If you’re sluggish and moody in winter, and perpetually chasing sunshine, this, clearly, is not your season. While you can always try exercise or talk your blues away, here’s a brief list of brilliant sci-fi/fantasy novels to keep you busy while you wait out the cold:
Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (published from 2010 to 2015) by Eliezer Yudkowsky
What it’s about: Harry Potter is the adopted and beloved son Oxford scientist Michael Verres-Evans and his wife Petunia Evans-Verres. He has been raised with a deep interest in science and rational thinking, which is questioned when Harry gets a letter from Hogwarts and Petunia reveals that her sister was a witch.
Why it works: This brilliant re-telling of the original series applies science and logic to the world of magic. American AI researcher Eliezer Yudkowsky makes significant changes to characters and plot, raising and answering – over 122 chapters – questions, especially regarding plot loopholes and consistency that many Potterheads may have had. If you’re done reading and re-reading all the seven books in the original series to the point of memorising them, this will be a real treat. It is closest you will come to returning to Hogwarts. Read it here.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane (2013) by Neil Gaiman
What it’s about: The narrator of this modern fairytale is a lonely seven-year-old whose life is upended when the family lodger steals his father’s car and commits suicide inside it. The act allows a vengeful spirit to enter their lives and slowly destroy everything. Unable to get the adults believe his story, the boy turns to his new friends — the Hempstock women, who are otherworldly too, and live in a farm at the end of a lane.
Why it works: Gaiman is able to see the adult world through the eyes of a lonely-sensitive child. His depiction of childhood terrors is very real — you don’t just feel fear as the sinister ghost returns as the narrator’s babysitter and begins terrorising him, you feel like a terrified seven-year-old disbelieved by adults who are blind to the dangers around.
His Dark Materials trilogy: Northern Lights (1995), The Subtle Knife (1997) and The Amber Spyglass (2000) by Philip Pullman
What it’s about: Lyra Belacqua is a feisty 12-year-old girl growing up among scholars in a university town in a parallel universe ruled by an oppressive Church. It is a world where people’s souls exist outside their bodies in the form of animal spirits that can speak. In the first book, Northern Lights, Lyra’s uncle Lord Asriel is researching the mysterious Dust and the existence of other worlds, something the Church is opposed to. Kids in the town are disappearing and rumoured to be abducted by a gang called Gobblers. After Lyra is adopted by the charming Mrs Coulter, she discovers the kidnappings might be connected to the Dust and her rich guardian may be heading the Gobblers. Lyra is to fulfil a prophecy to save her world and the books that follow traverse many other worlds as the plot progresses.
Why it works: Well, for one, characters have talking souls which in case of children can change shape depending upon the person’s mood. Then there are benevolent witches, some bright and not-so-bright armoured polar bears, some sinister villains, lots of magical instruments and plot twists and the well-loved, age-old theme of knowledge/free will set against authority.
Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1990) by Salman Rushdie
What it’s about: Haroun’s father, Rashid, is a gifted storyteller who loses his voice after his wife dumps him for their unimaginative neighbour. In the valley of K, Haroun meets Iff the water genie who comes to cut off his father’s water supply from the sea of stories. He tells Haroun about Khattan-Shud: a dictator who rules the land of darkness and silence and is responsible for silencing Rashid. Haroun sets out on a journey to rescue the Guppies, their princess Batcheat, and save the sea of stories from being poisoned by the Chupwalas.
Why it works? The book manages to be both – a delightful children’s book as well as a fascinating political allegory. It was published a year after the infamous fatwa ordering Muslims to kill the author was issued by Iranian religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini. It was written by Rushdie for his eldest son and explores the dark theme of freedom of speech vs the forces out to end it with wit, humour and imagination.
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979) by Douglas Adams
What it’s about: When Earth is destroyed to make way for a galactic highway, Arthur Dent is saved by his friend Ford Prefect, who reveals himself to be an alien journalist researching the planet for the titular Guide. As the two hitchhike their way across space, they meet a variety of peculiar galactic creatures including the surly Vogons known for their terrible poetry, the flaky two-headed President Zaphod Beeblebrox, and his manic-depressive android Marvin.
Why it works: To say that Douglas Adams’s classic sci-fi novel will take you into another world is to state the obvious. It does that and much more. A fast-paced narrative, quirky characters and wondrous plot twists make this leap across the universe a super-fun read. There are four more novels in the series in case you’re hooked, and given the popularity of the novels, a dozen pop-cult references that were hitherto cryptic – will now make sense. Like 42. What’s not to like?
From HT Brunch, November 5, 2016
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