A Voyage to Arcturus, by David Lindsay
This is one of those novels that a lot of writers like to cite as being an inspiration, but which doesn’t seem to have much of a popular following. A man named Maskull takes a trip to the planet Tormance, which orbits around Arcturus. This becomes a sort of metaphysical quest as he gradually learns about the nature of reality (Lindsay was evidently a sort of gnostic) while exploring some really, really alien terrain:
Another remarkable plant was a large, feathery ball, resembling a dandelion fruit, which they encountered sailing through the air. Joiwind caught it with an exceedingly graceful movement of her arm, and showed it to Maskull. It had roots and presumably lived in the air and fed on the chemical constituents of the atmosphere. But what was peculiar about it was its color. It was an entirely new color – not a shade or combination, but a new primary color, as vivid as blue, red or yellow, but quite different. When he inquired, she told him that it was known as “ulfire.” Presently he met with a second new color. This she designated “jale.” The sense impressions caused in Maskull by these two additional primary colors can only be vaguely hinted at by analogy. Just as blue is delicate and mysterious, yellow clear and unsubtle, and red sanguine and passionate, so he felt ulfire to be wild and painful, and jale dreamlike feverish, and voluptuous.
Linday’s prose is often lacking, and his characters are often little more than ciphers for various philosophical positions, but the near constant intensity and creativity put into Tormance makes it worth a trip.
City of the Chasch, by Jack Vance
The first volume in Vance’s, “Planet of Adventure” series. Adam Reith gets stranded on an incredibly hostile alien planet and must fight for survival. The mysterious presence of human slaves gives things a bit of a “Planet of the Apes” feel to it. It so far hasn’t quite gripped me as well as Vance’s other works – what has been shown of Tschai (the planet) so far isn’t too exciting, and the characters are a bit too…pulpy? Still, it’s interesting enough that I’ll likely check out the next volume (I have an omnibus edition anyway).
And now, the currently unfinished ones:
Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, by Richard Bauckham
Bauckham argues that eyewitness accounts played a crucial role in the early Christian community and in the composition of the Gospels in particular. He quite rightly diagnoses New Testament scholarship as still living under the shadow of sceptical form criticism theories, in spite of form criticism being for the most part discredited.
The Moviegoer, by Walker Percy
It’s a bit like Kierkegaard’s Either/Or, but set in Louisiana. Binx’s existential ennui and pop culture obsessions seem pretty easily transposable. We could have a modern version called The Otaku, for instance.