Okay, it’s me again (Kay), back to reminisce on my
literary and cinematic influences as a teenager in the 1980s.
My love of adventure stories branched out in two
directions: thrillers and science fiction.
Let’s talk about thrillers first. My two great loves
were novels about assassination attempts – ‘Rogue Male’ by Geoffry Household
and ‘The Long Kill’ by Reginald Hill. In their own ways, these books delved
into the minds and motivations of sane men who decide to kill. That combination
of psychological character study and thrilling plot is a winner for me. I read ‘The
Day of the Jackal’ by Frederick Forsyth too, but while the down-to-earth detail
in that was an eye-opener, the killer was a more clear-cut bad guy.
I wouldn’t like you to think I was particularly
interested in killing. I never could stand the gory ‘shoot-em-up’ sort of killing
and was grossed out by the film ‘Platoon’, for example. I did enjoy ‘The
Silence of the Lambs’ film and ‘The Red Dragon’ novel by Thomas Harris, but I
think it was the psychological aspect that appealed. I just wanted to know what
could drive someone to kill another person (er, yeah, and eat their liver).
Other thrillers I enjoyed were basically adventure
stories dressed up in a spy theme. Without fail, they featured a strong-jawed
hero who confounded the enemy (typically the German SS, or the Russian KGB) by
their wit and a twist of deception. Alistair MacLean’s ‘Where Eagles Dare’ and ‘Ice
Station Zebra’ were favourites (and I love the movies, too). Desmond Bagley and
Hammond Innes were good, too. I really miss those guys. Modern thrillers take the
gritty realism too seriously and don’t have the same sense of fun.
I read the James Bond books, but only because of the
movies, and because my schoolfriend told me that Ian Fleming’s books had been
banned from her mother’s school as being too risqué. There’s nothing like
banning a book to make it popular. Together my friend and I wrote a little
comic piece on the adventures of James Blond and his trusty secretary Miss
I think my mother was a little concerned about my
predilection for ‘boys-own-adventures’. One day she brought home another book
she suggested I might like, called ‘Restoree’ by Anne McCaffrey. One of the few
books to have survived my multiple international relocations, I still have it
here. Corgi edition reissued in 1983 (₤1.50) with an intriguing image on the
cover of a space-ship and a bandaged woman. It remains one of my favourites
(but only in the version with that cover).
So now we come to my best-loved genre of all time:
sci fi / fantasy crossover.
There were two books by Vonda N. McIntyre called
‘Dreamsnake’ and ‘The Exile Waiting’. From what I remember (it was a long time
ago!), these featured a post-apocolyptic, decaying society in which a traveller
used snakes to heal, and cities were dark places inhabited by people with unwanted
telepathic abilities. It was the depth of imagination that appealed to me – the
wonder that someone could imagine an entirely different society from our own
and make it seem real.
For similar reasons, I enjoyed more of Anne
McCaffrey’s books, through the dragons of Pern to ‘The Crystal Singer’ series. Books
by Frank Herbert such as ‘Dune’ and ‘The Dosadi Experiment’ kept me absorbed
On the straight sci fi side, the novels of Robert
Heinlein appealed to the teenage me (think ‘Starman Jones’ and ‘Farmer in the
Sky’), but probably because they were simply great teen coming-of-age adventure
stories, the space setting being the icing on the cake.
In a different vein, I read books by Ursula LeGuin
such as ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’ and ‘The Lathe of Heaven’ in which other or
future worlds served as a foil to our own, making us question societal norms of
gender and morality.
I became interested in big-picture questions about where
mankind was heading and what we were doing to our environment. Influences
included non-fiction works such as ‘The Limits to Growth’ by Meadows, Meadows
and Randers and ‘The Population Bomb’ by Paul Ehrlich. Though I didn’t know it
at the time, I was developing an interest in ‘future studies’.
I read the classic future dystopias such as Orwell’s
‘1984’, Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ (though I found Ira Levin’s ‘This Perfect
Day’ more readable), and Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451’. The trouble with these
was that they were already out-of-date and the cracks were showing – I needed a
future vision that was more relevant to modern society.
I never found it, instead getting distracted by the
Robot novels of Isaac Asimov. Here was an idea that was endlessly intriguing –
what if we could build robots that looked like humans and appeared to act like
humans? Their positronic brains were kept under control by three simple laws of
robotics, yet the grey areas surrounding those laws created thrilling whodunnit mysteries.
Then, right on cue, along came the film Robocop and
the idea of mixing man and machine. Had the corporately-sponsored law
enforcement agency successfully turned Murphy into an automated cop, capable
only of obeying his programming, or did he still retain human memories and a
sense of self?
Ah, so here we have it. Much as I hate to admit
being so heavily influenced by popular cinematic culture, I think I’ve finally uncovered
the reasons why I’m writing a futuristic adventure series featuring a cyborg
Hope you enjoyed my personal trip down memory lane.