginning, became increasingly explicit as that decade wore on.

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At this same time, the growing cultural strength of African Americans influenced the efforts of Holloway House, a Los Angeles—based publisher that came to specialize in brutally realistic novels about inner-city crime and vice and various aspects of the black experience as recounted by such authors as Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines. Though the majority of pulp fiction has been properly stigmatized for its lurid unreality, its recurring cultural importance has been undervalued. The marginalized genre of science fiction, growing beyond its era of bug-eyed monsters, pondered the human and technical future provocatively and with frequent accuracy.

The sex pulps dealt with a subject—in all its arousing and frightening aspects—with a frankness no mainstream magazines or publishers dared to emulate for decades. The noir fiction of such pulp paperback hacks as Jim Thompson and David Goodis, dealt more incisively with the postwar psychological states of alienation and angst than did most of the acclaimed hardcover authors of the day.

Literally a literature of the street—sold not in genteel bookstores but in drug stores, cigar stores, and bus stations—pulp fiction has often closely reflected the society at hand, its hopes and dreams, ideals and prejudices, taboos and sexual fantasies. The wild. This volume attempts to follow the threads of pulp fiction over more than a century through profiles of more than writers—the good, the bad, and the sometimes worse, from some of the 19thcentury progenitors of pulp to men and women practicing the tradition to this day.

A comprehensive listing of all pulp fiction writers, even under a stricter definition than my own, would run to dozens of volumes. For this book I have attempted to include a representative sampling, including both names of legend and those writers whose ob-. A few significant pulp fiction contributors—and much-writtenabout names—have been left out altogether in favor of some little-known writers who might otherwise not ever be written about at all.

On the pages ahead you will read of many colorful and, I think, fascinating personalities, lives of adventure, romance, debauchery, fear, and murder. Read on! A hot spots, from Karachi to Budapest to the Sulu Sea. At each location Durrell would find a looming threat to U. But the stories moved swiftly and surely, and many of the settings and plot devices had a news-headline immediacy. Aarons, Edward S. His early mystery novels were credited to a pen name, Edward Ronns, and published by the low-rung Phoenix Press. Raised in Afghanistan, where he assumed his Asian title of Prince Nadir Khan, he was educated at Eton and Oxford, then became a gentleman officer in the British army, keeping the peace along the Khyber Pass and in assorted colonies in Africa.

He became a writer in the early s, establishing the name of Achmed Abdullah as an erudite teller of thrilling stories and an elegant stylist whose work appeared in numerous periodicals and pulp magazines. Abdullah cultivated a romantic public image—the writer as dashing, exotic, and. His name appeared with frequency on the covers of novels, short story collections, and popular histories as well as memoirs, books of poetry, and a cookbook.

The Trail of the Beast was a spy thriller about a planned political assassination, set in a thrilling France of nightclubs, apache dancers, and promiscuous female agents. Night Drums concerned insurrection in Africa, a would-be black emperor, and an ancient mummy, and the bandaged body of the first man— Adam himself. Written under the premise that each inscrutable basement warren and cluttered shop in Chinatown held a strange, shocking secret, the stories juggled the familiar props of the Chinese ghetto—opium dens, white slavers, tong wars, submissive young immigrant girls—with touching character vignettes and poignant, usually tragic romances.

Robinson in the title role as the Chinatown killer, but it is a hauntingly memorable tale in its own right. The studios sought him out for projects to which his exotic experience and erudition seemed particularly suited, including the. Adams, Cleve Douglas Fairbanks Sr. Like Hammett and many another pulp star, Adams found his way to writing after a peripatetic life and an assortment of odd jobs and adventures.

Born in Chicago, he was a copper miner in the West, an accountant, a window trimmer, an art director for a movie studio, a life insurance executive, a soda jerk and—like Hammett again—a private detective. By the late s his byline appeared at least once or twice a month, and he wrote several book-length serials. His most unusual and interesting contribution to the pulps was probably his series of stories published in Clues about a female private detective. In Adams joined the other crime pulpsters on the bandwagon to hardcover publication.

His first three published novels—And Sudden Death , The Black Door , and Decoy —were in fact reprints of his pulp serials. Those first three, and a subsequent trio of titles one published posthumously , all featured raucous case histories from the files of Rex McBride, a tough private detective. Adams also stuck to a few basic plotlines, usually ones that seemed familiar from the works of Dashiell Hammett.

But the books had their own style, snarly in tone and chaotic in construction. Adams has been accused of writing from a pro-fascist perspective. But Adams, to paraphrase Ellroy on Ellroy, is writing about bad white men doing bad things, and his political viewpoint seems less ultra-right-wing than nihilistic, creating a nasty landscape full of chauvinist pigs, rotten cops, crooked politicians, rich slatterns, and sadists—a big, ugly, wisecracking world of everyday corruption. For exhilarating adventure, rowdy. And yet, yes, it is somebody! The famous poster introduced a new literary creation, super-criminal Fantomas, to the Paris of a malevolently bored masked man in evening clothes posing astride the entire helpless city like an elegant Colossus.

No ordinary miscreant, Fantomas was an unpredictable, even incomprehensible wrongdoer, devoted to cruelty and outrage without purpose. His presence would. A mixture of brilliant detective work and absurd intuition on the part of the obsessed police inspector Juve at last brings a suspect to ground, and the convicted killer is dispatched beneath the gleaming blade of the guillotine. Fantomas has escaped. He has had some innocent man executed in his stead! I tell you, Fantomas is alive! The series was the creation of a pair of hack writers, the older Pierre Souvestre and his secretary-turned-partner Marcel Allain.

The pair had been writing articles for the new automobile magazines that were all the rage at the time, and when an editor had needed a few pages filled in a hurry they had supplied some action-packed automobile fiction. A Monsieur Fayard, publisher of the cheapest pulp fiction line in Paris, liked what he saw and put the two men under contract. The legend of Fantomas grew even mightier with the almost immediate adaptation of the series to silent film by master director Louis Feuillade.

Pierre Souvestre died in the Spanish flu epidemic of Allain married his widow. He kept. Allen, Richard on writing but resisted offers to continue the Fantomas series until , at which time he created a number of magazine stories that subsequently formed the contents of five new novels. From then on he left the character more or less alone, although he created similar pulp thrillers for most of his long life.

He died in , by then much honored as a living legend of French culture. Works English titles are of known translated editions. Fantomas ; U. Allen, Richard James Moffat — Simmering behind the good vibes of hippiedom and swinging London as the s came to a close was another, less friendly British cultural movement, one built not on peace and love but on suspicion, resentment, racism, and violence.

Media reports exposed the rise of white, working-class youth. To conventional Britons and media pundits the skinheads and soccer hooligans signaled the end of western civilization, but to the good folks at the New English Library N. Ever ready to put their paperback presses in pursuit of a new trend, editors at N. The writer they called was no youth himself— 48 years old in —and knew nothing about football gangs, but he had not sold hundreds of books and articles by turning down assignments.

In the morning, in search of some background detail, he drove over to the East End of London, command central for the new youth cults. At a pub he introduced himself to a group of drunken skinheads. An outsider, he was met with typical aggression at first. They bought me beers and verbally fought for topbilling.

And I had enough material to start typing! A viciously invigorating read, Skinhead was the real Clockwork Orange—the Anthony Burgess book and Stanley Kubrick film about renegade juvenile gangs—without the intellectualism, irony, or distance of a science fiction setting. Skinhead was the story of Joe Hawkins, a fearless, dangerous East Ender, leader of a small. Only 16, Hawkins is filled with an angry nostalgia for all he perceives his kind has lost.

Every section of the sprawling city had its claims to fame. The Cockney had lost control of his London. Even the porno shops were having their difficulties with the parasitic influx of outside talent. With a seven-day deadline weighing upon his typewriter, Allen had little time for a consistent perspective. The novel spouts righteously rightwing, fascistic rhetoric about foreigners and the welfare state on one page, a shocked voice of reason on another, and gleeful, nihilist indifference on the next.

Overall, though, Allen was a sympathetic chronicler of the skinhead life. His name would rank with those others in the crime underworld. The book, with its cover photograph of a skinhead in full regalia, did not have much appeal to the mainstream softcover reader. In time, however, British youths themselves discovered the title, narcissistically hailing its subject matter and uncompromising vision, and N.

The formerly unknown. Richard Allen was hailed as the Dickens of the skinhead movement. Sequels followed: Suedehead took an on-the-lam Hawkins into straight society and a city job, complete with pinstripe suit and tie. But Hawkins soon gets involved with a new violent youth cult. Allen continued writing about the outlaw Hawkins and his spiritual kin and descendants. British youth culture had no end of malcontents, with later books centering around punk rockers, neo-Mods, angry street demonstrators, and kung fu gangs.

Looked at by the literary establishment with all the horror and contempt launched at the skins and punks themselves, the books achieved something remarkable and significant: pure pulp masterpieces that put the raw taste of anger and anarchy on paper and documented important social phenomena and historical upheaval the mainstream culture preferred to avoid.

Richard Allen was in fact James Moffat, a Canadian-born writer with Celtic roots and hundreds of books and nearly as many pen names to his credit. For a time he published a magazine about bowling. He lived in Hollywood and Mexico and more than once lost all his savings at the gaming tables in Las Vegas. Allison, Clyde eye Johnny Canuck, and more.

He married another Canadian, also a writer, and remained in England, churning out books. His reputation as one of the fastest writers in the business once led a BBC television program to film him as he produced a new book-length work from first line to finish. Moffat completed the novel in less than a week. It went on sale the following month. Through the years he received thousands of fan letters from skinheads and would-be skins and other alienated youth.

The Scottish publication Skinhead Times determinedly prepared to return the entire Allen opus to print, and a grateful James Moffat, then in his seventies, and sounding more like a true believer in the cult than in the past, vowed to write a new sequel, Skinhead Return. Alas, the ravages of decades of alcohol and tobacco had caught up with him, and the 19th Richard Allen book was never to be.

Allison, Clyde William H. Knoles, ranks among the more talented and tragic figures to come through the paperback jungle. Like many. Knoles, like Westlake and the others, began fulfilling assignments for various adventure and erotic magazines, and later graduated to writing softcore sex novels for such publishers as Midwood Books.

