|1. Dougal Dixon
You can keep your Arthur C Clarke and your other hard-science SF writers, Dougal Dixon brought the visualisation of alien worlds to life for me in his two, brilliant, books Life After Ma and Man After Man. He’s also done some wonderful books about dinosaurs and has consulted on TV series about possible alien or far-future life but it’s these books that had such a great influence upon me. Everything is based on sound science, he makes evolution and its possibilities come alive for you and while his creations are all based upon existing life they’re alien and wondrous, while still being plausible. He’s also a top bloke who wrote back to me after I embarrassed myself sending some gushing fan mail.
|2. Harlan Ellison
Harlan – fucking – Ellison man. Here’s a guy who just doesn’t give a shit and is always willing to go with his own, personal sense of justice, of right and wrong and to live all out. Prodigious, involved and as grumpy and idealistic a cuss as Alan Moore (who should really be on this list as well) he can be a bit of a dick but, sometimes, that’s OK.
Dangerous Visions lived up to its name and I’ve read those collections to pieces over the years. ‘Repent Harlequin said the Ticktock Man’ is a work of absolute genius.
Harlan’s imagination would not be bounded and he enabled many others to follow in his wake, a trailblazer challenging taboos and expectations and not giving a flying monkey-wank what anyone thought about it.
|3. John Willie
Probably obscure to a lot of people but John Willie essentially invented the ‘Fetish’ magazine and was punk rock about forty years before punk rock even existed. He helped establish the whole scene in which Bettie Page would later emerge, published Bizarre (not the modern Bizarre) under the radar and pioneered niche interest publishing and networking in a way that – in many ways – presaged the modern internet. There’s a lot to admire in a chap who manages all of that in the face of the sometimes oppressive social atmosphere of the first half of the 20th century.
|4. HG Wells
Visionary science fiction author, socialist, reformer, campaigner, Fabian and futurist. As important, in his own way, to social reform as Dickens was Wells was a supreme ideas-man whose thoughts are still being reinterpreted today.
Unlike Verne who was a bit of a prig and a stickler, Wells didn’t care so much about absolute realism but, rather, plausibility. Willing to bend the science – without necessarily breaking it completely – in order to ensure that he had a better story. This, to me, is why his stories are continually reinvented and reinterpreted while Verne’s stories are brilliant – but still very much of their time.
Wells was ahead of his time in practically every regard and I can sympathise with what he wished to be his epitaph:
“I told you so you damned fools!”
|5. Tim White
You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but, if you’re going to, you could do worse than judging it by the artwork of Tim White. A hyper-realist in his personal artwork and training, Tim brings that sensibility and massive attention to detail to his fantasy work. His visions brought so many SF paperback novels to life for me and his organic/animalistic approach to robots and plants, his SF and fantasy landscapes are an inexorable part of my own imaginings ever since.
Inspirational and encouraging of your own imagination in a way a lot of art isn’t, I’m not sure how he does it, but I’m glad he does.
|6. Alan Dean Foster
What Tim White’s done for my visual imagination, Alan does for my literary imagination. Not so keen on his novelisations but his own work I love. Somehow he manages, simply and quickly, to create understandable images of alien worlds and societies without getting too overblown in his prose, an efficiency of language that I admire and aspire to. In particular his ability to create sympathy for non-human characters, that can be truly alien, makes me love his writing.
Nor Crystal Tears is, in my opinion, his best novel and it always punches me in the guts emotionally which, considering it’s about alien space-bees, is pretty damn good.
|7. Living in Britain
I don’t think there are many places in the world with as rich an historical and mythological pedigree as Britain. We’ve got Roman, Pictish, Nordic and Celtic influences along with more recent ones from India, the Americas, the Middle East and Australia, not to mention our own unique mythology. Growing up surrounded by ancient forests, rolling fields and medieval architecture – the landscapes that inspired Lewis and Tolkien – you can’t help but be affected.
You can’t go two steps in Britain without treading on history or myth and a big black book of British Myths has been a constant companion to me as a writer and gamer.
I sat in the woods when I was younger, with an FM radio, listening to the BBC radio play of The Lord of the Rings while the sun beat down through the trees and it tried to decide if it could muster enough moisture for a shower.
Doesn’t get much more British than that.
|8. Being an Asthmatic
I had childhood asthma, partially allergy based but also brought on by any number of other factors.
If you can’t participate in sports – and don’t want to – and if the PE teachers finally believe you after you nearly die during a cross country run, what do you do instead?
You read a lot, you find indoor pursuits, you play boardgames and you roleplay. Things that don’t make you cough, wheeze and collapse like a limbed water balloon at the first sight of a rugby ball.
I’ve read 2000AD since I was about three years old (no, really) more on than off. Judge Dredd, Rogue Trooper, Slaine all of these – and more obscure characters – are absolutely integral to who I am. The twisted visions and ideas of Kev O’Neill, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Pat Mills and many others who got their start in 2000AD are fundamentally ingrained into my brain.
|10. Robin of Sherwood
For all it’s 80’s-tastic hair and UK TV budget issues, I don’t think there’s been a better interpretation of Robin Hood made. A perfect combination of the Robin Hood popular myth with a pagan sensibility that gave it a much greater depth than other versions of it.
The ensemble cast and the way that they all got attention and their own stories was also inspiring for running adventure games, bringing together lots of different characters from different backgrounds and making it all work together. I must have ripped off half the episodes for Dragon Warriors adventures.