Do you need to get away? We don’t mean travel—at least not in the traditional sense. No, we’re talking about visiting an alien world like those featured in science fiction novels. Author Philip Reeve is no stranger to other planets and worlds, as the author of multiple sci-fi series including the Mortal Engines books and the Railhead trilogy. Here, Reeve shares his favorite novels that take the reader somewhere truly out of this world.
I’ve always loved stories that whisk the reader away to unknown worlds. As a child, I preferred worlds that never were, like Narnia, Oz, and Middle Earth. In my teens, I discovered the appeal of worlds that might one day be—the future societies and far-flung planets of science fiction. When I wrote Railhead it was the excitement of those sci-fi worlds that I was hoping to capture. Here are a few old favorites, and one more recent one.
What it’s about: A Victorian inventor develops an anti-gravity material called cavorite, which allows him to construct a spacecraft and fly to the moon. There, he and the narrator are captured by the insect-like selenites, and must struggle to retrieve their craft and return to Earth.
Why it’s great: H. G. Wells is the grandfather of modern science fiction. This book, written almost 70 years before the Apollo missions, is a fascinating imaginative vision of space travel and the lunar landscape. It also establishes many of the explorers-on-a-strange-world tropes which are still being re-used in books, films and TV shows today.
What it’s about: When the Earth is demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass, lone survivor Arthur Dent sets off with a ragtag band of alien eccentrics on a quest to find the lost world of Magrathea, whose inhabitants once built designer planets for the super-rich. Along the way we encounter Vogon poetry, a depressed android, a very surprised whale, and a lot of excerpts from the Hitchhiker’s Guide itself, giving us glimpses into a strange (and strangely familiar) universe.
Why it’s great: As a book, it isn’t my favorite. I feel it was hastily written and poorly edited, and it stops mid-story. But before it was a book it was a great and groundbreaking BBC radio show, and the book served as a useful memento of it before recordings were available. It’s a spoof, and a very funny one, but its strange characters and endless, crackpot inventiveness capture the spirit of some of the best science fiction.
What it’s about: Out of the depths of space a huge cylindrical object—named Rama—comes hurtling through our solar system. The crew of the spacecraft sent to study it find their way inside and discover a whole world wrapped around its inner surface—a world which is beginning to come to life as Rama approaches the sun.
Why it’s great: There are no marauding aliens in this book, no threat to the world or the universe, and the astronauts and scientists work calmly and capably together. What makes it such a page turner is the sense of cosmic mystery. Where has Rama come from? Who built it? What is it for? We don’t learn the answers to all these questions, but just uncovering the clues is fascinating. I read it at a single sitting.
What it’s about: This collection is a sequence of loosely connected short stories that tell the future history of human colonists on Mars. It’s a 1950s vision of the future, and its vision of a Mars crisscrossed by ancient canals and dotted with mysterious Martian cities was dated even then, but that doesn’t matter a bit: Ray Bradbury’s science fiction is always about the fiction, not the science.
Why it’s great: There are some terrific stories here, with great twists and haunting images. But what hooked me was the writing itself, which spins the rocket ships and ray guns of pulp sci-fi into a sort of poetry.
What it’s about: A man travels as an immigrant to an unknown country. Everything is strange to him—and to us. There are weird birds and animals. The alphabet is a series of unknown symbols. Public transport consists of little flying booths. Bizarre statues tower over the busy streets. But slowly he starts to settle in and make a new life for himself.
Why it’s great: This is a story told in pictures. There are no words at all, just hundreds of beautiful pencil drawings: It’s a bit like watching a great silent movie. The layers of detail in Shaun Tan’s imaginary world are extraordinary, and it’s not just whimsy; it’s a touching and uplifting account of the immigrant experience.
Philip Reeve wrote his first story when he was just five years old, about a spaceman named Spike and his dog, Spook. Philip has continued writing and dreaming up adventures and is now the acclaimed author of the Mortal Engines series, the Fever Crumb series, Here Lies Author (2008 Carnegie Medal Winner), and many other exciting tales. His latest YA novel, Railhead (Switch Press, 2016) was released in April, and there are talks of a future movie… Born and raised in Brighton, England, Philip first worked as a cartoonist and illustrator before pursuing a career as an author. He lives in Dartmoor in southwest England with his wife, Sarah, and their son, Sam.