Countdown to Christmas (Nerd version 1)

Worry no more about buying a Xmas present for the family nerd.  The Top Ten Science Fiction Books and Films shown below was provided by CASE’s very own Naomi Turnbull.  To help with pressie suitability, Naomi has also provided a personal pencil portrait of each choice:

Top 10 Science Fiction Books

Parable of the TalentsGreg Egan
Egan’s best novel.  This is a brilliant mixture of disparate subjects (theoretical physics, utopianism, gender and sexual identity, autism and more) all thematically linked together into an exciting story.  One of a small number of SF novels that reveals greater depth on repeated readings.

InversionsIain M. Banks
Iain Banks is one of the most accomplished British SF writers, and is partly responsible for the successful resurrection of the space opera genre.  It is difficult to single out one of his books as so many of them are excellent, so I’ve chosed this one simply because I enjoyed it so much.  Read it in a single sitting as it was literally un-put-downable.

The Shadow of the TorturerGene Wolfe
This novel reads, at first, like fantasy, and you only gradually become aware that in fact this is a SF novel of the far future.  It’s set in a genuinely strange and complex world, full of the remnants of ancient technology that no-one now knows how to operate.  First published in 1980, this beats the socks off 90% of the so-called “new” weird, especially as it’s even weirder.

WatchmenAlan Moore
One of the greatest and most influential comics/graphic novels ever.  Massively influential in this genre, and a perfect marriage between text and image.  Alan Moore is a genius.

The Sheep Look UpKim Stanley Robinson
Probably the best insight into the real workings of science – full of politics, scheming and compromises, even in the face of impending global disaster.  I loved the Mars books as well, but I think this works better as a novel. 

The Day of the TriffidsJohn Wyndham
This book is a truly British alternative to flashier American sf.  A very quiet apocalypse – no exploding skyscrapers or giant spaceships – and all the scarier as a result.  And it features the Isle of Wight as the best refuge for rebuilding British society – sensible man. 

Black No MoreNicholas Fisk
Nicholas Fisk is one of the first authors I remember looking out for in the library, rather than just choosing books at random based on the cover.  This is my favourite book of his, and it is remarkably dark for a children’s book.  I first read this years ago, and the denouement of the story (which I won’t give away) stays with me even now.

Top 10 Science Fiction Films

SQUID is the only difference between the world of the film and the real world, and its impact is systematically explored, without feeling as though the different ideas are being shoehorned into the plot.  The lead actors are great, and ten times more charismatic than most A listers.  And it has a fantastic soundtrack – P J Harvey and Skunk Anansie.

A completely bonkers Japanese film which features a dead soldier resurrected as a superhero to fight a bunch of escaped androids and giant robots.  Doesn’t really make sense, but it is the most visually impressive film ever.  Only SF could ever look this amazing. 

12 Monkeys
I really enjoy this film – it has a lot to say about paradoxes, and the inevitability of the future.  Being geeky, it’s also one of the few time travel films to acknowledge that travel in time also involves travelling in space.  For me, that’s cool.

Jurassic Park
Everybody loves dinosaurs, and these were really impressive at the time.  I think it deserves a place on the Top 10 list because it is one of the few SF films in which the scientists are the heroes, rather than being mad and/or evil.  Instead, greedy businessmen are the bad guys – which is how it should be.

More evil business people.  I should specify that it is the Director’s Cut that I would like to nominate, as this is superior to the original cinema release.  This is a scary movie, but also makes interesting points about motherhood, femininity and love.

A little-known B movie that is based on a 2000AD short story.  It’s low budget is played to best advantage by having a very limited number of sets, which gives the film a very claustrophobic feel.  Not only is it frightening, but it is also quite depressing – this is not an American film, where the monster gets defeated and the hero and girl drive into the sunset.  The hero dies (and wasn’t really that heroic in the first place), and the evil robot is approved for mass production.  This is the way the world is.  And it has Lemmy and I
ggy Pop in it.

Starship Troopers
A wonderfully satiric film with cool SFX

Children of Men
I can honestly say that I have never seen a more moving science fiction film – or indeed, a more moving film.  A relevant commentary on contemporary events, and very intelligent. 

Another B movie, but a clever one that explores how difficult it is to control the future, even when you know what’s going to happen thanks to time travel.  A bit illogical in places, but still makes more sense than most Hollywood blockbusters.

I had to include Joss Whedon somewhere – and here he is.  The film that demonstrated how utterly rubbish the second trilogy of Star Wars is by making characters, drama, dialogue and humour more important than pretty SFX.  And it didn’t have Jar Jar Binks.



    December 18, 2006

    It is a seemingly fantastic list… although I rather disagree with Casshern and Serenity being on there.

    I would love to see Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind included – it’s been described as the best story Philip K Dick never wrote, and strikes me as one of the best SF movies ever, ever, ever. (Hmm. No Philip K Dick on the list? The Rev must have been sleeping when it was compiled…)

    And…. *cough* Donnie Darko *cough*

    I suspect I know why Dune didn’t make it on the literary list… but it and Flowers for Alghernon should, in my not even remotely humble opinion, be somewhere in the top ten…

    Other than that, I find my amazon wish list growing by the minute…


    December 18, 2006

    I agree about Donnie Darko; loved it. Bizarre. Not so sure about Spotless Mind though. Always thought Man in the High Castle was his high point

    Sue A.

    December 18, 2006

    Oh no more films to buy. I love other folk’s recommendations as there is always some stuff you haven’t seen or read. Must agree with Rob’s recommendation of Flower’s for Algernon, still makes me sad every time I read it. Also have to mention Canticle for Leibowitz but that’s the librarian in me !
    Did everyone see Mr Moore interviewed on the Culture Show, how sad am I that I never knew all his stories are based in and on Northampton ? What an interesting fella he is too.
    Sorry feeling chatty today, Xmas spirit. Anyway thanks for this Naomi brightened my morning…

    Kev Mears

    December 18, 2006

    What!? No Phase IV? Pretty strange 70s film directed by Saul Bass, and consequently beautiful looking. Also great soundtrack by Tangerine Dream (I think).

    Does a Clockwork Orange count? And what about Sleeper? Managing to combine humour with Sci-Fi


    December 18, 2006

    I paid to see Phase IV. What a cop-out.


    It ends with the immortal phrase: “We didn’t know what was going to happen, but we knew we were going to be told…”

    or something like that. I like a good explanation, I always thought that the writers of Phase IV couldn’t think of one, so they just stopped.


    December 18, 2006

    Just watched Strange Days based on the recommendation here… It was a nice film. I enjoyed it, thanks.

    But was it really SF? Wouldn’t the film be roughly identical if the SQuID disc were replaced with a CCTV recording tape?

    PS: If you like Strange Days, you might enjoy Final Cut with Robin Williams.

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