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As children our first experience of reading fiction is often through SFF. Spaceships, castles, quests, heroes & heroines, alternate worlds, 'here be monsters' - often these are some of the most profound reading experiences of our lives. We step through the portal of the book and we don't come back the same person. Here are five SFF books that changed me - as a child and as an adult. I hope you enjoy the list and find a book there that will transport and alter you the way it did for me.

  • A Wizard of Earthsea - Ursula K Le Guin

    I still have my treasured and very tattered childhood Puffin copy of this book with my favourite bits underlined. I loved it immediately – it’s not written like a kid’s book and has a weightiness that I think I responded to as an eight-year-old. The idea of things having a true name; a school for wizards (what a great idea!); his little pet Otak and its tragic death; the shadow loosed in the world that is really a part of the hero. All of this and the best dragons in fantasy. I’m just about to read it to my kids and I know it will have lost none of its power.

  • Riddley Walker - Russell Hoban

    Hoban has the distinction of having written not one but two of my favourite books. The first is his brilliantly profound and metaphysical children’s book The Mouse and His Child. The second is Riddley Walker, his devastating dystopic post-apocalyptic novel set two thousand years after a nuclear war. Mixing science, folklore, philosophy, religion and art history with a coming of age story it’s a book like no other I’ve ever read. The language alone is a marvel – smashed like the world Riddley lives in, at once futuristic and atavistic – it’s beautiful and crude and unforgettable. I often think of Riddley’s ‘Pry Mincer’ when our Prime Minister speaks. Canonic. 

  • Dune - Frank Herbert

    I think I saw the 1981 David Lynch film adaption before I read the book and the sight of the Guild Navigator emerging from the murk and Sting’s codpiece (plus a soundtrack by Toto and Brian Eno!) burned itself into my mind forever. The book is amazing of course, an interstellar religious drug war space opera with lashings of politics, religion, ecology, technology and the best messiah since J.C himself. I can still recite the litany against fear off by heart, ‘I must not fear. Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone I will turn an inner eye to see its path. When the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.’ I like to repeat it to myself before budget meetings.

  • Neuromancer - William Gibson

    So Blade Runner is definitely in my top five films of all time and, while I love Philip K Dick and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, this book (coming two years after the film in that most portentous of all years, 1984) is really its spiritual heir. A book that spawned a genre and gave us ‘the Matrix’, cyberspace and the towering and prescient talent of William Gibson. I think I like it too because, rather than cyberpunk, it is really cyber-noir – witness the opening line, ‘The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.’ Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Wind-Up Girl is a brilliant and worthy successor to this book and to Blade Runner. 

  • The Road - Cormac McCarthy

    I read McCarthy’s Blood Meridian as an undergraduate and it seriously blew my mind. I embarked on reading his entire body of work after that and it’s safe to say I was excited when The Road was published in 2006. I read it in one sitting and felt completely shattered by the end of it. Some say it isn’t really science fiction but if anyone else has written a more compelling and harrowing description of the end of the world and the complete breakdown of civilization I’d like to see it. I was surprised when it became an Oprah book and the relationship between the father and the son and the slightly hopeful ending was foregrounded – because all I saw was devastation; and every time another species becomes extinct or some idiot denies climate change I think we’re going down The Road and we’re not coming back - and I get terrified for my kids and their future. 

Justin Ractliffe

Justin Ractliffe

Joint Managing Director Hachette Australia.

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