Friday, July 06, 2012

Top 10 cozy catastrophes

Jane Rogers's books include Her Living Image (winner of the Somerset Maugham Award), Mr. Wroe’s Virgins (a Guardian Fiction Prize runner-up), Promised Lands (winner of the Writers’ Guild Award for Best Fiction Book), Island (longlisted for the Orange Prize), The Voyage Home, and The Testament of Jessie Lamb.

For the Guardian, she named a top ten list of books "where the safe, happy world as we know it comes to grief." One title on the list:
The Time Machine by HG Wells, 1895

Granddaddy of them all. The catastrophe here is in the future, bookended by the cosiness of the present, which (the present being the late 19th century) is all drinks by the fire and helpful butlers. But the terrible future visited by the Time Traveller is sharp enough: humanity has polarised into evil, underground-dwelling Morlocks – descendants of the working classes, now evolved into vicious, pallid, carnivorous apes – and ethereal, intellectual Eloi, who float about on the surface, leading lives of vapid idleness in beautiful surroundings, and are helpless to protect themselves from attacks by the cannibalistic Morlocks.

Wells's catastrophe is, like many of the others in this list, man-made – but not by man abusing his environment. It is created simply by the evolution of the inequalities Wells observed in the society in which he lived, inequalities that, had he lived to 146, he could of course have continued to observe. His novel contains what I believe are the three essential ingredients of the genre: a brave and curious protagonist, a big-idea catastrophe, and meticulously convincing rendering of the practical details of everyday life.
Read about another book on the list.

The Time Machine is among Adam Roberts's five notable science fiction classics, David Lodge's top ten H.G. Wells books, and Linda Buckley-Archer's top ten time-travelling stories.

--Marshal Zeringue