Knoles, unlike some of the better-known Meredith authors, never found his way to more upscale assignments. According to the paperback historian Lynn Munroe, who discovered much of what is known about the mysterious writer, Knoles was manic-depressive and his mental health problems no doubt hindered his attempts to break out of the sleazy paperback ghetto, despite his apparent talent.

After already turning out perhaps as many as sexy softcover novels—the exact number of titles in his bibliography remains a mystery—Knoles began to write the books that would earn him his reputation. The books were funny, hip, and sexy as hell. Twenty of the books were written and published in the space of four years, with as many publishing imprints, all small time.

But that was not to be. Late in , he killed himself with a razor to his throat. The delightful books are now some of the most sought-after vintage paperbacks, and in fine condition they may command a higher price than the author was originally paid to write them. Indeed, the books can be seen as out-of-sync hangovers from the earlier era, particularly Swamp Sister, almost a nostalgia item from the years when rural vixens were briefly considered major erotic icons and numerous paperback pros chronicled their misadventures. But if Alter seemed to have missed the heyday of his subgenres, the two books were at least excellent examples of their benighted kind.

Swamp Sister centers on the hot-to-trot denizens of a slimy backwoods community, the alluring young woman of the title, the boy who covets her, and the lost fortune in cash buried in an aircraft crashed in the swamp and surrounded by alligators and deadly snakes. Alter died suddenly at the age of 40, and some of his later works were published for the first time many years after his death. Ambler, Eric Alter is remembered chiefly for two novels, paperback originals from the s. Swamp Sister and Carny Kill , both Fawcett Gold Medal books played out against classic low-class milieus of sleazy softcover fiction in the early s: the southern swamp in the first and the traveling car-.

Ambler, Eric certainly among the first few authors to establish the boundaries and possibilities for such a genre. Sporting left-wing sympathies and, after World War II, a jaded middle-of-the-road political stance , he brought an iconoclastic sensibility to what had been a hidebound form of popular fiction, either mindless action and intrigue or earnest patriotic adventure.

He was also, not incidentally, a writer of great skill and wit, whose best work was colorful, insidiously amusing, and ineffably cool. Ambler, whose first novel was published in , and who was still working into the s, bridged the gap between the old world spy fiction of E. Born in London and educated at London University, Ambler first considered a career in engineering, then pursued a burgeoning flair for words as a copywriter at an advertising agency. He had moved up to creative director by the time of the publication of his first two novels, The Dark Frontier and Uncommon Danger , brought out in America by Alfred A.

Knopf as Background to Danger. These were followed by Epitaph for a Spy and Cause For Alarm, like the first two, suspense novels with continental settings. With a third and fourth novel published, Ambler had enjoyed sufficient success to quit the advertising grind and devote all his time to writing novels. Already, Ambler had separated himself from the English spy story traditions. He chose to stay away from professional espionage agent heroes, preferring ordinary people caught up in strange circumstances, or footloose characters journalists, writers, adventurers.

He also showed. In the end, in a slowly anticipated but blissfully satisfying plot development, the two planes come together, with Latimer facing down a figure seemingly back from the dead: Dimitrios himself. The story climaxes in a welter of suspense, a final blackmail plot, a fight to the death, and two bloodsoaked bodies in a back-alley Paris apartment.

Ambler concludes with a signature irony: like an appalled Alice backing away from all she has seen down the rabbit hole, Latimer flees the secret world he has uncovered the world of ruthless criminals, ubiquitous corruption, global events controlled by international corporations and paid assassins and returns to the comforting unreality of his next cozy mystery plot, another gentle murder in the country vicarage. The contacts and experience he gained would lead to screen writing work for British and American movie companies.

Ambler returned to novel-writing after the war, but his comeback novels Judgment on Deltchev and The Schirmer Inheritance , contemporary tales of intrigue, lacked the old zest. More readable were a series of light suspense adventures Ambler wrote with Charles Rodda under the pen name of Eliot Reed. Passage of Arms was even better, with a more intricate plot and big cast of colorful characters in a story about gun-running and revolution in Malaya and environs.

The narrator is Arthur Abdel Simpson, a hapless and hopelessly untrustworthy Anglo-Egyptian roustabout, parttime tour guide, pimp, and pornographer. In Greece, Simpson not quite innocently comes into the employ of a gang plotting to rob the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul. Simpson, in the dark, thinks he is working for terrorists and is forced to be a secret agent for the Turkish police, before ultimately joining the jewel thieves in their ingenious heist. This was a. In the same jauntily cynical frame of mind, Ambler produced his next novel, and his last great work, The Intercom Conspiracy, the story of a muckraking newsletter published in Switzerland that is used as a front for extorting payoffs from foreign intelligence agencies.

This obscure hard-boiled novelist deserves greater acclaim as a rare female holding her own amidst an otherwise fraternal order of hack crime fiction writers in postwar Britain. By she was comfortably ensconced with Scion Ltd. Her screenplay credits include at least one notable work, Beat Girl , directed by the singular Herbert Greville.

Works Calling Mr. Anderson, Edward — Anderson was one of the writers of the s who found inspiration and literary success in the travails of the Great Depression. His two novels, published within a couple of years of each other, remain among the small body of work that appears to have truly captured the feelings of the American underclass in those dark days: the aimlessness, resentment, and desperation that left many wandering the country as hoboes, and some turning to a life of crime. Born in Weatherford, Texas, Anderson grew up in various towns in that state and in Oklahoma.

He began working for newspapers as a teenager, and by the time he was 25 he had held jobs on about two dozen papers around the Southwest. Anderson then hit the road, spending a year as a hobo, riding the rails, begging for handouts, eating in soup. His experiences resulted in a huge stack of notes that slowly became a novel called Hungry Men, the picaresque adventures of Acel Stecker, an out-of-work musician— his aimless hoboing on freight trains, his odd jobs, his love affair with an unemployed New York typist. They featured the same sort of lurid, oil-painted covers of voluptuous women in distress, but inside the stories were held to be strictly factual, narrative retellings of actual crimes, mostly murders, with real and staged photographs as illustrations.

It was a story about bank robbers, the kind of young people like Bonnie and Clyde and Pretty Boy Floyd, who had turned to crime because there seemed to be no other way to survive, and whose exploits made them folk heroes among the poor and dispossessed. The bandit has more guts. Anderson wrote of a gang of bandits—Bowie, Chicamaw and T-Dub—roaming the Texas-Oklahoma byways, small-time criminals who dream of robbing enough for a small grubstake and money to pay for their burial.

At first, however, the author had trouble finding a publisher for it, and considered rewriting it for the true-detective magazines. Stokes Anderson managed to secure a screenwriting job in Hollywood. He passed some time in the movie capital, working for Paramount and Warner Bros. He returned to newspapering while trying to find the material, and the energy, to write another book, but he was on a downhill slide. His alcoholism and sometimes bizarre behavior made him increasingly unemployable even on the small-town papers where he looked for work.

A well-received film adaptation of Thieves Like Us, directed by Nicholas Ray and released in under the title of They Live By Night, and subsequent paperback reprintings of the novel, did little to resurrect his name. He died in obscurity, working at a Texas border town paper. Andrews, V.

Richard Aldington: Death of a Hero (1929)

Andrews has attracted a devoted and usually young following for her strange, perverse stories of madness, revenge, horror, family curses, and eternal love. The book read like a cross between a Grimm fairy tale and an episode of The Jerry Springer Show, had such a forum for the grotesque love affair and dysfunctional family existed then. The novel concerns the tragic and sociopathic Dollanganger family. A widowed mother with her four young children in tow is forced to return to Foxworth Hall, the grand manor house of her wealthy parents.

Years of abuse and neglect follow, times of horror, fear, death, and a sexual coming of age that results in a loving—yet damning—act of incest. No great literary stylist, and with a story line that left some critics repulsed or contemptuous, Andrews nevertheless connected deeply with millions. To the susceptible, Andrews had endowed her cruel nightmare with an emotional force that haunted many readers. Flowers in the Attic and the sequels that followed found their largest audience among young teens.

Like Stephen King, Andrews was an adult whose fears and fantasies made a particularly direct connection with the adolescent mind. Five volumes comprised the Dollanganger sequel, including the prequel, Garden of Shadows,. Andrews published seven novels in all, and had written notes and outlines for many more when she died. Not many people had been aware that V. Andrews suffered a fall as a year-old girl and remained on crutches or in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. She lost her father when she was 20, lived with her mother, and never married.

Writing for many years without success, she had piled up a large number of rejected manuscripts before Flowers in the Attic was accepted for publication. Andrews died of cancer in , a brief seven years after she became a published and popular author. With such a rabid fan base for the deceased, family members worked with her publishers to continue producing fiction under the V.

Andrews name. A hired hand, Andrew Neiderman, was assigned the task of writing new novels that captured the gothic modern romanticism and shocking melodrama of the originals. He has been at various times, and often concurrently, a millionaire businessman, a writer of best-selling pop fiction, the youngest elected member of Parliament, a life peer with a seat in the House of Lords, a flashy art collector, a telegenic media pundit and controversial talking head, the star of headline-making sexual and business controversies, and a convict.

After receiving his degree—in sports education, ordinarily intended for future gym teachers—from Oxford, he was soon running a successful public relations company. At 29 the Conservative Archer won a seat in Parliament, but five years later he was compelled to give up his rising political position when he became attached to a major business scandal involving fraud and massive economic losses.

To recoup his own great losses and to set the record straight, he wrote a novel about grand scale revenge with a background of international finance and embezzlement. Published in , Not a Penny More, Not a. Penny Less, with a compellingly readable story line and a large cast of colorful and glamorous characters, was a best-seller in Britain and America. In addition to providing easily-consumed stories with crackling plotlines and strong characters, Archer understood the rising value of media savviness and personal promotion. In the best-sellers ahead, Archer would continue to make provocative use of real-life figures within his fictional premises, including press baron Rupert Murdoch in The Fourth Estate and an adoring portrait of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in First Among Equals.

He continued to hold political ambitions, but the prying tabloids and his own colorful personality worked against him. He won a much-ballyhooed libel trial against a London tabloid that had linked him in a cheap hotel fling with a prostitute, but this success became a disaster when he was found to have arranged for friends to give false testimony in the libel trial.

