Whenever a group of readers or writers meet, one of the most obvious questions to rise is “What’s your favorite novel?”. Of course that’s a tough one because a) there are so many and b) there are multiple genres. “But Gil, what’s your absolute favorite? The one that struck you the most?” If you want to know the answer and the reasons…
Well, for me the absolute best, the one that struck me the most and forever changed me as a reader (and as I began writing, as a writer) is Robert Silverberg‘s “The Man in the maze” (GO BUY IT NOW! THIS IS THE LINK)
This is the cover of the one I read:
I promised you the reasons, but before I elaborate let me tell you how I came across this book. I was about 15 and really not a reader. I might have read 1 book in a year back then. I was never a social butterfly (some things never change really) and most of my after school time was dedicated to music. But every once in a while I had to do something else (like eat or take a shower) and so I found myself at the school library staring at Douglas Adams‘ “Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy”. On a whim, I took it and read it (for the first out of at least 10 times). I then went through the whole 5 parts trilogy and once done, knowing he’s a big sci-fi fan, I told my great friend Eli about it and awaited the praise.
While we shared some great laughs about the guide, Eli said my life wouldn’t be complete before I read something by this guy Robert Silverberg. I challenged him and was given the aforementioned novel. I read it pretty much non-stop from cover to cover and then read it again. I’ve read many great books since and some of them rank way up there (I’ll mention at least some of them at the bottom of this post), but to this day, when asked I say “The man in the maze“.
SPOILER ALERT!!! READ NO FURTHER IF YOU WANT TO AVOID (Although there’s not much to spoil to be quite honest)
Let me tell you why it is my favorite novel:
- Because of its outstanding concept and multi-layered plot – What if the only man who could save earth from extinction is the man earth has rejected after he was damaged while on duty on earth’s behalf? Don’t you get goose bumps only thinking about it? So let’s take this a step further – What if this man felt so rejected and alienated (key word) that he hides on a deserted planet in the middle of an impenetrable labyrinth full of traps? What if the only way to engage him was to go through that maze? And do that with something close to certainty that he’ll refuse. I swear, they don’t make concepts like this anymore. It’s vintage Silverberg. I’d say it’s an Asimov level concept, but then again, Silverberg is on that league. I struggle to pick a new book. I normally rely on recommendations from very specific people. But had I seen a book in Barnes and noble with this concept, it would be wrapped and paid for in a heart beat.
- The Protagonist (The Hero) – I’ve never had more empathy to any hero as I have for Dick Muller. His predicament made me ask myself “What would I do in this situation?” at every turn of a page. I was rooting for him throughout the book and felt for him so bad I literally cried at a few points. His character was so well laid out and was so consistent he really did feel like a real person. I constantly had to remind myself that this was fiction. Science fiction. But is it really? The thing that made me feel so strongly is that this god damn planet is so capable of shunning people for their disabilities it made this fiction very real.
- The antagonist (The opposition) – When you’re antagonist is an evil man looking to kill your hero, it’s fun to hate the guy, isn’t it? But what if your antagonist has a point?… what if your antagonist represents the well-being of earth? What if your antagonist was your hero’s friend who succumbed to the terrible impact of your hero’s “disease”? We’re talking about an antagonist which is as far from a cookie cutter placard villain as possible. Doesn’t that make the conflicts just a tad deeper and stronger? I certainly think so.
- The world’s construction – In science fiction (more so in fantasy), the writer has to draw the world in which the plot takes place. Sometimes it’s earth of some kind and sometimes a different planet or a whole galaxy. If you read Silverberg’s work you’d not be surprised at the least to know he’s a fantastic world creator. In this one, earth is secondary. It’s Lemnos, the planet with the maze which is the focus and you guessed it. Silverberg makes you feel like you know that place. Nothing is left out down to sanitation (these damn aliens…). It’s vivid and as real as fiction can be and together with the fantastic concept, the plot and the great characters it draws a complete world (physical but not only).
So give me such a concept, write a plausible plot, create a real world and let multi dimensional characters clash and you know what you have? You have a great novel!
I spent this post talking about my absolute favorite, but I promised to give a shout out to some more (Most in the sci-fi realm).
VERY honorable mentions:
Foundation (Series) – Isaac Asimov
Otherland (Series) – Tad Williams
Ender’s game – Orson Scott Card
Lathe of heaven – Ursula K. Le Guin
1984 – George Orwell
There you have it. Now it’s your turn… So, what’s your favorite novel? You know, the one that struck the most. Why is it so? I’d love to hear your thoughts and reasons! If you write a post on this topic, please feel free to share a link. Might be a great way to decide which book to read next!