Have you ever liked a book so much that on finishing it, the first thing you do is turn back to Page One so that you could devour it all over again? I sure have. More than admiration, when I read these books I burned with envy. Envy for the author’s power to blow away a person’s mind with nothing more than words on paper. Envy for the way they crept into my mind and became whispers. Envy for keeping me awake at night. Envy for being so great.
Envy and love. Oh, so much love.
The End of Eternity (Isaac Asimov)
If you think you’ve come across all possible time travel stories and are yet to read The End of Eternity, let me assure you that you’ve not seen it all. The novel grabs hold of you on the first page and keeps you dangling with twist after twist in the plot, each time deepening the story. Love, time, and the very future of humanity is at stake, and Asimov as ever hits all the right spots in his simple, inimitable style. An entire race of human beings who live outside the fabric of time in a force-field called Eternity must guide their fellow men (regular ‘Timers’) through history. All goes well until one of them goes on and does the unthinkable: he falls in love.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Philip K Dick)
Do they? Who knows? Set in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic world where everything as we know it has changed due to a near-fatal nuclear war, Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter, is tasked with tracking down six androids that have a remarkable propensity for pretending to be humans. In this world, animals have been nearly obliterated, so only the wealthy and famous can afford real pets. All the rest of the common folk must make do with ‘electric’ ones. Themes of consumerism and identity – for which Dick is famous in his other works, such as Minority Report – appear here too, and at the end you will be forgiven for pausing for a moment or two and thinking to yourself, as Rick himself does at various times in the story: ‘What does it mean, after all, to be human?’
The movie ‘Blade Runner’ was based on this novel.
The Stochastic Man (Robert Silverberg)
Lew Nichols is in the business of seeing the future. He’s no mystic, though. His predictions are made through rigorous stochastic analysis. But who is this strange and mysterious man, Martin Carvajal, who seeks out Lew and anoints him his heir? How can he tell Lew things about the future that not only happen with chilling accuracy but also with a sense of inevitability? Why is Martin always despondent, always resigned? When he could see the future, why did he not take any steps to change it? Cause and effect reverse their roles in this beautiful tale, and like all good science fiction, under this one too lurk deep, uncomfortable questions about the nature of reality and how destiny and fate rule us all.
Fahreinheit 451 (Ray Bradbury)
The time is the near future. It is a small town in the United States of America. Books are burning. And a fireman, Guy Montag, hired to burn all outlawed books in the possession of the citizens, stops one day and realizes that he loves to read. Bradbury says that he sat Montag down and asked what he wanted to do. ‘I don’t want to burn books!’ he supposedly said. ‘Then don’t,’ said Bradbury, ‘and tell me what you’d like to do instead.’ And Montag got off his seat and ran away into the darkness of the town, with Bradbury in hot pursuit, notebook and pen in hand, writing away feverishly. This is a novel every book lover will dive into with relish, for who among us would not fight for the right to read like Montag does? Who among us would sit by and watch as our libraries burn in the cool of the night?
This isn’t a definitive list, of course, and posts of this sort run a danger of turning into behemoths, so I will honour the number that I put into the title and stop here. But that doesn’t mean you should. Tell me which book in your library keeps you awake, calls out to you in the dead of the night? Tell me of a book that you loved so much that you wish you’d written it.
Image Courtesy: Legendarium