Archer was sued for millions of pounds and drummed out of the Conservative Party—just at the time when the multitalented Englishman had been planning to run for mayor of London. Even more disastrously, he was convicted of perjury and sentenced to two years in prison. Ard, William — Also wrote as: Benn Kerr, Jonas Ward In a year fiction writing career that ended with his death from cancer at the age of 37, William Ard produced a large and strong body of work. Ard could write tough, he could write tender, and he could write lyrical. He held his own in the bustling, competitive world of s genre writers, and if he did not quite reach the level of the greats of that time, he showed the potential to do just that.

In addition, and in contrast to his noirish detective fiction, Ard also wrote spare and beatific westerns and created one of the classic western heroes, Tom Buchanan. With the acceptance of his first novel, The Perfect Frame, published by Mill and Morrow in , Ard happily quit his corporate job and began turning out novels at the pace of two to three per year.

Six more Dane thrillers followed, including the gripping Hell Is a City , in which Dane tries to protect a Puerto Rican boy who has saved his sister from rape by killing a vicious cop. In addition to the Dane books, Ard wrote numerous stand-alone noir thrillers and several sleazy lowlife melodramas, some of them under pseudonyms.

Ard completed four more Buchanan novels before he died, but they were so popular and original that the publisher continued the series, assigning it to several other writers through the years including John JAKES. Arsan, Emmanuelle Marayat Bibidh Andriane unknown One of the literary touchstones of the sexual revolution of the s, Emmanuelle was a fictionalized. The couple had gone to Thailand as part of a French delegation from UNESCO, and it was there that Andriane presumably found the material with which to fill her pseudonymous, seductive work.

The author details what was offered as an authentic journey from uptight Parisienne to sexual adventuress, an odyssey that involves her initiation into the rites of public masturbation, lesbianism, voyeurism, group sex, and sexual masochism. The book was relentless in its ardor, with scene after gratuitous scene of orgiastic activity, some of it very strong stuff even in the s. It was as clearcut in its intent to arouse as any under-thecounter porn from the past, but Emmanuelle transcended the sleaziness and subtext of shame that clung to most traditional erotica.

Written in a dreamy, sensuous style, like perfume ad copy gone out of control, aimed as much or more at the female reader as the male, Emmanuelle was a worldwide success and advanced the case for a more explicit sexual literature acceptable to the mainstream although the book was frequently banned, including, for a time, in France, where President Charles de Gaulle was outraged not by the sexuality but by the unflattering portrait of French diplomats overseas. Works Emmanuelle Asimov, Isaac — Also wrote as: Paul French Isaac Asimov was born in Petrovichi, Russia, not long after the revolution, and arrived on American shores with his immigrant parents at age three.

His brilliant mind and a burgeoning interest in science were apparent from a very young age. After serving in the U. By that time he was already a year veteran contributor to the science fiction pulp magazines. Campbell Jr. Asimov, Isaac name as one of the great new talents in the field. In the pages of Astounding, Asimov would write the Foundation stories, a staggering series stretching far into the future that took the outer-space adventure format to a new and altogether more complex level. Asimov would then make further innovations within his own groundbreaking series in the more humanistic volumes Pebble in the Sky, The Stars Like Dust, and The Currents of Space.

On occasion he would cross genre lines, or blur them, to write crime fiction, or crime science fiction, as in The Caves of Steel which features a robot detective. He was also a prodigious editor and anthologist, and for some years a science fiction digest magazine bore his name. With a near-constant supply of books to be publicized, the writer was a ubiquitous guest on television shows for decades. For several generations of Americans, Asimov, with his egghead enthusiasms, untamed hair, and heavy grey muttonchops, was the embodiment of the eccentric, brilliant man of science and the best known representative—the public face—of science fiction itself.

Avallone, Michael — Also wrote as: Nick Carter, Troy Conway, Priscilla Dalton, Dorothea Nile, Edwina Noone, Vance Stanton, Sidney Stuart Avallone published hundreds of paperback originals in his long and bumpy career, everything from a hard-boiled detective series to assorted gothics, spy stories, nurse novels, erotica, juveniles, horror stories, science fiction, a driving manual for teenagers, movie trivia quiz books, and novelizations of such movies as Shock Corridor and A Bullet for Pretty Boy and such television shows as The Man from U.

E, The Girl from U. Avallone created an often loopy fiction that transcended the niceties of grammar, logic, realism, or common sense. At his best he was a fertile pro who delivered a good read and never condescended. A New Yorker born into a large, voluble family, Avallone grew up under tough conditions in the Great Depression. He was also devoted to the adventure novels of earlier years, especially Alexandre Dumas and his musketeers, and daydreamed of an adventurous life for himself as a spy or an FBI agent.

Avallone served in the army in World War II and came out a sergeant and a decorated hero. He had been writing bits and pieces all along and kept a detailed diary throughout his time in the service. He worked at odd jobs in New York until he published his first novel at the age of Subsequent Noon adventures were published at the rate of one or two a year. For unknown reasons, the series bounced around from one paperback publisher to another, and two of the novels—The Case of the Violent Virgin and The Case of the Bouncing Betty— were published together as an Ace double edition two novels printed back to back in a single edition.

Avallone continued the series for the rest of his life, and there may have been some manuscripts, in later decades, that never found publication. As the series developed, though, it became increasingly original and eccentric, filled with nutso characters and plot devices. Noon himself became an unlikely sometime-operative for the president of the United States with a direct hot line to the White House, and was sent off on unlikely top.

Many of these assignments were for small flat fees with no royalties, even though some of the books—like his Man from U. In later years Avallone became embittered by various slights and lost opportunities that he believed he had suffered at the hands of publishers and fellow authors. In amateur publications aimed at fans of the old pulps and paperbacks, Avallone sometimes wrote enviously of more successful writers and referred to conspiracies to keep his own career down. To people who expressed an interest in his work—or in old books, old movies, old radio programs—he was an ebullient, good-humored, warm-hearted, and knowledgeable character.

B be standing at a drugstore lunch counter when some gangsters kill two people, including an innocent female cashier. The magazine lost the manuscript. Revising his strategy, Babcock sent off another copy to what was commonly known as one of the hardest pulps to crack: Black Mask. The story appeared in the first issue of Babcock continued writing for Black Mask, while selling rejects and lesser efforts to other detective pulps.

Shaw thought it would be a salable idea to piggyback on a big Warner Bros. Jimmy Cagney movie in release called G Men with the new and censorious production code in place, Warners was forced to retool the Cagney image from lowlife criminal to two-fisted good guy. Babcock obliged, giving Black Mask a more socially acceptable sort of hero than its usual array of cynical, ambivalently honest private dicks, and assorted denizens of the underworld.

Thompson tried to make the stories seem fresh and authentic, basing several of them on actual cases he had read about. Babcock, Dwight V. Babcock wrote well, and no matter how quickly he completed it, his material was solidly crafted, full of swift word pictures and tough dialogue. Spreading his wings in the s, after the years in the pulps, Babcock wrote a series of detective novels.

He went to college, but took his studies lightly. Music was his main interest, and he played banjo and sang with local dance bands by night. He married, quit school, got work, and lost it with the arrival of the Great Depression. He put his savings in a gas station and the station went bust. Babcock had never been one of the big producers in the pulps. The gorier the better, and with a sex angle if possible. A Homicide, set in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve, opens with Kirby discovering a beautiful, nude, brutally beaten young woman crawling along an alleyway, then meanders along an entertaining course studded with murders, wisecracks, brawls, drinking, and sexy banter: [Hannah] looked directly at Kirby.

Trying to desert me, too? A Homicide for Hannah got a very good reaction from critics and the buying readers, and Babcock followed up later that same year, , with a sequel, The Gorgeous Ghoul. It was another highly entertaining case, with the same breezily caustic tone and attractive crime-solving duo. Like the other two it was well-plotted, entertainingly digressive, sharp, and sexy. The move from the literary publisher Knopf to Avon Murder Mystery Monthly was a steep drop, but Babcock had stopped worrying about his fiction writing income or direction by this time.

Beginning in with a berth at Universal Pictures, he had begun a new career as screenwriter. Badcock moved over to Columbia, where he worked on their Crime Doctor and Whistler series and also scripted the cult classic, So Dark the Night, a film noir set in a French village, brilliantly directed by Joseph H. He is known to have published only one additional novel, a sexy melodrama called Chautauqua, published under the name Dwight Vincent, in actuality a collaboration between Babcock and an old pulp writer friend, Day Keene; the book sold to the movies and became the basis for an execrable Elvis Presley feature released in and called The Trouble with Girls.

Bannon, Ann perback reprints of the first two. Born Ann Weldy in Joliet, Illinois, she went to college, then married and had two children while still in her early twenties. The content of her first novel, Odd Girl Out , she claimed, was based on other girls she had heard about at school. Her husband refused to let her publish it under her own name, and the Ann Bannon nom de plume was assumed. The marriage soon collapsed.

Bannon returned to an academic life and continued writing novels. Fawcett published each of her subsequent five novels between and In The Marriage, she described the dramatic upheavals in the life of a sometime lesbian who weds a man and tries to live as a heterosexual.

Bannon abandoned writing as she pursued her career in academia. She would later become a dean at California State University at Sacramento. Feminist and lesbian publishing houses, among them Cleis Press, later returned those legendary paperbacks to print and made Bannon and her characters cult figures for a new and less circumspect generation of readers. Barrett, William E. Early on he was a regular for the air war magazines chronicling the air aces and dogfights of World War I and later became a staple on the covers of Dime Detective between and , arguably the summit years of that great magazine.

For Dime Detective Barrett wrote two very good series. The Blue Barrel stories were about tough newsman Dean Culver, whose eponymous column dished the dirt on the criminal underworld. Needle Mike was a gray-haired, gold-toothed, jaundicedlooking lowlife who practiced his trade in a ratty office building otherwise occupied by lawyers and mail-order tricksters. Louis millionaire, who occasionally drops out of polite society and, heavily disguised, assumes his grubby alternate identity: He looked into the mirror.

The face that stared out at him was the tough, uncompromising face of Needle Mike, the character he had created to be his other self—the self that went adventuring into the grim fringes of the underworld when life and luxury became too boring to be endured. Beach, Rex — For a time, roughly between the turn of the 20th century until the s, tales of Alaska and the Great White North posed a serious challenge to the western as the most popular form of frontier literature.

In , gold was discovered in the Yukon Territories of Canada, a harsh and remote region bordering Alaska. A rush was on, and soon the area was the scene of a bustling, chaotic wilderness civilization, filled with hopeful treasure hunters from around the world and the merchants, saloon keepers, and whores to service them.

