Meme, with relish

I don’t do memes, but this one got me thinking, so what the heck. You can find other responses here, here and here. Why is it called “Meme, with relish”? I have no clue. Just go with it, folks!

One Book That Changed Your Life
Tricky, this. Various individual books have changed the way I looked at the world or have looked at books and writing. The Name of the Wind, Starship Troopers, Boneshaker, Harry Potter, Under the Dome, to name just a few, but really those are all small, individual pieces of a much larger picture. Those books, and many more, have been very important to me and to my life, but if I go right back to the beginning, it was not one book that changed my life, but 156 – the Target Doctor Who novelisations.

I started watching Doctor Who in 1985, when I was 7 and New Zealand television began a great run of episodes starting with The Mind Robber and The Krotons, and then everything from Spearhead from Space to Survival. It took five years to show all that, and it is what got me interested in science fiction in the first place. But the Target novelisations – adaptations of the TV stories – were what got me into reading. My primary school library had a huge shelf full of them, and soon after I began collecting them myself. I have a lot of memories and a couple of mildly interesting stories about the Target books that I can probably bore you to death with later, but for the moment I’ll just pick out the two most important ones for me.

My two favourite books were Marco Polo and The Android Invasion. As any fule kno, Marco Polo was the best of the television stories made, although now sadly missing from the archives, and the book is arguably the best of the Target range. In just 120 pages, John Lucarotti condenses his 7-episode magnus opus into a micro-epic that combines high adventure with education. At age 7, I was the only child in my class who knew that Cathay was an old name for China and that at high altitude the boiling point of water decreased.

However, no book cover in the history of publishing stirs more memories than the one for The Android Invasion. Between 1985 and 1988 I read this book on every summer holiday. In fact, I’m tempted to get it out of the cupboard this summer and give it a read. This book, I love.

The most important thing about the Target Doctor Who books is that they made me want to write, and I’ve got an exercise book full of fiction written by me, aged 7, from 1985. In fact, I can clearly pinpoint which story was on TV and which Target book I was reading at the time, as more often than not my own attempts were a weird hybrid of the two.

One Book You Have To Read More Than Once
I know some people have their own book rituals, like reading The Lord of the Rings once a year. Heck, I did it myself, reading The Android Invasion every summer! However, time starts to press as we get older and I really have too many books that I’ll quite possibly never get around to reading the first time, let alone a second or third time. I suspect, looking ahead here, that Under the Dome is a book I’ll return to again, being the first Stephen King novel I read (and only last year too) and having completely blown me away, and likewise ‘Salem’s Lot (see below).

However, while I may return to those if the whim takes me, I think one book I am consciously looking forward to rereading is Earth Abides by George R. Stewart. This post-apocalyptic novel, first published in 1949, is truly beautiful and very moving. An essential read for every genre fan.

One Book You’d Want On A Desert Island
The Princess Bride. Oh, what a book. It came before the movie, obviously, and follows the established pattern of being much better than the film. What differs here is that the film is utterly amazing, which makes the book even more stupendous (Help! Please send more adjectives!). It’s also an incredible lie, from the fake introduction to the abridgement carried out by Goldman on S. Morgenstern’s original text to the extracts from the sequel, and it’s not until you near the end that you realise you’ve been led a merry dance. Stuck on a desert island, this book is all you need.

Two Books That Made You Laugh
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. The first volume in this famous series is the perfect example of a great debut novel. This is the book that Douglas Adams had in his head for a decade or more, the story, characters, plot, settings and – importantly – the jokes having been worked out and polished and perfected over time in his mind before he set them down on paper. I think this shows. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is sheer poetry.

The Automatic Detective, by A. Lee Martinez. I couldn’t resist the premise when I heard it – The Automatic Detective is about a bright red robot who makes his living as a private detective in a weird, fantasy/science fiction city filled with monsters and mutants. It’s a hilarious, laugh-out-loud pulp adventure, but is also thoughtful and extremely well constructed. On the back of this book I scooped up the rest of Martinez’s back catalogue and he’s now one of my favourite authors.

