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Poll Results! 10 Greatest British Sci-Fi/Fantasy Novelists
The results are in! You’ve voted, we’ve counted, and now we can reveal which of the ten writing giants listed below is the favorite of Anglophenia readers.
The top three, in reverse order, are as follows:
At No.3 is Douglas Adams, with 12% of the votes cast. Above him, with 27%, is JRR Tolkein, who lead the field from the off, but was overtaken half-way through by the winner, HG Wells. Hats off to yourself, Mr Wells!
With his 28%, and Tolkein’s 27%, well over half the votes cast were for the top two choices, and even more remarkably, the novelist without a current hit movie adaptation beat the one with the huge cinema franchise.
The rest of the voting ran as follows:
Terry Pratchett (10%)
JK Rowling (8%)
Neil Gaiman (7%)
CS Lewis (4%)
John Wyndham (2%)
Lewis Carroll (1%)
Alan Moore (1%)
Here are our original writeups on each author, any one of which would have made a worthwhile winner:
A true Herculean writer in every respect. Not only does he use his imagination to create an entire reality that mirrors our own – staffing it with wizards and space turtles and the personification of Death etc – but he then proceeds to write an astonishing amount of books. And, to add further peaks to hurl himself towards, he makes them FUNNY! I hesitate to use the word churn, because this implies a lack of quality control or an automated process, but you can’t sustain a creative streak as long and productive as Terry’s without tasking your audience with the headache of actually reading all your stuff. That they do, and wish to keep doing so, is a tribute to his immense skill and wit.
So apparently this guy wrote some books about a place called Middle-earth, and there were, like dwarves and elves and orcs and whatnot all running around after some jewellery? And it seems to have been pretty popular stuff by all accounts. Some people swear by those books, claiming to read them all the time, putting maps of the place up on the wall and watching the films, even obsessing over the DVD extras and director’s commentary and all that stuff. I’m sure it’s very rewarding, especially as the books are so good and the films so well made. You certainly wouldn’t want to be getting into any bad hobbits.
The job of science fiction is to take a look at the way urban lives are developing, the values progress imposes on society, and ask questions about where it will all lead. Douglas Adams’s Hitch Hiker’s Guide series did not skimp in this regard, but also remembered that people in the future, people with impressive technology, people who are not even really ‘people’ at all, are still driven by the same primeval forces as we all are: stupidity, greed, paranoia, nostalgia, irritation, and that a future in which these things still exist can only be seen through the peach-tinted lens of comedy.
In sharp contrast to some of the names on this list, Neil Gaiman does not just write novels. He does write novels, good ones too, but he also writes comic books, short stories, children’s books, TV scripts, film scripts, audio dramas and musical excursions.He re-wrote the A-to-Z in The Dangerous Alphabet, gave voice and body to the previously-silent TARDIS in the award winning Doctor Who tale The Doctor’s Wife, and wrote a collaborative novel with another of the writers in this list – Good Omens with Terry Pratchett – without it becoming a mess of compromises. It is fair to say the man has ideas the way other people have dandruff.
On a similar note, HG Wells was among the first to realise that the white heat of technological upheaval could have dire consequences, should we come across technologies far in advance of wherever we have managed to get to by the time they arrive. So, in War of the Worlds he places Martian invaders amid the suburbs of London, and then allows them to be eventually defeated by germs. In The Time Machine, he sends an inventor into the far future, and discovers that mankind has split, divorcing intellect from base desire. In every case, gentlemen inventors find that biological necessity comes close to trumping intellect every time. A terrifying message in the reason-obsessed post-Victorian era.
Plus: without The Time Machine there could be no Doctor Who.
Another polymath, albeit one whose most notable ideas thus far have been expressed in the medium of sequential art, or, as they’re more commonly called: comic books. Alan’s intense interests in both ritual and magic, and history and politics, form the backbone of his writing, whether in reinvigorating superhero tales in Watchmen, or imagining a fascist future for the UK in V For Vendetta, or even bringing beloved characters from literature back to life in order to use them as a crime-fighting team in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
It’s easy to mock people who sit in coffee shops with their laptops and make a great show out of the writing they are doing. But let’s not forget that the entire Harry Potter universe – the wizards, the muggles, the school and the owls – were created by a woman doing exactly that in a cafe in Edinburgh. OK, so she was using pen and paper, but the impulse is the same, and look where it got her. Sometimes you need to be among people to write people. Even magical people.
If you’ve seen 28 Days Later, and marvelled at that stark opening scenario, where a man wakes up in hospital to discover London is deserted, you’ve seen John Wyndham’s mind at work. That’s the beginning of his masterpiece, Day of the Triffids, which dispenses with Danny Boyle’s zombies and simply asks “what if you were one of the only people with sight in a country of the blind?” and then adds a twist “oh and there are carniverous plants that can chase you, and sting you to death…” Then there’s the race parable The Chrysalids, a tale of intolerance and fear of mutated humanity, which effectively gives away the moral of the story of The X-Men before the X-Men were even invented.
It has become a trend, in recent years, to decry the Narnia series as fantastical propaganda for Christianity, as an attempt by a zealous Oxford don to covertly slip the principles of the Christian faith into a populist setting. This is partly based in fact. There’s a heroic lion that brings an end to an age of winter, before sacrificing himself for the sins of another, only to be reborn some time later, this is surely heaping allegory upon allegory, right? Well yes, but there are no end of children’s stories in which noble sacrifice is rewarded with a rebirth. And anyway, Jesus wasn’t born in a wardrobe. Subtext, powerful as it may be, isn’t everything.
Because what is are the Alice… books if not a fantasy, and for a double bonus, it also happens to be a satire on Victorian society AND a staple of children’s literature. Everything that happens in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – from talking rodents to hidden realms appearing in humdrum places – happens in Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, except there’s less sense that a point is being made on purpose, and the Queen is funnier.
And if your favorite isn’t on the list, you can shout at us below with your write-in votes…