It was a scene of desperation with a killing winter climate , exploitation, and violent lawlessness. The Yukon gold rush inspired a new subgenre of popular literature that would include stories and novels, poetry, plays, and movies. The first and most famous of the gold rush writings were those by Jack London, author of The Call of the Wild , White Fang , and assorted notable short stories. Beach struck gold all right, not from the ground but from his pen. In he published his first novel, The Spoilers, a zestful, colorful, and authentically detailed tale of prospectors, grubstakers, and claim jumpers in the freezing North.

The book was a tremendous success and. It became a Broadway hit in and a staple of touring companies for many years after. The film was legendary for its climactic saloon fight between the prospector hero and the crooked claims-agent villain; it was hailed for many years as the greatest fight scene in the movies. The story was so popular that it was refilmed in the s, then again in —with sound and Gary Cooper—and again in , with John Wayne and Randolph Scott, and once more in , starring Jeff Chandler and Rory Calhoun, each version attempting to top the last with a spectacular final brawl.

He later wrote other types of stories, set in less chilly locales, including several novels about the later prospectors for oil in the Asian jungles. Toward the end of his life Beach returned to the scene of his earliest triumph with the adventure novel The World in His Arms, about an American sea captain and his rivals—including the Russian navy—hunting for seals in the Bering Strait. Behm, Marc — The American-born Behm has lived most of his life as an expatriate in France, where his published. In his own country, however, he remains a cult item, and many of his novels, at this writing, have been published only in French translations.

After the war and the army, Behm stayed in Europe, taking classes under the G. Bill and looking for work in the entertainment industry, eventually finding screenwriting jobs with an array of polyglot and runaway producers. He published his first novel at the age of This frighteningly droll creature, Edmonde Sieglinde Kerrl, mingles with Hitler and his inner circle, and has a more intimate friendship with Eva Braun, before drifting into an increasingly surreal and apocalyptic series of adventures across Europe and Russia.

His second and even greater novel was something of a fluke. Behm had scripted a conventional chase story for Madrid-based film producer Philip Yordan, but when the movie was never made Behm decided to turn the script into a novel with an American setting. The Eye of the Beholder was a. Searching for his daughter: a quest for grace. A relationship develops between the watcher and the watched that is perverse, voyeuristic, haunting, and profound. The novel was filmed twice, very nicely in France with Isabelle Adjani as the Beheld and then horribly in an American production with Ashley Judd as same.

Most of his work was merely competent, and today he would be one more obscure pulp hack if not for his creation of a singular character and the prose style to go with it: Dan Turner, a Hollywood private eye who took the tough, wisecracking, simile-clogged style now closely associated with Raymond CHANDLER and turned it into an over-the-top, absurdist self-parody. There had been pulps before with a high quotient of sexual content, but most had affected an ersatz sophistication and dealt with a liberated high life in New York, Paris, and other sin centers.

The stories it published were similar to those published by other topselling pulps, but with the addition of pruriently detailed erotic activities and the detailed description of female body parts, plus black-and-white illustrations of said women with their breasts bared. Depending on the skill of the individual Spicy writer, the sexual content could be integral or entirely gratuitous.

Either way, the reader of the Spicys could almost always be assured, every few hundred words, that another luscious female character would enter the scene and the plot would. While many writers were ashamed to write for the Spicys and many did it merely to pay the rent, Robert Leslie Bellem, among the few Spicy regulars to use his real name instead of a pseudonym, seems to have found in those raunchy publications his true literary home. What so distinguished the Turner stories, and found them a number of unusual fans among them S. Perelman, the New Yorker humorist and Marx Brothers screenwriter, was their wacky colloquial voice, a revved-up, outof-control, tin-eared version of that slang-and-simile—laden hard-boiled style.

Bellem never cracked the bigger, more prestigious pulp markets, let alone the slick magazines like the Saturday Evening Post, but he never lacked for sales. Biggers, Earl Derr — A Harvard-educated journalist and for many years a columnist at the Boston Herald, Biggers made his mark as a popular novelist at the age of 29 with a comic mystery called Seven Keys to Baldpate, about a mystery writer trying to get through the night at a seemingly haunted old inn. George M. In the Saturday Evening Post serialized The House Without a Key, a mystery story about the murder of a wealthy old man and the solving of the crime by a sergeant in the Honolulu Police Department.

The sergeant is a Chinese-American from the Hawaiian Territories, resident of Punchbowl Hill, a family man with a wife and 11 children; his baby-skinned, well-upholstered figure and his unassuming, unflappable demeanor veil the methods of an extremely wise and perspicacious policeman, whom Biggers soon promoted to Detective Inspector.

His name is Charlie Chan. The literary series was ended abruptly at only six volumes when Biggers died suddenly in at age Bogart, William G. Bogart himself was a denizen of the pulp jungle for two decades, working both sides of the business, as writer and editor. He remained a staff editor for many years, working in various capacities on various titles. Along the way. William G. He was soon appearing in the pages, and often on the covers, of numerous pulp magazines of every sort, from Range Romances to Unknown.

But Bogart was good. Most were about Johnny Saxon, the Manhattan P. The first of these is the best and, from a historical perspective, makes fascinating reading. In Hell on Fridays retitled Murder Man for later paperback publication , Bogart used the world of the pulp magazines as the backdrop for a crime story. The original title referred to the hectic payday at most rough-paper publishers, when writers converged on the pulps to collect their checks for the week.

He wrote furiously, sometimes up to ten thousand words in a single day. In a year he was the most prolific writer in America. He started a whole new school of pulp writing. It was only natural. He was a romantic guy. He was—for a time—the boy wonder. It came to a point where he either had to graduate into the slicks, or burn out. He did neither. After three years he simply stopped writing. The business had lost its kick for him. All he had left was the immortality of those three years.

One committed suicide in a sordid Greenwich Village bar after a four-day bout—he was sixty-three years old; another landed in a straightjacket in Bellevue. For guys like Bogart this was the best possible sort of happy ending. She sold her first science fiction tale at age 25 to Astounding Science Fiction. Brackett, Leigh — A born writer who is said to have scribbled stories since infancy, Brackett was particularly enamored of the swashbuckling fantasies and space operas she read in the pulp magazines of the s and.

Clive turned over three times and hit a table, causing a crash and an explosion of splinters. Planet Stories readers cared about action and color, not textbook data or authentic geography. It had a Hollywood setting and a tough private eye hero named Ed Clive. The prose was lean and sharp, the dialogue brutally colorful. The Company dicks were good. They were plenty good.

His small stringy body hunched over the control bank, nursing the last ounce of power out of the Kallman. The hot night sky of Venus fled past the ports in tattered veils of indigo. In her hometown of Los Angeles there was much socializing among the West Coast—based science fiction writers, who often felt exiled, thousands of miles from the publishing houses back east. Brackett met and befriended many of her fellow pulpsters, including Bradbury. It was the mystery fiction, not the science fiction, that gave Brackett a second and equally significant career in motion pictures.

Hawks was reportedly shocked when Brackett arrived at the studio and he discovered that the hard-boiled author was a woman. Brackett would continue to take screenwriting assignments for the rest of her life, but she would never give herself over to the profession. The movies would be a lucrative break in her preferred endeavor, writing novels and stories.

Her first Hollywood patron remained her most devoted Hollywood employer. Brackett continued to write swashbuckling space operas long after the pulps folded and the paperbacks took up the slack. Her returns to crime fiction were rarer: a few short stories and two novels, Silent Partner and a gripping tale of vigilante justice, The Tiger Among Us Alpha Centauri or Die! As a young boy Bradbury developed a taste for fantastic and horrific tales. He cultivated friendships with other young readers and aspiring writers and edited an early fan magazine. He became a regular. Unlike so many of the technology-obsessed, dispassionate SF writers, Bradbury was something of a romantic Luddite when it came to scientific.

Wars got bigger and bigger and finally killed Earth. When published in book form in , The Martian Chronicles made Bradbury famous. In he published another cautionary volume, this one even more pointed. Written in a time of industry blacklists, rampant censorship, and anti-intellectualism in the name of patriotism, the novel was obviously symbolic, but it also proclaimed through lucid, lyrical prose a more timeless theme, the power and allure of books.

It is better to consider Bradbury as a category of one. Born in Albany, New York, a SF and fantasy fan from her teenage years, Bradley wrote for some amateur publications before making her first sale to a commercial science fiction magazine in Bradley went to college in Texas, married in and had three children. She later divorced and returned to academic studies at the University of California at Berkeley.

She sold science fiction and fantasy to Ace Books and other paperback publishers. In this period Bradley also wrote softcore and semi-hardcore erotica under a variety of pseudonyms, including a series of lesbian novels published under the pen name of Miriam Gardner. Anticipating and perhaps influencing the subsequent revival of interest in ancient goddess cults and female deities, The Mists of Avalon reveled in an age of dominating pagan feminism and would, through the years, elicit an occasional criticism for a presumed anti-Christian and antimale bias.

Max Brand was the best-known pen name—one of 18—belonging to pulp wordsmith extraordinaire Frederick Schiller Faust. An inexhaustibly creative figure who could write in all genres and could produce as many as 20, words in a day, Max Brand was one of the most popular writers of the 20th century. Faust as Brand wrote spy stories, horse racing stories, historicals, doctor stories he was the creator of Dr.

Kildare, eventually the hero of a successful movie and television series , and mysteries, but he was best known for his stories of the Old West. Butler single-handedly brought to the SF genre the concerns of gender politics, racial conflict and slavery. Several of her novels are groundbreaking, but none is more compelling or shocking than Kindred. The hero Higgs finds himself in New Zealand as, for a while, did the chronic misfit Butler.

Does it sound familiar? Higgs escapes by balloon, with the sweetheart he has found there. It is a boy quarrels with his aristocratic parents and climbs a tree, swearing not to touch the earth again. He ends up keeping his promise, witnessing the French revolution and its Napoleonic aftermath from the perspective of the Italian treetops. In this novel, the domineering old spinster Queenie dies — a relief to those around her. Her niece Alison inherits the house, but soon starts to suspect that the old woman is taking over her eight-year-old daughter Rowan.

