I’ve always loved alternate versions of familiar places. Books that add the strange, the horrific or the magical to the everyday. It’s one of the reasons I set Transferral in a London that’s recognizably ours, but with one major difference.
There are more versions of London than I can count, in films, television and books. Here I’ve listed a few of my favourite alt London novels. I’ll follow up with films and TV in a later post.
Many alternate London stories suggest a hidden world behind the city we know, that only a select few have access to. In the Shades of London (Maureen Johnson) series, this is the world of ghosts. In the witty Rivers of London (Ben Aaronovitch) books, it’s magic and the old genius loci of the rivers – beautifully combined with police procedural for an enormously fun series. Obviously, there’s Harry Potter‘s platform 9 3/4 and Diagon Alley (J.K. Rowling), heartbreakingly invisible to us muggles. And in The Rook (Daniel O’Malley) there’s the secret society at the centre of British society – the Checquy. (I can’t wait for Stiletto!)
Falling into an alternate London seems to be a hazard of living in the city. That’s the fate of Richard Mayhew in Neverwhere (Neil Gaiman), which re-writes the familiar subway map with an underground city of another kind. Un Lun Dun (China Mièville) follows in this vein, a mirror London where the everyday is strange and dangerous. There’s also twists on London’s past in novels such as Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (Susanna Clarke)and two on my to-read list (Anno Dracula and The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray).
Brave New World (Aldous Huxley) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (George Orwell) were the first visions of another London that I read. Dark dystopias based on totalitarian visions of the future, made more compelling by being set in a city I knew well.
I have a long to-read list of alternate Londons, based on recommendations from friends and random browsing (thanks, Facebook friends!). Currently this list includes (in no particular order):
A Darker Shade of Magic (V.E. Schwab)
Mortal Engines (Philip Reeve)
London Falling (Paul Cornell)
The Difference Engine (William Gibson, Bruce Sterling)
The Death of Grass (Samuel Youd)
Anno Dracula (Kim Newman)
The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray (Chris Wooding)
I’ve left many excellent books from this list, including alternate Englands that either do not include London, or only touch on it tangentially (Children of Men, His Dark Materials, The Thursday Next novels, Shades of Grey). But what are the alternate London books I really should have included?