One Book That Made You Cry
Hrmm. I’m not really sure I can answer this one, as I have never cried over a book. As a genre, I do find classic superheroes deeply moving because of the sheer optimism and wonder they represent, but Astro City by Kurt Busiek and DC: The New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke have brought tears of joy, rather than sadness.

Yep. Weird, right? Right.

One Book You’d Wish You’d Written
‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. This was his second novel and the one where his natural talent for writing and his now-recognisable skills at characterisation combined to produce what I think is the finest genre novel ever written. It’s perfect from beginning to end, thrilling and terrifying and complex. Here King stays absolutely true to what vampires are – evil, Satanic monsters – but more importantly he managed to craft a tale of the supernatural that is utterly believable, grounded strongly in everyday life. The events that befell the New England town of Jerusalem’s Lot could happen anywhere, anytime. It’s this connection with the reader that makes it a remarkable book.

It’s exactly the kind of book that makes me, as a writer, throw my hands up in despair. It’s the kind of book that makes you stop and shake your head at frequent intervals, and then when it’s lying on the coffee table you eye it warily from the other room. With genius like that, what the heck is the point of trying?

And then that’s exactly what you do. ‘Salem’s Lot is an inspirational gold standard. To me it demonstrates perfectly the power of story and of character. If, one day, I can craft a book a tenth as good as ‘Salem’s Lot, I’ll die happy.

One Book You Wish Was NEVER Written
Huh. I’m not sure I understand this question. There are plenty of books I’m not interested in, and there are plenty of books I don’t like. I could rail about Stephanie Meyer or Charlaine Harris or, heck, Dan Brown, but they’re famous and popular and they have a heck of a lot of fans. Who am I to say you’re wasting your time with author X or book Y? Everybody is different, and the world certainly does not revolve around my opinion. Do I wish Twilight were never written? Sure, why not. But what a waste of time. What do I care? Not liking Stephanie Meyer’s work just means I don’t read it, and what right do I have to deny her legions of fans the enjoyment and entertainment they so clearly get from her books?

And besides, it’s far more interesting to hear about a good book from someone rather than a bad book.

Two Books You Are Currently Reading
Maybe I’m unusual in that I only read one book at once. If I do read two, I make sure they’re completely different forms, generally something like a novel and a graphic novel, maybe. As it happens, I’m currently reading Night Shift by Stephen King, which is a collection of short stories, and The Complete Bloom County volume 1, the first of  four or five large hardcover collections from IDW publishing all of Berkley Breathed’s Pulitizer-winning newspaper strips. I was lucky enough to snag a signed, numbered edition, and it’s a beautiful thing.

One Book You’ve Been Meaning To Read
I have a list as long as my arm of books I want to read – new releases, classics, books that have just accumulated over time. As I’m working my way through Stephen King’s catalogue, I have The Stand coming up shortly, which I’ve been looking forward to and which is regarded as his best work (if it can beat ‘Salem’s Lot I’ll be surprised, pleasantly!).

But there is one book that has been on my to-be-read list since 1987. Seriously. Over the last 23 years I’ve been meaning to read Dracula by Bram Stoker. It’s there on the shelf, a hardback double-bill with The Lair of the White Worm. This is the exact book I’ve had since I was nine. I can clearly remember taking it to primary school and starting it during a wet lunchtime when we weren’t’ allowed to go outside. I’m not sure how far I got.

Every few years since then, I’ve picked the book up, and made a start. I’ve read the first 100 pages or so about dozen times. Now, I like it. It’s become fashionable in recent years to diss the book, but I the epistolary format is probably my favourite mode of writing, and on each occasion when I’ve started the book, I’ve loved it. But I’ve always stopped, and I’m never sure why. It’s not exactly long or difficult. Hmm. Maybe I’ll bump it up my list.