A paranoid, disturbing masterpiece. Alice, while reading in a meadow, sees a white rabbit rush by, feverishly consulting a watch. She follows him down a hole Freudian analysis, as elsewhere in the story, is all too easy , where she grows and shrinks in size and encounters creatures mythological, extinct and invented. Morbid jokes and gleeful subversion abound. More donnish in tone, this fantasy follows Alice into a mirror world in which everything is reversed.

Her journey is based on chess moves, during the course of which she meets such figures as Humpty Dumpty and the riddling twins Tweedledum and Tweedledee. More challenging intellectually than the first instalment, it explores loneliness, language and the logic of dreams. The year is — and other times. Fevvers, aerialiste, circus performer and a virgin, claims she was not born, but hatched out of an egg.

She has two large and wonderful wings. In fact, she is large and wonderful in every way, from her false eyelashes to her ebullient and astonishing adventures. The journalist Jack Walser comes to interview her and stays to love and wonder, as will every reader of this entirely original extravaganza, which deftly and wittily questions every assumption we make about the lives of men and women on this planet. The golden age of the American comic book coincided with the outbreak of the second world war and was spearheaded by first- and second-generation Jewish immigrants who installed square-jawed supermen as bulwarks against the forces of evil.

It celebrates the transformative power of pop culture, and reveals the harsh truths behind the hyperreal fantasies. XB Buy this book at the Guardian bookshop. One of the first major works to present alien arrival as beneficent, it describes the slow process of social transformation when the Overlords come to Earth and guide us to the light.

At the centre of all is the terrifying Sunday, a superhuman force of mischief and pandemonium. Two rival magicians flex their new powers, pursuing military glory and power at court, striking a dangerous alliance with the Faerie King, and falling into passionate enmity over the use and meaning of the supernatural. This classic by an unjustly neglected writer tells the story of Drove and Pallahaxi-Browneyes on a far-flung alien world which undergoes long periods of summer and gruelling winters lasting some 40 years.

This is just the kind of jargon-free, humane, character-driven novel to convert sceptical readers to science fiction. This is a story about the end of the world, and the general falling-off that precedes it, as year-old Karen loses first her virginity, then consciousness. When she reawakens more than a decade later, the young people she knew and loved have died, become junkies or or simply lost that new-teenager smell.

Wondering what the future holds? A curly tail, trotters and a snout are not far off. Joanna Biggs Buy this book at the Guardian bookshop. The setting is a post-apocalyptic future, long past the age of humans. The novel follows Lobey, who as Orpheus embarks on a quest to bring his lover back from the dead. With lush, poetic imagery and the innovative use of mythic archetypes, Delaney brilliantly delineates the human condition.

Here California is under-populated and most animals are extinct; citizens keep electric pets instead. In order to afford a real sheep and so affirm his empathy as a human being, Deckard hunts rogue androids, who lack empathy. As ever with Dick, pathos abounds and with it the inquiry into what is human and what is fake. The Axis has won the second world war. Imperial Japan occupies the west coast of America; more tyrannically, Nazi Germany under Martin Bormann, Hitler having died of syphilis takes over the east coast. The Californian lifestyle adapts well to its oriental master.

Germany, although on the brink of space travel and the possessor of vast tracts of Russia, is teetering on collapse. The novel is multi-plotted, its random progression determined, Dick tells us, by consultation with the Chinese I Ching. And in the character of Isserley — her curiosity, resignation, wonderment and pain — he paints an immensely affecting portrait of how it feels to be irreparably damaged and immeasurably far from home. Determined to extricate himself from an increasingly serious relationship, graduate Nicholas Urfe takes a job as an English teacher on a small Greek island.

Walking alone one day, he runs into a wealthy eccentric, Maurice Conchis, who draws him into a succession of elaborate psychological games that involve two beautiful young sisters in reenactments of Greek myths and the Nazi occupation. Appearing after The Collector, this was actually the first novel that Fowles wrote, and although it quickly became required reading for a generation, he continued to rework it for a decade after publication. Before long, he is embroiled in a battle between ancient and modern deities: Odin, Anansi, Anubis and the Norns on one side, TV, the movies and technology on the other.

The three narrative strands — young lovers in the s, the chaos of thebetweenalcoholics, English civil war and soldiers going native in a Vietnam-tinged Roman Britain — circle around Mow Cop in Cheshire and an ancient axehead found there.

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  6. Dipping in and out of time, in blunt, raw dialogue, Garner creates a moving and singular novel. A fast-paced thriller starring a washed-up hacker, a cybernetically enhanced mercenary and an almost omnipotent artificial intelligence, it inspired and informed a slew of films and novels, not least the Matrix trilogy. When the adults finally arrive, childish tears on the beach hint less at relief than fear for the future.

    When Haldeman returned from Vietnam, with a Purple Heart for the wounds he had suffered, he wrote a story about a pointless conflict that seems as if it will never end. Known for his intricate short stories and critically acclaimed mountaineering novel Climbers, Harrison cut his teeth on SF. In typical fashion, he writes space opera better than many who write only in the genre.

    For all its star travel and alien artefacts, scuzzy 25th-century spaceports and drop-out space pilots, Light is actually about twisting three plotlines as near as possible to snapping point. This is as close as SF gets to literary fiction, and literary fiction gets to SF. Jon Courtenay Grimwood Buy this book at the Guardian bookshop. Amateur stonemason, waterbed designer, reformed socialist, nudist, militarist and McCarthyite, Heinlein is one of the most interesting and irritating figures in American science fiction.

    This swinging 60s bestseller working title: The Heretic is typically provocative, with a central character, Mike Smith, who is raised by Martians after the death of his parents and questions every human assumption — about sex, politics, society and spirituality — on his arrival on Earth. Set on the desert world of Arrakis, this complex novel combines politics, religion, ecology and evolution in the rise to power of Paul Atreides, who becomes a revolutionary leader and a prophet with the ability to foresee and shape the future.

    Epic in scope, Dune is primarily an adventure story, though Herbert was one of the first genre writers convincingly to tackle the subject of planetary ecology in his depiction of a drought-stricken world. After the Bomb — long, long after — humanity is still huddled in medieval-style stockades, cold, ignorant, superstitious and speaking in degraded English, the patois in which this book is written. Yet his story is still poignant. This is what happens to Robert Wringhim, who is brought up in the Calvinist belief in predestination. When he encounters a devilish figure known as Gil-Martin, Wringhim is easily tempted into undertaking a campaign to purge the world of the Reprobate — those not selected for salvation.

    After a series of rapes and murders, and seemingly pursued by demons, Wringhim yields to the ultimate temptation of suicide. Sexist, racist, snob, Islamophobe … Houellebecq has been called many things, with varying degrees of accuracy. The charge of misanthropy is hard to deny, given his repeated portrayal of humankind as something that has lost its way, perhaps even its right to exist.

    Atomised — set in the world we know but introduced by a member of the superior species that will supplant us — provides two more examples of our inadequacy in half-brothers Michel and Bruno, an introverted biologist and a sex-addict teacher. Conflict has been eradicated with the aid of sexual hedonism and the drug Soma; babies are factory-bred in bottles to produce a strict class hierarchy, from alpha to epsilon. It is the year AF After Ford Eventually he recalls that he is an eminent concert pianist, scheduled to perform.

    The man is shepherded through an expanding and contracting world, his own memories and moods changing like the weather. Yet the dream-logic is rooted in real, poignant, human dilemmas. One for readers who have grown out of Philip K Dick. CO Buy this book at the Guardian bookshop. Hill House is haunted, but by what? The ghosts of the past or the people of the present?

    Here is a delicious, quietly unnerving essay in horror, an examination of what makes us jump.

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Jackson sets up an old dark house in the country, garnishes it with some creepy servants, and then adds a quartet of intrepid visitors. But her lead character — fragile, lonely Eleanor — is at once victim and villainess. By the end, the person she is scaring most is herself. Are the ghosts that a new governess in a country house believes to be steadily corrupting her young charges apparitions, hallucinations or projections of her own dark urges? The book divides SF critics and puzzles fans of her crime novels, but remains one of the great British dystopias and a trenchant satire on our times and values.

    JCG Buy this book at the Guardian bookshop. In the centre of England, a vast crystalline lake has formed. A strong candidate for the most beautiful of all Victorian novels. Owing debts to Jimi Hendrix and offering a decidedly 60s summer festival vibe, Bold as Love is the first in a series of novels that mix politics with myth, counterculture and dark age sensibilities. It deservedly won Jones the Arthur C Clarke award. On the morning of his 30th birthday, Josef K is arrested by two sinister men in dapper suits.

    What for? PO Buy this book at the Guardian bookshop. The story has two central characters. Algernon is a mouse, whose intelligence is surgically enhanced to the level of rodent genius. The same technique is applied to Charlie Gordon, a mentally subnormal fast-food kitchen hand. The narrative, told by Charlie as his IQ soars, traces the discontents of genius. Alas, the effects of the surgery are shortlived, and the end of the story finds Charlie back in the kitchen — mentally challenged but, in his way, happy.

    Being smart is not everything. The hotel is haunted by unexorcised demons from brutal murders committed there years ago. Torrance is possessed and turns, homicidally, on his wife and child. Jack is beyond salvation. The film was brilliantly filmed by Stanley Kubrick in A young married woman, Melanie, scours antiques shops to furnish her new home and comes back with an old chaise-longue, which is perfect apart from an unsightly reddish-brown stain.

    She falls asleep on it and wakes up in an unfamiliar house, an unfamiliar time — and an unfamiliar body. At first she assumes she must be dreaming. But gradually she starts to piece together the story of Milly, the young Victorian woman in the last stages of consumption whom she has apparently become, and the nature of the disgrace she has brought on the household run by her fearsomely stern elder sister. Why does the sight of the doctor make her pulse beat faster?

    And can she find a way back to her own life? AN Buy this book at the Guardian bookshop. This is frequently judged the best ghost story of the Victorian period. On the sudden death of her father, Maud, an heiress, is left to the care of her Uncle Silas, until she comes of age. Sinister in appearance and villainous by nature, Silas first plans to marry Maud to his oafish son, Dudley who is, it emerges, already married. When this fails, father and son, together with the French governess Madame de la Rougierre, conspire to murder their ward with a spiked hammer.

