Five Favorite Books is a special feature at LA Books Examiner in which our favorite authors share their five favorite books within a category. In this edition, David Rudd-Mitchell, author of Geek Tragedy, discusses his five favorite books for the geek in all of us.
David Rudd-Mitchell is a poet whose work has been published in a variety of small press magazines in print and online. His poems have also been broadcast on BBC County radio. Geek Tragedy, his short, alternative poetry collection for geeks and non-geeks alike, touches on themes of unemployment, smoking, war, over eating, vanity, love gone wrong as well as the lighter and darker sides to life.
Five Favorite Books for Geeks by David Rudd-Mitchell
I was delighted to accept the challenge of reducing the world of geek literature to only five books. This ultimately involved spread sheets, collaboration, research and a scientific system. Geeks do not merely love books; they pledge an involuntary allegiance to them. For example, as I write this, jediism (a belief in a living force) is a recognized religion in England.
In order to represent the diversity of geek literature, I carefully created categories, finally settling on: dystopian futures, fantasy, supernatural, sci fi and the great graphical novel.
But while this approach seemed logical at first, it instantly created the problem that, within each of these limiting categories, there can be only one book. This means, from the get-go, I am forced to omit a number of geek literature greats. I, therefore, declare that this list is only the preference of the author and in no way denies that there were valid alternative choices. However, the author would like to assure all readers that, in numerous alternative realities, varying versions of myself are writing lists that versions of yourself are finding perfectly agreeable. In those realities, versions of yourself will celebrate my obvious good taste and click Like.
1984 – George Orwell
When we think of dystopian futures, none has proven more prophesized than George Orwell’s vision of a voyeuristic ruling elite. I reread this book and, each time I do, I am increasingly fearful for where technology is taking us and how willingly we comply. The book itself is set in a fictional 1984 where thought police, intrusive surveillance and a manipulative propaganda department are used to keep the status quo. Our protagonist Winston Smith is a middle-aged man employed to manipulate information on behalf of the party. His impulse to think and question becomes overwhelming.
Big Brother is the public face of the party who is our watcher and protector. Orwell skillfully demonstrates how manipulating information, double speak and fear of perceived enemies are used to rule and control. From the beginning of the book we are taken on a dark yet witty journey that explores freedom of thought and how that freedom can be suppressed, controlled and eventually quashed. 1984 is a classic in every sense of the word, but, what is more, it is a warning built from a genuine concern that society simply isn’t heeding. As I sit here now submitting my thoughts electronically in a public library filled with surveillance cameras, it is evident that Big Brother is already here.
Game of Thrones – George R. R. Martin
While Lord of the Rings is the obvious choice for a long-winded fantasy involving enchanted trees, giants, vertically-challenged-characters and wizardry, I have decided to champion the Game of Thrones saga. All Game of Throne books are gargantuan novels with ungraspable character numbers. More poignantly, they are an insightful examination of what the struggle for power ultimately means. In Game of Thrones we start with an intriguing cast of characters who reluctantly or willingly gain power, suffer its burden then lose it. We also witness the inevitable consequences of their actions.
In essence, this is a tale of deception, politics, power and the supernatural set in seven kingdoms. The first book introduces us to the Starks, the Lannisters, Princess Daenery and brilliantly lays the foundation for hours of enthralling escapism.
The saga is now five books strong and two from completion. The author is tortuously slow when it comes to writing these books. Famously, after receiving consistent complaints from fans about the length of time between books, he decided to write them at a far slower pace. Expect wit, grit and a foreboding sense that absolutely no character is safe from a hideous end.
American Gods – Neil Gaiman
With supernatural sagas now being a staple of modern readership, my choice cannot fail to raise eyebrows. No romanticized vampires or werewolves for me. American Gods by Neil Gaiman is a book that has divided opinion with the majority falling on the side of praise. It is, in essence, a simple story of man meets forgotten god and then things begin to get a little strange. It is, of course, far more than that; it delves into modern American beliefs and, indeed, the concept of faith itself. It works both for the deity newbie and the deity learned -- in fact, it probably works best for those who have no prior knowledge of the largely forgotten gods.
I read this book in one sitting stopping only reluctantly for essential reasons. Expect humor, drama, emotional involvement and a fear of men with large hammers.
Player of Games – Ian M. Banks
By Sci Fi, I am referring to books set in space and frequently featuring intelligent computers, idiosyncratic droids and Alien species. Most people would think of 2001 or Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. I cannot deny the brilliance of either of these books, but, after much deliberation, I am going to nominate Player of Games by the late great Ian M. Banks.
Player of Games requires a little perseverance to begin with, but everyone I have discussed it with found it incredibly enthralling, captivating and rewarding. Jernau Morat Gurgeh is almost a celebrity player of games in a utopic world where there is nothing to want for and nothing to lose. A conversation with a droid starts a series of events that take him away from this comfort and puts him in a position of playing a complex game for the highest stakes imaginable.
This is a hugely simplified synopsis. The games themselves are intriguing, the characters believable (especially the droids) and the ending is satisfying. With Ian Banks sadly passing this year, I may have been swayed by sentiment, but I cannot think of a book in this category that I enjoyed more.
The Great Graphical Novel
Watchmen – Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Being that this is a Geek list, I felt it would be wrong of me not to consider Graphic Novels. And while the non-geek may not consider the world of graphical storytelling as credible literature, let me remind you that Watchman was recently included in Time magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest Novels. The fact that Watchmen has crossed over into the world of books purely on the power of its storytelling is reason enough to include it here.
Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons is the story of an outlawed group of retired costumed super heroes collectively known as the watchmen. The story begins with psychotic costumed ex-watchman Rorschach investigating the brutal murder of Edward Blake. What follows is a complex and surprising story of past, present and future with an unexpected conclusion.
As I review my list of five favorite books for geeks, I have been struck by the thought that geek literature utilizes fictional extravagant characters and settings to insightfully explore and confront the very real trappings of the human condition. Geek literature seems to consider the absurdity with which our species conducts itself. It creates extraordinary settings and characters to confront our capacity for kindness, manipulation and monstrous behavior. The books I selected are fictional, but the issues of power, manipulation, war, religion, greed and fear of others explored in these books are very real.
Or, perhaps, I may have over thought this. I am also aware that, on another level, they are wonderful escapism which I usually describe informally with words such as cool, brilliant, funny, awesome and clever. My wife made a credible counter argument that geek literature transposes human behaviors to droids and mythical creatures so that the socially inept can experience them. As my wife can make a credible counter argument on any subject I have omitted her view from my research. The unequivocal conclusion I have drawn is that one should not judge a book by its reader.