The Ten Best Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Horror Novels You've Probably Never Read

By M.V. Moorhead in Books, Daily Lists, Nerdery
Monday, April 1, 2013 at 6:00 am

Not every book that deserves a cult gets one. Some tomes get bad reviews (or, far worse, no reviews at all), sometimes publishing houses on their last legs leave whole printings to languish in warehouses, and some books, whatever their merits, are simply hopelessly out of sync with the fashion of the times. They go unchosen even if they make it to the stores, and the membership of their authors' cults number in the dozens. It all leads to a philosophical question: if a book rolls off the press and no one reads it, does it make a sound? In any case, if you have any of these curios on your bookshelf, you have truly impressive Nerd Cred:

1. Desdemona's Star by Kevin Newman (1972)

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Despite its potential for sci-fi/drama club geek crossover, this paperback original failed to catch on as a sort of Glee in space. It concerns a company of actors whose spaceship has broken down while they were performing Othello for mine workers on a distant desert planet. They manage a lift to their next gig with charter captain Mack Ward, who soon notices a ship following them - the theater ship, seemingly empty and pilotless. It turns out that their performance was witnessed not only by the miners but by an incorporeal alien capable of manipulating the desert sands in lieu of a body. This being fell in love with Bianca Healey, the actress playing Desdemona, thought her murder was real (La Healey having disappeared into seclusion with a migraine after the show), damaged the spaceship to prevent Iago's escape, and then animated it to pursue and exact revenge on the poor guy playing Iago, and upon the Captain seemingly abetting his flight. Said Captain has, meanwhile, fallen in love with La Healey. Action, suspense and improvisation ensue.




2. Corpus Elvis by Warbeck Perkins (1988)

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Sometime in the mid-21st century, according to this bit of late-'80s snark, fans of the King of Rock and Roll began to regard their idol as another incarnation of God. This led, a century or so later, to strife in the now theocratic south, as war flared up between the Presleyan Republic of Tennessippi and the Holy Evangelical Confederacy of Georgiabama. The "Left-handers" - a shock troop of Evangelicals who show their faith by, in accordance with Biblical teaching, putting out their right eyes and cutting off their right hands, replacing the latter with bayonets in the shape of a Cross - march on the Holy City of Memphis, and the defeated Presleyans work frantically to evacuate the Relics of Graceland to a new planet, Corpus Elvis. Perkins - no relation to Carl - died of heart disease in 1999, but is said to have written a sequel, Tupelo, as yet unpublished (though an infamously bad low-budget movie version played a single screen in New York for about a week in 1990).

3. Little Ricky's Mother by Suzy Berger (1981)

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Berger was a senior at Boston's Emerson College who had been given an assignment to write a horror story in the style of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. An animal lover and an occasional volunteer for the Alliance Against Laboratory Cruelty (AALC), she was inspired by the notorious '50s-era animal psychology experiments at the University of Wisconsin, where rhesus monkeys were given surrogate mothers to which they bonded. In Berger's tale, reset in Florida, Little Ricky clings to his cloth and metal "mother" Lucy even when she gives him electrical shocks, and even when spikes spring out of her. But when Little Ricky outgrows his usefulness and is slated for euthanasia, even the inanimate Lucy's maternal instincts kick in, and she goes into ferocious protective mode, using said spikes and electrical shocks on a variety of laboratory sadists before taking her "baby," with the help of a kindly young lab assistant, to a new life with a feral Rhesus troop in the Everglades. Berger's story ultimately ran to novel length, and the AALC published it in paperback and handed it out for free at the organization's rallies and events.

4. From Ancient Grudge by Deborah Capelatti-Montecchi (1981)

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Rare and expensive on eBay is even a beat-up copy of this, surely the most obscure of the early Bantam Star Trek paperback originals. Little more than a novella, it's a sequel to the Original Series third-season episode "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield," about the ongoing hatred between the two-tone denizens of the planet Cheron: Lokai, who's white on the right side and black on the left, and Bele, who's black on the right side and white on the left. As you'll recall, the show ended with Bele chasing Lokai through the transporter of the Enterprise down to the surface of their planet, which had seemingly been completely depopulated by racial strife. In this sequel, we learn that upon reaching the surface, they discovered that while they were away chasing each other around the galaxy, Lokai's son and Bele's daughter had fallen in love and produced a child - the coloration of which remains a mystery until the book's final pages - and fled the planet in a spacecraft to look for a safe haven elsewhere. Bele and Lokai are instantly turned into grim, infanticide-minded allies by this knowledge; they take off together and leave a trail of mayhem across the Federation in search of their grandchild. McCoy and Uhura are drawn into the story, but they're secondary characters in this combination of The Searchers and The Sneetches.

5. Lamprey Man by Drew McTigue (1989)

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Also published under the titles Invasive Species and (in the UK) Misery Bay, this is one of several lurid paperback shockers cranked out in the '80s for Cassowary Books by the prolific McTigue, along with Great Legs (giant centipedes), Pray for Brookville (praying mantises the size of horses) and Midnight Vermin (cockroaches the size of baguettes). In this one, two dimwits are hired to dispose of industrial waste and do so by dumping it into a lagoon on the Lake Erie shore. They spot an investigative journalist photographing them, kill him and dump his body into the water in the same spot. Later that night the journalist emerges from the lake with the head of a lamprey on his shoulders. He leads an army of the parasitical critters, now adapted to crawl onto Terra Firma. They take revenge on the dimwits, the industrialist, and the lover of his ex-girlfriend, sucking all the fluids out of their bodies. Eventually, he and his lamprey followers amalgamate into a titanic uber-lamprey which rampages in the streets of Erie.

Tags: novels

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