    Told by the ingenuous and largely unsuspecting Maud, the narrative builds an impending sense of doom. Set in a near-future in a disintegrating city, where lawlessness prevails and citizens scratch a living from the debris, this dystopia is the journal of an unnamed middle-class narrator who fosters street-kid Emily and observes the decaying world from her window. Despite the pessimistic premise and the description of civilisation on the brink of collapse, with horror lurking at every turn, the novel is an insightful and humane meditation on the survivability of the species.

    The world has entered the Second Enlightenment after the Faith Wars. In the Republic of Scotland, Detective Inspector Adam Ferguson investigates the murders of religious leaders, suspecting atheists but uncovering a plot involving artificial intelligence. Before his current incarnation as a thriller writer specialising in conspiracy theories and psychopathic gore, Marshall Smith wrote forward-thinking sci-fi which combined high-octane angst with humour both noir and surreal. His debut features a bizarre compartmentalised city with different postcodes for the insane, the overachievers, the debauched or simply those with unusual taste in interior design; as well as adventures in the realm of dreams, a deep love of cats and a killer twist.

    Robert Neville is the last man standing, the lone survivor in a world overrun by night-crawling vampires. But if history is written by the winners, what does that make Neville: the hero or the monster? Clearly this was too much for the recent Will Smith movie adaptation, which ran scared of the very element that makes the book unique. Francie Brady is a rambunctious kid in s Ireland. McCabe leads us on a freewheeling tour of a scattered, shattered consciousness, as Francie grows from wayward child to dangerous adult — nursing his grievances and plotting his revenge. Chances are that old Mrs Nugent has a surprise in store.

    These two figures are pushing south towards the sea, but the sea is poisoned and provides no comfort. In the end, all they have and, by implication, all the rest of us have is each other. During the Korean war and then the space programme, Yeremin closes down his emotions even as his horizons expand, from the Arctic skies to the moon itself. The second of his sprawling steampunk fantasies detailing the alternate universe of Bas-Lag follows Armada, a floating pirate city, in its search for a rip in reality.

    Miller breathes new life into the Gothic antihero with his beautifully written Impac-winning first novel. Technology emerges. In an epilogue, a spaceship leaves Earth with a cargo of monks, children and the Leibowitzian relics. The Wandering Jew makes recurrent and enigmatic appearances. Then it hops all the way back down again, resolving each story in turn. These include a camp Ealing-style misadventure, an American thriller and an interview with a clone, all connected by a mysterious comet-shaped tattoo. Moorcock spills out such varied books that he often feels impossible to nail down, which is probably the point.

    Mother London, his most literary — it was shortlisted for the Whitbread — shows him at the height of his powers. Having gone to sleep on the London underground, the narrator awakes to find himself in 20th-century Hammersmith. He bathes in the now crystalline Thames and spends a day in what used to be the British Museum, airily discussing life and politics. He then travels up the river to Runnymede, where Magna Carta was signed, going on from there to some idyllic haymaking in Oxford. Sweet Home is a deceptive name for the Kentucky plantation where horrific crimes have been committed, as Beloved is for this shocking and unforgettable account of the human consequences of slavery.

    Sethe lives in Ohio in the s; she has escaped from slavery, but cannot escape the past, which quite literally haunts her. It sparks off a page adventure that sees him trapped at the bottom of a well, marked with a strange blue stain and taken on many otherworldly adventures, all in search of his missing wife.

    Murakami has the Japanese trick of writing about surreal events in a matter-of-fact way, making them all the more disturbing.

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    Ada or Ardor is part sci-fi romance, part Proustian memoir. It plays out on a fantasy planet, a marriage of contemporary America and pre-revolutionary Russia, and details the love affair of precocious Van Veen and his sister Ada, chasing them from lustful puberty to decrepit old age.

    It is a gorgeous display of narrative wizardry, at once opulent, erotic, playful and wise. A moving affirmation of the continuities of love against unusual odds. JH Buy this book at the Guardian bookshop. But this novel, which won Hugo and Nebula awards, reminds us he was once one of the most exciting names in hard sci-fi. Part of the Known Space series, it follows a group of humans and aliens as they explore a mysterious ring-shaped environment spinning around a star like a giant hula-hoop.

    Set in Manchester in the near-future and in a phantasmagorical virtual reality, Vurt is the story of Scribble, his gang the Stash Riders and his attempt to find his sister Desdemona, who is lost in a drug-induced VR. Set in a rural Ireland that is also a vision of hell, it features policemen turning into bicycles; that SF standby, the universal energy source; and any number of scientific and literary in-jokes. According to Yoruba tradition, a spirit child is one who has made a pact with his fellows in their other, more beautiful world, to rejoin them as soon as possible.

    Azaro breaks the pact, choosing to remain in this place of suffering and poverty, but the African shanty town where he lives with his parents teems with phantoms, spirits and dreams. An angry, impassioned fantasy of how to take down corporate America, and an ingenious modern version of the myth of the double. Thwarted in love, the hero Scythrop reads The Sorrows of Werther and considers suicide, but settles for the comforts of madeira instead. Sinister and sensual, overwrought and overwritten, Titus Groan is a guilty pleasure — a dank, dripping Gothic cathedral of a novel.

    He inherits Gormenghast castle and its extraordinary household: emaciated Flay, with his whip-crack joints; the morbidly obese cook, Swelter; feverish, moody young Fuchsia; cackling Dr Prunesquallor, and many others. But at its heart is a chilling glimpse of the nature of evil. With this gargantuan novel, Powys set out to take a location he knew well from his boyhood and make it the real hero of the story.

    It tells the story of Glastonbury through a year of turmoil, setting mystic mayor John Geard against industrialist Philip Crow. Geard wants to turn the town into a centre for Grail worship, while Crow wants to exploit and develop the local tin mines. Complex and rich, this is a landmark fantasy novel. The novel is as much a study of their obsession as a brilliant examination of magic and rationalism. A Benedictine monk who gave it up to study medicine, Rabelais wrote this satirical tale of the giant Pantagruel and his even more monstrous and grotesque father Gargantua on the cusp between eras.

    In his portrayal of Gargantua, a belching, farting scholar given to urinating over the masses below his ivory tower, he satirises medieval learning as well as the emerging Renaissance thirst for knowledge. A drink! Remind you of anything more contemporary? NB Buy this book at the Guardian bookshop. This was the novel that brought the one-time astrophysicist to the attention of the SF mainstream. Robinson asks: what if the Black Death destroyed 14th-century European culture and the Mongols reached the Atlantic shores? What follows is a history of our world with Islam and Buddhism as the dominant religions and the major scientific discoveries and art movements we take for granted happening elsewhere.

    Necessarily schematic in places, but a stunning achievement all the same. Every now and then, a book comes along that is so influential you have to read it to be part of the modern world. It is also a truly global phenomenon, and a nice little earner for the tribe of British character actors who have had the good fortune to be cast in the films. Claire Armitstead Buy this book at the Guardian bookshop. The offensive core of the novel depicts, under thin disguise, the prophet Muhammad, and wittily if blasphemously questions the revealed truth of the Koran.

    Stranded in the Sahara, a pilot meets a boy. He claims to have come from an asteroid, which he shared with a talking flower, and to have visited many other worlds — one inhabited only by a king, another by a businessman, a third by a drunkard … On Earth, he has chatted with a snake and tamed a fox. Blindness is black, says an onlooker to the man who has suddenly ceased to see while sitting in his car at the traffic lights; but this blindness is white, a milky sea in the eye. Soon everyone is affected and the city descends into chaos. His flowing, opaque style can be challenging, but this parable of wilful unseeing, which resists reductive interpretations, is full of insight and poetry.

    When Lily Bloom dies, she simply moves house: to a basement flat in Dulston, north London borough for the deceased, which she shares with a calcified foetus and her surly, long-dead son. The classic Gothic tale of terror, Frankenstein is above all a novel of ideas. Victor Frankenstein is a young Swiss student who resolves to assemble a body from dead parts and galvanise it into life. As well as an exploration of nature and nurture, the book can be read as a reaction to motherhood and a comment upon creativity. High SF at its best. The world is gone, destroyed in an accident that gave humanity farcasters, controlled singularities that enable instant travel across galactic distances.

    The internet is now a hive mind of advanced AIs that control the gates and keep a vast empire in existence. But someone or something is playing with time, and all is not as it seems. Hyperion won the Hugo award for best novel. Not so much a novel as a treatise on the nature and evolution of intelligence in the universe, Star Maker takes an unnamed Englishman on a tour of space and time as he observes human and alien civilisations rise and fall over a period of one hundred billion years.

    A short, dense book, it repays several readings. Fast, furious and containing more ideas in a single sentence than most writers manage in an entire book, Snow Crash has been credited with helping to inspire online worlds such as Second Life and established Stephenson as a cult figure. This classic novel of horrific possession is supposed to have come to the author in a nightmare. It takes the form of a posthumous confession by Dr Henry Jekyll, a successful London physician, who experiments privately with dual personality, devising a drug that releases his depraved other self, Edward Hyde.

    The murderous Hyde increasingly dominates the appalled Jekyll, who finally kills himself to escape his double. Others have seen it as a depiction of ineradicable dualisms in the Scottish character. The solicitor Jonathan Harker is sent to Transylvania on property business with Count Dracula and is vampirised by his client an interesting reversal of the normal estate agent-purchaser relationship. The count sails to England and embarks on a reign of bloodsucking terror, before being chased back to his lair by the Dutch vampirologist Dr van Helsing, and decapitated.

    He would, of course, rise again. This unusual writer excels at the creation of skewed, dreamlike parallel worlds. In his fourth novel, the rootless, emotionally frozen Martin Blom is blinded by a stray bullet: his doctor warns of hallucinations of vision, and indeed he soon finds that he can see — but only in the dark. A new nocturnal existence and highly charged affair with a nightclub waitress follow, in a phantasmagorical meditation on repression and transgression, absence and invisibility. Hank Morgan, an engineer from 19th-century Connecticut, is knocked out in a crowbar fight and mysteriously transported to sixth-century England.

    Vonnegut considered Sirens of Titan to be one of his best books , ranking it just below Slaughterhouse-Five. Featuring a dimension-swapping ultra-rich space explorer who can see the future, a robot messenger whose craft is powered by UVTW the Universal Will to Become and the newly established Church of God the Utterly Indifferent, Sirens of Titan manages to be classic 50s pulp, a literary sleight of hand, a cult novel of the 60s counterculture and unmistakably Vonnegut all at the same time. Young Jakob von Gunten enrols in a sinister academy that touchstone of Germanic fiction in which students learn how to be good servants.

    Kafka and Hesse were big fans of the Swiss writer; film-making duo the Brothers Quay turned the novel into a mesmerising stock-frame feature in Waters followed the rollicking Tipping the Velvet with this sombre, beautifully achieved meditation on love and loneliness set in the milieu of Victorian spiritualism. Waters exploits the conventions of the ghost story to moving, open-ended effect, recreating a world of fascinating detail and beguiling mystery. On his return he reports that he has travelled to the year , Mankind has evolved into hyper-decadent Eloi and hyper-proletarian Morlocks, who live underground.

    The Eloi fritter, elegantly, by day. The Morlocks prey on the Eloi cannibalistically by night. Before returning to his own time, the Time Traveller goes forward to witness the heat death of the Solar System. At the end of the narrative, he embarks on a time journey from which he does not return.

    The most read, imitated and admired invasion fantasy of the 19th century. The Martians, a cold-bloodedly cerebral species, driven by the inhospitability of their dying planet and superior technology, invade Earth. Their first cylinders land at Horsell Common and are followed by an army of fighting machines equipped with death rays. Humanity and its civilisation crumple under the assault, which is witnessed by the narrator, a moral philosopher.

    The novel can be read as an allegory of imperialism. The Sword in the Stone was initially published as a stand-alone work, but was subsequently rewritten to become the first part of a tetralogy, The Once and Future King. Only at the end of the book is it confirmed that the boy will grow up to be King Arthur. Kathryn Hughes Buy this book at the Guardian bookshop. Originally published in four volumes, this far-future story presents a powerfully evocative portrait of Earth as the sun dies. Using the baroque language of fantasy to tell a story that is solidly science fiction, Wolfe follows Severian, a professional torturer exiled to wander the ruined planet and discover his fate as leader and then messiah for his people.

    Complex and challenging, this is perhaps one of the most significant publications in the last three decades of sci-fi. Triffids are possibly escapees from a Soviet laboratory; their takeover begins when a meteor shower blinds everyone who witnesses it. Bill Masen owes his survival to the fact that he was in hospital with his eyes bandaged at the time.

    CA Buy this book at the Guardian bookshop. It emerges, six months later, that every fertile woman in the village is pregnant. As they grow up with terrifying psychic powers, a perceptive Midwich citizen, Gordon Zellaby, contrives to blow them up and save humanity. What did the Soviet censors find so offensive? Until, that is, the mathematician D falls in love. Bakha, 18, is strong and able-bodied. He is a latrine cleaner, a Dalit, an untouchable, and the novel traces a day in his life. Deep in thought and enjoying a sweet jalebi, Bakha brushes against a Brahmin.

    A novel written, some would say, before the genre was properly invented. Set in Surinam, which the author may or may not have visited, its hero is a highly cultivated African prince who is brought to the West Indies as a slave. They marry but, unwilling to have his children raised in servitude, Oroonoko raises a slave rebellion. It is and while the Irish war of independence rages outside the gates of their County Cork home, Sir Richard Naylor and his Anglo-Irish family continue their privileged life of tea and tennis. Afrikaner teacher Ben du Toit lives a comfortable life in s Johannesburg.

    Yet his family do not want to look and his search for the truth makes him dangerously vulnerable. Nonetheless, Shirley is an important social novel, set in Yorkshire during the Luddite riots at the end of the Napoleonic wars, which revolves around two questions: the social consequences of industrialisation and the position of women. Paul Laity Buy this book at the Guardian bookshop. Unable to reconcile his religion with his homosexuality, Kenneth Toomey wanders the world from the Paris of Joyce and Pound, via Nazi Germany and heyday Hollywood, to Malta where — mottled, sallow, emaciated — he awaits his death, sure of only one thing: that evil is innate to humanity.

    Claire Armistead Buy this book at the Guardian bookshop. Middle-aged Jeeter Lester is an impoverished cotton farmer. He married his wife, Ada, at the age of 11 and the couple have had 17 children. Incest rages in the Lester household. Tobacco Road created an image of poor white trash that is still with us. Nicholas Lezard Buy this book at the Guardian bookshop. His novel is set on Haiti, an island steeped in myth and voodoo.

    Ti Noel is a slave when a rebellion begins in Having lost his job he moves in with his daughter on her remote farmstead, but then is a helpless bystander when three black men arrive and rape her. His life is becoming a tuition in humiliation. Yet the bleakness of any paraphrase is belied by the beautiful exactness of the prose, which mimics the intelligence and coldness of the protagonist. But the Magistrate is also a servant of the empire and his intervention in the case of a barbarian girl teaches him lessons about himself as well as the workings of power.

    Bill is kind. Bill is benevolent. Technology with a human face. Only luck rescues her, and makes her penitent. The tale is the more compelling because she is looking back ruefully on her misadventures in older age, examining her own motives with withering candour. This novel really does attempt an anatomy of post-war America. It also combines the trickery of post-modern narration — a reverse chronology, sudden shifts of narrative perspective, interpolated passages of documentary reconstruction — with a simple and alluring fable. For the spine of this huge book is the story of what happens to a famous object, the baseball hit into the stands to win the World Series for the New York Giants in , just as the Soviet Union is successfully testing an atomic bomb.

    Attuned like no other novel to the perplexities that hum away at the margins of everyday experience, White Noise remains the most precise, and killingly funny, portrayal of the way we live now. Lindesay Irvine Buy this book at the Guardian bookshop. The titular cities are Paris and London. It is the best and worst of times: the age of revolution. The doctor, whose wits are gone, is rescued by a lawyer, Lorry, and brought to England with his daughter, Lucie.

    A classic novel that helped to give lawyers their bad name. Bleak House is a vigorous satire on the old court of Chancery and the self-serving, pocket-lining nonsenses of the profession practiced there. Richard Carstone and Ada Clare are wards of the court in the eternal case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce; thrown together, they secretly marry. Also central are their friend, Esther Summerson, who nearly marries out of respectful devotion but loves another, and Lady Dedlock, who has a deep secret uncovered by the ruthless barrister Tulkinghorn.

    Written when the author was becoming more interested in narrative design and when the type of design he tended towards was palpably darker. The novel opens with the frigid Mr Dombey being presented with the son he hopes will one day take over the family business. Mrs Dombey promptly dies and young Paul in a death scene of tear-jerking pathos follows a few years later. Dombey — desperate for an heir — marries a cynical beauty, Edith Granger. A ruined Dombey finally realises the worth of Florence, the daughter he has always neglected. Bubbles always burst; if only our financiers had learned from the story of Mr Merdle, in whose bank a deposit seems magically to accrue.

    Dickens targets greed in this novel, and pride, but he had two more specific targets — government bureaucracy the obstructive Circumlocution Office and the law of imprisonment for debt his own father had been in the Marshalsea. The hero is Arthur Clennam, with whom Amy is in love and whose hateful mother has long-ago wronged the Dorrit family. Riches arrive and disappear, the pretensions and hypocrisies of society are uncovered, and the inevitable union of Amy and Arthur is long prolonged.

    Dickens, as always, bashes us over the head, but he does it brilliantly — a battering for our times. A woman arrives, exhausted, at the Mudfog workhouse. She gives birth and dies. The orphan is named Oliver Twist. Oliver discovers that he is gently born and the victim of a criminal conspiracy. Fagin is hanged, Sikes — pursued by an angry mob — hangs himself. The novel was brilliantly illustrated by George Cruikshank, who later claimed that he, not Dickens, had had the principal idea for the story.

    A short, desolate, wonderful tale of Californian hedonism that centres on the decline of a failed actor, Maria Wyeth, who recounts her life while in recovery from a breakdown. Her parents are dead, her marriage is over, her young daughter is in hospital. Drugs and sex make her life no less empty. The only place in which she is happy is behind the wheel of her car, driving endlessly on the freeway. Long before he became prime minister, Disraeli was a member of Young England, a group that looked to paternalism to solve the problems of the industrial age.

    A sense of the oppression that inspired Chartism is channelled into a high romantic storyline. After his release from prison in s Berlin, transport-worker-turned-hardman Franz Biberkopf tries and fails to stay on the straight and narrow: freedom, he soon realises, is its own kind of punishment. A novel spun from the case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the pair of small-time communists who, accused of passing atomic secrets to the Soviets, were executed by the US authorities in Originally three individual volumes — more than 1, pages in the Penguin complete edition — U.

    Large parts of it abandon straightforward narrative in favour of newspaper headlines and stream-of-consciousness collage. In between wander a dozen or so vagrant and only intermittently connected characters — tycoons, power-brokers, hoboes, aspiring movie actors, drunks — deviously at large in the pullulating anthill of earlyth-century transatlantic life. Victoria Segal. Castle Rackrent can claim many English literary firsts, but was most influential as the first regional novel. Set in Ireland before the arrival of short-lived independence in , this is a satirical saga of incompetent Anglo-Irish landlords, narrated in the vernacular by their disingenuous steward, Thady Quirk.

    The one Victorian novel whose greatness no one contradicts. Dorothea marries the parson-scholar Edward Casaubon, only to discover his mind is unworthy of her. Amidst swirlingly connected plots, Dorothea now widowed eventually finds fulilment. Lydgate does not. Marner is a linen weaver in the village of Raveloe, who once belonged to a religious sect from which he was unjustly expelled: in reaction he has become a miser.

    His store of gold is stolen by the son of the local squire; at the same time, a golden-haired foundling, later named Eppie, is left in his house. She humanises the miser and when her rich father reveals himself, Eppie refuses to leave her adoptive parent. A pioneering novel about being black in America, by a pioneer black American author. It is framed as a journal by an un-named African-American, following his post-college career. Can youthful idealism withstand the disillusions of age? Flaubert asks what is ultimately of most value to us: hope or disappointment?

    In his sequel to The Sportswriter , Ford picks up the story of Frank Bascombe, now a New Jersey estate agent, as he navigates the fraught emotional territory of a holiday weekend. An ambitious, almost encyclopedic novel about modern America, structured around the seemingly hackneyed idea of a dysfunctional family getting together for Christmas.

    The parents, Enid and Alfred, confront old age, illness and frustrated ambitions. The elusive central character is Wyatt Gwyon, intended by his family for the ministry but instead a forger of those objects of religious devotion: paintings. The novel renders the passion with which he creates truly original fakes, credited to Flemish masters. The other leading characters are also counterfeiters, like Otto, the playwright, who plagiarises authors he has never read, or the conman Frank Sinisterra.

    Much of the novel consists of dialogues in which ideas about religion, art and truthfulness are fearlessly elaborated. All turns out well. The novel in which Gaskell set out to be scrupulously fair to the Lancashire mill-owners whom she had earlier criticised in Mary Barton Initially appalled, Margaret is gradually won over by the rough northern community and its tough but moral textile workers.

    When Bernard, a student, is told he is illegitimate, he runs away from home and ends up in the bed of his schoolfriend Olivier. Bernard becomes secretary to Edouard — who is working on a novel called The Counterfeiters. While writing the novel, Gide kept a journal detailing its composition, which he published separately in Unwilling to share their fate, their younger sister Monica marries a wealthy man who makes her miserable. George Orwell said of this bitter, brilliant novel that it retains its capacity to disquiet.

    Though set in late 19th-century London, its study of the corrosion of the literary world by self-promotion and commercialism is more relevant today than ever. Edwin Reardon and Jasper Milvain are two young writers who both realise that the values of the new literary industry are base. Milvain plays the game and prospers; Reardon chooses not to compromise and fails.

    Led to safety and protected by July, their faithful black servant, the Smales in turn become subservient to him. Rosalind Porter Buy this book at the Guardian bookshop. In a greasy factory suburb, Pelageya Nilovna is a downtrodden woman whose only solace is religion. When her son, Pavel Vlassov, declares himself a socialist, she is afraid and ashamed.

    In her eyes, socialists murder tsars. Yet through her love for her son, she overcomes her habits of subservience. A strange, huge picture of Glasgow written by an author as renowned for his artwork as for his writing. The challenge to the reader is to follow the connections between the two. The early-morning march of hobnail boots on cobbles and the clack-clack-clack of the cotton mills may document a distant time, but rising unemployment, pressure on wages and means testing still shatters lives today. Michael Henchard, a drunken journeyman labourer, sells his wife to a sailor at a local fair.

    On sobering up, he vows not to drink for 21 years. He rises in the world as a corn-factor and is elected mayor of Casterbridge Dorchester, bleakly depicted , but his fall once again is precipitous, and he dies, as he began, a labourer. Neglected by his parents, bullied by his brother, beaten and belittled at school, Billy Casper has little hope of a future beyond the pit in his deprived northern town, a destiny signalled by the coal- heaps which loom over the playground.

    The most popular novel among both armies in the American civil war. On his release, he steals some silver candlesticks from a bishop, who forgives him. This act of kindness sets Valjean on the path of righteousness. He becomes a successful industrialist, mayor and family man — although always haunted by his criminal past. Hugo introduces spectacular wartime and street-revolution set pieces. Greeks, Germans and Italians march through the town. Making use of the rawness of folklore and tapping into the strange logic of dreams, Kadare takes the lunacy of war and spins it into his own Balkan myth.

    He seems to have lost his sight, though he remembers little of what has happened. The third-person narrative does not merely inhabit his thoughts, it also uses a version of his demotic Scots, replete with obsenities, but charged with feeling. JM Buy this book at the Guardian bookshop. The most famous poet of his era, Larkin as a young man published two novels, of which this is the second. Published in austerity Britain, in a year which saw the worst winter of the century, the narrative is very much of its time.

    But no one reading it will fail to wonder whether there was not a great novelist struggling to get out of a great poet. At separate tables in a rooftop cafe, two black women take tea and pass as white.

    It is a chance encounter between childhood friends. Irene is a respectable black woman committed to her home and family. Clare travels the world with her white husband who, unwittingly, calls her Nig. Passing broke literary ground as the story of two racially and sexually ambiguous women written by another. Social boundaries can be permeated, but not without cost. Nearly 60 years before winning the Nobel prize, Lessing was acclaimed for a stunning debut which tells the story of Dick and Mary Turner, farmers in a remote part of Rhodesia.

    The lure and contradictions of colonial life are brilliantly analysed as a tragedy unfolds. Here his target is dollar- driven evangelism. Elmer, a jock who lives for football, booze and girls, gets religion at college. He escapes. We shall yet make these United States a moral nation. The novel remained on the New York Times bestseller list for two years and still strikes a chord. Michael Moran is a former IRA guerrilla whose fails to adjust to civilian life after the Irish war of independence and is bitterly resentful of the new free state government. He takes it out on his family, for whom he is the ultimate patriarch.

    Employing an appropriately louche prose style, he spins an enjoyable, self-deprecating yarn as his hapless hero tries to interest householders in the Sucko brand and whiles away his spare time romancing the wife of a fellow salesman. It begins with the unreality of a fairy tale: three children in a remote Australian settlement in the mids see a stranger, not quite human, balancing precariously on a fence, somewhere between earth and heaven.

    Their family takes hi in but contact with Gemmy Fairly, a white man who has lived with the blacks and is a stranger even to himself, has repercussions for the whole community. Fascinated with this place high up in the Swiss Alps, where illness is championed — not without vanity — as a triumph of the intellect over the body, he stays for seven years and falls ill along the way.

    Featuring lengthy debates between humanist freemasons and Jews-turned-Catholics, a long love-scene written entirely in French and a brilliant hallucinatory journey down the snowy slopes, it merits multiple readings. A novel for a lifetime not just a rainy afternoon. With wry commentary on the abuse of power, epic set pieces from the Thirty Years war and graphic depictions of the horrors of the plague, it is the classic of 19th-century Italian literature and is as important in that country as the works of Thackeray, Dickens, Fielding and Hardy rolled into one.

    Maupassant turns his cynical imagination to the squalor and decadent gloryof late 19th-century Paris. There his splendidly moustachioed hero, Georges Duroy, immerses himself in the amoral world of political journalism and climbs to the top of society, over the bodies of colleagues and quickly discarded mistresses. At once detestable and delightful, Duroy works his charm on the reader as seductively as on the women he misuses. The result is a masterpiece — a page-turner as well as a vivid chronicle of a sordid world. Sam Jordison. One of the greatest novels of the late 20th-century.

    India comes alive in an inspiring contemplation of power and the powerless, of compassion and terror, of comedy and cruelty. Mistry has the heart of Dickens, the sweep of Victor Hugo and the command of words of a great poet. Carmel Callil Buy this book at the Guardian bookshop. Moravia started his study of two days in the life of a middle-class widow and her troublesome children when he was 18, having been challenged by friends. A bracing blast of social-realism, played out in San Francisco and detailing the rise and fall of a knuckle-headed dentist. This was, of course, the life of Lena Zavaroni, but Personality is a long way from a biographical study.

    We create celebrities for our pleasure, then destroy them: fans of The X Factor should be made to read this book. Animals, led by the pigs, resolve to take their farm from its human owner, Mr Jones. Once the revolution is achieved, the ruthless porker Napoleon Stalin imposes an even harsher dictatorship than that run by his capitalist, two-legged predecessor. The less intelligent beasts are slaughtered or worked to death while the pigs morph into the capitalists of old.

    Slum thuggery represents freedom from the conventions of politics and morality. His mission is transformed when he discovers that Absalom has been charged with the murder of a white liberal activist. As memories of his childhood rise from the landscape, so do the bodies of those who were killed during the conflict — grisly evidence of the past polluting the present.

    In Headlong Hall, the equally absurd Mr Escot, the pessimist, and Mr Foster, the optimist, rehearse the arguments of, respectively, Malthus and Rousseau. Atwater, the narrator, is almost a perfect blank, propelled forward only by a vague desire for cocktails and women. Roth offers an elegy to relatively benign imperial rule and explores the meaninglessness that sets in when an ideal is destroyed.

    American Pastoral spotlights a nation in spiritual crisis, staggering towards a horrified self-awareness. Except Silk is not what he seems. He is a man of secrets; at once noble and cowardly, confident and compromised. In the guise of his alter-ego, Nathan Zuckerman, Roth rails against a climate of sexual and racial hypocrisy.

    Along the way he produces a tragedy substantial in its weight, scope and ambition — an Othello for the Clinton era. A great English novel that hardly mentions England and has no major English characters. Yet while it spans much of the history of India in the 20th century, and is heady with the smells and colours of the sub-continent, it also borrows from a great tradition of English fiction.

    They are at once united and divided — the book is a thinly-veiled study of the relationship between Zia ul-Haq, president of Pakistan, and his overthrown predecessor, Zulkifar Ali Bhutto. Connected is the story of Suiya Zenobia, whose failure to be born a boy instils within her a limitless capacity for shame.

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    Charlotte Stretch. In this short and elegantly brutal detective novel set in Sicily, Sciascia, an Italian writer and moral and cultural commentator, takes on a society that had acceded to fascism and the mafia. When two locals are murdered, everyone knows who is responsible. A comic, moving novel that looks at the handover of independence to India through the eyes of a retired British colonial couple, Colonel Tusker Smalley and his wife Lily, who decide to stay on in the home they have made.

    Scott is brilliant on the division between Indian nd colonialist, and moving on the plight of the Smalleys as they try to retain control over their lives. They are at once symbolic of a whole system and vividly distinct, in a way that makes their slow demise heartbreaking. Initially conceived as a bundle of connected short stories, it is set in the savage, degenerate post-war Brooklyn projects. Last Exit is both ultra-realistic and abrupt in a stream-of- consciousness, lagrantly ungrammatical style.

    In this landmark novel, which progresses through the dreadful Senegalese Union Railroad strike of , the women gradually usurp the men and take centre stage. When the ruling French try to bring down the workers by cutting off their food and water supply, it is the women who defend themselves with violence and clash with the armed forces of their colonial rulers. Nicola Barr. Buy this book at the Guardian bookshop. The author committed suicide in , his spirit broken. A muckraking novel about the Chicago stockyards and meat-packing industry, the narrative follows the fortunes of a Lithuanian immigrant, Jurgis Rudkus.

    Newly arrived in the country with his family, and newly married, Jurgis is idealistic about the new world. But the heartless industrial machine which produces canned food — adulterated and frequently poisonous — for the American table uses him until his strength, health and family are utterly broken. Jurgis takes to drink but finally sees a glimmer of hope in socialism. Theodore Roosevelt was so shocked by the sanitary standards Sinclair described that he sent a presidential commission to investigate the stockyards.